Common Camera Lens Problems (and How to Fix them)

Ries Erol
Blog post

When it comes to getting a gorgeous photo, one of the most critical factors is the lens you use.

Though, by and large, the better the lens, the better the results, even expensive lenses suffer from common problems like distortion, flare, ghosting, aberrations, and so forth.

These issues aren’t necessarily an indication of lack of quality. Rather, they are common camera lens problems that you have to learn to overcome.

Let’s go over solutions to these and other common lens problems.

Barrel Distortion

The Problem: Barrel distortion causes straight lines to look curved and images to look as though they have rounded edges (like a barrel). What’s more, the middle of the photo appears to be bloated and is larger in the frame than the edges of the shot.

This effect is typically not desired unless you’re using a fisheye lens to purposely get that distorted look. The image above was taken with a fisheye lens and represents a great example of barrel distortion. Note how the horizon appears to be bent, the edges of the shot are minimized, and the buildings in the center have an exaggerated size.

The Cause: Barrel distortion is most commonly caused by the combination of being too close in proximity to your subject and using a wide focal length.

The Solution: Adjust your positioning such that you’re further away from the subject. To still get an up-close view, use a longer focal length lens so you can more easily fill the frame with the subject.

You can also correct barrel distortion in post-processing.

Check out the video above by Jimmy McIntyre for a quick Photoshop tutorial on removing both barrel distortion and perspective distortion.

Perspective Distortion

The Problem: Perspective distortion causes straight, parallel lines to appear as though they’re converging, as seen in the image above. Notice how the building’s sides appear much further apart at the bottom than they do at the top.

The Cause: This type of distortion occurs naturally as objects that are closer to our eyes (and our cameras) will appear larger due to their proximity.

The Solution: Some photographers use tilt-shift lenses to produce images that don’t have perspective distortion. However, some argue that even though these lenses correct perspective distortion, the images they create look totally unnatural because our eyes are used to seeing this kind of distortion naturally.

A less expensive option (and one that tends to produce better results) is to use Photoshop to gently adjust the amount of distortion. Check Jimmy McIntyre’s video in the previous section for ideas on working on this type of distortion.

Vignetting

The Problem: The corners of your photo have a darkened look to them relative to the rest of the shot, as seen in the image above.

The Cause: Though vignetting can be used as a creative tool to add drama to a shot or to help direct the viewer’s eye toward the middle of the frame, when vignetting occurs by accident, it’s typically due to the lens capturing its own edges in the shot. Wide-angle lenses are notorious for vignetting, particularly at large apertures (i.e. f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, etc.).

The Solution: An in-camera solution is to simply avoid using your lens’s largest apertures. You can easily determine the aperture at which vignetting is no longer an issue by taking a series of photos, starting at the largest aperture available, and stepping down one-stop for each image until you no longer see vignetting.

Another option is to correct the issue in post-processing.

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