Reasons to always use prime lenses instead of zooms when it is possible

Friday, 30 November 2012



Not properly an article, I just expose here some of my thoughts that I hope will open up a discussion. All matters may decline into many insights and examples, maybe with time I'll make a few.

You can see some articles, tests, etc.  I wrote in this blog that show the quality of prime lenses . However, a general comparison primes vs zooms was never presented. But a long experience also as a pro honesty has utmost led me to the following conclusions :

1 . the prime lenses are much lighter and smaller . If you've never used a fixed lens , like many today who start their adventure from the beginning with a zoom on camera , could be a missing factor. People often seek a very light all-around lens, such as for travel and one turns to zoom , where to get a certain quality one must necessarily choose very heavy (and expensive ) optics or sacrifice much of the image quality. In my experience, a 50mm ( on full frame of course) covers 90% of the situations of this kind.

2 . People will feel much less intimidated to be photographed if you use a small lens. You definitely do not look like a professional photographer. If this has the disadvantage of not tickle the vanity of many, for me it is a very positive factor .

3 . Prime lenses are much cheaper than any professional zoom of equal quality. For example the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 will cost about 1400 euro , the Canon EF 24-70 2.8 L II least 2000 Euros , while the fixed focal length of at least equal quality (if not more ) have a cost between 200 and 300 Eu (the 50mm f1.8 only costs 90 Euros ) . Even by adding to the kit three more lenses instead of having a top professional zoom, makes you pay less and the quality is certainly higher.

4 . You do not need to have all possible focal lengths. Professional photographers often (and always in the past) use a pair of primes and choose among the more traditional focal lengths : 28mm , 35mm , 50mm, 85mm , 135mm. If you pay attention to the exif data of the pictures taken with the zoom ( in the Adobe Bridge or Lightroom there are statistics on the entire gallery) it is very likely that most of the photos taken stays (or is close to) two maximum three focal lengths, typically almost always the two extremes of the zoom) . With primes most of the time you just zoom with your feet! If you can not ( but often it is just a matter of " laziness " ), you can always crop a little the photo in your computer. This is not a problem with current cameras having high pixel density , 15 - 18MP , even for large prints!

5 . Quality: in virtue of the way they are constructed, prime lenses have amazing quality rarely achieved by zooms. But even if the quality is the same (and the zoom can reach that but they cost! Eg . The Canon EF 70-200 2.8L IS II , € 2000 !) The fixed focal lengths are always brighter ( 1 to 3 stop) and then give you more possibilities when shooting at night or if you are looking to get a shallow depth of field.

6 . Primes are usually very well built and last forever. They have fewer moving parts and internal lenses and so on average they last longer than a zoom . Often zoom are upgraded to new versions , the fixed lenses less and if it happens the "old" version is still excellent. The focus is always extremely fast, even if not ultrasonic , ultraetc.

7 . Primes teach you how to take better pictures! The need to zoom by feet teaches you to be more creative when you approach a scene. It is very important to learn to see according to a specific focal length. Not that you could not do with a zoom but it is necessary  to be very methodical with a zoom. The fixed focal length lenses probably make us less lazy as photographers .

8 . If you use one or two focal lengths , the photos do not just tend to be better, they will be more consistent and rigorous as entire album or photo shooting. To choose primes in a professional work today can be a risk, but it is viable. It 's weird instead that amateur photographers who have all the time (and pleasure ) to photograph only according to their taste, consider the zoom a better choice.

9 . They are simply more fun! ( very subjective topic ) . Even just staying in the field of vanity, to know you shoot with the same angle of view used by Bresson and his companions does appeal to me much more than having a professional look with bulky and showy equipment.

10 . Conclusions and "pseudo- psychological" issues. We tend to believe that the choices we make come always from rational reasons and well-considered ones, but it is not so ... and advertising knows it! The apparent value of an object often ends up making us pay more, even though we may have lost hours reading and re-reading tests and reviews to find the best quality / price ratio . I believe that the narcissistic factor ( inherently exploited by the marketing) is bigger than we think . The amount of novice photographers , who may snap into automatic ( with integrated flash that opens without they know ... ) , you see them shooting with huge zooms,  sometimes it 's ridiculous. However this shows something far worse : little attention to the beauty of the photography itself and too much attention to the narcissistic "beauty" of feeling photographer .


Owning a Ferrari does not make us smarter pilots and indeed probably penalizes us if we do not know how to drive it as an experienced driver. Photography when it becomes a status symbol (among others, a very cheap one today ) then it loses its value as much as technical or artistic and enters into a not very interesting field.

Other times the reason is only the ignorance. Until not long ago, one started photography having at least a prime in the kit, this was the norm, using primes was something that could be learned automatically. Today, my experience has taught me that no student starts having already a lens like that , and you need to teach the obvious.

I attach some photo galleries in support of this argument , convinced that in the end the better argument in this area are always and only the photographs. This report example has been taken 95% with an EOS 5D II + EF 35mm 1.4 L. The remaining few shots with a EF 85mm 1.8 or an EF 17-40 f4 L . Before receiving the obvious objection that the 35mm 1.4 costs 1300 € , if the Canon produced a counterpart in the unprofessional midrange (such as the 50 1.4 and 85 1.8) I would certainly have preferred it. More on this, in the comparison test between the 35mm and the 50mm 1.4 L 1.4 (mid-range , non-professional ) :


Another gallery entirely taken with the 35 is the following. The added value here is obvious: it is impossible to take these pictures with a zoom, even raising at maximum the ISO. And in any case it is impossible to have the same quality (of course we talk about print resolution photos):


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