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   A Zoom or a Prime Lens !


Last Updated 4th March 2013

Every now and again the debate rages on the gear forums, what lens is best, a zoom or a prime. The usual clichés pop up - "I can zoom with my feet", "a prime has better image quality", "a prime has better colours", "you'll get more pictures with a zoom" amongst many others - I should know, I have used them myself.

It is relatively simple to break it down and determine some logical positives -

Autofocus/Manual Focus - Single Zoom Lens

  • Less expensive than several prime lenses within the zooms focal range

  • Lighter in the bag than several prime lenses within the zooms focal range

  • Able to put the maximum number of sensor pixels into the image by zooming when the photographer who has a short prime, is unable to walk into the scene and is forced to crop the scene in post processing

  • Ideal for capturing a subject that is fast moving and continually changing the frame perspective

Autofocus/Manual Focus - Single Prime Lens

  • Ideal for maximum resolution at a given focal length

  • It can have a wider maximum aperture than a zoom lens, even as wide as f0.95 whilst a 'professional' zoom is usually a f2.8 maximum wide aperture throughout the zoom focal length

  • Has a depth of field scale on the lens barrel for zone and hyperfocal focusing

It all depends on the type of photography you like, some claim that you are not a photographer unless you shoot everything, so they go out and shoot large numbers of images across the photographic spectrum.

Others have developed a niche subject in their photography and have concentrated on that subject (e.g. sport, wildlife, portraits, landscapes, macro, architecture, street, etc) achieving great personal satisfaction in their work and also a wider recognition of their skills. They have carefully analysed the type of camera and lens (or lenses) required, worked hard to hone the equipment's handling to 'optimise' their photographic skill and to deliver the style of images they are seeking!

Lenses, whether a prime or a zoom have their own signature, their own draw, individual depths of colour and whether they are sharp or soft to suit your style of work. When you read reviews on a lens, you can often be misled as many reviewers do not cover the image capability of the lens in complex scene scenarios. For example, a prime lens may have soft borders and very gradual vignetting when opened up wide (f0.95 to f2) and it's image capturing capability may appear negative to one photographer but to another it is very positive; it brings an atmosphere to their images especially as the lens centre is often razor sharp at those apertures and draws the primary subject out from the background as if bathed in light. It is ironic that many photographers invest in expensive software to emulate that very atmosphere.

This image was captured using a 'consumer priced' (£129.00) Sony DT 35mm f1.8 SAM prime lens which does not produce gradual vignetting at a f2 aperture - so software was used to emulate it -

Financial budgets will always have a say in determining the camera and lens or lenses that a photographer uses for his or her work. However, as is often the case it pays to research lenses very carefully and if for serious niche photography, they are probably best rented for trial before purchasing!




If you have enjoyed this article - please donate to my Charity of Choice   -   The Sick Kids


Richard Lawrence
United Kingdom


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