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DPChallenge Forums >> Hardware and Software >> Primes VS Zoom
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06/15/2005 10:18:39 AM · #1
The following is just my opinion…

So I did it. I sold all my zooms and bought primes instead. After all the people telling me that primes are faster, sharper, quicker focus then zooms… I have to say that they are 100% correct. I will never buy a Zoom lens again ((maybe 70-200mm f/2.8 IS if portrait photography takes off a bit more but I still don’t think I will) and (I kept my 100-400mm IS till they release a 400mm f/5.6 with IS or I can afford a 500mm f/4)).

After doing some test I find that my primes are in most cases 2-3 times sharper. I use a 24-70L (seems to be a good copy) a lot and it doesn’t come close to even a cheap prime. I also use a 17-40L (Don’t know how great of a copy I got) and my cheapo 35mm f/2 is way clearer at f/2.8 let alone f/4.

I heard people say to be a pro you need prime. I am now a believer Primes rule. I will switch lenses over and over again any day before I will accept an unsharp image.
06/15/2005 10:30:39 AM · #2
I got the kit Digital Rebel XT, because I didn't know any better, and recently got a 50mm f1.8. I must say I can't bring myself to put the kit lens back on my camera, because I love the sharpness of the 50mm. I have been thinking of only primes myself. The increase in sensor dust from more changing of the lenses is a downfall, but I can live with it.

For anyone interested in my kit lens (after this glowing review :), it's for sale on eBay:

//cgi.ebay.ca/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=30066&item=7522886518&rd=1
06/15/2005 10:33:43 AM · #3
I know it's a bit more expensive but I can't believe how much clearer the 50mm f/1.4 is then the f/1.8. I'm selling my 50mm1.8 on ebay right now.

Originally posted by Minutia:

I got the kit Digital Rebel XT, because I didn't know any better, and recently got a 50mm f1.8. I must say I can't bring myself to put the kit lens back on my camera, because I love the sharpness of the 50mm. I have been thinking of only primes myself. The increase in sensor dust from more changing of the lenses is a downfall, but I can live with it.

For anyone interested in my kit lens (after this glowing review :), it's for sale on eBay:

//cgi.ebay.ca/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=30066&item=7522886518&rd=1
06/15/2005 10:42:21 AM · #4
Sure, primes are almost always better. However there are some exceptions. At 24mm the canon prime L doesn't really perform any better than the zooms in that range. Some zooms are way way way more convenient to use than primes, especially if you don't want to be switching lenses ever couple mintues, or if you don't want to carry around 5 lenses all day. Primes have their place and are great when they're the right length. I do not believe you have to use them to be a pro. I don't think there are many wedding photographers that doesn't own a 24-70 ranged zoom lens for example. Another good thing about the primes is that they are almost always lighter than the zooms (unless they're low quality zooms). I love the primes I have, but I always tend to use the zooms instead, it's just easier to compose most situations with them. If you specialize is certain types of photography that are pretty controlled, primes are absolutely the way to go.

Also: how are you doing these tests and can you post examples? What makes you say that the lenses are 2-3x sharper, how do you measure that?
06/15/2005 10:50:30 AM · #5
As a counter-point, all of the top Nature and Landscape photographers (who work in a 35mm format) are using pro-grade zooms with no problems what so ever. I'd even guess that if they shot in a studio instead of the field they could make those zooms produce mind-blowing images as well.

I think there's a disease on the Internet which cause people to stress out about pro-grade zooms vs primes. In its more advanced cases it even makes them believe that switching camera brands will improve their photography.
06/15/2005 10:50:41 AM · #6
I think both primes and zooms have their own place, and even quality can't fundamentally tilt the scales of one vs. the other. There are some things I always use primes for, and others I always use zooms. If you get the right kit, both zooms and primes perform perfectly for their job.
06/15/2005 10:54:31 AM · #7
Sure Zooms are more convenient, but like I said before I would rather have a clear image to crop then a not so sharp I didn’t have too. I don’t mind carrying around a couple of lenses I have a great backpack and normally carry every lens I have anyways. When in doubt grab a 35mm prime. I don’t switch lenses that fast. As a learning photographer I try to take a moment for each picture and step back and think about what I want to say with my photo (excluding if I am doing wildlife photography… I take as many pics as I can at the longest distance I have as fast as I can.)

I don’t have any examples of my test but all I did was set up my tripod and take about 5 pictures with each lens at 3 top apertures (15 pics in total for each test) and tried to match apertures (17-40mm f/4 vs 35mm f/4). In all tests I did the primes one hands down. I blew the pics up to about 500% and checked out clarity, contrast and color.

Originally posted by kyebosh:

Sure, primes are almost always better. However there are some exceptions. At 24mm the canon prime L doesn't really perform any better than the zooms in that range. Some zooms are way way way more convenient to use than primes, especially if you don't want to be switching lenses ever couple mintues, or if you don't want to carry around 5 lenses all day. Primes have their place and are great when they're the right length. I do not believe you have to use them to be a pro. I don't think there are many wedding photographers that doesn't own a 24-70 ranged zoom lens for example. Another good thing about the primes is that they are almost always lighter than the zooms (unless they're low quality zooms). I love the primes I have, but I always tend to use the zooms instead, it's just easier to compose most situations with them. If you specialize is certain types of photography that are pretty controlled, primes are absolutely the way to go.

Also: how are you doing these tests and can you post examples? What makes you say that the lenses are 2-3x sharper, how do you measure that?
06/15/2005 10:58:40 AM · #8
Originally posted by cghubbell:

As a counter-point, all of the top Nature and Landscape photographers (who work in a 35mm format) are using pro-grade zooms with no problems what so ever. I'd even guess that if they shot in a studio instead of the field they could make those zooms produce mind-blowing images as well.


Outdoor photographers uses pro-grade zooms for good reason... they need a large range of lenses and if you think you can go trekking with a pack full of prime lenses to meet all your needs on outdoor shoots you aren't going to have a very good trip... unless you have a team of porters carrying all your stuff.

Pro-grade zoom lenses enable outdoor photographers to work with as little as 2 zooms. Sometimes 3 or 4 depending on how long of a trip and the type of photography.

Primes are great in a controlled environment, but when shooting in the field... they have big drawbacks unrelated to image quality. Space and weight are key issues. Typically when trekking you aren't just carrying your camera gear but all your personal gear... and the lighter you travel the happier you will be.

Sure they can produce better image quality, but the flexibility that the pro-grade zooms provide make them a better option for my needs.
06/15/2005 11:00:52 AM · #9
Don't get me wrong. I do believe zooms are able to provide professional pics and no I don’t think you need a prime to be a proffesional. But I am having a hard time believing that the pics from a zoom can be taken as fast or as clear. Again this is my opinion… I think zooms can take clear picture but not as fast or as sharp as the primes. Again I have only tested what I own so I can say this for every brand or every lens, but for all the canon lenses I have owned L or not the primes are Faster and sharper.

Originally posted by PaulMdx:

I think both primes and zooms have their own place, and even quality can't fundamentally tilt the scales of one vs. the other. There are some things I always use primes for, and others I always use zooms. If you get the right kit, both zooms and primes perform perfectly for their job.
06/15/2005 11:09:48 AM · #10
I'm more than a little in love with primes myself, but I'm not selling my zooms (70-200/2.8 IS and 24-70/2.8). I have decided, though, that a 16-35/2.8 is not in my future, I will be going with primes only for WA. I will also fill in with primes at certain focal lengths within my zoom coverage range, to provide additional speed and sharpness, or for specialty work like macro or tilt/shift. At some point I also see a long telephoto prime in my future, but that's down the road.
In short, I feel that both zooms and primes have their place. I won't buy "consumer zooms" anymore, they have been disappointments overall. I'm addicted to speed, sharpness, contrast, saturation, and bokeh.
06/15/2005 11:16:27 AM · #11
Well said Kirbic... as always

I would love to keep zooms in my bag as well but it's one or the other for my pocket book at this point.(70-200/2.8 IS, 17-40/4 and 24-70/2.8)

Originally posted by kirbic:

I'm more than a little in love with primes myself, but I'm not selling my zooms (70-200/2.8 IS and 24-70/2.8). I have decided, though, that a 16-35/2.8 is not in my future, I will be going with primes only for WA. I will also fill in with primes at certain focal lengths within my zoom coverage range, to provide additional speed and sharpness, or for specialty work like macro or tilt/shift. At some point I also see a long telephoto prime in my future, but that's down the road.
In short, I feel that both zooms and primes have their place. I won't buy "consumer zooms" anymore, they have been disappointments overall. I'm addicted to speed, sharpness, contrast, saturation, and bokeh.
06/15/2005 11:20:19 AM · #12
I'm also a lover a primes. I did, however, just order myself the canon 28-135mm IS. I need a lens for family and friend trips, just hangin' out, etc where quality isn't much a need over convenience (snapshots).

In a way, it makes me sad shelling out $400.00 for a lens that is only useful when I'm NOT pursuing my real hobby, but I know it will get a lot of use at birthdays, BBQ's, weekend trips with friends, blah, blah, blah.

But my true love is working with primes :)
06/15/2005 11:28:15 AM · #13
Originally posted by Corwyn:

Don't get me wrong. I do believe zooms are able to provide professional pics and no I don’t think you need a prime to be a proffesional. But I am having a hard time believing that the pics from a zoom can be taken as fast or as clear. Again this is my opinion… I think zooms can take clear picture but not as fast or as sharp as the primes. Again I have only tested what I own so I can say this for every brand or every lens, but for all the canon lenses I have owned L or not the primes are Faster and sharper.


I guess my point is that unless you are doing a side by side comparison the difference wouldn't be enough to matter in most cases. The compositional details would make a much bigger impact overall once you're using pro grade zooms.

No doubt, side by side and instrument based comparisons will favor the primes, but for 99% of the practical purposes out there, gear only gets you half way.

I have a 200mm prime Micro Nikkor which is about as sharp as optics can be. No doubt it's sharper than my 18-70 zoom. But I can blow up my 18-70 based landscapes to 16x24 and rarely see anything that makes me question that lens' quality. When I do see something, it's because of a technical flaw I'm responsible for, not the optics. I'm sure that a 17-35 f/2 would look better in a side-by-side, but by how much?

I think in many cases people just feel more comfortable with a certain type of gear, and that's fine. But I would bet that outside of the experimental set ups and studios, the optical differences between top zooms and top primes play less of a role in the real world than your compositional decisions.
06/15/2005 11:49:54 AM · #14
you better just stay away from leica and zeiss glass... the 100mm 2.0 zeiss glass is apparently much sharper than the canon 135 2.0L and the leica 60mm macro is better than the canon 85 1.2L.
06/15/2005 12:08:08 PM · #15
Where would you get a lens like this?

Do they only come manual focus?

Originally posted by kyebosh:

you better just stay away from leica and zeiss glass... the 100mm 2.0 zeiss glass is apparently much sharper than the canon 135 2.0L and the leica 60mm macro is better than the canon 85 1.2L.
06/15/2005 12:11:24 PM · #16
Originally posted by cghubbell:

But I would bet that outside of the experimental set ups and studios, the optical differences between top zooms and top primes play less of a role in the real world than your compositional decisions.


perhaps true, but the visual difference (as opposed to optical) between 2.8 and say 1.4 plays a very big role in the real world.
06/15/2005 12:16:55 PM · #17
Originally posted by hopper:

perhaps true, but the visual difference (as opposed to optical) between 2.8 and say 1.4 plays a very big role in the real world.

Agreed. Not to mention practical reasons.. If I'm shooting in dark conditions I'll be shooting with my 85/1.8 not my 70-200/2.8L.

For a lot of sports photog's I would say one major advantage of a prime is the wide aperture.
06/15/2005 12:17:47 PM · #18
Originally posted by Corwyn:

Where would you get a lens like this?

Originally posted by kyebosh:

you better just stay away from leica and zeiss glass... the 100mm 2.0 zeiss glass is apparently much sharper than the canon 135 2.0L and the leica 60mm macro is better than the canon 85 1.2L.


From the lens collectors on Fredmiranda.com

06/15/2005 12:20:53 PM · #19
when primes is mentioned we mean a fixed lens? is that correct?
06/15/2005 12:36:52 PM · #20
Originally posted by LEONJR:

when primes is mentioned we mean a fixed lens? is that correct?


Yes. 35mm, 50mm, 105mmMacro are primes and 70-300mm, 18-70mm are zooms.
06/15/2005 12:40:37 PM · #21
No, not a fixed lens. Primes or zooms are both interchangeable while a fixed lens can not be removed from the camera for another. A zoom lens has a range of focal lengths whereas a prime is only one focal length...but they can both be swapped off the camera in favor of another.

Originally posted by LEONJR:

when primes is mentioned we mean a fixed lens? is that correct?
06/15/2005 12:44:53 PM · #22
Originally posted by Olyuzi:

No, not a fixed lens. Primes or zooms are both interchangeable while a fixed lens can not be removed from the camera for another. A zoom lens has a range of focal lengths whereas a prime is only one focal length...but they can both be swapped off the camera in favor of another.

Originally posted by LEONJR:

when primes is mentioned we mean a fixed lens? is that correct?


I think by fixed lens he meant fixed focal length lens...
06/15/2005 01:28:09 PM · #23
Originally posted by Corwyn:

Where would you get a lens like this?

Do they only come manual focus?

Originally posted by kyebosh:

you better just stay away from leica and zeiss glass... the 100mm 2.0 zeiss glass is apparently much sharper than the canon 135 2.0L and the leica 60mm macro is better than the canon 85 1.2L.

yes only MF. You can find them on FM like said earlier or you can look on the internet for them, or go to japan or maybe germany.
06/15/2005 01:45:58 PM · #24
Originally posted by hopper:

Originally posted by cghubbell:

But I would bet that outside of the experimental set ups and studios, the optical differences between top zooms and top primes play less of a role in the real world than your compositional decisions.


perhaps true, but the visual difference (as opposed to optical) between 2.8 and say 1.4 plays a very big role in the real world.


Of course an f/1.4 lens will allow for faster shutter speeds than a f/2.8. I'm referring only to image quality for equivalent exposures.

To be specific, comparing a 50mm f/1.8 prime exposure to the same exposure taken through a zoom lens at a 50mm focal length under the assumption that lighting allows for the same shutter speeds to be used.

Message edited by author 2005-06-15 13:46:36.
06/15/2005 02:08:25 PM · #25
Originally posted by kirbic:

(70-200/2.8 IS and 24-70/2.8)

Oddly enough, my next 2 lens purchases. :) I'm ordering the 70-200 first. The 24-70 will have to wait a bit.

Back in my Canon A1 days I too used mostly primes, but constantly switching lenses was such a PITA. IMO, zooms have gotten much better since then. Actually, I would love to have both, primes and zooms.
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