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12-27-2007, 11:49 PM   #1
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Advantages of Prime Lenses

Can anybody tell me the advantage of using prime lenses? Being an amateur relative to most of the members here, my instincts would tell me to buy a zoom lens, since it covers several focal lengths and limits the number of lenses I need to lug around. What's the advantage of fixed focal length? Your input is greatly appreciated.

12-27-2007, 11:54 PM   #2
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It's been a much discussed subject. I recommend, click Search > Advanced Search, enter Prime for the Seach Key Word, and change "Search Entire Post" to "Search Titles Only".

edit: and of course one of the better 'summary' threads on the subject used different title terms [fixed focal]
https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/14411-fixed-focal-length.html

Last edited by m8o; 12-28-2007 at 12:05 AM.
12-28-2007, 01:59 AM   #3
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stafford,
That's a good link that m8o posted.
However I just wanted to add my little bit.

I started off using Zooms, and never thought that I'd switch over to primes.
A sweet deal on a few, and then seeing the image quality changed that, and I pretty well only use Zooms for events now.

However I believe that most people should start out with Zooms, and see what ranges they do most of their shooting with.
Then base their decision on what lenses to buy on that.

Have fun out there
12-28-2007, 03:51 AM   #4
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Still an amateur here too.

Before any photo trips or assignment, I would usually pick one or two zooms with me for the shots I am more keen to get. Then I will really pick 2 primes with me and that was all about it.

Then it is light and the shots can be taken with greater flexibility.

Most of the shots I like were mainly shot relatively wide open and this is something not easily done with a zoom to create similar effect.

12-28-2007, 03:51 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by little laker Quote

However I believe that most people should start out with Zooms, and see what ranges they do most of their shooting with.
Then base their decision on what lenses to buy on that.

Have fun out there
Amen to that ... this is a good indicator on which focal lengths you use most of the time .... and then you can go hunting for that set length ... in the end ... you'll end up using your primes more offten in most situations.

There are some really nice walkaround zooms though.
12-28-2007, 05:12 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by stafford588 Quote
What's the advantage of fixed focal length?
- Lens is smaller and lighter (normally).
- Faster AF (normally)
- Larger opening/aperture (good for low light)
- Better image quality (sometimes)
- Better built (often)

When I have to work fast and/or am on a contract I normally use zooms.
When I photograph for a hobby, I use primes.
12-28-2007, 06:45 AM   #7
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Excuse me for adding my 2 cents worth. I agree with most below.

QuoteOriginally posted by blende8 Quote
- Lens is smaller and lighter (normally).
for any zoom at the same focal length and maximum apature.
QuoteQuote:
- Faster AF (normally).
due largely due to larger maximum apature noted below, but also due to usually higher contrast that results from a less complex optical design.
QuoteQuote:
- Larger opening/aperture (good for low light).
agreed in general, but not always some times, such as with pentax M series lenses, the designers opted to go slower but very light and small.
QuoteQuote:
- Better image quality (sometimes).
I would suggest usually again due to less complex optical design. also you could add better bokeh (out of focus image quality).
QuoteQuote:
- Better built (often).
Although you should qualify this to low cost zooms, specifically. Fast zooms are on average as well built as the primes, it is only the low cost and slow zooms that can sometines suffer from poor build or inexpensive design

QuoteQuote:
When I have to work fast and/or am on a contract I normally use zooms.
When I photograph for a hobby, I use primes.
Interesting point
12-28-2007, 07:45 AM   #8
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My 2 cents...
I am an amateur too, and I use big zooms. I am aware of *some* picture quality loss and of course smaller aperture, but still, you can really find very good zooms out there, which quality is close to quality of fixes. Adn the small aperture - well that's how it is. I got used to it... Not all zooms give you high quality, in fact only a few do. I'd never buy 28-300 (Sigma or Tammy) - their softness is unacceptable for me. However Tammy 28-200 (the first edition, which i own), and (hurray!) 18-250 give you very good results
Actually when i got my first superoom (FZ-10) that flexibility it had in focal range (35-435) doubled the fun for me! I fell in love and I don't think I will ever stop using big zooms.

However, there is something that superzoom lenses cannot do at all - macro. If you want to shoot true 1:1 macro, then a prime macro lens is a must. For me this is the only reason to choose a prime lens over a zoom.

12-28-2007, 08:24 AM   #9
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Modern zoom lenses can produce very sharp photos with great IQ, colors and contrast. They are more than adequate for casual shooting - sporting events, family snapshots, etc. If you are interested in studio type photography, or I shudder to say, creating fine art - quality primes are a better option. To get an idea of what a really great prime can do for you, try a Pentax FA 50mm f1.4 prime. It may not be the most useful focal length - 50mm=75mm cropped film equivalent, but you'll see the the difference.

An example of a photo shot with a FA 50mm f1.4 prime lens. Out of focus, but nice bokeh.

Last edited by superfuzzy; 12-28-2007 at 08:45 AM.
12-28-2007, 09:05 AM   #10
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The biggest problem with zooms is speed. Having a max aperture of f/5.6 or f/6.3 at the long end of a zoom just doesn't do it for me because it really limits a lens' utility indoors (gawd I hate flashes!), and doesn't allow much depth of field flexibility. For the two grand one would spend on a couple of DA* zooms, I'd much rather have 3 or 4 GREAT primes.
12-29-2007, 02:06 AM   #11
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I'm with Stu and Finn on this issue.

I really only use a zoom on events, and even then I would prefer to have an extra body and use two primes instead. For just "walking around" shooting I mount a prime and stick a couple more in my pockets. Yesterday I had some time to kill down at the ports in Yokohama, so I mounted a 55/1.8 and stuck a 28/3.5, a 135/3.5 and a set of macro rings in my jacket pockets. Very often I go out with just one prime mounted and another in my pocket. At night I can easily toss a Pentax AF200T flash in the mix together with radio triggers and still need nothing more than the pockets on my jacket.

And I share Finn's concern of the dismal speed at the long end of most zooms. I don't share his disdain for flash, but even when using flash (usually off-camera) the slow long end of most zooms is still too slow for much of what I use flash for, since I typically try to keep it down to f4 or f5.6 at most.
12-29-2007, 01:10 PM   #12
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I have a 12-24 f4 zoom and waiting a 16-50 f2.8 zoom to replace my 16-45f4
I also have a 31 f1.8 limited and a 85 f1.4 and a A* 300mm f2.8.
I tend to prefer zooms for wide angle, as you can stop down a lot to get decend image quality. For portraits and long tele, always use a prime because need quality with lens near to wide open. It is possible to use a tele prime wide open with good quality, or 1 stop down you get superb performance (think of the 2.8 200mm or 4.5 300mm), as zooms tend to be weak at the longest end. Distorsion is often prononced on zooms at widest and longest end, particularly for wide angle zooms.
12-29-2007, 04:29 PM   #13
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I've noticed something. Ever since I got my M50/1.7, I haven't even used my DA 18-55. It has been sitting in my bag for the past 2 weeks. Zooms are convenient in that you don't have to switch lenses, but they do sacrifice some quality. As far as I'm concerned, 50mm is a great focal length for me, which is why I haven't really needed the kit lens. I'm looking to get some more old primes and add some value zooms, but I won't be going crazy with the zooms.
12-29-2007, 06:15 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by stafford588 Quote
Can anybody tell me the advantage of using prime lenses? Being an amateur relative to most of the members here, my instincts would tell me to buy a zoom lens, since it covers several focal lengths and limits the number of lenses I need to lug around. What's the advantage of fixed focal length? Your input is greatly appreciated.
Hi Marc, its all been pretty well covered. I started off with a Sig 18-125, but have since added a number of lenses to my kit.

My two favourites are the Sig EX DG 24mm f1.8 and Pentax DFA 100mm f2.8....why?

Image Quality.

Cheers
Grant
12-29-2007, 06:34 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by tux08902 Quote
I've noticed something. Ever since I got my M50/1.7, I haven't even used my DA 18-55. It has been sitting in my bag for the past 2 weeks. Zooms are convenient in that you don't have to switch lenses, but they do sacrifice some quality. As far as I'm concerned, 50mm is a great focal length for me, which is why I haven't really needed the kit lens. I'm looking to get some more old primes and add some value zooms, but I won't be going crazy with the zooms.
I like zooms for their versatility. How does the DA * series stack up against primes?
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