Grasshopper on Hibiscus

A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens, why do photographers use these prime lenses and what are their advantages over zoom lenses?

There are quite a few reasons why photographers use prime lenses and I will summarise some of the reasons below.

Size and Weight

Prime lenses are generally quite a bit smaller and lighter than the equivalent focal length lenses in the zoom range. Many of the f/2.8 zoom lenses are much larger than the equivalent prime lens with the same focal length.

Aperture

One of the most important considerations for many photographers is the minimum aperture of the lens.  The aperture of the lens determines the low light capability of the lens.

The minimum aperture also determines the effectiveness of the lens in providing satisfactory selective focus. Many images are improved by using selective focus to help create more impact with images. A low aperture will provide a very narrow depth of field and some of the lenses in the Nikon range which are great for this are as follows;

  • 24mm f/1.4,
  • 35mm f/1.4,
  • 50mm f/1.4,
  • 50mm f/1.8,
  • 85mm f/1.4,
  • 85mm f/1.8,
  • 105mm f/2.0,
  • 105mm f/2.8 Micro,
  • 135mm f/2.0,
  • 180mm f/2.8,
  • 200mm f/2.0,
  • 400mm f/2.8.

All of the lenses above ranging  from wide angle to super telephoto, will provide an excellent narrow depth of field.

Bokeh

The bokeh is the out of focus characteristic of the lens. Many of the prime lenses listed above offer excellent Bokeh characteristics to further improve their excellent image quality.

Image Quality

Prime lenses are designed for the specific focal length and hence are generallY of better quality than the zoom lens of the same focal length. Many characteristics of a lens determine the quality and somme are summarised as follows;

  • Resolution,
  • Centre sharpness,
  • Edge and corner sharpness,
  • Colour aberations,
  • Vignetting.

Special Applications

Prime lenses are designed for special applications, such as close up applications, there are quite a few Nikon Micro prime lenses which offer exceptional performance for macro photography. There are also many prime telephoto lenses designed for special use such as the f/2.8 telephoto lenses for sporting applications. There are also several f/4 super telephoto lenses aimed at nature, animal and bird photography.

Convenience

All the points above do give an advantage to the prime lenses. However there are disadvantages and that is convenience. For many applications the zoom lens is far more convenient due to the fact that in many cases you can keep shooting without the inconvenience of changing lenses.

There is a detailed review of all the current complete range of Nikon lenses in our Nikon lens Review Section.

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