Why I like primes sometimes compared to zooms

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Kiwi Paul, Feb 20, 2017.

  1. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Feb 14, 2016
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    Now I've got a full set of primes from 10 - 90mm I love going out with them.
    Zooms are more convenient and cover a greater focal range so would seem an obvious choice.
    But it's not that straightforward.
    With a set of primes it's more inconvenient to switch focal lengths, lenses have to be changed, and you have to contemplate the composition far more than with a zoom. Which prime will best suit this scene? Then when you decide, usually a bit of leg work is needed to move about to get the composition just right, left a bit, back a bit, Hmmmm a bit more left etc, you become engaged in the photo, far more than using a zoom and the ultimate result is often a really good composition that shows thought and contemplation and is very satisfying.
    I've often ended up with compositions I wouldn't have got with a zoom because I would have stood where I were, zoomed until the composition seemed OK then grabbed the shot, the shot might be fine but sometimes that extra effort with a prime makes all the difference.
    I find I either go out with primes or zooms, I enjoy using both but have found using primes makes me a better zoom photographer as it's taught me to contemplate the composition a lot more.
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  2. WNG

    WNG TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 12, 2014
    Arrid Zone-A, USA
    I find my images and experience to be more satisfying when shot with primes. Perhaps partly to do with the image quality primes offer, and the human experience you've touched upon. After a while you come to know what to expect from your favorite primes and focal lengths.
    I like to compare it to why I enjoy driving a car with a manual transmission over an auto or as J. Clarkson puts it, a flappy-paddle gearbox.

    I don't set out without my primes now. A zoom goes on when it's not a photo outing and I can only take one lens for the whole day.
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  3. Alex66

    Alex66 TalkEmount Regular Subscribing Member

    Dec 23, 2014
    I find with a normal I can walk around see something and know what will be in the frame before it hits the eye. This probably is due to spending a good few years only being able to afford a camera with kit lens that was a 50mm. I eventually to a 135 and 28 and for years that was all I used,when I got a zoom after at the least 10 years of using a camera it was useful but not instinctive. Now given what I tend to photograph unless Im not seriously working I will use primes. I use multiple bodies so I can just grab the appropriate combo, still use the 55mm more than anything by a long way though.
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  4. addieleman

    addieleman Passionate amateur Subscribing Member

    Nov 13, 2012
    Ad Dieleman
    I switch between primes and zooms as I see fit. When I go out with a prime like a 35mm or 50mm I quickly adjust to the angle of view. On the other hand it's liberating to have a 24-70mm on the camera so I can adjust angle of view and point of view to exactly where I want it to be. And when it comes to telephoto, I just don't want to be without a 70-200mm zoom because the focal length of the primes in that range always seems to be wrong. With such a lens the subject is mostly further out and then moving around doesn't cut it, if it's at all possible: I'm not prepared to get my feet wet by crossing a well-filled ditch just to get the right frame :). Already in my Nikon F3 days (1994 and onwards) I quickly acquired an 4/80-200mm even though it was optically inferior to primes in that range.

    When I look at the focal lengths used, they appear to be all over the place for the 24-70mm, but the 70-200mm is often used at its extreme 200mm and the shot is often cropped in post.
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  5. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Feb 14, 2016
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    Yes for telephoto stuff I also use a a zoom, they are more convenient for that, anyway there are no native E-mount primes above 100mm anyway lol
  6. WestOkid

    WestOkid TalkEmount All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jan 25, 2014
    New Jersey, USA
    Paul - I totally get you. If I hadn't used primes early on, my photographic progress would have been a lot slower. IMO shooting primes early on is essential. Mostly for the reasons you pointed out. That prime will force you to learn angles and perspectives and even how to crop and re-frame in post.

    That said, I do want to add a little twist to this discussion. Ad eluded to it a bit.

    A zoom can get every image a prime can given the same aperture, but unless you carry a prime for every focal length in the zoom range you are limiting your possibilities.

    "Well I zoom using my feet"
    . This is a false. You can only change your perspective with your feet. Don't believe me? Try to achieve a the same 100mm shot with a 24 or 50 by walking closer. You will find that no matter how much walking you do you will get a vastly different image than you would with a 100mm. Also, the zoom with your feet philosophy seems to be based on an intangible world were obstructions don't matter.

    "I can just crop in post"
    Well that may address perspective depending on the lens, but you lose tons of resolution and dynamic range. You will also lose a feel for what you are shooting since distractions will be in the frame of your view finder.

    Bottom line is while a prime may force you to be more deliberate, a zoom can get all the same shots and more if you're disciplined.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2017
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  7. grillec

    grillec TalkEmount Regular

    Mar 19, 2015
    I prefer the use of a prime (or two on different cameras - wide and moderate tele). It is more a feeling, but I like fast lenses and zooms normally tend to own a weak spot in wide or tele length.
    Of course with a zoom it is possible to use only separate focal lengthes like a bunch of primes.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. izTheViz

    izTheViz TalkEmount Top Veteran

    May 10, 2013
    Yannis Marigo
    I used to use prime at first. All Canon FDs. But I had to carry a 20mm, a 24 a 35 a 50 at least...which meant few kilograms of steel and glass ! Got fed up. And each time I was changing lens, I got dust in my sensor. Agree, nowadays prime a lighter but not necessarily smaller not to say bigger that those old 70' and 80' glasses.
  9. roundball

    roundball TalkEmount Legend

    Oct 8, 2013
    Like a lot of things, its rare to find a "one size fits all solution" for most any undertaking in life.
    But some circumstances are ideal for zooms...a couple days ago I spent a few hours at a Railroad Switching Yard...a noisy, dusty, dangerous environment with trains passing within a few feet to several hundred yards away.
    And I was confined to a small fixed observation area with no ability to move more than a few feet left or right. Mounted a Canon FDn 35-105 on the NEX7, was able to get all the shots I wanted and never had to open up the camera...would have been a nightmare juggling a lot of primes around and would have missed a lot of shot opportunities doing so.
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  10. GabrielPhoto

    GabrielPhoto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Jul 3, 2013
    I used both constantly and feel they both have their place among my tools. I normally go for a prime first as it is my preference but dont feel bad using a zoom as long as it is 2.8 as are the two I own currently.
  11. runnerpsu

    runnerpsu TalkEmount Veteran

    Feb 12, 2016
    South Florida
    I've learned to love my two primes (28 and 55). It keeps my mind open to possibilities
  12. mstphoto

    mstphoto TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Feb 26, 2016
    Aberdeen, NE Scotland
    Mike Stephen
    I must admit, I do like shooting with primes - occasionally ;)
    Much prefer the versatility of zooms.
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  13. Nexnut

    Nexnut TalkEmount Top Veteran

    If it weren't for my trusty standard zooms I would have missed some of my alltime favorite shots - sometimes you just can't zoom with your feet. I've said it before but I bascially see and shoot my standard zooms like a set of primes. An 1855's is a 18-23-(28-35)-55, mirroring my 28-35-85 prime trinity from back in the day and a quick check of my files with exiftool shows that I rarely deviate from those self-imposed FL limitations.
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  14. chalkdust

    chalkdust TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Sep 25, 2015
    Bert Cheney
    The reasons I prefer primes:
    1. I already own them. This is probably the main reason.
    2. I "grew up" on primes. These are the lenses I have used for a few decades.
    3. I am kind of dumb. When I use a zoom, I end up slamming it to one of it's two extremes almost every time. I seldom use it in the middle part of its range like I should.

    You see the reasons are all in my brain, not in the technical performance of zooms vs primes.
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  15. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Feb 14, 2016
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    I sometimes will stick a prime on my camera and go out with that body and lens and see what I can capture. It's like a photo challenge, just see the world in 28 or 35 or 55 whatever lens I take.
    I don't even think about the shots I might have missed with a different lens, I just concentrate on what I have and make the most of it, it makes an interesting trip.
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  16. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Feb 14, 2016
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    When you post crop you lose resolution for sure (although with the A7R2 if you crop to the same size an an APS-C camera you still get a respectable 18Mp) but you don't lose dynamic range, each part of a sensor has the same DR as any other part so cropping doesn't affect it.
    If I'm going to post crop or want to extend the range of the lens for a particular shot I switch the camera to APS-C mode then it displays the cropped scene in the EVF or screen so I can compose accordingly.
  17. WestOkid

    WestOkid TalkEmount All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jan 25, 2014
    New Jersey, USA
    That's not true. I won't get into all the specifics because I don't claim to totally understand why. But Photogrpahic Dynamic Range has been proven to be affected when cropping or using a camera in crop mode. See the PDR chart of APS-C vs FF for the A7RII from Bill Claff.

    Photographic Dynamic Range versus ISO Setting

    (note: I edited becuase I had the wrong chart originally)
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2017
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