What is a zoom lens?

A zoom lens is a camera lens where the focal length is adjustable by turning the zoom ring. This is achieved through a complex sequence of lens elements, which allow for this manipulation of the angle of view.

All lenses can be categorized as prime lenses or zoom lenses. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length.


Zoom lenses are often described by the ratio of their longest to shortest focal lengths. A lens capable of shooting with a focal length of 100mm to 200mm is described as a 2:1, or 2x zoom.

Lenses with very large focal length ratios, usually between 5x-20x are known as superzoom lenses.

Besides zoom, the aperture is also an important quality to consider. Zoom lenses offer two options. Read more about understanding constant-aperture and variable-aperture lenses on Nikon’s website.

Why choose a zoom lens?

Zoom lenses allow a lot of flexibility, but this comes with some compromises on image quality, weight, and aperture. So what really are the benefits of zoom lenses?

The changing of the focal length, also called zooming, provides a lot of convenience. This is great for photographers and cinematographers who want to shoot a wide range of subjects, such as landscapes and portraits.

This ability to re-frame a shot quickly and without needing to move the camera physically can save a lot of valuable time on set and can allow filmmakers to not miss the perfect moment while rushing to get the right prime lens.

As a zoom lens is able to replace more than one prime lens depending on the occasion, it might save you space in your camera bag.

Zoom lenses usually have a lower maximum aperture than their prime counterparts. This is often counterbalanced by offering image stabilization systems. You can still get sharp images at slow shutter speeds with the help of these systems since the internal optic elements shift to counter camera shake.

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Is a zoom lens the best choice for you? It’s a matter of preference. Zoom lenses provide flexibility and convenience, but also a higher risk of issues with image quality.

If you need a versatile, jack-of-all-trades solution, the answer is likely yes. At the end of the day you have to go with your gut and experiment, and a zoom lens might just be the thing that helps bring your creative vision to reality.

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