Primes vs Zooms
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EyeBrock
Registered: Dec 03, 2005
Total Posts: 1002
Country: Canada

I started off in 2003 with zooms. Bought and sold numerous lenses over the years. I have suffered from GAS and as a self-discipline guide; I restrict myself to 6 lenses. A new lens means the least used lens gets sold. Only frequently used lens stay, my last zoom at 24-105 was sold and replaced with a 200 F2.8L.

Iím now at 5 primes (from 35-200) and a 16-35 II.

Primes do it for me. Iím not doing events, just shooting things I want to shoot and family. I got to this photographic spot in my life after a lot of experimentation. I donít think anybody can really give an opinion which will fit your personal wants/needs/skill level.

This zoom vs prime debate seems to be much more prevalent these days as I think more people use primes than maybe they did in the past 5-6 years. Iíve gone from 95% zoom use to 95% prime use in ten years.



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

EyeBrock wrote:
Primes do it for me. Iím not doing events, just shooting things I want to shoot and family.


What prime(s) do you find most useful when shooting the family? I like the idea of primes for shooting "things" and "stuff", just not sure how well it'd work with the kids. That's why I'm thinking maybe a 30mm 1.4 and a flash and then keeping my 18-55.



EyeBrock
Registered: Dec 03, 2005
Total Posts: 1002
Country: Canada

My 35 1.4 is the most used family lens. Great indoors with available light or a bit of flash at smaller apertures for group shots. The 50 is used for single person portraits. I use these two lenses the most.



Bacalhau
Registered: Mar 21, 2012
Total Posts: 128
Country: United States

dwweiche wrote:
f/5.6 on the long end can be a bit of a pain some times, but the 15-85 has very good IS.

This is only my opinion, but I would not call an f/2.8 prime "fast". A zoom, yes, but a prime I consider fast if f/1.2, f/1.4, f1.8, and probably f/2. Have you considered lenses faster than f/2.8? 35 f/2? 50 f/1.4? Both reasonably priced.



I don't think there is a prime lens below 24mm at less than f/2.8... so,it would make a 15mm 2.8 a very "fast" one.



Mpking
Registered: Dec 27, 2011
Total Posts: 152
Country: United States

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 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!!


I was in a similar situation not too long ago. I shoot indoors a lot and felt that having a slow zoom lens on a crop body was too limiting to what I wanted to achieve. I had a 50 1.8 as well but like you said, it's too tight indoors. I really liked the IQ I could get from a prime vs. a zoom so I went searching for a fast wide prime (around 35mm equiv.) to use indoors on my APS-C camera. Guess how many of those Canon makes? Zero! The closest things Canon makes is that 24L which was out of my price range and the 20mm 2.8 and I wasn't impressed with what I've heard about it and it's really not all that fast.

So, to make a long story short, if your interested in a fast prime that is any shorter than a 50mm equivalent then full frame or mirrorless are really the only ways to go. Now I do most of my shooting on a 5DII and a 35mm f/2 that don't hold me back and I don't miss my zoom at all.



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

Mpking wrote:
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 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!!


I was in a similar situation not too long ago. I shoot indoors a lot and felt that having a slow zoom lens on a crop body was too limiting to what I wanted to achieve. I had a 50 1.8 as well but like you said, it's too tight indoors. I really liked the IQ I could get from a prime vs. a zoom so I went searching for a fast wide prime (around 35mm equiv.) to use indoors on my APS-C camera. Guess how many of those Canon makes? Zero! The closest things Canon makes is that 24L which was out of my price range and the 20mm 2.8 and I wasn't impressed with what I've heard about it and it's really not all that fast.

So, to make a long story short, if your interested in a fast prime that is any shorter than a 50mm equivalent then full frame or mirrorless are really the only ways to go. Now I do most of my shooting on a 5DII and a 35mm f/2 that don't hold me back and I don't miss my zoom at all.

thanks for the post! Going to FF isn't really an option because of cost. I set my kit lens to 30mm and that range on my crop camera would work. If that range works, I'm thinking the Sigma 30 1.4 is the way to go. I just need to make my mind up and can't decide between a 30 1.4, 17-50 2.8, 15-85, or 18-135. The 18-135 and a nice flash could get nice indoor shots. I'm not worried about the flash going on. I'm not in any situations where I need to be that inconspicuous.

Someone posted and said to just try one and then try another....trying lots of different lenses. But, rotate through gear an see which ones I keep coming back to. I have done that with guitars...had a few guitars I wish is never let go tho.



EyeBrock
Registered: Dec 03, 2005
Total Posts: 1002
Country: Canada

taylorman22 wrote:
Mpking wrote:
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 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!!


I was in a similar situation not too long ago. I shoot indoors a lot and felt that having a slow zoom lens on a crop body was too limiting to what I wanted to achieve. I had a 50 1.8 as well but like you said, it's too tight indoors. I really liked the IQ I could get from a prime vs. a zoom so I went searching for a fast wide prime (around 35mm equiv.) to use indoors on my APS-C camera. Guess how many of those Canon makes? Zero! The closest things Canon makes is that 24L which was out of my price range and the 20mm 2.8 and I wasn't impressed with what I've heard about it and it's really not all that fast.

So, to make a long story short, if your interested in a fast prime that is any shorter than a 50mm equivalent then full frame or mirrorless are really the only ways to go. Now I do most of my shooting on a 5DII and a 35mm f/2 that don't hold me back and I don't miss my zoom at all.

thanks for the post! Going to FF isn't really an option because of cost. I set my kit lens to 30mm and that range on my crop camera would work. If that range works, I'm thinking the Sigma 30 1.4 is the way to go. I just need to make my mind up and can't decide between a 30 1.4, 17-50 2.8, 15-85, or 18-135. The 18-135 and a nice flash could get nice indoor shots. I'm not worried about the flash going on. I'm not in any situations where I need to be that inconspicuous.

Someone posted and said to just try one and then try another....trying lots of different lenses. But, rotate through gear an see which ones I keep coming back to. I have done that with guitars...had a few guitars I wish is never let go tho.



I used the old Tam 17-35 on my 20D before I replaced it with the 16-35 (which is truly a great lens on a crop). The Tam was 2.8 to 4 but pretty good with bounce flash. The 16-35 pulls it off better but is pretty expensive. The 16-35 focal range on a crop is great, I'd seriously consider a used one. The Mk1 would be good as you get the lens sweet spot with a crop. Plus if you go FF you have a decent WA zoom.

I found the 50 way too limiting on a crop. The 35 would be too long for me as well.



bambi73
Registered: Dec 23, 2012
Total Posts: 42
Country: Israel

until 6 months ago, i used only zooms -17-50 (crop dslr) and 24-105 (ff dslr). i also had 70-300 zoom.

so 6 months ago i checked (with software) thousands of photos from the last 4 years, and found out that 60% of them were shot on the wide side of the lens (17mm on crop ,24mm on ff). 20%-30% were in the 40-60mm range (on ff).

i sold my 24-105 and 70-300 zooms, and bought 4 primes - tokina 17mm, canon 24 2.8, canon 35 1.4, and canon 85 1.8. i dont regret it! i take with me only 2 primes, and leave 2 aim using slr/dslr format since 1999.

until 6 months ago, i used only zooms - 28-105 (film ff), 17-50 (crop dslr) and 24-105 (ff dslr). i also had 70-300 zoom.

6 months ago i checked thousands of photos from the last 4 years, and found out that 60% of themwere shot on the wide side of the lens (17mm on crop ,24mm on ff). 20%-30% were in the 40-60mm range (on ff).

i sold my 24-105 and 70-300 zooms, and bought 4 primes - tokina 17mm, canon 24 2.8, canon 35 1.4, and canon 85 1.8. i dont regret it!

i take with me only 2 primes, and leave 2 at home...

i think that my photos are much better with primes than with the zooms - not just because the primes is sharper and i can use a shallow dof - i think the prime lens really improved my skills as a photographer. its different state of mind - you dont have to "play" with the zoom to check which FL is the best - because you have only 1 FL !

for family, kids, street photography etc, im using the 35mm. its good for 80%-90% of the photos. if i want close-ups, im using the 85 1.8.

when im trekking or hiking, it can become a little complicated: if my kids are travelling with me, im taking the 24/35 primes. if im not with them, and im taking only landscape photos, i use the 17mm/24mm primes (no distortion comparing to zooms, and very light)

anyway, when trekking i switch lens more often, and sometims i feel that i miss some good photos because of using primes. i thought of buying the 17-40 - but for now im staying with primes.

at the beginning, i used to take all my 4 primes with me. this was a mistake, because i switched lens too many times. as i said, now im taking only 2 - and i love it.

p.s

the most important thing is to enjoy your hobby. if you enjoy shooting primes - than go for it! if you enjoy more shooting zooms - buy them! i found that i like the primes more. maybe 2 years from now i will go back to zooms, who knows..



Dudewithoutape
Registered: Oct 07, 2009
Total Posts: 1089
Country: United States

I used to own the 15-85mm and 30mm 1.4. Perfect combination. Forced to sell to get FF.



curious80
Registered: Jun 18, 2010
Total Posts: 1379
Country: United States

gdanmitchell wrote:
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.)


Dan, there are no myths about zooms and primes as far as I am concerned. They are both tools and each has its own strengths and uses. I use both and if you see my first post, I suggested the same to OP as well. In terms of learning the focal lengths and composition, I know that for me working with primes has helped me a lot more in that department compared to zooms. Its not about primes being superior to zooms it is about how you work with one versus the others. The choices that you have available when you have a zoom mounted vs a prime mounted are very different. We could debate about that at length but I would rather just say that I have been shooting with both primes and zooms for a while now so trust me that I know what works for me and what doesn't. What I take issue with is that just because something is off your radar you would assume that it is a myth. I know that your article is a sincere effort to help others and you make some food points about primes and zooms which I generally agree with. However you need to open up to the possibility that those who think that the constraints of working primes helps in getting better photographs are not necessarily deluded by the idea of primes being superior or classic or pure etc. There are practical reasons why working with a couple of focal lengths at a time instead of a broad continuum of focal lengths helps many users in getting a good handle on composition and use of various focal lengths.



Shutterbug2006
Registered: Jun 03, 2010
Total Posts: 1050
Country: Canada

taylorman22 wrote:
Tom K. wrote:
This will help you to come up with an answer: http://blog.jeffascough.com/photographers/2011/11/zooms-or-primes.html



Great link...thanks. It's so true too! I'm pretty new to to photography, but have even playing guitar for 17 years. I spend time on several guitar forums and I see this all the time an I fall into this trap....spending more time talking about gear, changing gear etc, than actually playing guitar. I can already see its no different with photography.


If you're spending more time talking about gear than using it, you're missing out.



curious80
Registered: Jun 18, 2010
Total Posts: 1379
Country: United States

taylorman22 wrote:

thanks for the post! Going to FF isn't really an option because of cost. I set my kit lens to 30mm and that range on my crop camera would work. If that range works, I'm thinking the Sigma 30 1.4 is the way to go. I just need to make my mind up and can't decide between a 30 1.4, 17-50 2.8, 15-85, or 18-135. The 18-135 and a nice flash could get nice indoor shots. I'm not worried about the flash going on. I'm not in any situations where I need to be that inconspicuous.

Someone posted and said to just try one and then try another....trying lots of different lenses. But, rotate through gear an see which ones I keep coming back to. I have done that with guitars...had a few guitars I wish is never let go tho.


I would say that 17-50mm f2.8 is not a bad option, but I would not be too excited with 15-85 or 18-135 for indoor flash shots. I have in past gotten away even with the 18-55mm and 28-135mm lenses with bounce flash for indoor shots. However even when using bounce flash I find that I get best results when I blend the ambient with the flash exposure, instead of just relying on bounce flash as the dominant exposure. I often use f2 @ ISO 800 to get a fair bit of ambient. Also of course shooting at f2/f2.8 instead of say f5.6 requires much lower power from the flash and gives much faster flash recycle time. Also I prefer the gentle degree of isolation that comes with using an f2 or f2.8 lens on APS-C. I am not crazy about the "one eyelash in focus" isolation that you get with an f1.4 lens on FF, but the slower zooms on APS-C get a bit too limiting in this aspect for me.



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

curious80 wrote:
I would say that 17-50mm f2.8 is not a bad option, but I would not be too excited with 15-u85 or 18-135 for indoor flash shots. I have in past gotten away even with the 18-55mm and 28-135mm lenses with bounce flash for indoor shots. However even when using bounce flash I find that I get best results when I blend the ambient with the flash exposure, instead of just relying on bounce flash as the dominant exposure. I often use f2 @ ISO 800 to get a fair bit of ambient. Also of course shooting at f2/f2.8 instead of say f5.6 requires much lower power from the flash and gives much faster flash recycle time. Also I prefer the gentle degree of isolation that comes with using an f2 or f2.8 lens on APS-C. I am not crazy about the "one eyelash in focus" isolation that you get with an f1.4 lens on FF, but the slower zooms on APS-C get a bit too limiting in this aspect for me.


I hear what you're saying. The DOF options with the tamron 17-50 are nice.



Mike Tuomey
Registered: Jul 23, 2005
Total Posts: 2850
Country: United States

curious80 wrote:
I often use f2 @ ISO 800 to get a fair bit of ambient.


Side question: i'd think f2 would negate the ambient even at iso 800. wouldn't f5.6 and slowing down the shutter be a better way (i.e. dragging the shutter)?



StarNut
Registered: Aug 30, 2004
Total Posts: 1634
Country: United States

Primes vs. zoom is, IMO, more about religion than anything else, for many/most people. Perhaps the high religion is manual focus primes (think Zeiss).

Each is a tool, suited for what it's designed to do. Any lens is a set of compromises. Choose the compromises that are best-suited to what you do.

For most relatively casual photographers (those without an obvious compelling need for a fast prime), that'll be zooms, one covering wide to moderate telephoto, and one going longer. Having something like a fast 50 (or 35 on a crop) doesn't cost a lot, and adds flexibility in some situations.

Despite what some say, you can't always "zoom with your feet." I have long loved my zooms, and don't see any reason to convert.

YMMV, but make up your own mind based on your actual needs.



Tom Dix
Registered: Jun 29, 2010
Total Posts: 1664
Country: United States

Never ending debate.

Horses for courses.

Strokes for folks.



ggreene
Registered: Aug 11, 2003
Total Posts: 1924
Country: United States

While we are talking about primes vs. zooms can we also discuss whether to put a protective filter on them?



curious80
Registered: Jun 18, 2010
Total Posts: 1379
Country: United States

Mike Tuomey wrote:
curious80 wrote:
I often use f2 @ ISO 800 to get a fair bit of ambient.


Side question: i'd think f2 would negate the ambient even at iso 800. wouldn't f5.6 and slowing down the shutter be a better way (i.e. dragging the shutter)?


f2 @ ISO 800 doesn't say much about what would be the balance between flash and ambient. I can still control the flash power and shutter speed to get whatever balance I need. And of course it is also a function of how much ambient light is available. For my typical indoor shooting I wouldn't want to go below 1/100s for taking shots of my daughter who doesn't sit still and for other people I wouldn't want to go below 1/50s. You could argue that flash should freeze the motion but if you are getting in a good amount of ambient then that doesn't quite always happen and I would definitely not want to drag the shutter to very low speeds or I will get ghosting around the sharp flash exposed parts. So in my "typical" shooting conditions I end up needing f2 @ ISO 800 to get the amount of ambient that I need.



whtrbt7
Registered: Apr 22, 2012
Total Posts: 428
Country: United States

I'm a lover of prime lenses and MF Primes at that. I however shoot mostly AF primes since they are faster and easier than MF all the time. I started out using all zooms but I sold my 24-70LII in favor of high quality primes in the ranges and I'm attempting to sell my 16-35L now because my low light wide primes seem to perform better for what I'm shooting. It all depends on what you are shooting and what you prefer. I suck at lighting so faster primes seem to be my thing for now but I was interested in using a single travel lens so I can just snap away when I'm traveling. Different strokes for different folks.



Paul Mo
Registered: Dec 12, 2012
Total Posts: 3198
Country: Thailand

ggreene wrote:
While we are talking about primes vs. zooms can we also discuss whether to put a protective filter on them?


Yes, protect your front element unless you can easily afford to replace your lenses or don't mind scratches or are extremely careful.

Naysayers are dangerous in that they may choose to be reckless with their own gear but suggesting others do the same is irresponsible.



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