Prime Lenses: Into the great wide open.
You may have heard the term “prime lens” before and said to yourself, “what the heck is that?”
Recall that black and white photo class you took in high school. Now, recall that heavy, black and silver camera with the 50mm focus lens. That wonderful 50mm was probably the first 50mm you ever touched.
Enter the wonderful world of prime lenses, but be warned, they are not everyone’s cup of tea.
The first and possibly most important thing to note about prime lenses is that they have a “fixed” focal length. This means that they do not zoom; if it’s a 50 mm, it stays at 50mm. Most photographers who utilize primes carry a variety of lenses, ranging from wide angles like 20mm and 28mm to telephoto lenses such as 100mm and 250mm.
Now some of you are asking, “why the heck would I carry 3-4 different lenses when I can just carry my 17-300mm?” Despite being confined to a fixed focal length, there are several advantages to using prime lenses over zooms. First, most prime lenses produce sharper images than their zoomy counterparts. A majority of primes have fewer glass elements which are engineered for a specific focal length. Zoom lenses have many moving parts and therefore must be produced to work at many different focal lengths.
Next, many prime lenses offer wide apertures ranging from F2.8 to F1.2. This means that you can shoot in lower light conditions and achieve a very shallow depth of field.
Lastly, prime lenses generally offer less distortion at wide angle focal lengths than zooms. Many zooms will produce curved lines, as in architectural/landscape photography, and may distort your subject, as in a monstrous head or distorted facial features, when zoomed all the way out. This effect is greatly reduced when using primes.
Some other advantages to note are that many primes are lighter and cheaper than zooms. As I mentioned earlier, these lenses may not be for you. If you like to travel light, change your focal length on the fly, or use distortion as a creative effect, then zoom lenses are your best choice. If you have the luxury of time (to change lenses) and space (to move around), you may consider picking up a prime lens and seeing if it is a good fit for you!
About the Author:
Jason is a food and beverage photographer based in Chicago. He likes food, food likes him, they’re a match made in heaven. The only problem, he’s hungry all the time now! www.jasonlittlephoto.com