The debate has been raging for years. No, I’m not referring to the Chocolate vs. Vanilla great divide, as a photographer I know the biggest raging dispute is the Zoom vs Prime lens debate.
If you are not familiar with those terms,
Prime lenses are often referred to as fixed focal length lenses, and as the
name implies, they are of a fixed focal length.
Zoom lenses allow the user to zoom across a range of focal lengths.
length and speed
The two most important aspects to consider
when choosing the right lens are focal length and speed of the lens. The focal
length of a lens defines the level of magnification and the angle of
view on the subject. While the speed of
the lens simply refers to the maximum aperture (smallest f/stop) the lens
supports – a wider aperture allows for more light meaning you can shoot at
faster shutter speeds.
Prime lenses are typically more costly than
zoom lenses, but they provide better quality optics with faster speed, whereas
zoom lenses provide the most flexibility.
The decision to use a prime lens should be made carefully depending on
the subject matter of choice.
Wide-angle lenses are up to 35 mm in
length. They allow for more of the scene
to be included in the frame and can help to emphasis difference in size or
distance between objects in the foreground and background.
A typical wide-angle prime lens will be a 28mm. They are often the lens of choice for landscapes. The very nature of the sweeping landscape subject matter makes the choice of the wide-angle lens a natural one. This also applies when trying to frame a small subject in the foreground – such as a flower or rock formation – in contrast to the size and magnitude of a background – like a mountain or a lake because the wide-angle lens will give the best separation of foreground and background.
A “normal” lens is usually in the range of
40 to 80 mm and provides a “realistic” or “normal” representation of the
subject without distortion.
Therefore the prime lens of choice for
studio portrait and wedding photographers is a 50 mm. It’s suitability for
making great candid street photography also makes it a great choice for travel photography. It can also be used to capture the individual
panels used to stitch together panoramas due to its lack of lens distortion.
Telephoto lenses start around 100 mm and
can extend to 600 mm and beyond. The
longer the focal length, the more magnification of the subject will occur.
The major benefit of using a Prime telephoto lens for sports or wildlife photography is the speed of the lens. Stopping the action of fast moving sports requires shooting at shutter speeds in the range of 1/1000, 1/2000 or even 1/4000 second, and these can often be shot in less than optical lighting conditions. This lens will give you the best performance in those conditions.
Ultra wide-angle lenses are ones where the
focal length is shorter than the short side of the sensor – less than 24 mm for
full frame or 15 mm for cropped sensor DSLRs.
Ultra wide-angle lenses, like the fishery lens – offer a larger depth of
field, but will introduce severe distortion, and as such are usually limited to
using for special effects only.
If macro work is your passion, you are best to invest in a good Macro lens that can provide a 1:1 (life size) or better ratio. The challenge with shooting tiny subjects is that most lenses have a focal distance too great to capture the details of small things. The use of a normal lens with extension tubes can provide a relatively good work around, but comes with a cost to the depth of field.
Macro lenses are usually prime fixed focal
lengths in a variety of options. The
guiding principles above can help choose the one right for you.
Regardless of the choice, you make for your Prime lens, remember that you don’t have to give up the zoom feature completely. Zoom with your feet – get closer or farther from the subject, move up or down for different perspectives on your subject. Zoom with your imagination – use the lens in a non-traditional way for greater creativity.
So the next time you are asked if you fall
on the Zoom or Prime side of the argument, you have all the information you
need to defend your choice wisely.
You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.
- Out of Africa
About the Photography Blog
African Wildlife Photos is a unique and comprehensive library of photography resources, specifically focusing on capturing wildlife/safari images. We research best-practices and bring you the latest news regarding technology, styles and advice on getting the best wildlife photos.
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