Zoom lenses are becoming the preferred, more practical option for many working professional photographers in recent years. It makes sense that more people have been gravitating toward the ease of zoom lenses, given that the most recent picture sensors provide exceptional quality, even at very high ISOs. Additionally, zoom lenses now offer excellent image stabilization technology and are generally sharp enough for daily use, even some inexpensive kit lenses.
Some of today’s professional-grade lenses have picture quality comparable to or even better than prime lenses with the same focal length. Prime lenses haven’t lost their appeal despite all of this. Manufacturers of lenses like Nikon and Canon have been adding new and improved options to their lens lineups at a quick pace. Independent producers like Sigma are confidently entering the market. This makes it more difficult to decide between a zoom and a prime lens. I go into great length on the differences between prime and zoom lenses in my beginner’s tutorial, along with several photographic examples.
What is a prime lens?
A fixed focal length lens, sometimes known as a “fixed lens,” is referred to as a prime lens. This implies that until you move, you cannot make the picture look bigger or smaller inside the frame since such a lens has a fixed angle of view that cannot be adjusted. By moving closer to your subject, you may enlarge it and make it take up more of the frame. However, the only way to include more in the frame is to take a step back.
Prime lenses, like 50mm, have a single, predetermined focal length. They range from fisheye to super-telephoto in size and focal length. Prime lens examples include the Nikon 50 f/1.8G, Canon 800 f/5.6L IS, and Sigma 35 f/1.4.
What is a zoom lens?
In contrast, a zoom lens has a changing focal length. You may change the angle of view by moving the zoom ring, which moves optical parts within the lens. This implies that by using the zoom ring in one way, you may make items look bigger, or by turning it in the other direction, you can fit more objects into the screen.
The two specs on zoom lenses, such as 70-200mm, stand for the two zoom range extremes. Such a lens may function as a 70mm, 200mm, and any other focal length. Zoom lenses may also have adjustable aperture ranges. On many consumer zoom lenses, the lens’s maximum aperture at various focal lengths is often displayed as something like f/3.5-5.6. For instance, a lens like the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 will have an aperture maximum of f/3.5 at the smallest focal length of 18mm and an aperture maximum of f/5.6 at the greatest focal length of 55mm. On the other hand, the majority of zoom lenses used by professionals will only have one maximum aperture. Zoom lens examples include the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II, and Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II.
The benefits of prime lenses
What justifies the requirement for fixed focal length lenses? Here is a summary of the key benefits that prime lenses have over zoom lenses.
Many current prime lenses are substantially less expensive compared to their zoom equivalents. A 24-70mm f/2.8 lens costs between $1900 and $2300, while a 24mm f/2.8 lens costs roughly $400. You will still spend less even if you use fast prime lenses like the 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, and 85mm f/1.8 to cover focal lengths between 24mm and 70mm. Because of this, photographers on a budget no longer have to always settle for subpar zoom lenses and may enjoy top-notch optics for a fraction of the price of those pricey variable focal length lenses.
Weight and Size
Surprisingly, many novices often yearn for enormous lenses with image stabilization, like the 70-200mm f/2.8. It’s true that these lenses are sharp, have very quick autofocus motors, and can withstand a lot of damage. However, their enormous size is also considerably more obvious, and their hefty weight may result in chronic problems like back and neck discomfort.
By observing the expanding mirrorless market, which even pros rush at the opportunity to acquire, we can understand how serious this issue is. Prime lenses represent a tradeoff since they give up flexibility for size and weight. I chose the 85mm f/1.4 lens a while back rather than the 70-200 f/2.8 lens, and I haven’t looked back. When all you have are large lenses, you could find yourself leaving your camera at home rather than carrying it wherever you go.
Many photographers think that strolling while being forced to “zoom” in and out is a fantastic technique to learn composition and locate better viewpoints. It purportedly also aids in better acclimating to a lens and maximizing its utilization. I can state that my 50mm prime has aided me in certain ways, so to an extent, I agree with this, but in all honesty, such constraint may be just as detrimental to your learning process. If you are a prime photographer, I think it is crucial to have at least one zoom lens and vice versa.
Aesthetics The maximum aperture of most fast, professional zoom lenses, including the 14–24mm, 24-70mm, and 70–200mm, is set at f/2.8. On the other side, quick, expert prime lenses may have an aperture as wide as f/0.95. Due to their enhanced light-gathering capabilities, they also have a narrow depth of focus, which may produce “bokeh” or the artistically reproduced background highlights in images.
When using their kit zoom lenses, many beginning photographers often question why they can’t manage to capture nicely separated subjects. With consumer zoom lenses, it is often hard to get attractive, “creamy” backgrounds because of the narrow maximum aperture and inferior lens optics.
Low Light Photography
Due to a greater / wider aperture, a fast prime lens will enable you to capture objects in low light conditions without adding a blur. Prime lenses may readily “open” up to f/2 or even f/1.2 due to their often simpler optical construction.
These lenses have an aperture of f/2.8, which is twice as large as a fast, professional zoom lens. Even though many zoom lenses contain optical image stabilization devices to aid you in low-light situations, such systems are worthless if your subject is moving.
Zoom Lens Benefits
No one would need zoom lenses if everything favored prime lenses. They are quite well-liked and may be very practical despite their additional weight and expense. Even the greatest fixed focal length lenses fall short compared to a solid zoom in a few situations. The benefits that variable focal length lenses provide are listed below.
The flexibility of zoom lenses is the most evident benefit. When a photographer has to be sure he can manage various conditions, zoom lenses may be helpful since they allow you to quickly go from wide-angle to telephoto without having to reposition your body. To correctly frame an image, it may be quite helpful to zoom in on an area of interest. Landscape and animal photographers, for example, are sometimes constrained to a certain site or region.
Stabilization of images
Whether it’s Canon’s Image Stabilization (IS), Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR), Sigma’s Optical Stabilization (OS), or Tamron’s Vibration Compensation, modern zoom lenses often have 3–4 stop image stabilization systems (VC). You may get clear shots even with an f/4 lens when photographing still objects in low light. Your legs will move and shift parts of its internal optical components due to the image stabilization technology to combat camera wobble, allowing you to utilize very slow shutter rates.
Zoom lenses are not the only ones that provide image stabilization. Some of the more recent fixed focal length lenses, including the just-announced Canon 35mm f/2 IS, also include image stabilization features. Last but not least, remember that image stabilization may be found on camera bodies or lenses. For instance, DSLRs from Sony and Pentax include sensor-based image stabilization that is compatible with almost any attached lens.
A single zoom lens may replace two or three prime lenses. Additionally, you just have to worry about moving about with one mounted lens because of this. You could avoid carrying a bulky bag if you have a single zoom lens. Some zoom lenses let you carry less weight since you don’t need to pack several prime lenses to cover the zoom range. A cleaner sensor and optical components also result from fewer lens changes.
Beginner photographers sometimes have to decide between purchasing a zoom lens or a fixed focal length lens. It might be difficult to choose between the two, as you can see from this article since each has benefits and drawbacks. Realizing which equipment best fits your shooting style takes time. Others swear by their prime lenses and never use zoom lenses, while other individuals end up with a single “do it all” superzoom lens. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it does not stifle your creativity, as you gradually become more adept at using your equipment and hone your photographic talents.