Why I Prefer Prime Fixed Focal Length Lenses

Turtle, Rosser Park

Some photographers prefer zoom lenses and others, myself included prefer to use prime lenses. There are advantages both ways and the path you select will depend on the type of photography you do.

The above image has been captured with a prime, 300mm, f/4, fixed focal length lens. When photographing a very slowly moving subject such as a turtle there is plenty of time to change to a suitable prime , fixed focal length lens.

Zoom Lenses

  • Zoom lenses do offer great flexibility if you are shooting quickly and do not wish to change your position for framing the image, such as at a wedding or at at sporting events where there is fast action or even at parades.
  • Bear in mind that many zoom lenses do not perfom with the same quality over their full focal length range. Do not get me wrong they still perform quite well but not with the same quality over the full range. Zoom lenses are generally a compromise over their focal length range. Some zooms give better quality at the short end some at mid range and others at the long end.
  • Zoom lenses generally have more elements in the lens and I guess the more elements make it more difficult to manufacture with the same quality.
  • Most zoom lenses are available with apertures in the range f/2.8 to f/5.6 and this can be an important consideration in the choices between zooms and primes. An f/5.6 ┬álens may not be all that usefull where you are dealing with low light levels.

Prime Lenses

  • The prime lenses are designed specifically for their particular focal length and generally perform exceptionally well.
  • Prime lenses are generally available with apertures ranging from f/1.2 to f/2.8 or sometimes f 4.0. This type of lens is far more suitable for use in low light applications, particularly once you get down to apertures of f/1.2 and f/1.4.
  • The prime lenses with low apertures also offer additional benefits with selective focus. A low aperture lens setting will give a far narrower depth of field and will enable you to focus selectively on the main subject, to give more creative effects to your images, such as throwing the background out of focus. It can be very difficult to get these creative effects with f/5.6 aperture lenses particularly with wide angle lenses.
  • There are many specialist Macro (Micro) prime lenses available which perform exceptionally well in their special field.
  • Other specialist lenses such as tilt and shift lenses are available in primes for correction of perspective in architectural and product photography.
In general I can sum up my view of primes versus zooms, as being the convenience of zooms and the quality of primes.  That is to say, I always aim for the best quality image, BUT the image that you can get with the zoom are better than the image that you do not get with the prime because of the zooming facility. I do use zooms for some of my photography.