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Dan, your article is a good read, however I disagree with parts of it. Different people have different personalities and different ways to learn. For me using primes definitely makes me think more about my photography and zooms make me lazy. Is it because primes are superior to zooms? Of course not. I can set a 24-70mm lens to 50mm instead of using a 50mm prime, so there is nothing inherently superior about using a prime. However for me the constraint of being tied to a single focal length helps me learn and helps me develop a feel for different...Show more →
After teaching for a number of decades, I have absolutely no doubt that people learn in different ways. We refer to these as learning style preferences. Some prefer to follow tutorials. Some like to plunge in and experiment. Some must understand the logic of a thing before trying to do it. Others learn by watching others do a thing.
However, that seems largely unrelated to the issue of whether it is better to start by "constraining" oneself to a single focal length rather than learning about focal length directly from the start. It is very interesting and, I think, relevant to consider where that "start with a 50mm prime" advice actually came from. It most certainly did not begin in the context of recommending primes over zooms, contrary to the way that many use that idea today.
When the advice to "start with a 50mm prime and shoot with it before buying more lenses" developed, zooms were not even a realistic option for 35mm photographers. The advice was really about focusing on photography and not giving in to gear lust. The most direct modern translation of the lesson being offered back then would be: "Buy one lens with your camera and shoot with it a lot before going out and buying a bunch of other lenses." That is still good advice!
But today, there is no reason at all that this "one lens" for a new photographer should be a prime. Unlike the era in which the advice first evolved, good and inexpensive zooms exist today. It is as if back in the horse and buggy days there was advice to beginning buggy drivers that said, "the first thing you'll need when you learn to drive is a good buggy whip" - and then some modern driver education teachers insisted that new automobile drivers must master the use of the buggy whip before they using an automatic transmission! ;-)
It is beyond me how constraining oneself to 50mm can give you a "feel for different focal lengths!" To me, that is like saying that I'll restrict myself to eating only one kind of food so that I'll better understand different kinds of food or that you should only vacation in Kansas so that you'll understand the difference among all of the 50 states. The only way that "experienced shooters" developed "a very good sense of what focal length to use at what point" was by using a variety of focal lengths and observing their effect!
Of all people who might well benefit from and even enjoy shooting with a zoom lens, the hobbyist seems to be at the top of the list. I'm not saying that you have to do this, but I'm positive that the vast majority of new DSLR shooters enjoy having a zoom far more than limiting themselves to a prime, and that they will learn more and more quickly by having the flexibility that a zoom provides. The strange and somewhat grim idea that a beginning photographer should exercise some sort of discipline and be serious and limit him/herself to some inflexible lens is contrary to what most new photographers are more likely looking for - the joy of exploring their world creatively with a camera and simply making photographs.
As my article suggests, there are all sorts of myths about zooms and primes and their relative value and quite a few of them ultimately can be traced back to this notion that a shooter who uses primes is somehow more serious than a shooter who uses zooms. I'm afraid that there is basically no evidence for this idea at all.
who owns about the same number of zooms and primes, and who prefers to choose the best tool for the task at hand from among them.)