Prime vs Zoom Lens: Which One is For You?

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  By Jonathan Ma
Prime vs Zoom Lens: Which One is For You?

Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus and Fujifilm are just some of the big names in the camera market today. Add to this the complexity and large product lines of cameras and lenses, and you’ve got a complete range of options. This article is designed to help you to narrow down the type of lenses that are right for you. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of both prime lenses and zoom lenses.

Prime Lenses – Pros

Let’s take a look at some of the pros of prime lenses. First off, they are much, much cheaper than their zoom counterparts. The reason for this is because it’s much simpler to design prime lenses which only covers one focal length than it is to design zoom lenses which cover a range of focal lengths. Because it’s much cheaper to buy prime lenses, sometimes you can buy multiple prime lenses for the price of one zoom lens. Another advantage of prime lenses is that they have great image quality. The general rule is that a prime lens at the same focal length as a zoom lens will always win the image quality contest. Because prime lenses require you to move around to compose the image how you want it, they are great for photographers who are still developing their technique. It forces photographers to always think about how to compose and image and think on their feet, literally.

One of the other great things about prime lenses is that they are very compact and light. For example, the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 Pancake Lens weighs only 4.6 oz (130 g) and the dimensions are only 2.7 x 0.9″ (6.86 x 2.29 cm). This lens is so small, it can fit in a pocket! One last advantage that I’d like to mention regarding prime lenses is that they have a larger maximum aperture, which means they can shoot at faster shutter speeds and work better in low-light settings.

Prime Lenses – Cons

Although prime lenses have many great qualities, they do have negative factors. For example, prime lenses are limited in their function. In locations where the photographer can’t freely walk around, it may not be possible to get closer to or farther away to the subject. This means there may be some shots that are not possible to take due to the fixed focal length. The other disadvantage of prime lenses is that you have to carry multiple lenses in order to cover a range of focal lengths. It may require that you have a bigger photography travel bag and bring more accessories such as filters for each lens.

Zoom Lenses – Pros

The advantages of zoom lenses are praised by many. Some photographers swear by zoom lenses, and will only shoot with this type of lens. They like the fact that zoom lenses can cover a wide range of focal lengths, so they only have to carry 1 or 2 lenses at a time. This convenience is very helpful for professionals who are hired to take pictures in fast-paced events such as weddings or sporting competitions. Sometimes in these conditions, even the quick process of changing a lens (5-10 seconds) means missing the opportunity to take an important shot.

Zoom Lenses – Cons

Although very convenient, zoom lenses definitely have their cons. When comparing a zoom lens with a prime lens with similar image quality, the zoom lens often carries a much heavier price tag. Sadly, the price tag won’t be the only thing that’s heavy – a high-quality zoom lens will be very hefty in size and weight. As an example, consider the Canon EF 70-200 f/4 L USM lens. This lens is very popular for its great image quality and small size for its class of lens. Even still, this lens is rated at a heavy 24.9 oz. (705 g).

For travel photographers and other photographers who are often on the move, this will be a deal breaker. The macro feature – the ability to get close to an image and focus – is very limited on zoom lenses. This means that you won’t be able to do any sort of real macro photography with zoom lenses. Ultimately, the lenses you choose depends on the application. It also depends whether you think the pros outweigh the cons for that particular lens.

Happy shooting!

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Jonathan Ma

Jonathan Ma is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the United States. The natural beauty that surrounds this area has helped him to learn to appreciate art and photography. Jonathan's favorite styles of photography are nature and sports photography. He enjoys learning and teaching others what he knows.

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