Why primes rock! (Part 1)

posted on 2nd of september, 2010

For a while now I've been using my zoom lens a lot, but after getting a Panasonic GF1 with 20mm f/1.7 lens I realized how much I miss using prime lenses. After getting and using a 28mm for my SLR I'm reminded how versatile prime lenses can be. Here are my top reasons for liking to pull out a prime lens over my zoom:

1. Rejoice - no choice! There is something freeing about having only one focal length. If you have some room to move about you can accomplish a lot of selection on the background and choose to emphasize your subject. If you use it enough you get used to the field of view and start seeing compositions that work for that lens. On a zoom you are much more tempted to zoom first rather than move around a bit.

2. Minimum focus distance. My zoom can only focus down to 0.45m, while my 28mm lens can focus to 0.25m. This is the difference to being able to grab a shot of the kids when they are playing on me (youngest is 16 months old) versus having to back up a bit. With the zoom I can get more magnification by zooming to the tele setting - but then it fills too much of the frame. With prime lenses you can usually focus closer allowing you to emphasize the subject - especially handy for a wider lens.

3. Light weight. No contest here - most primes are lighter than a quality counterpart zoom. 28mm lens 310g, zoom 670g. This is not a rule, of course, as there are light zooms and heavy primes.

4. Aperture. This is a big one - there just isn't a zoom lens available with an f/1.8 aperture*. This helps focus speed and accuracy, helps to get blurred backgrounds, and makes the viewfinder brighter. Sure it may not be 100% sharp wide open, but stopped down to f/2 to f/2.8 it is as good or better than most zooms at f/5.6.

5. Fixed size. I like having a lens that doesn't extend, rotate, etc. I don't have to worry about it getting jammed or extending in a bag, etc. Keep it simple!

6. Wildcard. This last point is one that I think about a lot, but doesn't show up on any reviews I've ever read. You can operate a prime lens with one hand! When I'm chasing kids around I can't overstate how handy that is. With the zoom it is always at the wrong focal length. With my hand strap and a prime lens I can change aperture, focus, adjust exposure compensation and still carry a baby in the other arm :)

7. Cost. A lot of prime lenses are very cheap for the quality. They are great bang for the buck for stock. A cheap 50mm f/1.8 can take you a long way for $129.

Naturally my next article will be why zooms rock :)

*Olympus does make a very nice f/2 zoom - doesn't work on my camera though, and a little pricey :)

Comments (14)

Posted by Alvera on October 23, 2010
You are so right! My 35 mm 1.8 stay on the camera all day long. Sharp enough at 3.3 and in low light condition 1.8 is very useful. This portrait is at f4:

   Image not available or id is incorrect.   
Posted by Onime on September 06, 2010
keep your great works!! :)
Posted by Djk on September 05, 2010
I,too,have a Nikon 50mmf 1.4, when I want a sharp photo it is the one I chose. I am always tempted to use my 70-300 zoom, but I need a tripod for it. So, for walking around or sharp action, the prime 50 can't be beat!
Posted by MilsiArt on September 05, 2010
I love primes. I have old good Helios 44 (58mm f2.0) which mounted with adapter on Canon 550D comes up to 92.8mm and it rocks there if you know how to use it due that it is fully manual. It draws nice portraits as well macros with extension tubes. The best part is that one is as cheap as there is almost no price for it.
Other is Mir 1V (37mm f2.8) which comes to 59.2mm on 1.6x crop... It is a bit soft and also great lens for video - especially if you wish to avoid moire problems ;-)
Third is Canon 50mm f1.8 II. Plastic which does it's job well enough for the price it costs used ;-)
Zoom? Well... I use Canon 70-200 F4 L USM for that purposes. It rocks! What happened to me when using zoom? I tried to come closer to my subject with not trying to zoom in - and there was plenty of space to do so - primes makes you think different ;-)

What I am searching to buy now is some good old lens around 24mm...
Posted by smartview27 on September 05, 2010
Lens are so important!
Posted by Bradcalkins on September 03, 2010
Marco lenses are a very special example of a prime lens - useful for many purposes, especially if you do stock!
Posted by Unteroffizier on September 03, 2010
The only prime lens i own is the Nikon 85mm AFS VR macro with my D60. Its a basic setup but together with the other equipment suited for closeup photography i am happy at the moment with all the insect macro shots i can capture. Of course macro primes are also fine with portraits.
Posted by Antoinettew on September 03, 2010
Not long ago I bought a prime 60mm f2,8. I love working with it!
Posted by Melonstone on September 03, 2010
Brad, nice blog - I used a wide angle almost exclusively when shooting film as it is so versatile - get up close for some nice distortion, fit in groups of people/objects or back off as the shot requires. Cannot yet afford to buy a good one for my digi - that's my next aim - gonna withdraw earnings before 15/09 which will go some way towards the cost, otherwise I might get lucky at Christmas!
Posted by Bradcalkins on September 02, 2010
Carolyn - I'll admit that I find the 50mm a little bit too close on my crop sensor SLR - and is why I sprung for a 28mm f/1.8. But definitely stick with it! Here is my latest upload with a 50mm at f/2:  Back to school 
Posted by Cmarshall717 on September 02, 2010
I have the Nikon 50mm f1.8. I have tried and tried, but I just can't get the hang of it. I seem to get bored with it as opposed to my zoom. I'm sure it's all in the "using". Guess I'll have to pull it out again and see what I can do with it.
Posted by Marilyngould on September 02, 2010
Absolutely love my 100mm 2.8, it has more than paid for itself with the stock shots it has produced to date! :)
Posted by Littlemacproductions on September 02, 2010
I soooo agree! I'll probably agree with why zoom rocks too!
Posted by Mary981 on September 02, 2010
Right on, I love my 50mm f1.4!! The husband just doesn't get it (or anyone else who we ask to take pictures of us with it)

Comments (14)

This article has been read 2232 times. 6 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Peter Hansen, Brad Calkins, Cristapper, Dmitriy Shironosov.

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