Primes vs Zooms
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alexdi
Registered: Jun 06, 2004
Total Posts: 341
Country: N/A

My walkaround kit on crop was a 10-22 and 50/1.4. I miss it greatly on full-frame, though the 17-40/4L and 85/1.8 are a fair approximation. Movies are the only reason I'd take a 15-85.



corndog
Registered: Sep 05, 2006
Total Posts: 4178
Country: United States

taylorman22 wrote:
Just curious of your thoughts on 3 fast primes vs one lens.


I don't know what your long term photo plans are, but I usually cycle through gear every once in a while just to see what I like and don't like, with the goal of eventually refining my way to an 'ideal' setup. So, I won't say that you should go one way, or another, but I think you should pick one direction and just run with it for a while, then try the other if you ever feel the need.



Paul Mo
Registered: Dec 12, 2012
Total Posts: 3555
Country: Thailand

Meditative photography, macro or walking around my neighbourhood = primes. I can choose a focal length or two and see what comes.

Action and events = zooms. I can't be swapping lenses constantly and missing fleeting moments. And having a zoom means I can accurately frame scenes excluding or including things as need be.

That being said, all of my prior documentary work was shot with three primes: 20, 24 and 50.

p.s. I am currently fiercely debating my next lens purchases and fast primes are at the top of the list.



dswiger
Registered: Feb 24, 2006
Total Posts: 6572
Country: United States

Hmm.. Prime & Zoom.
For event stuff, zooms, 70-200/f4 & 24-105.
For landscape, 14/24/35mm Samyang primes
For real distance, 400.

It all depends on what you shoot & how you shoot.
For most landscape, the wide primes suffice, but not always.
The 24-105 when compositions need it a bit more reach.
The 70-200 sometimes w/TC when I want to compress the scene.
The 400 for something tight & unique or for wildlife.

For my grand kids, whatever works
Trying to get them to hold still while I manually focus a 34 1/.4 is futile.
I use zooms for their "zoom"

Like I said, what & how

Dan



saneproduction
Registered: Nov 03, 2010
Total Posts: 1252
Country: N/A

If I had to start over and I had an APS-C camera and a limited budget, I would start with the tamron 17-50. 2.8VC, then add the following lenses in the order that suited the project I was working on. Canon 50 (1.8 or 1.4), canon 85 1.8, Tokina 11-16 2.8, sigma 30 1.4, canon 50 macro, canon 70-200 (per budget). Probably it would be the sigma 30 1.4.



gdanmitchell
Registered: Jun 28, 2009
Total Posts: 9819
Country: United States

curious80 wrote:
gdanmitchell wrote:
About the prime v. zoom meme: http://www.gdanmitchell.com/2012/08/21/photographic-myths-and-platitudes-primes-make-you-a-better-photographer

Dan


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 focal lengths. Its not going to be the same for everyone obviously so what works for me is not the same as what works for the next guy. It also depends on how far along are you on your photographic journey. For an experienced shooter who is intimately familiar with various focal lengths and who has already developed a very good sense of what focal length to use at what point, this might not be a consideration. However there are number of people like me who are basically hobbyists and still have a lot to learn. So I think your article is taking a somewhat narrow view of the world.


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.

Take care,

Dan,
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.)



lwrnclightner
Registered: Oct 03, 2008
Total Posts: 616
Country: United States

The 15-85 seems like a real sleeper, however that variable aperature would not be fun to deal with unless you are shooting in enough light to set it at 5.6 and leave it.

The 17-40 f4 and the 85 f1.8 would be tempting if I were in your seat.



taylorman22
Registered: Oct 29, 2011
Total Posts: 123
Country: N/A

I originally asked this question because I'm wanting to make some changes to my setup. I have a 40D with a kit 18-55 and a 50mm 1.8 and I'm wanting a faster, wider lens for indoors with the kids. I don't use the 50mm too much because a lot of my shots are indoors and on my crop camera, 50mm is too close.

Because I shoot a lot indoors, I was thinking about buying a Sigma 1.4, a 430ex II flash and then keeping my 18-55 for wide angle and my 50mm 1.8, or possibly selling the 50mm 1.8 and buying an 85 1.8. With that setup, I'd have the kit for walking around, 30mm 1.4 for night and indoor shots, and the 85 1.8 for portraits.

Ideally, I wish I could afford the 15-85, 30 1.4, and 85 1.8. I just sold the rest of my extra guitar gear though, so only have the $600-700 to work with right now.

Anyway, I'm finding this is like my guitars.....the desire to acquire new gear (GAS) never ends!!



Paul Mo
Registered: Dec 12, 2012
Total Posts: 3555
Country: Thailand

Buy quality. Buy it once. And don't sell it.



melcat
Registered: Jun 13, 2008
Total Posts: 731
Country: Australia

taylorman22 wrote:
I've been reading some Rockwell stuff and he makes good points about not carrying lenses to cover every mm. For those gaps, just take a few steps forward or back.


If it's the page I found (dated May 2010 and top Google hit for "primes vs. zooms" at his domain) then I don't think that was exactly what he was saying.

He talks about previsualising at the focal lengths you have, and taking a "few steps", but he doesn't say "forward or back". What he is probably referring to is the way you can often slightly adjust the composition so that everything snaps into place. This usually means a few steps sideways. Often though, you can't, and you have to let the shot go, when you wouldn't have had to had you had the zoom.

You can't exactly duplicate the effect of a different focal length by moving forward or back, because the perspective changes. The only way to do that is to shoot with the next wider focal length and crop.

What Rockwell describes is familiar to me. I did find myself previsualising at the specific focal lengths I had. If the environment is rich enough and you are creative enough, you can still make photographs - if not, be prepared to come home with nothing. It's a little like not having sustain on an acoustic guitar or piano, in that the restriction spurs you to do something creative. It apparently wasn't Dan's experience, but it was mine. It also needs to be the right instrument (focal length) - a sax is a melodic instrument because it can sustain and pitch bend, and a piano is a rhythm instrument.

It has to be said that I shot with a two-lens zoom set for a decade and only went to the fixed focal length lenses when the technician said the zooms were too far gone to repair. And those zooms cost a bomb in the 1980s when everyone else was shooting 28/50/200. I actually had the 28 and 50 from the start, and stuffed them in a cupboard unused. The later 24/50/100 lens set just catered for my already clear preferences.

If you were gonna start a new setup

Everyone will have a different answer depending on what they shoot and their creative style. If you don't yet have a special interest and style that's a good reason to stick to zooms, because you could easily choose an unsuitable lens set, like the wrong instrument.



n0b0
Registered: Sep 22, 2008
Total Posts: 5654
Country: Australia

gdanmitchell wrote:
About the prime v. zoom meme: http://www.gdanmitchell.com/2012/08/21/photographic-myths-and-platitudes-primes-make-you-a-better-photographer

Dan


This is an interesting quote from the article...

I feel zooms make me lazy,

To which I would respond... Nah, you're already lazy. The lens simply gave you the excuse.

Would you blame your car for making you lazy and not wanting to walk to the shop a couple of blocks away? Funny how easy it is for people to look for an external cause when it's actually inside of them.

Zoom lens doesn't change perspective or give you a good angle. You still have to move front to back and side to side to get them. That "made me lazy" excuse was made by people that don't have the fundamental and/or know how to use a zoom lens properly.



corndog
Registered: Sep 05, 2006
Total Posts: 4178
Country: United States

You're scratching the surface of complex psychological behavior and unless you have training in this specific area, you might not be so quick to conclude someone you know nothing about as "lazy".



StillFingerz
Registered: Jul 29, 2010
Total Posts: 3666
Country: United States

Primes, zooms...they're just tools...it's nice to have both.

All a zoom does for me is lighten my load a bit and at times allow me to get a shot when my wheels get stuck in non solid ground or when my wheelchair batteries die...simple as that...my hard cases and van aren't always close by; don't fit in me vest pocket

Walked about for 7 yrs with a 42mm lens on a rangefinder, never held me back...I was in my early teens thru my early 20s. It's all I had, never felt slighted in the least, in fact that little bit of kit bore those early fruits that still feed my passion for image making.

Being able to see and create is quite a privilege...it's nice to have gears to do so.



jasonpatrick
Registered: Jul 08, 2010
Total Posts: 1473
Country: United States

Paul Mo wrote:
Buy quality. Buy it once. And don't sell it.


I disagree with this...buy used, then sell without guilt...make money if you can. That's how I built my entire kit. Let your addiction go. We're in a gear forum after all. Photography is one of the hobbies out there where you can look at your gear as an almost liquid asset. if you buy a lens 3 or more times...then maybe you should think about keeping it

The answer to the prime/zoom question is "use the best tool for the job". Like everyone else has said. Unfortunately, the best tool for the job is usually the most expensive tool, so you have to compromise...but there are great compromises out there. The Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 non IS can be had for around 300 bucks used. It's great. Use that and a 430ex speedlite and you will be able to do whatever indoor kid photography you want to and still be under your budget. Keep your 50mm 1.8.



melcat
Registered: Jun 13, 2008
Total Posts: 731
Country: Australia

taylorman22 wrote:
I originally asked this question because I'm wanting to make some changes to my setup. I have a 40D with a kit 18-55 and a 50mm 1.8 and I'm wanting a faster, wider lens for indoors with the kids. ... I was thinking about buying a Sigma 1.4,


You were typing while I was so my answer did not address this specific question. A specific need like this is good, because lens makers design lenses for specific needs.

I think I could shoot this kind of thing with only 30mm on APS-C (it is a standard lens for that format), but it could be too tough for you. You can't just adjust the framing, you have to think on your feet and work the composition to make the new framing work.

I also think I would not want to do it. Why don't you get that flash, stop down to improve the image quality of the zoom you have, or buy the Tamron suggested above, and blast away?



n0b0
Registered: Sep 22, 2008
Total Posts: 5654
Country: Australia

corndog wrote:
You're scratching the surface of complex psychological behavior and unless you have training in this specific area, you might not be so quick to conclude someone you know nothing about as "lazy".


Or perhaps you simply over-complicate a simple issue. If the person claims the lens made him lazy then chances are, he's already lazy and the lens gave him the excuse to not move.

If he's not lazy, then I have one tip for him on how to use a zoom lens. Zooming doesn't change perspective.

I gave you the car analogy. If a person has a car, he has the choice to drive it or to walk to a nearby store. If he chooses the car 100% of the time, then he's lazy. There's no "complex psychological behaviour" to analyse.



corndog
Registered: Sep 05, 2006
Total Posts: 4178
Country: United States

I concede it certainly possible that I'm over complicating the issue, what do you concede? Are you lazy? If you think not, do you have a set of paintbrushes, or do you have photo gear? Why would you want to make images with the push of a button? Sounds kinda lazy to me.



gdanmitchell
Registered: Jun 28, 2009
Total Posts: 9819
Country: United States

Just to be clear, I am most certainly not saying that zooms make one lazy. That "quote" was what someone else wrote about using zooms, and it is a statement that I strongly disagree with and to which I was responding.

Dan

n0b0 wrote:
gdanmitchell wrote:
About the prime v. zoom meme: http://www.gdanmitchell.com/2012/08/21/photographic-myths-and-platitudes-primes-make-you-a-better-photographer

Dan


This is an interesting quote from the article...

I feel zooms make me lazy,

To which I would respond... Nah, you're already lazy. The lens simply gave you the excuse.

Would you blame your car for making you lazy and not wanting to walk to the shop a couple of blocks away? Funny how easy it is for people to look for an external cause when it's actually inside of them.

Zoom lens doesn't change perspective or give you a good angle. You still have to move front to back and side to side to get them. That "made me lazy" excuse was made by people that don't have the fundamental and/or know how to use a zoom lens properly.



n0b0
Registered: Sep 22, 2008
Total Posts: 5654
Country: Australia

corndog wrote:
I concede it certainly possible that I'm over complicating the issue, what do you concede? Are you lazy? If you think not, do you have a set of paintbrushes, or do you have photo gear? Why would you want to make images with the push of a button? Sounds kinda lazy to me.


If I have a photographic memory to remember the moment and have the skills to paint photorealistic pictures, I would.



Paul Mo
Registered: Dec 12, 2012
Total Posts: 3555
Country: Thailand

When I was shooting doco I always fancied the idea of being able to whip up a quick watercolour of a scene. Hell, black and white blur was emulating it, to a point.



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