I’ve always been curious about the difference between prime and zoom lenses. There seems to be some opinion that one is better than the other. To get to the bottom of the debate, I did some research, and this is what we found.
Zoom lenses and prime lenses differ by how long their focal points are. Prime lenses have a unifocal lens (usually between 12mm to 5200mm), while zoom lenses have a variable focal length. This means that prime lenses are better for portrait shots, while zoom lenses are ideal for general photography.
If you are torn between buying a prime or zoom lens, this in-depth guide will help you decide. I will compare the two types of lenses to help you choose an option that best suits your unique needs.
What Is the Difference Between Prime Lens and Zoom Lens?
There are two main differences between prime lenses and zoom lenses – prime lenses tend to have a wider aperture and are usually sharper than zoom lenses. However, zoom optics are more versatile than their prime counterparts, which makes them better for general photography.
Here’s the thing:
A prime lens is designed to have a fixed focal length and can’t be zoomed in or out. This makes prime lenses great for capturing detailed shots with high-quality optics. They are often smaller and lighter than zoom lenses and have a wider aperture, which allows for more creative control over the depth of field.
Zoom lenses are designed for multiple focal lengths. This makes them better for capturing a range of shots, from wide-angle landscapes to close-ups with details. However, zoom lenses can’t match the sharpness and clarity of prime lenses. They also have a narrower aperture that limits the amount of light entering the lens.
When I was starting out in photography, I decided to buy a prime lens because I wanted to learn how to take great photos with crisp edges and all. After becoming more comfortable with the lens, I decided to invest in a zoom lens because it gave me more flexibility. But this method turned out to be a huge mistake (more on that later).
The thing with a prime lens is that you can’t zoom in and out; you have to move closer or further away from your subject. While this might seem like a limitation at first, it actually teaches you to compose your shots better.
If you’re not sure whether you should buy a prime or zoom lens, you should consider the following:
The Type of Photography You Want To Do
The type of photography you do determines the type of lens you need. If you’re into landscapes, you’ll need a prime wide-angle lens. If you want to take portraits, you will need a portrait lens, and if you’re going to shoot events, zoom lenses will work best.
So, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to lenses, as the best type depends on your specific needs.
When it comes to price, prime lenses tend to be cheaper than zoom lenses. This is because zoom lenses usually have bigger optics and can zoom in and out. Zoom lenses with higher ranges tend to cost more than those with smaller ranges.
The biggest issue with prime is that the zoom function isn’t present. However, you get crisper pictures with a high-quality prime lens, which makes these lenses perfect for portrait and event photography.
Zooms lenses are great for capturing wide-angle shots, but you have to give up some of the quality to get that range.
Your Skill Level
If you’re just starting out in photography, I recommend buying a zoom lens (don’t make the same mistake I did). Zoom lenses are easier to use than prime lenses and are perfect for learning the basics of photography. That’s because prime lenses have a steeper learning curve, so they’re not ideal for beginners.
Once you become more comfortable taking photos, you can start exploring prime lenses. These lenses offer more flexibility and allow you to take a broader range of shots. But they do require more experience.
The Weight You Can Carry
Because you can’t zoom with prime lenses, you might have to carry more than one lens if you’re doing a lot of traveling. The added weight might not be ideal if you’re trying to travel light.
Zoom lenses are an excellent option for travelers because they offer more flexibility in terms of focal length. You can take fewer lenses with you and still capture all the shots you want. This can be a lifesaver if you’re looking to travel light.
Types of Prime Lenses
There are a few different types of prime lenses, and each one has its unique benefits:
- Wide-angle prime lenses: These lenses are perfect for capturing landscapes and wide-angle shots. They have a short focal length, which allows you to fit more into the frame. You can also use them for close-ups that require extra crispiness.
- Portrait prime lenses: These lenses are designed for shooting portraits. They have a longer focal length that allows you to create flattering compositions.
- Telephoto prime lenses: These lenses are perfect for shooting wildlife and sports. They have a long focal length, which allows you to capture distant targets.
- Macro prime lenses: These lenses are designed for close-up photography. They have a short focal length that allows you to capture small details.
- Fisheye prime lenses: These prime lenses are perfect for shooting creative landscapes and abstract shots. They have a wide-angle view, allowing you to fit more into the frame.
There are a variety of prime lenses available on the market, so finding the perfect one for your needs shouldn’t prove too hard. Prime lenses are an excellent option for beginners because they are easy to use and produce high-quality results.
I started with a 50mm 1.8 that I primarily use for events, but I added a Tamron 28 – 75mm F2.8 that I use more for general photography. Both are great lenses, but if I could only keep one, it would have to be the 50mm without question!
Types of Zoom Lenses
There are a few different types of zoom lenses, and each one has its unique benefits:
- Standard zoom lenses: These lenses are perfect for everyday photography because they offer a wide range of focal lengths. They are also lightweight and easy to carry around.
- Ultra-wide zoom lenses: These lenses have a wide angle of view, making them perfect for landscape and architecture photography. They are typically heavier and more expensive than standard zoom lenses.
- Telephoto zoom lenses: These lenses have a long focal length that makes them perfect for wildlife and sports photography.
- Superzoom lenses: They offer a wide range of focal lengths in a single lens, making them a great option for travel photography. They are typically more expensive than other types of zoom lenses.
My workhorse lens is the 70 – 200mm F2.8. I’ve used it for everything – from weddings to travel assignments. It’s a great lens for both full-frame and crop sensor cameras, and it gives me the reach I need to get the shots I want.
I have also used zoom lenses for portraits with great success. The 85mm F1.8 is a great option for shooting headshots and environmental portraits. You just have to be careful not to get too close to your subject lest you end up with a distorted image.
Pros and Cons of Prime Lenses?
To give you a complete picture, here are some of the pros and cons of prime lenses:
- Smaller and lighter than zoom lenses.
- Produce high-quality images with minimal distortion.
- They require less manual control than zoom lenses.
- You get crisp images.
- Have a narrower focal range than zoom lenses.
- They are not always available in the broadest aperture range.
- They require more practice to use than zoom lenses.
These pros and cons should help you decide if prime lenses are the right choice for you. Remember, there are a variety of prime lenses available on the market, so you can always shop around before pulling the trigger on a purchase.
For example, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens is a great starter prime lens. It’s small, lightweight, affordable, and it produces high-quality images. This lens is an excellent option for travel, everyday shooting, and portrait photography.
Pros and Cons of Zoom Lenses
To be fair, zoom lenses also have their share of pros and cons:
- They offer a more comprehensive range of focal lengths than prime lenses.
- Typically available in the widest aperture range.
- Require less manual control than prime lenses.
- Zoom lenses are typically less expensive than prime lenses.
- Produce less sharp images than prime lenses.
- Typically heavier and more expensive than prime lenses.
Use these pros and cons to help you decide if a zoom lens is the right choice for you. Like prime lenses, there are a variety of zoom lenses available on the market, and they come in a wide variety of budgets and capabilities.
For example, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens is an excellent option for photographers who need a zoom lens with a wide focal range. It is perfect for travel, sports, and event photography.
Zoom Lens vs. Phone Camera
While you can certainly get some great shots with a phone camera, a zoom lens will give you more flexibility and control over your photography. Zoom lenses allow you to capture more detail and create sharper images than any phone right now.
If you’re serious about photography, I recommend investing in a quality zoom lens because it will take your photography to the next level. This is especially true if you’re shooting in a challenging lighting situation, like low light areas or outdoor locations.
Still, I have seen some great photos taken with a phone’s camera, but for the most part, they are not as good as photos taken with a zoom lens. The best I’ve seen so far were taken on the iPhone 13 Pro Max with a 23mm lens.
So, always remember that the best camera is the one you have.
Why Do Professional Photographers Prefer Prime Lenses?
Professional photographers mainly prefer prime lenses because they produce sharper images than zoom lenses. Prime lenses have a larger aperture, which allows them to capture more light and create better photos overall.
Zoom lenses have to compromise on image quality to offer a wider focal range, which results in less sharp images. That is why professional photographers typically use prime lenses for portrait photography and other situations where sharpness is key.
Prime lenses also have a smaller focal range, making them easier to use and less prone to camera shake in close-up photography. So if you’re looking for a lens that will give you high-quality images with minimal fuss, a prime lens is the way to go.
However, I’ve also seen beginners use zoom lenses with great success. So it really depends on what you’re looking for in a lens and how much effort you’re willing to put into the learning process.
What Does the Learning Curve for Prime vs. Zoom Lenses Look Like?
The learning curve for prime lenses is not as steep as you might think. In fact, I would say that it’s about the same as the learning curve for zoom lenses. The main difference is that you need to be more familiar with the manual controls of a prime lens to get the most out of it.
Zoom lenses are typically less manual, which makes them more user-friendly. However, you can learn how to use a prime lens like a pro with a little bit of practice. It just takes a bit of time and patience.
Here’s my friend’s beginner story:
She started with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.L II USM (zoom lens) and slowly learned more about photography by experimenting with different settings and taking online courses. It was a slow process, but eventually, she became comfortable taking general photos with her zoom lens.
I remember when we went to a downtown music festival, and she was able to take some great shots of the musicians on stage. They were not as sharp as photos taken with a prime lens, but they turned out really well for her experience level.
Later, she decided to invest in a prime lens (Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM) and started practicing more with manual settings. She admitted that it was a bit more challenging to use, but the results were worth it.
After a while, she became just as comfortable using her prime lens as her zoom lens. Now she’s at the point where she can easily use either lens and get great results.
The bottom line?
If you’re just starting off in photography, I recommend going with a zoom lens. It’s more user-friendly and will help you learn the basics of photography.
However, if you’re looking to take your photography skills to the next level, I recommend investing in a prime lens. It takes a bit more effort to learn how to use it properly, but the results are well worth it.
Which Company Makes the Best Prime Lenses?
Popular prime lens manufacturers include Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Fujifilm. These companies have consistently produced high-quality prime lenses that are loved by professional photographers and beginners alike.
So which company makes the best prime lenses?
That’s a tricky question to answer, as each company has its strengths and weaknesses. However, I would have to say that Canon is the frontrunner when it comes to prime lenses. They have a wide variety of prime lenses to choose from, and the quality is always top-notch.
That being said, Nikon, Sony, and Fujifilm are definitely close behind Canon in prime lenses. They all have their own unique offerings, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
However, you want to be careful with knockoffs. There are a lot of companies that produce low-quality prime lenses, and I would recommend avoiding them at all costs. Stick with the big brands if you want to make sure that you’re getting a high-quality product.
I have seen people go for a cheap prime lens, and it’s just not worth it. The results are never as good as they would be with a higher-quality lens, meaning you’re likely to regret your decision.
Trust me. I’ve been there before!
Which Company Makes the Best Zoom Lenses?
Canon is the most popular lens manufacturer, and they make some of the best zoom lenses on the market. If you’re looking for a powerful lens with a great range, this is the way to go.
Nikon also makes some excellent zoom lenses, but they can be pricey. If you’re looking to save a little money, Sony is a great option – their lenses are significantly cheaper than Canon’s, and they still offer excellent quality.
Zoom lenses tend to be bigger and heavier than prime lenses, so a prime lens might be better if you’re looking for something compact and lightweight. But if you don’t mind a little extra weight and want a zoom lens’s flexibility, Canon or Nikon are your best bets.
While you should always consider your budget when choosing lenses, it’s crucial to avoid compromising quality. Buying from reputable manufacturers will give you the peace of mind that you’re investing in durable, high-quality products.
Is It True That a Bigger Lens Makes You Look Professional?
A zoom lens can make you look professional from the onlooker’s perspective. However, if you want to look professional from a technical standpoint, using a prime lens is the way to go. Prime lenses are often considered more “professional” than zoom lenses, as they give photos a more polished look.
However, a seasoned photographer can smoke out a beginner, no matter what lens they use. It is about how you use the lens, not what lens you are using. That’s what makes or breaks a photo.
I have seen experienced photographers with a basic point-and-shoot camera take amazing photos with a proper setup.
So, to answer the question, it is not necessarily true that using a bigger lens makes you look professional. It all comes down to your skill as a photographer. No matter what lens you’re using, it is possible to create beautiful photos.
A Word on Sharpness and Quality: Prime vs. Zoom Lenses
Prime lenses are generally sharper and have higher-quality optics than zoom lenses. This is because prime lenses are designed to be used at a specific focal length, while zoom lenses have to cover a wider range of focal lengths. As a result, prime lenses often suffer from less distortion and chromatic aberration.
However, there are some excellent zoom lenses on the market that rival the sharpness and quality of prime lenses. So it really depends on the type of lens you’re using and how you’re putting it to use.
I have had clients specifically request zoom lenses because they loved their flexibility. Conversely, I have had clients who only wanted to use prime lenses because of their superior sharpness and quality. It all comes down to personal preference.
But you’ll be surprised by the number of clients who don’t know the difference between prime and zoom lenses – they just know that they want a great photo! So don’t be afraid to experiment with both prime and zoom lenses to see what works best for you.
The Verdict: Prime vs. Zoom Lenses
There is no clear-cut winner when it comes to prime vs. zoom lenses. It all depends on your needs and what you’re looking for in a lens.
A zoom lens will suffice if you’re looking for sheer power and flexibility. But if you’re after superior sharpness and crisp quality, then prime lenses are a better choice.
No matter which lens you choose, practice and take lots of photos! The more you shoot, the better you’ll get.
And don’t forget to have fun with it – photography should be enjoyable, not stressful!
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Roy is the leading content creator here at Your Photo Advisor. He is a hobbyist photographer that loves the business side of things. He blogs about IT, cybersecurity, business, and more at Davis Tech Media.