What should I buy for my kit – prime or zoom lens?
Zoom lenses have always been the more obvious and versatile choice of many working professional photographers. In the recent years we have seen amazing new technology being introduced in the photography equipment. New sensors producing amazing quality, even at extremely high ISOs, new cameras being introduced, lots of old zoom lenses were redesigned and received upgrades. They have become impressively sharp, even some cheap kit lenses, are sharp enough for day-to-day needs and also have effective image stabilisation. Gone are the days when sharpness meant choosing a prime lens.
What is a Prime Lens?
A prime lens is a lens that has a fixed focal length (also known as a “fixed lens”). What this means is that such a lens has a fixed angle of view which can not be changed – unless you move you will not be able to bring the subject you are photographing closer. The only way of enlarging your subject and making it fill more of the frame is by physically getting closer to it and vice versa.
Prime lenses have a single fixed focal length, for example 35mm. They come in all kinds of sizes and focal lengths, from very wide to telephoto.
What is a Zoom Lens?
A zoom lens is a lens that has a variable focal length. By turning the zoom ring, you move optical elements inside the lens to achieve a different angle of view. This means that you can make objects appear larger (zoom in) by turning the zoom ring in one direction, or fit more objects into the frame (zoom out) by turning it in the opposite direction.
So, what should I choose – prime or a zoom lens? Scroll down to read about my personal preference!
In order to choose prime over zoom lens or vice versa, we need to identify the advantages of one lens group over the other.
Prime lenses are often cheaper, smaller and lighter than zoom lenses. The aperture of professional grade prime lenses can go as large as f/1.2. For this reason, they offer not only better light gathering abilities, but also shallow depth of field, which when taking portraits (and not only) can result in photos with beautifully blurred backgrounds. A fast prime lens will allow you to photograph subjects in low light environments without introducing blur and without flash, thanks to a larger / wider aperture. Due to typically simpler optical designs, prime lenses can easily “open” up to f/2, f/1.8, f/1.4 or even f/1.2.
The most obvious reason for buying zoom lenses is their versatility. They can be great when a photographer needs to be sure he can handle a variety of different / changing situations. You can go from wide-angle to telephoto in a quick turn of the zoom ring without the need to physically move. Sport, landscape and wildlife photographers often use zoom lenses for this reason. A single zoom lens can replace two or three prime lenses. This means you can often travel with just one lens – less to worry and easier logistics.
My personal preference
As a working professional photographer I will always choose the gear that provides the best possible quality without having to go bankrupt to afford it. Since I travel a lot size and weight are very important. Over the years I have learned that working with minimal amount of gear has a lot of advantages. My personal choice when it comes to lenses is working with primes. I have only one zoom lens that I use sparingly – Canon 70-200 F/2.8
My current prime lens kit includes: Canon 24mm F/1.4, Canon 35mm F/1.4, Sigma 85mm F/1.4, Fuji 23mm F/1.4 and Fuji 35mm F/2.
Why did I choose primes?
The three main reason for that are: very high quality, great low light capabilities and smaller size and weight.
My advice to you
My friends always ask me about what gear they should buy. My answer is always the same – it really depends on what you actually need. There are so many choices when it comes to cameras and lenses.
Do you want to photograph landscapes? Go with one or two versatile zoom lenses (for example 17-40mm and 70-200mm).
Do you want to photograph your kids in all possible situations and lightning conditions? Get one zoom lens and one fast prime (for example 24-70mm and 50mm).
Is street photography what you like to photograph? One wide prime will be more than enough (for example 35mm or 50mm)!
The more you practice, the more photos you take, the more it will become clear to you what you actually need. Start simple – get one cheap zoom lens (for example 18-55mm). Learn what your camera can do, what you can do with your kit and what you can’t. Then upgrade if necessary. I will always advice you to buy the best lens you can get and save some money on the camera body. Lenses will stay with you for years, your camera body will probably be changed in two or three years.
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