Prime vs. Zoom Lenses

Yesterday when I was shooting at the Metsquerade event, I was switching between two cameras because we were printing on site at two printers. My Nikon camera had a 24-70mm lens on it, and my Canon camera had a 35mm on it. The 35mm wasn’t mine, so this was the first time I’ve ever shot with a 35mm. When going from one body to the other, I had to adjust to the different lenses. After that experience, I decided to throw my two cents into the long discussed and controversial argument of prime vs. zoom lenses.

Prime vs. Zoom Lenses

Let me first explain what I mean by prime and zoom lenses for anyone out there that might be new to the photography world. There are really two main classifications of lenses: prime and zoom. Prime lenses are set at one focal length like 50mm while a zoom lenses covers a range such as 17-35mm and can be zoomed in and out.

Now let’s look at some of the different sides to the arguments. First, let’s talk about image quality. In general, primes are thought to be sharper than zoom lenses because they don’t have all the moving parts that zoom lenses have. In my experience, I haven’t noticed that much difference between the two. Primes are also thought to create better bokeh (the circles in the background created by light), which can create some very pleasing photos. This is partially due to the lower aperture, which creates a nice blurry background. Most primes go down to at least 1.8 while the lowest zoom I’ve ever seen is 2.8.

Next let’s talk about usability. Primes are generally lighter than zooms, making them easier to use for long periods of time and making holding the camera still much easier. For people that are shooting all day, this is a pretty big plus. As I mentioned earlier, primes do have lower apertures, so you will be able to shoot in darker situations with ease. Now, the big plus for zooms in this category and overall in my opinion is the ability to zoom. To change the composition with a zoom, I simply turn the lens. To do the same thing with a prime, I have to backup or move forward. Sometimes I can’t get far enough back or close enough with a prime in time and I miss a shot. For events like weddings, this diversity in range is a necessity.

As far as price goes, the lenses cost pretty close to the same. The best prime lenses are going to cost the same as the best zoom lenses. Now, I will say that there are some really cheap options for zoom lenses as well. Both Canon and Nikon have 50mm for under $200. Now are these the best primes out there, no, but they still do a good job. The only issue is you might find yourself purchasing more prime lenses to cover the range of a zoom. For example, someone might purchase a 24mm, a 50mm, and an 85mm, while someone else could just be using a 24-70mm. If you’re going with the primes, you’ll have to be very careful with which ones you purchase to keep the cost down.

For some reason I keep finding myself drawn to prime lenses. It might just be because they are something new to me. I’ve shot with zooms basically my entire photography life, so it’s exciting to look at something new. Right now I’ve got two nice prime lenses for Nikon, but I still don’t find myself using them too often. I think this might be because I am so use to zooms. I really think both types of lenses are a great option for people, but I think you need to pick one and really focus on using it. It’s a different mindset shooting with each one and you need to be use to your equipment. Prime vs. Zoom Lenses will always be a controversial topic among photographers, and I truly struggle with it in my mind. Hopefully this has helped you lean one way or the other.

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