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02-01-2014, 07:00 PM   #1
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Zooming with your feet, will new zooms end that?

I see plenty of threads on here where someone wants to upgrade from the kit lens, and they name a few zoom lenses that they are considering, then people start tossing primes in there and telling them if they want better quality they have to have a prime. My question, is that necessarily true? The reason I ask is because I've seen some super sharp pixel peeping pictures taken with zooms. I've seen examples of where certain zooms are NOT out resolved by the sensor, and now Sigma has released their 18-35 f/1.8 (and I can't wait for my copy in Pentax mount) so we even have speed added to sharpness.

Personally, while I do have some primes in my bag, I've tried others and wasn't that impressed with them. My Sigma 20 f/1.8 sucked compared to my Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 in sharpness, and I've been in plenty of situations where "zooming with my feet" would have had me off of a cliff or a bridge, or in the case of a picture of a bear that I got before possibly mauled or eaten.

So, my question is, if zooms are getting that good then why primes? Why limit yourself to one focal length or tons of lens changes, taking more chances of introducing dust into your camera? Why would you choose a prime over a zoom with some of the zooms that are out there and available, and if people like Sigma keep on in the vein of the 18-35 f/1.8, but with other ranges and at affordable prices why limit yourself that way?

I know there are those that will say I am wrong. Tell me why I am wrong in your opinion. So far my personal experience has made me like my zooms more.

02-01-2014, 07:18 PM - 2 Likes   #2
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Primes have many advantages:
a) a design for a single focal length can be optimized
b) they can achieve faster aperture at a reasonable cost
c) they are generally smaller/lighter (for a similar-tier zoom equivalent)
d) Primes have better rendering - not just sharpness, but overall image quality, OoF blur, colours, etc.
e) if you use a prime a lot, you can visualize the frame ahead of time. Primes are often valued as being helpful for composition, because they limit the photographer and force them to think about it more

What you are saying makes some sense, but on the other hand primes are improving, too. Look at the latest primes, they are faster and better than ever before! True, zoom lenses are getting better and better, but I assume two things will happen:
1) Primes will get better. I assume they will become faster, with more pleasing rendering (not just sharpness, but overall image)
2) Primes will get smaller and lighter. Pentax is already doing this. You can have a kit of three great primes instead of one zoom lens.
(and possibly 3) primes will specialize - macro, tilt, shift, extremely corrected lenses, etc.)

But I get where you are coming from. Some users say that since they got the DA 20-40mm ltd they no longer use their 21mm and 40mm primes. Zoom designs have certainly started seriously rivaling primes, and not only due to focal length flexibility, but in pure IQ. I still think primes have a future.
02-01-2014, 07:28 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by VoiceOfReason Quote
...and I've been in plenty of situations where "zooming with my feet" would have had me off of a cliff or a bridge, or in the case of a picture of a bear that I got before possibly mauled or eaten.
Though I think the point here is that the suggested prime for such shots would be one of sufficient focal length. I think it's somewhat of an errenous argument to say that someone would suggest you use a 50mm prime to snap a couple candid grizzly shots.

The primary debate I've read about is not so much that "zooming with your feet" is a literal term. I believe it more refers to you as the artist, the photographer, becoming more involved in the shot. While zooms are quite useful and a convenience, there is an idea that using a prime forces you to move and recompose, possibly getting a more unique shot than standing still and zooming in.

QuoteOriginally posted by VoiceOfReason Quote
So, my question is, if zooms are getting that good then why primes? Why limit yourself to one focal length or tons of lens changes, taking more chances of introducing dust into your camera?
This is also an argument I don't think you'll really find any foothold in. Many of the WR zoom lenses that I'm aware of don't internally focus, and as such they expand in volume during the action of zooming, and therefore suck in air around you into your camera. This could in turn bring in dust, water, or even spores or something similar.

Point being both of them have their problems in this regard.

QuoteOriginally posted by VoiceOfReason Quote
Why would you choose a prime over a zoom with some of the zooms that are out there and available, and if people like Sigma keep on in the vein of the 18-35 f/1.8, but with other ranges and at affordable prices why limit yourself that way?
I think this has more of a field specific approach and personal preference flavor than anything in the realm of mechanical reasoning.

The main things I believe someone would argue for one or the other would be based on two things:

1. The work they do with their camera causes them to prefer one lens type to another. An example might be within wildlife photography. There are many different types of wildlife photography, but we could take two for example.

Ornithological - Most generally use fairly long focal length lenses to try and get as "close" as possible. Would a zoom really help here? For most cases I would have to assume no, as you'd spend most, if not all, of your time on your highest FL anyway.

Macro - Again, you're dealing with working distance here. I'm sure there is a benefit, though I cannot immediately think of one, to using zoom lenses in this setting. However, I would imagine that it would add on to the, already considerable, effort that must be put into focusing as-is.

2. They simply like using zooms or primes. Personally, I don't have much experience with photography, though I do have to say I enjoy using primes. I believe I would have to say it has something to do with the simplicity it brings to capturing a moment, and the complexity that is intertwined. While you know what your FL is, and that will not change is the simplicity, the complexity is framing the picture.

The puzzle busting and ingenuity required to achieve some photographs is always enjoyable for me.

Anyway, there's two cents from an enthusiastic amature.
02-01-2014, 07:29 PM   #4
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If I could do it all over again, I probably would go with fewer primes, and invested more heavily in premium zooms. I probably would have spent less overall, and for most shooting I do, zooms are good enough.

But I didn't know that when I started. And as the prime collection grows, it makes it even harder to justify acquiring zooms which overlap their focal length range.

02-01-2014, 07:30 PM   #5
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Just out of curiosity I wonder how much faster primes can get before the DOF becomes too thin to be useful.
02-01-2014, 07:33 PM   #6
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My dream kit has always been the 16-50, 60-250, and a 400 f4 that doesn't exist new..... then I bought the 43... 77... 31... 300... went the other direction altogether.

I prefer primes now because as stated above, they force me to think in a focal length. They are a more personal item, making me become one with the camera/lens. I find my best results are primes, not because of the sharpness/rendering, but because of the composition. I know, with a zoom, I could get the same composition. However, with a zoom I tend to point and shoot and consider framing last. With this in mind, my 18-135 was a life saver on my trip to Nevada/Arizona because as stated, a prime would have put me into Lake Mead and the Grande Canyon! Plus the convenience factor alone justifies a good zoom.

With the awesome advancements in zoom quality, it makes the dividing line between zoom and prime closer. It is a beautiful time to live in, where generally any new lens is going to be a winner. I believe zooms are making the most advancement, but primes are getting better too. New materials, techniques, and builds are making brighter, lighter, and evenly beautiful lenses. Soon we will have a perfect lens. Sharp across the board and excellent in every way.

Moral of the story, I love primes because they are small, fast, render beautifully, and I think in terms of what is in my hand. I love zooms because they are convenient, affordable, render beautifully, and are flexible.
02-01-2014, 07:33 PM   #7
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Well, seems to me it depends on what kind of "shooting" you're doing.

I just got four vintage primes rather than get another "new" zoom, but what I'm going to use them for is all in a "controlled" indoor environment: not outside, lens changes will be specific and at my leisure, dust controlled as much as possible. And I have to say that the vintage primes ARE sharper and have MUCH less distortion than my kit zoom for the purposes that I'm using them for (archiving framed artwork and 3D art pieces). Once I tried them it was obvious. But again, I'm using them for a very specific purpose. WIth the zoom, there was a ton of distortion: the middles of the sides of the paintings were "squeezed in" and even the "Lens Correction" in RAW had to be amped up to correct it. WIth the 50mm primes? Nada. Straight as a board. A whole different world.

But I have to say that while I was testing the vintage primes "outside" I found myself wanting to twist that barrel for a zoom! I think that's because I got spoiled by the 18-135 kit lens when I took my road trip last fall...I took over 8,000 shots in 51 days, and I was a zoomin' fool the whole time. I'd never had a zoom lens before, so I really utilized it as much as possible, and yeah, it spoiled me.

When I'm just "out with the camera" to shoot what I can find, I put the 18-135 zoom back on, because yes: zooming with your feet can be hazardous to your health!
02-01-2014, 07:36 PM - 1 Like   #8
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The three photographic phrases I like least are...
Zoom with your feet,
Manual mode will teach you about photography, and
A prime will teach you composition.

I like being able to put 4 primes (and the 10-17) in my smaller bag. I like the IQ. I use them at car shows and museums, where the camera-subject distance is about the same. If I'm using the 12-24 or 70-200, I never think - gee, I wish I was using a prime instead.

Zooms and primes will be around for ever - they both have fans and uses.


Last edited by SpecialK; 02-03-2014 at 07:00 AM.
02-01-2014, 07:44 PM   #9
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My biggest problem with zooms is that I tend to be super lazy and just keep them at one focal length when I use them. I end up better off with primes because I don't take advantage of the zoom flexibility when I do use them.
02-01-2014, 07:44 PM   #10
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Most of my shooting for pleasure is outdoors or from behind the dealer table at an anime con. I COULD see a prime working for me at a convention if it were around 24mm since I am pretty much in a controlled area, but the primes I've used in the 20-28mm range, both vintage and newer didn't impress me. Heck, my 18-135 was sharper in that range!

The outdoor stuff has had me on ledges, the top of rocks and hills, leaning off of bridges, and even hanging from a tree or two. Zoom helped, because I can't crop that much!

My 40 and my 50 are sharp, but not too useful of a focal length to me. I keep them around because I may find a use for them. I sold the others.
02-01-2014, 07:46 PM   #11
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Oh, and one more thing.. primes are more likely to have DoF scales and can be used for zone focusing and hyperfocal. Modern zoom lenses do not allow that..
02-01-2014, 07:52 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Na Horuk Quote
Oh, and one more thing.. primes are more likely to have DoF scales and can be used for zone focusing and hyperfocal. Modern zoom lenses do not allow that..
Huh, I never noticed a DoF scale on a lens until you said that, and since my light travel bag with the F 50 f/1.7 is sitting right there I looked at it. Now my 40xs OTOH, yeah...
02-01-2014, 07:55 PM   #13
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True, in the past even zoom lenses had DoF scales (graphs on the barrel). These days, many primes are missing even distance scales, and even fewer have reliable DoF scales. So its not a 100% thing, but its a feature I like. All of my older primes deliver, and some new ones, too. I don't think any of my (very few) zoom lenses has them
02-01-2014, 07:56 PM   #14
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I don't think you will ever replace primes, but some zooms are awfully good. I don't know if the perfect optical formula has ever been invented that can mimic a prime at every length. But of course every prime isn't perfect either.
02-01-2014, 07:58 PM   #15
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I think there has been a lot of neglect in designing modern primes but we might be seeing a renaissance with sigma, Nikon, Fuji, and ziess all releasing a bunch of new designs. Hopefully Pentax won't be far behind on this trend.
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