Last Updated on 06/24/2011 by Chris Gampat
Here we go: a giant can of worms is about to be opened up. The inbox has been flooded with questions asking about primes vs zoom lenses and there have been endless debates about it on threads I often visit. Now it’s getting to the point where questions are being asked in person. So to settle the fight once and for all here are some pointers.
For the less photo-inclined, primes are fixed-focal length lenses. They cannot zoom in and out. Instead they can only focus at different points. In order to zoom, you quite literally need to zoom with your feet: or move back and forth.
Why the heck would you get something like that, you say? They’re lighter, smaller, have much better image quality, and allow you to shoot in lower light easily without cranking up your ISO settings (what gives you more light-sensitivity but grainier images with less details in them.)
Multiple prime lenses can be lighter than one giant zoom lens. Sure, you’ll be switching out lenses more often but you’ll get better image quality. In the end, that’s what matters to most photographers.
Prime lenses are used by wedding photographers, sports photographers, and studio photographers primarily. Photojournalists tend to go for zooms more. Wedding photographers usually keep a mix of both primes and zooms on them for different purposes.
Prime lenses can be cheaper as well. The higher grade ones are extremely expensive though but are worth every single penny.
Zooms, by definition are lenses that allow the user to zoom in and out by staying totally still in one location. They can focus in and out and zoom in and out.
Zooms tend to be heavier than primes and also don’t always have image quality up to par with their fixed-focal length brothers. Also keep in mind that you won’t be able to shoot in as low-light as you can with a prime. Because of this you’ll need to crank up your ISO settings.
Lower grade and cheaper zoom lenses are horrible, disposable and don’t offer professional image quality. For that, you’ll really need to spend some money to get sharper images and more features like image stabilization. Because a zoom lens is heavier it needs to be stabilized. This is easier to do with a prime because it is lighter.
Which Is Better?
This is one of those questions that really can’t be answered when it is this general. It really depends on your needs and wants for the job. Do you not want to move around that much? Go for a zoom then, but make it a quality zoom. Do you want to get the optimum sharpness possible? Then get a prime. Maybe you don’t want a heavy lens but want great image quality. A prime is for you then. Need to shoot a concert? Get a faster zoom.
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