Why Prime Lenses Are Better Than Zooms: All the World in a Single Frame

When it comes to choosing between prime and zoom lenses, prime lenses are superior in many ways, as our latest infographic shows.

When it comes to choosing the right lenses for our cameras, some photographers gravitate towards zooms while others prefer primes. Those who prefer zooms love them for their convenience factor. Despite this, many photographers opt to shoot with prime lenses instead. What exactly makes prime lenses superior to zoom lenses? Let us show you with our latest original infographic.

Better Image Quality

Zooms have certainly improved in recent years, but primes are still our first choice when we want the best image quality. Typically, zoom lenses have significantly more complicated designs involving lots of moving elements due to their having to cover an entire focal range. This often leads to optical distortions, chromatic aberrations, and general loss of sharpness. In fact, it’s not uncommon for your image to exhibit vignetting and barrel or pincushion distortions of varying degrees as you shoot with a zoom lens at different focal lengths. With prime lenses, these issues are much less prevalent. Primes are designed specifically for a single focal length, requiring optical designs that generally have less moving parts. Less moving parts means fewer elements become misaligned. After years of testing lenses, we’ve come to realize that images produced by prime lenses are overwhelmingly superior to those produced with zooms.

More Light

Compared to most zoom lenses, primes tend to have faster apertures. Faster apertures mean more light can pass through the lens to your camera’s sensor. In terms of Full Frame, the fastest zooms available top out at a maximum aperture of f2. Prime lenses, by comparison, can get much better. Most entry-level prime lenses start at a maximum aperture of f1.8. More premium primes can take things into even brighter territory with maximum apertures of f1.4 or f1.2. Primes with even brighter maximum apertures are available as well (such as the Nikon Z 58mm f0.95 S Noct), but they are typically more halo/proof of concept products than designed for mass-market use. If you find yourself photographing in low light often, you’ll surely benefit from the increased light transmission capabilities of prime lenses.

“Convenience is without a doubt the biggest selling point of zoom lenses. However, this convenience can unintentionally hinder our creative process.”

Shallow Depth of Field

Distracting elements in your image’s foreground and background can draw attention from your subject. Another benefit of primes having wider maximum apertures is that the resulting shallow depth of field allows you to better isolate your subject from their surroundings. This is a particularly desirable trait for photographers specializing in portraiture. While you can certainly achieve a similar effect using zoom lenses, it’s just so much easier when shooting with primes.

It Changes the Way You Think

Convenience is without a doubt the biggest selling point of zoom lenses. However, this convenience can unintentionally hinder our creative process. A zoom lens enables you to stand in one place while zooming in towards your subject, easily losing sight of the surroundings as a result. Shooting with a prime lens locks you to a single focal length. In doing so, it naturally forces you to think more critically about your framing and your overall composition. Instead of staying stationary and zooming in, you’re naturally inclined to move into a position appropriate for your focal length and to “work the scene” to find the best possible shot. This makes you an active participant in the creative process rather than a passive observer.