There are two types of lenses, primes and zooms. One gives you a range of focal lengths, one gives you a fixed focal length. Which one is better? It’s not as straight forward as you may have thought. Here’s a post about the pros and cons of each!
Zooms and Primes, the difference
When you buy a point and shoot camera, a mirrorless camera, or a DSLR, they generally come with a zoom lens. The point and shoots almost always do, and the mirrorless cameras and DSLRs mostly do, but it depends on the kit lens you buy for them. They generally give you a wide, to telephoto range, which seems to be deemed the most useful range for most people.
Prime lenses offer you only one focal length, one field of view. If you want to ‘zoom in’, you have to walk closer. To ‘zoom out’, walk back.
Reasons to get a zoom lens
- Easier to frame more shots. Because you can just zoom in to your subject without having to move, you can frame your shot much more easily. You also don’t need to move around as much.
- Don’t have to change lenses as often. Because one lens covers a whole range of focal lengths, if there is a shot that would suit a particular length, you don’t need to change lenses like you would if you had a prime lens. It is for this reason that they make for a good carry around lens.
- Only have to carry one lens. This is related to the previous point, but is a big deal so it gets it’s own bullet. Carrying one lens is lighter and more convenient. If you have a 24-105mm lens, you would need to carry at least 24mm, 50mm, 90mm primes to get cover nearly that range. You would need to carry more if you wanted any in between focal lengths.
Reasons to get a prime lens
- Generally better optics. Because of the mechanics involved in making a zoom lens, certain sacrifices must be made. None of these sacrifices need be made with a prime lens, so the optics are performing at their best. You will likely get less chromatic aberrations (colour fringing), and sharper images at maximum aperture.
- Faster lenses. Due to the same sacrifices mentioned before, zoom lenses tend not to be as fast as primes. The fastest lenses in the world are all primes. To make a zoom lens one constant aperture takes a lot of engineering, and it therefore expensive. For the same cost you can get a very fast prime.
- Force you to think more. With a zoom lens, it’s easy to get lazy, just speed zoom into your subject shoot and go. When you can’t zoom, you have to move. This forces you to think more about your shot and how best to compose it. This will improve your photography.
- Lighter. This may not be big on your list, but a good prime, vs a good zoom, the prime will generally be lighter. If you are carrying around a heavy camera all day, you can get pretty tired. A prime may help here.
- Generally cheaper. Because they are simpler to make than zoom lenses, which have many moving parts, prime lenses generally are cheaper.
Which is for you?
You need to decide what is most important to you. I like primes, because I like how they force you to think about your composition and your subject. I also like to get to know a focal length well, so I can start to frame my photos in my head before looking through the viewfinder. One more thing I like, fast lenses. I have a 50mm f/1.4 and a 28mm f/1.8 for my DSLR, and a 35mm f/2 for my rangefinder. I really like these lenses. Zooms are useful and many prefer them to primes because of the reasons above. Zooms are often great for travel, when you don’t know what you will come across. But my choice is primes. What is your choice?
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