FPT: Prime Lenses Vs. Zoom Lenses
by Laura Hicks -  7/26/2013

The battle continues. Which is better, a fixed focal length lens (prime) or a variable focal length lens (zoom)? Although some will say the answer is simple, I tend to disagree. The decision to use either type of lens should be based on your needs, not on popular belief. Let's take a look at the difference between these lenses and find out which one is a better fit for you. Who knows? You might be surprised what you decide.

When I first started shooting weddings and portraits I only used zoom lenses, namely the 28-80mm f/2.8 and the 70-200mm f/2.8. They were great for all types of shooting, but I wanted to play around with extremely shallow depth of field. I purchased some great prime lenses like the 35mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.4. They allowed me to have even more latitude with low light shooting, but could be limiting when distance shooting was necessary. Over the years I have made the transition into hybrid lens shooting. I see the value of both types of lenses and use them as I need them.

Prime Lenses: Prime lenses are fixed focal length lenses that cannot be zoomed to achieve a different focal length. What you see through the camera is what you get. Changing perspective with prime lenses only occurs when you move your position. Traditional prime lens lengths were found in 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm. These focal lengths were popular because they were optimized focal lengths for specific photographs styles. Nowadays, there are many other focal lengths available for prime lenses, but many follow these traditional lengths (when the crop factor is taken into account).   

Zoom Lenses: Zoom lenses are available in a myriad of focal lengths. They have a focal range that varies. This length can be changed by twisting the ring on the lens. Zoom lenses can either have a variable or fixed aperture range. Kit lenses are generally zooms with a variable aperture range. They are typically less expensive and less desirable. Zoom lenses with a fixed aperture of f/2.8 or less are usually more expensive than ones that are fixed at f/4. 

What's so great about prime lenses? 

What's so great about zoom lenses?

So which is better--prime or zoom? I'm pretty sure you can make a case for both of them. Good thing manufacturers make a wide assortment for us to choose from. For me, a mixture of both zoom lenses and prime lenses are best. What about you? Weigh in with your opinion in our forum. Have a great weekend and go grab that shot!