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05-25-2011, 07:15 AM   #1
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The great Prime Debate

What are the factors most consider when deciding between getting a prime lens and a zoom lens?

I just purchased my first prime,DA f2.4 35MM and can't wait to try it out. But I'm thinking that it might limit me because I cant get in closer or move further away as quickly as I would like.

I am looking to upgrade my kit lens because I notice the images are not as sharp as I'd like and cant decide if I should purchase more primes or a decent zoom.

05-25-2011, 07:26 AM   #2
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My photos are shitty. My photos taken with zooms are even shittier.
You need to be a very good photographer to choose right frame for the shot with zoom. It's much easier with prime IMO.
05-25-2011, 07:36 AM   #3
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I have the following approach, with respect to zooms and primes as I have both.

When I travel with my family, I take mostly zooms because I don't have time, within the family activities to use primes.

WHen I am on my own schedule, I use primes
05-25-2011, 07:57 AM   #4
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I used to think why buy a ton of primes when you can have one good zoom. I bought a good zoom and a couple primes. Now I have sold all my zooms and only use nice primes.

I find the primes generally have better IQ, character, bokeh and rendering and also make me a more creative shooter.

05-25-2011, 08:00 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Deimos Quote
I used to think why buy a ton of primes when you can have one good zoom.
I think this is my thought process right now. I guess its one of those things whee you have to have a little trial and error before you have a permanent answer.
05-25-2011, 08:04 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Gennatay Quote
I think this is my thought process right now. I guess its one of those things whee you have to have a little trial and error before you have a permanent answer.
Yeah when you get to play with some decent primes (decent doesnt mean expensive either) you may find you are more creative with them.

I also used to think "who cares about the extra size/weight", but now that matters too, I dont often want to stick a big lens in someones face, also nice to carry a nice compact setup around
05-25-2011, 08:10 AM   #7
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My first SLR came with 50/1.8 and that was my lens for a long time. I added a 2x TC and a flash bracket. When zooms got to be common, I fell in love with them. I purchased a Nikon film camera in the early 90's that came with a 24-70 and I loved that lens. When I jumped to digital, I was strictly using zooms for quite a while without complaints. It was the need for some low light shots that got me to buy an adapter for my 55/2 Tak and I was stunned by the sharpness that old lens produced. I am now drifting back the other direction and using primes more and more again. There are drawbacks and the biggest in my opinion is sensor dust. When I'm out with a bag of primes, I end up doing a lot of PP with the spot healing tool. Still, I think the IQ of my primes is worth it. There are times when the zoom is the most practical. I would say my 18-55 is still my most used lens if I tally up my photos at years end.

I'll also add that I have reached a point in my life where I can afford to add to my camera gear. The kids are now grown and through college and starting their own lives. With a family and being on a tight budget, for many years, i shot what I could afford and I shot with a 2 zoom kit and my old Taks until not long ago.
05-25-2011, 08:15 AM   #8
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Buying a lot of primes is generally more expensive than 1 compariable zoom (i.e., comparing autofocus w/ autofocus). I'd say shoot with you zoom a bunch, find your favorite focal lengths, and buy a prime at the focal length to get the best performance in your most-used zone.

That's essentially the logic I used when I purchased the 15 and the 50, since I tended to use the kit at either extreme. I still use the kit for the middle focal lengths, when I need them.

Anyways I do prefer primes but trying to build an all-prime kit is kind of crazy when you consider the price of, say, the Tamron 28mm-75mm f2.8.

Not much of a debate, really. The primes are about (mostly) aperture flexibility, and (sometimes) size. I like my 50mm at f2, but if you plug it at f4 and compare it to a good f2.8 zoom... they are pretty much just as sharp.


Last edited by paperbag846; 05-25-2011 at 08:23 AM.
05-25-2011, 08:20 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Gennatay Quote
What are the factors most consider when deciding between getting a prime lens and a zoom lens?
I tend to use zooms for general purpose and primes for a specific requirement; e.g. best bokeh, widest aperture, portability, real macro, portrait, etc. Zoom lenses are a step down in IQ, but it's sometimes hard to notice, or not that important. Mostly a zoom is about convenience. Constant lens changes can be irritating, but limiting yourself to a single focal length can be fun.

There's no need to go all prime or all zoom. They each have advantages. Something we've seen repeatedly on this forum is that the kit lens gets blamed for lack of sharpness, when the problem really is technique. Why don't you post some photos that show how the 18-55 is letting you down? There are a lot of very experienced shooters who are quite satisfied with results from the kit lens. Not that they don't have other lenses, but they still like and use the 18-55 when it's appropriate.
05-25-2011, 08:35 AM   #10
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There are photographers who use primes almost exclusively; then there are the ones who prefer zooms. I fall into the latter category. IMO, for general walk-around lens it will be hard to beat the convenience of a zoom especially when chasing kids around, but that’s just me. For the kind of shooting I do my DA 18-250mm is almost “permanently” attached to my K-x. I do have a few manual primes but only use them for specific needs, as mentioned above.

QuoteOriginally posted by Gennatay Quote
I am looking to upgrade my kit lens because I notice the images are not as sharp as I'd like and cant decide if I should purchase more primes or a decent zoom.
IMHO, the kit lens is a fairly decent zoom and perhaps the best kit lens offered by any manufacturer. However, If you’re comparing it against a prime it won’t be sharp.
05-25-2011, 09:23 AM   #11
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I use primes for discreteness, size, weight, and when I'm feeling lazier in composition and photography. They help me get back into the joy and the limits help challenge me.

Zooms I use when I want to be very exact about compositions— definitely not just zooming in and out, but playing with perspective by walking backward and forward while adjusting the focal length. Or when I am being completely lazy (the worst, and what most people use zooms for). Also events with fast action.
05-25-2011, 10:04 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
I have the following approach, with respect to zooms and primes as I have both.

When I travel with my family, I take mostly zooms because I don't have time, within the family activities to use primes.

WHen I am on my own schedule, I use primes
I use the same aproach, with family zooms, alone primes. Zooms are also handy with sports
05-25-2011, 10:19 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Emacs Quote
My photos are shitty. My photos taken with zooms are even shittier.
You need to be a very good photographer to choose right frame for the shot with zoom. It's much easier with prime IMO.
An insightful, well worded response and true in my case as well..
05-25-2011, 10:30 AM   #14
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I think in terms of FL.

If I know I'm going to use a lens a lot for a particular purpose and that particular use tends to require a particular FL range, say portraiture for instance, than get a prime and enjoy all the advantages of a prime with none of the disadvantages.

Otherwise a decent zoom is just fine.

Given that I have three primes a Sigma 105mm macro, Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZK, Pentax FA35 (by far my most used prime).

Last edited by wildman; 05-25-2011 at 10:44 AM.
05-25-2011, 10:31 AM   #15
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The zoom vs. primes debate boils down to a tradeoff involving versatility/convenience, size, speed and optical quality. The choice is a personal one and can change depending upon circumstances. Don't look to others to resolve your dilemma for you. You will have to do so yourself based on your own tastes and shooting style, and it may take some time and money to figure out.

Rob

Last edited by robgo2; 05-25-2011 at 10:43 AM.
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