What do you shoot with – Zoom lenses or Prime Lenses?

Zoom Lens – Covers a flexible focal range, ie 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm
Prime Lens – Covers a FIXED focal Length, ie. 35mm, 50mm, 85mm

I think the majority of shooters choose zooms because of the flexible focal range. Today’s zooms are of an amazing quality, especially the higher end models with the Fixed Aperture of 2.8. (This means that you can use f2.8 whether you are shooting at 24, 30, 50 or 70 on the 24-70 lens)

Most “kit” lenses that come with cameras have a Variable Aperture. This means that if you have a 24-70 3.5-5.6 kit lens, you can use the larger aperture of f3.5 at the 24mm setting, but if you zoom to 70mm you are limited to f5.6. This is the downside of kit lenses. Kit lenses are MUCH lighter than the top end models, but they are not built the same. So when you splurge for the $1,500+ version you will DEFINITELY notice a difference. It is like a Honda Fit vs. Honda Pilot. You will pay lots more $$$ but the rewards are greater too.

I remember the first time I put a 28-70 2.8 piece of glass on my Nikon D100. I was blown away and made the decision at that point to only buy the best glass. If I could not afford it, I would wait until I could. Next step was higher end Prime lenses. Again, tried it with the 85 1.4 and was hooked.

If you do not want to spend $$ then do not put the good glass on your camera! LOL. You will have no choice. (I had the same change when I tried a Mac for the first time back in 2002. Been hooked ever since.)

So which is right for you – zoom or prime? That choice is yours. I own both, but primarily use Prime lenses 95% of the time. Here are my reasons for using Primes:

  • They are sharper (IMHO)
  • Have advantage of reaching apertures of 1.4 (1.2 on Canon). Talk about Shallow Depth of Field.
  • The colors and contrast in my out of the camera files are beautiful
  • Much Lighter than zooms (typically)
  • They make a smaller footprint on the camera (typically).

Primarily I am a Documentary Wedding Photographer. What that means to me is to be as unobtrusive as possible. Prime lenses give me a better fit for being unobtrusive because they are smaller and lighter. I already have a Big Black Box that I put up to my eye when I see a moment. Sometimes it is hard for people not to notice that, in and of itself. When I put a Huge Zoom on the front of my Big Black Box it makes me that more noticeable. Also the primes I use have max Apertures of 1.4 – 2.0 so that enables me to avoid using flash. Flash for the majority of Documentary Wedding Photography is off limits (with the exception of the reception, which I will discuss in a future post.) Talk about being noticed… LOL pop a flash on your camera, start shooting and wa-la, you are no longer invisible.

Even when I do portrait shooting I opt for Primes the majority of the time, because of the Sharpness, Colors and Contrast. I do not worry about missing a shot because the Primes keep me accountable. I need to be intentional when shooting. I find that when I use a zoom, I tend to get lazy and spray more un-intentional shots. Zooms make me zoom for the sake of zooming and not intentionally compose an image. Primes make you use your feet to get close. Getting Close makes better pictures. There is an old saying, “If your pictures stink, then you are not close enough.”

I can tell you that I use zooms sometimes, if I want to have just one lens on me. My main zooms are the 12-24 f4, 28-79 2.8 and 70-200 2.8 VR.

My primes are: 20 2.8, 35 2.0, 50 1.4, 85 1.4, 105 2.8

Love to hear your thoughts in the comments!