My bag is largely filled with zoom lenses, covering the focal lengths from 18mm to 250mm. I find that zoom lenses work better with my style of shooting, and especially work well for landscape/outdoor photography in my opinion.
For those that shoot in wide open spaces, or, shooting portraits in a studio, I really think prime lenses can be an outstanding tool. However outdoors, I find that there are many times when I cannot adjust my position or my tripod to be “optimum” for one particular focal length. Fences block the way, boulders or drop offs prevent from getting closer, whatever it may be, there are man-made or natural obstacles to repositioning myself to accommodate fixed focal length lens. That’s where zooms are particularly handy for me, to zoom in or out to frame a composition just the way I want to.
I know folks might say “just shoot wide and crop the photo to the composition you want”. True, I can do that. But why would I? Why crop and delete pixels of information out of a photo? I would much prefer to be able to fill my frame with the exact composition in order to maximize the amount of information captured in the image. Having the maximum amount of info in your image file helps a lot in processing and also allows you to print an image at acceptable levels in larger sizes.
i also hear the argument that “prime lenses are sharper and better quality”. There is truth to this. With fewer elements in a prime lens, the manufacture can focus on the quality of those elements. Also with zoom lenses, it is hard to get all the elements to line up exactly perfect across the entire range of the lens. To do this requires a lot of care and a lot of money. So yea, I can concede that there can be a loss of ultimate image quality using a zoom versus a prime. Not in all cases though. I’ve seen poor performing primes and I’ve seen zooms that out-perform primes. There will always be exceptions.
So, if I’m losing image quality using zooms, why do it? Well, see my first point about cropping images to get the comp I want. I have found that a slight loss in image quality far outweighs the other extreme of cropping to get the comp I want. I’d much rather get the comp “right” in the camera, having the maximum amount of information in my image file to work with.
With all that being said, I’m a bit surprised at myself……I just bought a new prime lens for my Fujifilm X-T1!!!! I just received the Fuji 90mm f/2 lens and I’m so excited about it. Why did I buy a prime lens? Image quality! I have seen stunning image after stunning image coming out of this lens and I am simply floored by the quality and magical abilities of this lens. It is rated as one of the sharpest lenses ever by several respected labs. The bookeh is simply amazing on it. The build quality is typical Fuji excellence. Talking to other Fuji owners who have this lens, they are saying that this is their primary “go to” lens. I wanted some of this “good magic” that the lens has to offer so i jumped in to the prime pool.
It will take some adjustment to train myself to shoot with a prime lens. I know there are many situations where it will be used and used to it’s full extent. Putting a 90mm lens on a 1.4 crop sensor means that I have an effective focal length of around 135mm. A good intermediate length I can work with.
Once spring hits I’m going to put this lens through its paces and hopefully have some awesome images to share. Prime time indeed!
(originally published 2/13/16)