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03-01-2007, 07:27 PM   #1
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The case for primes?

This is an interesting read for those so inclined. Also, why I'm continuing to build my arsenal of Limiteds, both "The Pancake Stack" and "The Three Amigos". Here's the link:

http://www.photocritic.org/2007/prime-lens/#more-678

Rob W

03-01-2007, 09:51 PM   #2
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Primes are simpler optical designs, so even with computer aided design they're going to be tradeoffs in quality.

Primes are simpler designs, and have been around for over a century. Some classic designs are still in use.

The Pentax 50mm f/1.4 primes are considered among the finest lenses you can buy. And since the cost of R&D has long been covered, they're an amazingly good deal!
03-01-2007, 11:20 PM   #3
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I have been back and fourth on this issue, I started out with a collection of cheap primes, which were all good lenses. After reading various articles, and online discussions on the topic, I decided to go with some high quality zooms. Most of which were in the $1000.00 range, and included the Sigma 18-50 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, and 100-300 f/4. These three lenses are highly regarded and excellent performers. While images were sharp, color was good (although the 18-50 and 70-200 have a slight warm/yellow cast to them, but thats a whole other discussion), but they just didn't have the same pop as the primes. Primes just have that almost 3d look and sharpness that the zooms just cant do.

I am now back to a collection of almost all primes. This suits my shooting style. My pictures are better, and I am much more creative in my photography.

Is there a place for zooms? Of course. If that is what you need to get the job done, a high quality zoom will preform very well. I have two zooms left in my bag, that I love, but they are not the high priced, fast lenses. If I want high quality, I shoot with primes. There is a time and place where a zoom is an invaluable tool, but if someone was to ask me for a recommendation on what type of lenses to get, I will always suggest primes first.
03-02-2007, 12:33 AM   #4
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Optical considerations aside, I find that using primes forces me to slow down and think about each image much more carefully. After a while, you become familiar enough with each lens that you can look at a scene and, without ever looking through the viewfinder, frame your shot and visualize its depth of field. I find that working within the natural constraints of prime lenses fosters greater creativity, and my photographs are better as a result.

03-02-2007, 06:53 AM   #5
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I love my FA 50mm f/1.4. However, I get almost as good results with my Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, SO the 50mm only comes out when I need faster than f/2.8. Usually for indoors no flash shots, f/2.8 is TOO slow.

So a great case for Primes is speed, for the most part, the fastest zoom lens you can buy is f/2.8, but you can easily get primes faster then that (up to a certain focal length of course)

I believe Olympus makes a 35-100mm f/2.0 zoom lens for their 4/3s system, BUT it's over $2K!
03-02-2007, 09:54 AM   #6
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Here's an essay by me

I read the article and the short answer is yes and no. First of all - primes are not all that much cheaper. Just look at the limited lenses - hardly what I would call cheap at all. $500 for a DA70, dont even ask about the FA31, etc. He makes it sound like all prime lenses cost the $80 like Canon's 50mm f1.8 does. And I am comparing current prime's still in production here - not some old K that you can buy from ebay for $40.

Secondly, zooms are getting much better - not all zoom lenses are in the class of the DA18-55 and I tell you if my DA* 16-50 that I pre-ordered cant compete with say the DA21, DA40, etc. at the equivalent focal lenght and aperture I will be dissapointed. A DA* 16-50 is not (shouldt even be close) in the same class as a DA18-55. These top-tier pro-grede zooms should offer exceptional image quality. Sure a prime may still have a *slight* edge in sharpness - but how much? Am I going to sit and pixel peep the image I shot so that I can spot that oh yes I shot this with a prime? One area where the primes may be able to show themselves will be the bokeh, contrast, etc. - hopefully the new DA* lenses will be quite the performers in this area and according to Pentax and their claims they should be quite the performers indeed. Looking at past FA* zoom's also seems to suggest that Pentax (and I am sure others) know how to make a quality zoom - theres a reason they cost so much after all.

Dont' get me wrong I am all for primes and top image quality but to talk like some zooms cannot provide the IQ is stupid and a little naive IMO. I currently own the DA18-55, DA50-200, DA10-17 Fisheye, FA50 F1.4 and DFA 100 F2.8 Macro. Sure the FA50 is indeed my best lens but thats because the zooms I own are cheap kit zooms - I think this is expected.

What is going to happen when I eventually replace my two kit lenses with two DA* lenses: my lineup is going to be as follows:

DA10-17 Fisheye f/3.5~4.5
DA*16-50 f/2.8
DA*60-250 f/4
FA50 f/1.4
DFA100 f/2.8 Macro

This is all the glass I will need - it will consist of 2 high quality DA* zooms, 2 high quality primes and a unique and good fisheye zoom. I have no need for anything else and will the DA21 Ltd and DA40 ltd really make my pictures any better than what I will shoot with the DA*16-50? Will it even make a lot of discernable difference over the DA16-45 when printed and looked at on a 8 x 12 print? I doubt it for the top end and mid grade zoom and maybe yes a little better than the DA18-55 but I also expcet the two higher quality zooms to have a visible difference over the DA18-55 too (ie. vignetting, smoother bokeh, sharpness, CA, etc.).

It all seems a little sentimental and even more about bragging rights IMO. Maybe its just me but I agree with some aspects of the article but its a little misleading too. Do I really now need to go and buy say the DA70 Ltd? Will it make that much difference over the say DA* 50-135 at 70mm both at f4 or 5.6? I have a feeling it wont - especially for normal prints but it *may* if I pixel peep at 100%. What about portraits you say for the DA70 - well my FA50 is a whole 2 stops faster (the DA70 is really like an f2.8 not f2.4 - check to see comparisons to the FA77 to prove - it has been proven in both shutter speeds picked by the lenses and the DOF) and has beautiful bokeh and sharpness. Also the FA77 was an excellent portrait lens on film as 75-80mm is usually considered ideal lenght for portraits - well the FA50 now fits that bill at 76.5mm in 35mm terms). Also the DA* 50-135 is exactly the same speed as the DA70 Ltd (taking into account the DA70 is an f2.8). We will really see how much better the DA70 will be at 70mm over the DA* 50-135. At f2.8 it may have a slight edge in smoother bokeh and sharpness, it will probably be gone by f4 and beyond. Will any person be able to tell if an identical image is taken with the DA70 or the DA*50-135 at the same aperture on an 8 x 12 print. I doubt it. They should both provide excellent optical quality. They serve different purposes - the DA70 being compact, light and offering excellent IQ (at a price of $500) - while the DA*50-135 will offer excellent build and optical quality (maybe identical to the DA70 or maybe just slight worse off but excellent versatility (at a price of course of close to $1k) though of course be heavy and big.

In short - primes are primes, and they are all usually very good indeed be it a $100, $200 or a $700 prime (this is where I agree with the writer), however all zooms are not created equal - with a zoom its more a case of you get what you pay for and to offer exceptional IQ that is maybe on par or close to prime quality (with the added bonus of a fast constant aperture, build and versatility of top end zoom) costs a lot. Again, IMO - its a case of how good is the prime compared to the top end zoom and will you pay the price to get that top end zooms; IQ, speed, build and versatility. Compared to a lesser cheap kit zoom - the prime argument holds much more weight IMO.

Last edited by sft; 03-02-2007 at 10:35 AM. Reason: Typos
03-02-2007, 10:33 AM   #7
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Here is another article on this topic that I like. Unlike some other articles, it is not just about image quality, but about creativity, and being able to "see" the shot you want. Try the exercise the author suggests....

Photo.net - The Case Against Zooms by Mike Johnston
03-02-2007, 10:53 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by kbrabble Quote
Here is another article on this topic that I like. Unlike some other articles, it is not just about image quality, but about creativity, and being able to "see" the shot you want. Try the exercise the author suggests....

Photo.net - The Case Against Zooms by Mike Johnston
I do somewhat agree with what Mike Johnston has to say - I dont know when he wrote this but I know he has several zoom lenses as Ive read on the LL site. Anyways, yes a fixed focal lenght will force the photographer to see more creatively and they will know how to use it very well - its simple really - its only one focal lenght - its easier in another word. A zoom can be used just as effectively (Mike acknowledges this fact too)- only its harder as instead of recomposing and thinking and moving using their legs - people just want to turn the barrel of the zoom ring and be done with it which in many cases may not provde the best composition when the prime will force to user to re-evaluate their stance, FOV and compositon and force them to move. I agree with this but a good photographer will and should already know this IMO - when I see a photo I visualize it before I even pick the camera up, then I move the point where I want to take it and how much of the frame I want it to fill - basically like using a prime. There are also cases when a zoom is just handy - ie. on vacations, in places where moving isnt an option, etc. A prime will teach the user to use technique quicker IMO but a zoom can also be used for this - its really up to the photographer and his/her willingness to think like a photographer out to capture an image - Mike seems to acknowledge this too and he says that some photographers are so good it doesnt matter what they use but for many more using a prime will improve their skills quicker than using a zoom, I do somewhat agree with this but its not to say that a zoom can't be used effectively either.


Last edited by sft; 03-02-2007 at 04:10 PM. Reason: typos
03-02-2007, 11:09 AM   #9
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Well I can say I disagree with Mike Johnston on this one. I think the idea of a zoom lens having no point of view and limiting your imagination to be ludicrous. I'm an accomplished musician. I play most of the woodwinds. I play some of them very well. Yet my favorite wind instrument is my friends Yamaha wind controller. This is a wind instrument, that when hooked up to the appropriate synthesizer can imitate a myriad of sounds. I don't have to approach the music from the pov of a flute or a sax or an oboe. I don't have to limit myself to their ranges, tonality and character. My mind is open to a much larger tonal palate.
Same thing with a zoom. I'm not limited to one FOV. Don't get me wrong, I agree completely with Sinan, there is a world of difference between a consumer zoom and a professional one. I shoot primarily with primes because I can afford good primes and I can't afford (or even find) good zooms for the K mount. I am saving my pennies (literally) for the Pentax 12-24. If it ever becomes available again I hope I've got enough saved.
I was at the New York Botanical Garden yesterday taking photographs of their annual orchid exhibit. I was continually switching between the Tamron 90mm and the FA 50mm. Changing lenses while being bumped by a bunch of people is a real pita. Changing lenses in general is a pita. If someone made a 50-90mm 1.4-2.8 zoom with macro capability I'd go for it in a NY minute. Even if I had to live on pb&j for a year.

NaCl(since when does choice limit imagination? )H2O
03-02-2007, 11:19 AM   #10
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I agree about thinking through the shot. Even with sports, it turns out that it takes longer to get in position for a shot than to mount the right focal length prime for the image you are trying to create.

The zooms are only more useful, if from a fixed vantage point you want both tight and wide. From one corner of the gym, the shots I might take with a telezoom at the other end of the court, just arent composed well when I am in position for a shot at the near end.

(heck the near end shots arent composed all that welll either.. but thats not the fault of the lens)

Anyway, for the convenience of the zoom, you pay in weight. I would rather leave the focal lengths I am not using in a bag on my shoulder than in my hand just in case. At least most of the time.
03-02-2007, 11:27 AM   #11
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I have to agree with Sinan regarding zooms vs primes (but not about Mike Johnston) I think a lot of the stuff about "primes are always better" is bushwa. There are zooms out there with excellent image quality that rival that of the primes unless you want to get out your magnifying glass and start pixel peeping, and maybe not even then. I personally think that "always shoot with primes" is a bit of a snob thing. Don't get me wrong, I shoot mostly with primes because that's what I can afford. An excellent prime is almost always less expensive than a very good zoom. So I go with the primes. But if I hit the lotto tonight, I'd be buying only one prime (77ltd) and 4 zooms (the new DA *'s the 12-24 and the 10-17 FE) Why? all things considered the zooms are easier. I don't have to change lenses as often and I'm a bit on the lazy side. I've seen images from zooms that were every bit as good to my eyes as similar images from primes, if the IQ is the same why limit yourself?

NaCl(all things being equal I would choose a zoom over a prime)H2O

Last edited by NaClH2O; 03-02-2007 at 11:31 AM. Reason: changed "more" to "less"
03-02-2007, 12:05 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by NaClH2O Quote
There are zooms out there with excellent image quality that rival that of the primes unless you want to get out your magnifying glass and start pixel peeping, and maybe not even then.
This is true from a pure sharpness standpoint, however, sharpness is not the only quality I look for in an image. This is the reason may people lust after the 31mm and 77mm limiteds, along with many others. They have that WOW factor, that almost 3d look. Are there zooms out there that can duplicate this? Perhaps, there are, maybe the DA* will. I just have not seen that same quality out of the zooms I have had experience with.
03-02-2007, 12:56 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by kbrabble Quote
This is true from a pure sharpness standpoint, however, sharpness is not the only quality I look for in an image. This is the reason may people lust after the 31mm and 77mm limiteds, along with many others. They have that WOW factor, that almost 3d look. Are there zooms out there that can duplicate this? Perhaps, there are, maybe the DA* will. I just have not seen that same quality out of the zooms I have had experience with.
Yes, the 3D look and the pop is certainly appealing of a prime, it is not just about sharpness but in my long post above I made the point that I hope the DA* lenses to be excellent overall - not just for sharpness. The 3D look and pop is a combination of several things: the shallow DOF of fast lenses, the smooth bokeh, the good contrast, the tonal characteristics, the smooth transition from in focus to out of focus areas combined with excellent sharpness. All these characteristics combined give the images that 3D look. Thing is I expect these DA* lenses (like for example the past FA*80-200) to offer all these characteristics too. A top grade lens is not just about sharpness, its about the overall quality of the image based on the factors above. The DA*'s according to Pentax will be superior lenses and based on past * lenses I am sure they know what they are doing. This is not to even say that only Limited's and * lenses are capable of the 3D look - I have seen shots taken with the less than $200 DA50-200 4X zoom that have had some serious pop and a 3D look too though the Lt'd and *'s may possess and exhibit this characteristic more. The Ltd' may still hold the edge in this regard but I bet you the new DA* zoom's will give them a run for their money.
03-02-2007, 02:12 PM   #14
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I agree with you (plus: how I use zoom lenses)

QuoteOriginally posted by NaClH2O Quote
Well I can say I disagree with Mike Johnston on this one. I think the idea of a zoom lens having no point of view and limiting your imagination to be ludicrous.
I fully agree with you. In fact, no lens in the world has point of view. Point of view is created by a photographer standing at a certain location, not by the lens used!!! Various focal lengths would just frame part of that "point of view" in a certain way and that's all.

I'd like to share my experience in using zoom lenses:

1) I walk around until I see with my eyes what I want to capture. That creates "point of view", not the lens.

2) I close one eye to verify all elements in a scene are working fine in relation to each other. Closing one eye flattens the image exposing all distractions our brains naturally remove from the scene since it works in 3D. (Ever captured a tree growing from someone's head or a horizon going through someone's ears? That's it, converting 3D -> 2D creates problems. Beware!)

3) Then I imagine what part of the scene I want included, and especially what parts I want to remove from the scene. At the same time I decide how to frame: horizontal, vertical or angled.

4) FINALLY, I pull camera to my eye and zoom in/out to frame for the result previsualized in step #3, usually just fine tuning the final composition before pressing shutter release. That's all.

Important thing to remember: using various focal lengths from the same standpoint do not change perspective. Zooming in is the same thing as cropping in Photoshop. But walking closer to or away from the subject to reframe does change perspective. Thus, the term zooming with my feet does not make any sense at all.

~~~ Ivan Glišin's Photo Galleries at pbase.com ~~~
03-02-2007, 05:40 PM   #15
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"Pop" from $27 super takumar 35 mm f3.5

Last edited by normant; 05-08-2007 at 05:17 PM.
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