#Photo3 – Three Advantages to Prime Lenses

A weekly trio of top photo tips

Zoom lenses are great, aren’t they? They cover several focal lengths all in the one lens. You can zoom in to distant subjects with it or shoot something close-up, all without even moving your feet. They offer great value for money and whilst they might have average maximum apertures, combined with a high ISO, you can shoot in most situations and light conditions with them. So, with all that in mind, why would you even consider a prime lens? Well, let me give you three reasons why you should in fact, consider a prime lens.

Speed

One big advantage of a prime lens is that they are fast. Yes, primes have speed on their side. You may be thinking here, Craig what are you on about! What exactly is a fast lens? Well, the term refers to their maximum aperture and this is usually wider than any equivalent zoom. So, whilst your favourite zoom lens may only have an f4 or even an f2.8 maximum aperture, a prime lens may have an f1.8 or even f0.95 maximum aperture. What this means, is more light coming in through the lens. More light means quicker focusing, brighter viewfinder, more bokeh effect (shallow depth of field), better low light capabilities and less need for high ISO settings, so ultimately better quality images too. Yes, a fast lens, i.e. a prime lens, is all good news.

primes2

Many primes also have a depth of field scale

Size and weight

The other advantage of a prime lens, is its size. Because there is less glass within its build and therefore it’s not trying to do multiple jobs as a zoom is, they are usually smaller and lighter than a zoom. This means you can chuck a couple of primes in your bag and travel light with a single camera body. Their compactness and lighter weight means they are easier to handhold in low light conditions too, allowing for lower shutter speeds required to capture a sharp image. Add in the factor that most are a lot sharper than a zoom lens, then these pocket-rockets have a lot going for them.

Manchester, 0.9 ND standard (to enable max aperture in bright light)

Get that shallow depth of field ‘bokeh’ effect

Improve your photography

So, despite being smaller, lighter and better quality than a zoom lens, how will these primes improve your photography? Well, there’s a well-placed theory that restriction makes you a better photographer. Zooms do tend to make you a bit lazy as a photographer. Stick a prime lens on your camera however and you have just one focal length to work with. You have to think about the field of view more. You consider your subject more and you start composing for the lens rather than the other way around. In short, a prime lens can make you a better photographer, because you may have to put more thought into the image capture. A prime lens is the best teacher you will ever have!

Buttermere, Lake District, Cumbria

Go out and shoot with just one lens

You can read more about prime lenses in my eGuides. These are available as part of an e6 subscription or to purchase separately. www.e6subscription.co.uk

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3 thoughts on “#Photo3 – Three Advantages to Prime Lenses

  1. Hi Craig,

    interesting article and I cane appreciate the advantages offered with primes here. However, being mainly into landscape photography, I’m having problems finding a prime wider than 12mm that’s not a fisheye. I’ve just seen that SLR magic do a 10mm cine lens, which I assume would be perfectly compatible with m4/3, however it’s huge and heavy in m4/3 prime terms. I suppose I could get a fisheye and de-fish(?) or do a two/three frame panno stitch but that’s not that convenient when there’s movement in the frame. For the moment, I’ve bought on ebay a cheap Oly 9-18mm 4/3 lens but this is as big and heavy as an Oly/Pana 7-14 pro! (although quite a bit cheaper)

    I know that you generally use your 12mm on your EM1 and your 17mm on your EP5 but other than when using your fisheye, do you ever feel the need to go wider. Assuming you couldn’t step back due to there being a tree/wall/river/ocean/cliff edge or the like in the way, I’d be interested in how you would go about it. Please don’t say “buy a drone!”… LOL!

    Loving your work, by the way, and looking forward to the rest of your #believeinfilm series on Youtube.

    Cheers, Phil.

    • Hi Phil. Yes i too have the 9-18mm (it’s tiny though, isn’t it?!) and am waiting for a suitable prime wider than the 12mm. Panasonic plan to release one this i hear, but im not ready to sacrifice size and weight for the Olympus 7-14mm. So like you u stitch, compromise or …no you’re right, no drone!

  2. Hi Craig,

    good to hear that Panasonic might be releasing a super-wide prime…. I suppose we’ll have to wait to see at what cost.

    I’ve got the “old” 9-18mm 4/3 lens for the Olympus DSLR’s not the m4/3 “mirror-less” one and it is virtually the same size and weight as Pana’s 7-14 f4! I’ve bought an adapter to fit it to my m4/3’s. Yes the m4/3 one is tiny but I opted for the 4/3 one for two reasons really. First is that I’m not too keen on the collapsible design when using filters as they tend to wobble around a bit (I’m comparing it to the Oly 14-42mm & Pan 12-32) and secondly that I’m a bit of a skinflint and managed to pick up a mint, boxed 4/3 version for £100 on ebay. Although, now that I’ve got used to m4/3, it is so big and heavy that I now wish that I had stuck it out and gone for the m4/3 one. It’s got a 72mm filter thread for goodness sake! Also, the focusing is a bit pedestrian…. bordering on Zimmer frame but then, landscapes don’t move that quickly do they?

    Thanks for the reply, all the best, cheers, Phil.

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