Today’s topic is just about as easy as could be! What on Earth are “fixed-focus prime lenses” and how do they compare with zoom lenses?
To start, what are “prime” lenses? I’m tempted to throw in a nerdy math joke here but I’m going to hold myself back. But what do they REALLY do? It’s actually rather simple. Prime lenses, as compared with zoom lenses, don’t zoom. WHAT?! Lenses that don’t zoom? Is that even useful? I mean, that’s a hindrance, right?
Well, I can see why you would think that but actually, a good few of the top wedding photographers in this country prefer prime lenses. Why?! Below, I’ll give and explain my four quick reasons: cost, weight, clarity, and aperture.
Another clear advantage of prime lenses comes in terms of cost. When constructing a lens, engineers are tasked with creating an item as precise as the human eye that can focus on objects are ever-increasing speeds with unimaginable accuracy. Just to put this into perspective, imagine if your eyes [which are technically prime lenses by the way] could zoom in on things. To do this, you would have to completely restructure the entire organ, adding extra pieces of glass, and running tests to ensure that it could focus correctly at a variety of distances. Due to how complicated this process would be, it would undoubtedly be very expensive. It is the same with camera lenses. The less glass you need, the cheaper it is to produce. And thus, primes usually win on cost.
On a similar note, because zoom lenses have so much glass, they typically come out much heavier, making a wedding photographer’s job much harder. I would most definitely take carrying around a 50mm than my 24-120mm ANY DAY. Cameras get heavy enough when you add flashes to them.
Nowadays, even the most common of smartphones can create some purely breathe-taking images. They capture stunning moments and do so in such amazing ways! Yet, despite this, they still are found lacking. With a prime great prime lens, photographers are able to capture an unimaginable amount of detail in images.
Without going into all the delicate intricacies [you can find a tutorial on aperture here], aperture is essentially a standardized reading of how wide a lens can open. In the same way that the human iris expands in low light situations to let in more light, lenses can open wider to allow a brighter image. Now, prime lenses are able to open much wider than zoom lenses, and therefore can take in more light. So, they are great for low-light situations like wedding receptions.
“But Daniel, when shooting with a prime lens, there is no zoom option. Doesn’t that get old? I mean, let’s say you go to take a picture and you discover you’re way to close to the couple?” When I first started in photography, I remember thinking this was the biggest deal in the world. I mean, if you use a prime, how are you supposed to take a picture of something when you need a wider angle? My friend’s response was brilliant: “You walk.” And that’s about it… in light of all the other advantages, burning a couple extra calories to get super sharp images really isn’t that bad of a deal!
Here I find it necessary to throw in a disclaimer. This supremacy of primes law does not ALWAYS prove true. My newest lens, a 24-120mm ZOOM lens, definitely out-performs the 50mm PRIME lens I started with when I bought my first camera. Why? Because my newest lens costed at least ten times more than my old lens. So, although GENERALLY prime lenses come out sharper, this is not universally true. If you buy cheap prime lenses, a more costly zoom lens can still outshine it in terms of clarity.
And that about covers it. Advantages to good primes: cheaper, lighter, sharper, and better in dark environments. Disadvantages to good primes primes: forces you to either walk or switch lenses for different distances.