Another question I have frequently been asked by new photographers is which lens is better, Primes or Zooms?
This is an interesting question and can stir some debate. Primes are lenses with a fixed focal length, such as the Canon 40mm STM Pancake lens or the Canon or Nikon 50mm lenses, known as the “Nifty Fifty”. These lenses are not able to zoom in and out but they are extremely powerful lenses to have.
Advantages of the Primes is they will be of a wider aperture than the zooms. My 40mm lens is F/2.8 and my 50mm is F/1.4, with the wider aperture, I can use these lenses in much lower light levels than I can say my 28-135mm F/3.5-5.6 lens, which covers the same two focal lengths. There are today zooms than can do F/2.8 but they are very expensive and I don’t want to get off track here.
The other difference with Primes is, since they have a fixed focal length you have to get closer when shooting something. A lot of photographers like to use the “Nifty Fifty” for portraits, but you cannot shoot a portrait of someone from 10-12 feet with a 50mm as you will pick up too much background. Move in to around 3-6 feet and you will get a great portrait, depending on the style you are shooting for. The Prime lens will generally have a sharper focus to it, even at the wide end of it’s aperture and will cost a lot less money than a zoom.
Zooms do have their places, however, such as shooting at an outdoor event like a concert or fair where you cannot always get close to your subject and really need or want to get the shot. In these situations, yes it’s great to have that handy telephoto zoom lens to get in nice and tight to the subject without risking yourself or interfering with anyone else, say law enforcement at an accident scene. Zooms have come a long way and like a said, a nice 70-200mm F/2.8 is one of the most popular lens from both Canon and Nikon, but it’s also got a hefty price of up to $2,500 where you can get a good prime generally for $140-$700.
So, do both lenses have a place in your camera bag, absolutely, and as a general rule, my Primes and Zooms will usually sit in the bag peacefully without fighting too much. I do challenge you to use your primes more, many photographers tend to get lazy or they are shy and don’t want to get close to their subjects. I encourage you to break out of this mode of thinking and get close to your subjects, as long as you can do so without getting hurt or killed in the process. I’m not telling you to walk up to the lion at the zoo and get in his face with your 50mm, but next time you are shooting people, say on the street, use that 50mm and get up close and personal.