Prime Lenses

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by alan_l|1, Mar 3, 2008.

  1. What are the benefits of having a prime/fixed lens? Im guessing for 50mm, its
    ONLY 50mm, no zoom..correct? Any help would be appreciated, thank you!
  2. Light, cheap, fast (big aperture). And yes, there's no zoom on the 50mm. Zooms are named 70-300mm, 28-70mm etc. Primes just have one focal lenght.
  3. And just to add to what Fredrik said - compact.
  4. And to add to what Fredrik and Raymond said: Primes are often sharper, "better" lenses. Certainly better than the consumer zooms.
  5. ...and when I know and understand the exact coverage of my prime lenses, I can position myself to take a shot before I ever lift the camera to my eye. For my style of photography, this is very important!
  6. @Graig: When you know the exact coverage of a 17mm, 28mm, 35m and 5omm prime, why can't you do the same with a 17-55 2.8 zoom lens?
  7. The biggest advantage, IMHO, of using a prime is speed. You can buy f/1.4 primes, but I've never seen an f/1.4 zoom. So, for low light, primes are usually the best choice.

    Optical quality of modern zoom lenses can be excellent. That is because of improvements in computer-aided design, better optical coatings that cut reflection and light loss, and good manufacturing practices and quality control.

    Really good zom lenses are expensive. But the really good ones deliver tremendous value if you compare them to the price of buying individual focal lengths.
  8. Not in order of importance:

    Primes are generally cheap, often in absolute terms, and almost always in comparison with their quality.

    Primes are small, light, compact, and fast. Do a zoom as fast as a prime is sometimes possible, but it is tipically a lot bigger, heavier and more expensive. For short focal lengths, primes are almost always 1-2 stops faster than even high end zooms.

    Due to the above, primes MAY be more convenient, if you value a couple of stops more AND the light weight more than the fact that you have to change lens more often. This for me is especially true on the long end. Currently I use 85/1.8+105/2.8+135/2DC to cover the kind of images I would need, say, a 70-200 2.8 VR to take. The bulk, weight and visibility of the 70-200 are WAY superior even to the biggest of the three (the 135DC). By using primes I have the same (or better) optical quality, faster apertures (except with the 105), and MUCH less weight around my neck.

    Primes have often simpler, less "compromised" optical designs, and thus behave better in many areas, a typical example is the out of focus rendition. Again, it is not necessarily ALWAYS true, but it is in the majority of cases, and, I would say, always the case unless you are comparing with the highest end zooms.

    The drawback is of course the obvious one: more lens changes, meaning more time lost (and sometimes you cannot lose time), more dust which can enter the camera...


  9. '...improvements in computer-aided design...'

    GIGO happens.
  10. Primes are good for your health. Instead of zooming in and out you have to move your feet. Saves the money for the gym also.
  11. You can never have enough light. Primes are the way to go. And they have much less distortion than zooms. Makes the pictures look better. The less weight is also an important point for me.
  12. To balance the view, image stabilization and improved quality in higher ISOs, make the better
    zooms more competitive with primes. Some claim that you must pixel peep to see a
  13. "What are the benefits of having a prime/fixed lens?"

    To add to the above: to avoid having photos look so obviously "digital" due to the tendency of zoomers to compose with the zoom and flatten the dimensionality in the frame. It doesn't have to be obvious.

    "When you know the exact coverage of a 17mm, 28mm, 35m and 5omm prime, why can't you do the same with a 17-55 2.8 zoom lens?"

    Just how many 'steps' does that zoom have?
  14. Hans
    @Graig: When you know the exact coverage of a 17mm, 28mm, 35m and 5omm prime, why can't you do the same with a 17-55 2.8 zoom lens?
    Firstly, its "Craig" with a "C" not a "G" but that seems to happen a lot :)
    Because when youre trying to work fast and relying on having a particular coverage a zoom can move or wont be where you actually thought it was. Not saying it cant be done but its certainly not as guaranteed.
    Also, if you work with primes and know them then you tend to naturally walk to the right distance from the subject and not rely on the zoom for framing. My favourite Nikon zoom is my 20-35mm f/2.8, after usually working with 21mm and 35mm primes on my rangefinders, I find this zoom on the SLR so slow to work with. Obviously YMMV
  15. High quality zoom lenses often have better image quality (resolution, chromatic aberation and distortion) than some of the prime lenses they replace. They are certainly faster to use and more versatile. I use a selected few prime lenses along with a set of f/2.8 Nikkor zoom lenses.

    Being simpler, prime lenses tend to have less flare. This is a huge advantage for time exposures at night and any time when shooting into the light. Another example is for macro photography. Zoom lenses often have a "macro" range, which is simply a close focusing range. True macro lenses are optimized for use at very close range, including a flat field and low distortion.

    I typically carry a Nikkor 55/2.8 AIS Micro, which serves both for closeups and as an outstanding "50mm" lens (it is corrected for all distances) with no CA and very flare-resistant. I have a Nikkor 50/1.4 for low light, which is not nearly as sharp as my 28-70/2.8 AFS. I plan to add a 28mm or 35mm if I can find one with better image quality than my zoom lenses.

    The idea that you can replace a zoom lense by shuffling your feet is complete rubbish! Whether using a prime lens or zoom, you set up the composition and perspective with your position (by shuffling or otherwise), then select the focal length to give the best field of view. The best use of a zoom lens is to then crop in the viewfinder, making efficient use of the format. With a prime lens, you take what you get and crop in the darkroom/lightroom.
  16. Ever try to find the nodal point of a zoom? Primes are also needed for stitched panos.
  17. I love my primes but, to be fair, comparing the weight of *a* zoom to *a* prime is misleading: the aggregate weight of the primes within the range of a moderate zoom (let alone a super-zoom) can be substantially greater than the weight of the zoom.
  18. It's not the same. It's a matter of prespective!
  19. "The idea that you can replace a zoom lens by shuffling your feet is complete rubbish!" I was starting to think that I was the only one who thought along the same lines. How on earth do you shuffle around inside a room, for example? Now don't get me wrong, I have 5 primes and I like them but there is so much nonsense floating around. One of them is this "nodal point of a zoom" business. I have stitched so many panos using either the Nikkor 18-70mm Dx or the 18-35mm with very close foregrounds that I have lost count. And I don't even have a pano head!
  20. It's no harder to find the nodal point of a zoom lens than any other lens. I look through the viewfinder and swing the camera, looking for parallax. Just past the nodal point, the parallax reverses its direction.

    I find the nodal point really doesn't change much with focal length in my Nikkor 28-70/2.8. I check it anyway, and take the precaution of turning the AF off.
  21. I used to carry about 10 primes and three bodies.

    I now carry three zooms (Nikon 12-24mm f/4 tokina 28-70 mm f/2.8 and a Nikon 70-200
    mmf/2.8) and one prime (Tokina 300 mm f/2.8). I still have most of my prime lens, just
    don't use them that much. The same story with my film cameras. I did give a friend my 50
    mm I never could find a use for the thing.
  22. Light = Compact, in my world. Duh ;)

    I know there's a difference, so don't flame me for the statement above.
  23. With a prime lens, you take what you get and crop in the darkroom/lightroom.
    No you don't. You look for shots with the viewing angle of your lens in mind. I've rarely used a zoom lens and I never crop anything. Neither do a lot of great photographers.
  24. "With a prime lens, you take what you get and crop in the darkroom/lightroom.

    No you don't."

    Not all photography occurs under the same conditions.
  25. I like primes because I don't like holding a big, heavy zoom.

    But, if I needed to shoot stuff I had no control over, in a hurry, there is no substitute for
    being able to zoom to a new lens instead of changing the lens. Good zooms seem to be quite
    expensive though. For Canon lenses that usually means over $1000, but you might need
    only one lens. If you don't need the whole range of lenses then one or two $300 primes can
    take very high quality photographs and make great art...if that's your assignment.
  26. it


    The ability to isolate subjects and/or features with shallow DOF is the main reason I use primes.
  27. A fast prime like a 50/1.4 or 85/1.4 (compared to a lens with a maximum aperture of say f 2.8 or more) not only allows for faster shutter speeds but also gives you a viewfinder image that is much brighter.

    Also in the case of manual focus lenses (I know - a rarity these days)the fast lens gives you a much smaller DOF in your wide open viewfinder image, which results in more accurate focusing.

    It's a shame that so many people today never experience the enjoyment of working with a good, fast prime in available light. It's really not a case of one or the other though. Get at least one decent zoom and also one fairly fast prime lens.
  28. I'd get thrown out of the stadium if I tried to zoom with my feet. The ref doesn't want a 12th man in the huddle.

    Seriously, folks, so much posturing and machismo. I don't crop, real men use primes, blah, blah, blah. I do the best that I can to frame my shots, but sometimes a crop is needed. Particulrly for sports. And, in some situations, you'd be crazy to shoot with primes. Other times, sure, it makes sense.
  29. Good answer Robert, it's all situational so it really all depends on what/where/how/when you want to shoot and how you will be displaying it.
  30. Overall a prime should be optically better than a zoom built to the same standard.

    One of the good things about primes is that they involve a kind of mental discipline about taking shots. You have to think about getting things just right, rather than just twisting the zoom ring. I don't often do it now, but it's nice to go out with just one (prime) lens and work with that when I'm taking photos for myself.

    To say that a prime is "cheap" is quite a broad generalisation; an EF50/1.8 yes, a 400/2.8 or 85/1.2 no way.

    My 2p

  31. Thank you, Robert. It's nice to know someone else "get's it" and is willing to say so.

    I don't write to persuade the Luddites, just to give reasonable information to those who wait in the sidelines and watch.

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