Getting to know your camera can be a little daunting. You will be confronted with a whole new host of technical terms and abbreviations, and can at times feel a little lost.

However, a basic understanding of a few of the more common ones will not only help you make a decision when buying a lens, but will also go a long way towards helping you capture great wildlife shots.

So, whatt does “MM” actually mean?

‘MM’  is the focal length of the lens. All lenses have a “mm” number printed on them; some have a range of focal lengths. These numbers can vary hugely, from 8mm (a fisheye lens), all the way up to 1000mm and even beyond.

It is often incorrectly assumed that the focal length is measured from the front to the rear of the lens when, in reality, it’s the distance between the point of convergence in your lens to the sensor or film in your camera.

Different focal lengths and what they are used for.

Wide angle lenses have smaller focal lengths than telephoto lenses. The majority of wide angle lenses are 35mm or smaller whilst telephoto lenses start at 70mm and go up from there. Wide angle lenses include more of a scene, while telephoto lenses generally include only a small part of a scene.

There are different purposes for different focal lengths. If you are shooting a group of people having some sundowners next to the game viewer, you would want to use a wide angle lens. You would then be able to include all of your subject in a single shot and not need to move further away. If you are shooting wildlife however, you would need a longer focal length lens, because there is often a limit to how physically close you can get to the animal.

How does the focal length affect the perspective of the photograph?

In order to illustrate this, I have taken different photographs of the same subject matter at different focal lengths. Take a look at the shots below with their accompanying mm values. Note that I was using a Canon 7D mkii, which has a crop sensor, which I will explain further in another blog post.

All photos were taken from a fixed point, roughly 20m from the Land Rover.

20mm

50mm

100mm

200mm

400mm

600mm

As you can see, varying focal lengths have a huge affect on the type of photograph that you are going to capture. Based on what your subject is and your distance from it, it is up to you to decide what photograph you want and make a decision as to what lens you will need accordingly.

Filed under Photography

About the Author

Kylie Jones

Photography Manager

Being someone who loves the bush, people and photography Kylie has found her way to her dream job in the Londolozi Studio. Despite completing her Humanities Degree, she felt unsatisfied and found herself drawn to doing a wildlife photography course. Being both creative ...

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6 Comments

on What Does the “MM” On Your Lens Really Mean?

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

This is a great blog Kylie. Please write more like this for a novice/amateur photographer like me. There is a lot of information to learn and you described this perfectly.

Kylie Jones

Thank you so much Marinda, I am glad that you are learning more about photography.

Callum Evans

Thanks for another great blog! I swear I’m getting practically all of the advice for photography from these blogs at the moment!!

Denise Vouri

Good post about focal length. I’ve found that having a 70-200 2.8 works well considering the distance you often find yourself from an animal. That being said, sometimes I wished I had a bit more length so have now purchased a 1.7 teleconverter which only reduces the f-stop by 1.5 stops. Sometimes we just have to carry two cameras-each with a different focal length as you never know what you’ll see and changing lenses on the run is never great because if the dust. Thanks!!

Ian Hall

I don’t often disagree with the blogs on Londolozi but I think MM stands for More Money in Nikon/Canon/Sony’s pocket and LM stands for less money in yours.😀😀😀

Jeff Rodgers

Great job. It is always good to have a refresher on the basics.

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