Are Primes a Prime Choice

Forums All About Photography Are Primes a Prime Choice

This topic contains 7 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  ajroyle 5 years, 10 months ago.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Author
  • #2347


    I  always make sure that every two or three days I have a browse through Ian’s finds on Twitter. They are always fascinating and I’ve found many memorable image. (I heartily recommend it).

    Yesterday, on looking at the wonderful images by Salgado in the Guardian I was distracted by an article about using a prime lens by one of their staff photographers.

    These days we are so used to zoom lenses that perhaps some of the newcomers have never even tried a prime lens (a lens with a fixed focal length).

    I think primes may be making a bit of a comeback.

    Here are some points to consider:-

    1. By using a prime lens extensively you develope a feel for what you can frame before you even raise the camera to your eye. HCB used mainly a 50mm lens and this must have helped greatly in him achieving the remarkably constant compositions which Ian was telling us all about. You can also waste time zooming back and to.

    2. Pound for pound you can often get much better quality for your money. Primes came first (!) and were at their peak of development in many areas before zooms even became available. Zooms have caught up a lot but they are still a compromise. The Canon 50mm f1.8 is only about £75, it was first around in the early 80’s and is surely one of the lens bargains. On a 1.6 crop camera (xxxD, xxD etc) it may be slightly narrow a field of view, the 35mm f2 would be better in that sense (noisy AF, but a delight to use)

    3. Your prime will be lighter (the Canon 24-70 f2.8 Mk1 weighs a kilo!). Zooms are always bulkier.

    4. Faster, a cheaper prime will still give you f2.8 a cheaper zoom only f4.

    5. Less distortion. In many images this is not noticeable but any straight lines in your image will soon show up your zoom lens. Primes give you almost no distortion.

    You notice that many press photographers have a 24-70 f2.8, a 70-200mm f2.8 and a 16-35 or 17-40. All excellent lenses and if I were young and fit and HAD to get a picture I’d probably choose the same gear myself but these days my little GF1 with a 20mm f1.7 lens is my “always with me” shooter.





    I would totally agree with John Prime lens are far superior to Zoom, but a word of advice always buy the best you can afford and possibly the same make as the camera you have. I regret buying a Sigma 50mm prime lens and not spebding a few £’s more and getting a Canon.

    Wallace Baxter



    It almost like comparing chalk and cheese. A high quality 50mm prime lens has always been the bench mark, eg all the famous Leica lenses. But that is a 50mm prime lens. A  prime lens of 85mm or 100mm would be required for say head and shoulders. That is to  fill the frame. Using a 50mm and getting to close for head & shoulders creates fore shortening. So go to the other extreme end in the jungle and the zooms come into their own-getting a close up of wild beasts with a 50mm lens could be dangerous. At the end of the day  all quality lenses  out perform   the pixels  -printers -paper and projectors.See your problem Wallace–SIGMA  and  CANON—bit like my   C5  and a Bentley.   With your quality of photography treat yourself to a Christmas Canon. 



    So if 50mm prime lenses are  the   ultimate it should be possible to recognise which lens has been used to photograph an image. So the chalenge here is what lens ie   –50mm   –   100mm    -35mm   or   35–to  600mm zoom   was used to capture this image??? 



    I have to say Ken … I haven’t a clue!  But that is a lovely sharp wheel.

    I think everyone who know me is aware that my favourite lens is the delightfully cheap Canon Nifty 50mm f/1.8  which at a little over £80 is one of the best cheapo genuine Canon lenses out there and great in low light or for portraits.  I can certainly tell the difference  in my images when I switch from my 18-55mm or 55-250mm  which have f/5.6.  The prime produces sharper, clearer, colour rich images in general  … it’s just all the moving backwards and forwards that you have to get used to. The reflex urge to twist the barrel is great.  Often it is my walking about lens especially as light fades.  I am certainly considering buying other primes just for the image quality.


    Ian McNab

    Yes, a 50mm on a crop-sensor camera has a field of view similar to a lens of focal length 70mm to 80mm on a full frame, which is pretty close to standard ‘portrait’ lenses.  I love my Nikkon 50mm f/1.8D  (stunning at £81.50 on Amazon!);  and the 35mm f/1.8G stays on my carry-around camera all the time. (The 35mm is currently a mere £144 on Amazon, with FoV similar to 50mm on full frame body.)

    No, I don’t photograph birds at a quarter of a mile with either of these lenses.  But in the street, in gatherings of people, and walking around, I find the classic 35mm / 50mm FL great for general photography – sharp, fast, and light (both in weight and on the bank account!).  And you learn a great deal about PoV and framing when using primes that zooms don’t help you to be aware of.


    Ian McNab

    Just came across a timely contribution to this discussion by The Guardian’s David Sillitoe (click for article).



    Hi Ian, It was seeing that article which triggered all this off!

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.