January 18, 2012

Why Prime Lenses?

Many of you contacted me after I wrote my post about the Olympus EP3 and my excitement over their addition of two stellar prime lenses, the 12 and the 45 respectively. The questions often revolved around why I wasn’t more excited about zoom lenses.

For those who are new, a prime lens is merely a fixed focal length lens. It just means that unlike your 70-200 mm lens that allows you to use focal lengths between 70mm and 200mm, a prime lens will only shoot at a fixed length. Some common prime lens lengths are 24mm, 35mm 50mm, 85mm, 100 mm, 200mm, etc.

Here’s a rundown of some of the advantages prime lenses have over zooms from my point of view.

1. Prime lenses tend to be “faster” than zooms. What I mean by that is that they have a larger aperture (lower f-stop number) and allow more light into the camera.

2. Prime lenses tend to be sharper because they tend to have fewer optical compromises. Zooms require more lens elements and moving parts which could impact sharpness.

3. Prime lenses are typically smaller and lighter than their zoom-lens equals.

4. Prime lenses force you to think more about composition since you can’t just zoom your way out of a problem.

5. Prime lenses (at least the great ones) sometimes offer you more control with features like depth-of-field scales (used for hyper focal distance calculations) or aperture rings.

There are disadvantages to all these features. You have less flexibility, you have to buy and carry more lenses to achieve coverage of the same focal lengths, and good prime lenses can be expensive.

For me, it’s all worthwhile.

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. [...] in pretty much the one spot for all of the shots. There’s great explanation from Scott Bourne here as to why prime lenses are the way to go. 7) Read this book Video editing: In times past you worked [...]

  2. [...] Bourne has made his case for prime lenses. I agree… but their lack of flexibility is their downfall for me. What about [...]

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