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Why choose prime lenses instead of zooms?

Author: zwieciu user
About zwieciu See full profile >>
Country: Switzerland
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In spite of the convenience offered by zoom lenses, here are a few important reasons to switch to primes:
1. Primes are MUCH lighter and smaller. If you haven’t used primes before you should do so and you’ll see how nice they feel. This can be an important factor when hiking or walking long distances with your equipment. This brings us also to reason #2:
2. Strangers will feel much less intimidated about you taking photos of them if you use a small lens. This way you won’t look like a professional photographer (this IS good).
3. Primes are much cheaper than high-quality zooms. For example Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 will cost you around $1600 while primes in this range cost between $300 and $400 (50mm f1.8 will only cost $120).
4. There’s no need to have all possible focal lengths. Professional photographers very often go for whole assignments with one or two primes. Also if you look at photos you take with zooms you’ll most likely notice that a majority of your photos is taken at two, may be three typical focal lengths (one will be very often at the low or high end of the range). With primes you simply zoom with your feet! If not possible (which it is in a vast majority of cases), you can always crop the photo on your computer. This is not a problem with cameras above 10MP even for large prints!
5. Quality: because of the way they’re built, primes have an amazing quality, rarely reached by zooms. Even then, a prime will always be brighter and so will give you more possibilities when shooting at night or if trying to get a low depth of field.
6. Primes are usually very well built and last forever. They have less moving parts and so will on average last longer than zooms. Focus is always lightning fast, too.
7. Primes teach you to take better photos! The need to zoom with your legs teaches you to be more creative when approaching a scene. You also learn to see with a specific focal length. This teaches you to look in ways you might not look if walking around with a zoom. This probably means you become less lazy as a photographer, I suppose.
8. If you use one or two focal lengths, your photos will not only tend to be better but will be more consistent and much nicer to look at as a whole album.
9. They are simply more fun!! (ok, this is not an objective argument..)

User rating + Comments

Average rating: 3.93  Votes: 87  Your rating:

08-02-2011 05:21 Nitin Vyas user

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Country: India
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I am looking for a sharp lens for bird/wild life photography within $ 2500/- I am using Canon 7D camera. Please suggest which lens I should opt for? Thanks, Nitin

29-03-2011 12:08 Wes Carter user

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Country: United States
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Thanks for the interesting and eye-opening article. Your photos back up your claims very well! You have helped me make my decision; my next two lenses will be primes. I am going to get a Nikon 135mm f/2 DC and a 85mm f/1.8. That should take care of the long end for me since my 80-200 f/2.8 is pretty cumbersome.

19-05-2011 00:17 eos7duser user

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Country: Netherlands
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On point 3 you say that primes are much cheaper. It depends on wich primes you use. I shoot with Carl Zeiss Planar ZE 50mm f1.4 (550,00 euro)and Distagon ZE 21mm f.2.8. (1500,00 euro). And these lenses are quite heavy compared to plastic lenses, because they are build of metal. And for the rest i totally agree with you. Primes are great. And something else with te Zeiss lenses you only can focus manual.

14-06-2011 08:50 zwieciu user

@eos7duser: you're right, here I meant primes in general, without looking at high-end lenses like manual focus Zeiss.

20-06-2012 16:05 Jerome M user

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I've taken the easy way a few years ago, buying zooms, but now, I'm going the other way round, selling my zooms, and buying primes, i.e. 2 primes only Nikkor 135mm dc and 50mm.Period. So I can't agree more.

08-08-2012 00:45 Chris Valle user

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I have the Canon 50mm 1.8, and I think If I'd spent on 1 wide prime and 1 tele prime instead of a tele zoom, wide zoom , and ultra-wide zoom, I'd still have taken all the shots I have so far - and had better IQ and more money in my pocket! I'm definitely going to dig through my EXIF data to see where I'm shooting most often and make more thoughtful choices the next time I buy.

09-10-2015 17:21 Bob K user

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I have converted a couple of old prime lenses from the 1960'\;s for Canon and so far, I am having a blast with them. Rokkor 58 mm f/1.4 and a Rokkor 135mm f/2.8. The color and depth of field are wonderful. They are heavier than the automatic lenses of today but the color rendition is a real treat. Unfortunately, there is no catagory on Pixel Peeper for these old style lenses or I would post some images. I have re-worked the rear of the lenses to comply with the focal plane of Canon DSLRs and reach infinity nicely without corrective optics in the middle. Both lenses are also equipped with a focus confirm chip so even though there is no auto focus, the red blip in the view finder alerts the centered dot on the subject is in focus. If I were to say the best advantages of the primes are clear precise focus, rendition of colors, and infinity focus position is absolute. Zoom lenses, the point of infinity changes with the level of zoom. Very difficult to do night photography of the stars when you are not sure where that distant focal point is in the dark. You have to take several shots with micro moves of the focal ring to bracket it. With a prime, pretty much rotate to infinity and shoot.

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About the author zwieciu

Country: Switzerland
More on: flickr
Lenses (owned): Nikon 20mm F/2.8 Nikon 35mm F/2 Nikon 50mm F/1.8 Nikon 85mm F/1.8 Nikon 300mm F/4 Olympus 17mm F/2.8
Cameras (owned): Nikon D700 Olympus E-P1

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