Prime vs Zoom Lenses

Unlike Zoom lenses, who's focal length can change (Ex. 16-35mm, 70-200mm, etc.), a Prime lens is a lens whose focal length is fixed. So why would you want a prime lens when you can just carry around an 18-200mm lens? Well let's look at the Pro's of both Prime and Zoom Lenses...

Prime Lens Pros:

  • Faster Apertures than Zoom Lenses
  • Shorter Depth of Field thanks to the faster aperture
  • Typically higher in quality (Based on price and manufacturer)
  • Less Chromatic Aberration and Vignetting
  • Greater bokeh
  • Smaller in Size
  • Weigh Less
  • Typically cheaper than a good zoom lens

With a prime lens you will have to physically move to change how close or far you are from the subject. That is both a pro and a con due to the fact that many photographers love the challenge of not sitting still and having to reframe since they may end up with new angles they never thought of trying. However, sometimes you know the shot you are going for and may be out of luck with a Prime Lens.

Zoom Lens Pros:

  • Covers a much wider range of focal lengths
  • Can consider taking only one lens when traveling/going out for the day
  • One zoom lens is cheaper than multiple prime lenses

Prime lenses are incredible and offer a lot of benefits over zoom lenses, but being able to change your focal length is a huge benefit in its own. When I shoot landscapes I always take a zoom lens with me since I never know where I'll end up standing. However, when it comes to in studio shots, I will always use my prime lens for the benefits listed above. 

Some commonly brought up questions:

Do I really need a faster aperture? That all depends on what you shoot. If you often shoot in dimly lit areas or at night and find that your camera isn't fast enough, a good prime lens will be your best friend.

Won't I be swapping out my lenses a lot? Maybe... It all depends on the situation. When I shoot landscapes, I take a zoom lens with me. It's less to carry and I never know how far or close I will be to what I'm shooting. When I am in the studio shooting products or portraits, I only use prime lenses. It's not a big deal for me to change lenses in a studio and prime lenses give me higher quality photos which one would expect from product/portrait shoots.

What prime lenses should I get? A great starting point is 50mm. A.K.A the Nifty Fifty. The closest focal length to what our eyes see is 50mm which is why it's a great place to start since you are typically trying to capture what you are looking at. Next depends on what you want to shoot. If you like macro shots, look into getting a macro primes lens such as Sony's 90mm. If you are always shooting wide landscape shots, you may want to look around 25mm since 16mm and below will start causing a fisheye effect. Lastly, if you love taking pictures of birds, animals, etc. a 200mm+ lens is the way to go! 

What do you typically carry? Right now I swap between a 16-35mm zoom for all my landscape shots and a 55mm prime for in studio. Since I just switch to Sony, I am still in the process of researching lenses, but these two cover 90% of my needs.

Anything I should look out for when buying a lens? Know your sensor size! If you are shooting with a crop sensor, but purchased a 35mm lens for a full-frame sensor, you may notice the lens is acting more like a 50mm+ lens. This is due to the fact that a crop sensor will only take a section of what the full-frame lens is giving you. Think about it this way: Imagine standing behind a wall with a window on it, that window represents a cropped sensor while the wall represents a full-framed sensor. You can only see a section of the view based your window (sensor) size. That's not necessarily a problem, but it's something to consider when looking at any lens.

Any questions, comments, etc. let me know below!