Understanding lenses: the book

The wonderful photographer and writer NK Guy writes,

As photographers and geeks we tend to obsess about the products we buy. Countless hours are spent poring over catalogues, reading reviews, arguing in forums. All to find the perfect camera. There's just one thing missing here: the /lens/ is also a key part in creating high-quality images. But learning about interchangeable camera lenses, and all the strange arcane terminology that goes with them, can be very difficult. Hence "The Lens: a Practical Guide for the Creative Photographer." It explains all the things you actually need to know about lenses, and why.

Why is a lens "fast" or "slow"? Why are seemingly similar lenses so different in price? Why is there alphabet soup printed on the side of the lens barrel? Every type of lens is described in practical terms, and there's even a section on breaking out of manufacturer-dictated choices - how to adapt and modify lenses to fit incompatible cameras!

Published by Rocky Nook and distributed, in trade paperback or DRM-free, by O'Reilly.

The Lens [Photonotes.org]

The Lens: A Practical Guide for the Creative Photographer [Amazon]

(Thanks, NK!)



  1. Inadvertently, I had a nice foundation in how lenses work by getting into photography by way of backyard astronomy, after a few rounds of obsessing over purchasing decisions on a limited budget and reconditioning used telescopes bought on Ebay,

    This looks like a great resource for filling in the gaps and moving to the next level.

  2. The book does look nice. Those same questions (and others!) are also nicely answered at Stack Exchange Photography, all under CC-BY-SA 3.0. I mention this not in competition (I don’t work for Stack Exchange!) but because if you’re interested in this, you might find that site helpful too. And, y’know, Creative Commons, too.

  3. The book looks great, don’t get me wrong, but anyone who has spent countless hours poring over catalogues, reading reviews, and arguing in forums looking for the perfect camera will know that just as much – more, actually – of all that is devoted to finding the perfect lens.

    Considering that despite there being a multitude of sites that try to offer information to decipher it all the same questions get asked in every photography forum multiple times a day about which lens to get, a book like this should actually be quite welcome to a lot of people.

    1. Unfortunately, the people asking these questions would never, ever bother to read a book, or even do a web search for their question.  It’s much, much easier to say “I want to do weddings and make money, what kind of lens do I need for my camera?”

  4. Next up should be a book about making your own lenses. Nothing clarifies for you what a “focal distance” is quite like setting up a flashlight and ruler to measure it manually.

    There’s technically enough information out there to do this if  you google, but it’s pretty spread out and takes a lot of work to distill everything down to useful nuggets.

    1.  I will buy this book. Especially if it’s really pretty and can sit on my coffee table. A bare-bones instruction manual kinda thing would be fine too, but that really might be better as a web site. The book should be inspirational.

  5. Lens are little time machines.

     Every photon from the image  took exactly the same amount of time to reach the focal point regardless of which part of the lens the photon went through.  Who needs H.G. Wells when we have real time machines? :)

    1.  Not so! Some of the photons may have taken much longer — particularly true if you have stars in your frame. Even our closest star is far away enough for the time distance to be dramatic.

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