I love primes. Also known as fixed focal or fixed focus lenses, these little pieces of glass have become a preferred choice for me with certain shoots.
As opposed to a zoom lens that can give you a focal range of say 24 to 70mm, a prime lens has only one focal length. Popular prime lenses come in focal lengths of 24mm, 35mm, 50mm (normal lens), 85mm, 105mm, 135mm, and 200mm. The disadvantage of only having one focal length is counteracted with a few killer advantages.
Here are my favourite reasons why:
- They are small and light. Because primes cover one focal length the construction is very simple, which gives us a more compact design. If I am on the go, then I can quickly pop a prime onto a full frame DSLR, chuck it into a smallish bag and I am ready to take some killer images on the run. All I have to do is keep in mind what the type of images I want to capture and choose the relevant lens focal length. If it is also a situation where I will be carrying the camera for long periods of time, then I don’t want to be weighed down by a heavy lens. With heavy zooms your energy levels tend to take a dive if it’s a long day of photography. I prefer to save the zooms for commercial work where support systems are in place for them to use their focal range to your advantage.
- Killer apertures. With zooms the best aperture I could get has always been 2.8. So will you. Although 2.8 is very good (and pricey) in many scenarios, there were instances where I wanted that little bit of kick at 2.0 or 1.4. An aperture that would pop the subject matter right out of the scene with shallow depth of field. Primes give me those massive apertures to play with. Should I want to use safer apertures like 2.8 or 4 then I can still do that. Good primes are usually available with apertures of 1.2, 1.4 or 1.8, but there are extreme examples of 0.95 available. Along with such wide apertures you have the luxury of having so much light hitting the sensor. Compared to 2.8 zoom, a 1.4 prime will give you two more stops, which technically gives you four times the light than that of a 2.8 aperture. With so much light available to work with I might favour to rather to shoot with ambient light instead bringing in artificial light, which would kill the mood of my photograph. With more light you are also less prone to camera shake.
- No soft focus. Although the quality of zooms have improved over the years, some zooms tend to get softer over time with use. Because there is less or no movement of components with primes, this will be less of an issue with prime lenses. Also keeping in mind that zooms tend to be the weakest on the extreme spectrum of the focal range, this is less of a worry with primes.
- Zooms can be boring + they make you lazy. With primes the zoom lies in your feet. The upside of moving is that it changes the perspective of your photograph every time, which in turn should give a more interesting images. Because you have to move you are forced be part of the scene that you are photographing.
- Primes make me a faster photographer. What I hate about zooms in an environment where things happen quickly is that I always have to think about the correct focal length. Wasting time thinking about it could rather have been used to just capture the scene in front of me. With a prime I don’t have to worry about choosing the correct focal length because I already chose the correct prime lens knowing what I was going to photograph beforehand. All I have to worry about is to nail the perfect composition and moment for my image.
- Sharpness. When dialled in primes are super sharp. Granted there are zooms that are sharp too, but not at these apertures at least.
- Less chromatic aberration. Because there are fewer lens elements in a prime, it is less prone to degradation of light that ultimately reaches the sensor. These are less defects that I have to fix later in my photograph. In turn this saves me time.
So there you have it. Primes might only be a few of the tools that I use to capture the images that I love, but it is definitely also a favourite in my photographic process.