When it comes to having the right gear for the job, photographers still remain somewhat divided over which type of lens they should keep on hand. For the beginners out there, prime lenses are those with a fixed focal point, whereas zoom lenses allow zoom capability as their name would suggest. So while on the face of things it might seem more versatile to carry a zoom lens, the reality is that prime lenses have notable upsides. In effect, it would be remiss to think that the two don’t both have a place in your bag. Let’s look a little closer at each option.
Since prime lenses do not have any zoom capabilities, photographers are restricted in terms of framing photos how they would like. Because of this shortfall however, quality is generally considered to be superior between the two options – at least on a like for like cost basis. This is attributable to the nature of the glass used within the construction of a fixed lens. After all, it does not need to be built for a moving structure.
As a result, photographers can really benefit from using prime lenses when they know what it is they will be photographing, and can therefore gauge an appropriate focal length. If this information is not available, photographers need to exert a greater degree of thought and planning into their work. On the one hand, this may mean some time consuming and frustrating periods of trial and error. Conversely, it means you will be able to hone your skills, namely creativity and cognitive vision.
It’s also worth taking into account the role of the aperture in a prime lens. Because the construction of the lens is fixed, the aperture may open far wider than that in a zoom lens. With a wider aperture, prime lenses are better served for low light settings. This is due to their ability to permit more light into the camera.
When it comes to zoom lenses, there is a large degree of variability among the models available to photographers. Effectively, there is an option among all budget levels. Unlike what might be expected, zoom lenses at the upper end of the scale typically cater for a smaller zoom. That is, the range of their focal length is more restricted than cheaper zoom lenses, which cover a broader scale.
However, given the earlier issues identified relative to prime lenses, the design is on account of a minor trade-off. That is, while the aperture may be more constrained than a prime lens, a photographer has a considerably easier time being able to frame their shots. It allows versatility with regards to this aspect, while a prime lens does not. It’s also important to take note of the aperture capabilities of zoom lenses. Some maintain an aperture setting throughout the range, providing assurance. Meanwhile, others vary across the zoom range.
And as indicated earlier, quality differences between the lenses are larger at the lower end of the scale. This is not to say they’re not noticeable among dearer models too, but it’s more pronounced among the zoom lenses with broader ranges. Therefore, zoom lenses with a broader range are usually for novice or part time photographers who are starting their career. Alternatively, they may be used by those engaging in photography for non-professional purposes, although they are heavier and more expensive than their fixed counterparts. With that said, if you’re carrying multiple prime lenses, trying to mimic the versatility of a zoom lens, you’ll soon end up with a dearer and heavier outcome.