One reason people purchase DSLR and mirrorless cameras is for the ability to shoot with different lenses in different settings. As a beginner photographer, you may not know whether you want to shoot with zoom or prime lenses or even what the difference in between zoom and prime lenses, which is fine.
As you grow comfortable shooting with the kit lens that came with your new camera, you’ll start exploring other options for lenses. Familiarizing yourself with both zoom and prime lenses and weighing the pros and cons of both types of lenses will help you make informed decisions about the lenses you purchase for your camera.
What is a Prime Lens?
A prime lens is a camera lens with a fixed focal length. While a zoom lens has a range of focal lengths (i.e., 17-35mm), a prime lens can only have one focal length (i.e., 50mm). Typically, a prime lens has a maximum aperture between f/1.2 and f/2.8. Limiting a lens to a single focal length enables optimal image quality and superior low light performance.
What is a Zoom Lens?
A zoom lens is a camera lens for which the focal length can be varied. For example, a zoom lens may cover the ranges of 24-70mm or 70-300mm. While zoom lenses are more versatile, the mechanics and optical elements required for multiple focal lengths compromise the focus and low light capability.
Prime Lens Pros and Cons
There are two primary advantages to shooting with a prime lens. The first advantage is that a fixed aperture allows for a shallower depth of field without a huge increase in price. Even budget prime lenses boast shallow depth of field, creating beautiful bokeh and blurred backgrounds with ease.
The second advantage of prime lenses is that a fixed aperture forces you to think more about your compositions and move to create the shots you want. The concept may seem overwhelming at first, but with a little practice, it will become second nature. Even if you prefer shooting with zoom lenses, it’s worth shooting with a prime lens every once in a while because it will get you to think about your photography differently.
The biggest con of prime lenses is that you’re limited to a single focal length. While the single focal length challenges you creatively, it’s not always practical.
Zoom Lens Pros and Cons
The biggest pro of a zoom lens is that you aren’t limited to a single focal length. While a single focal length makes you move to get your shots and create tighter, more interesting photos, sometimes it isn’t practical. For example, when you’re taking pictures on a family vacation or at a kid’s birthday party, you want to get the best shots that you can while they’re happening. A zoom lens makes this process much easier.
The biggest con of zoom lenses is that they tend to be bulkier. While there are bulky prime lenses, zoom lenses are almost always bulkier. Additionally, unless you purchase high-end zoom lenses, which are more expensive and even bulkier, you won’t be able to shoot with a shallow depth of field the way you can with virtually every prime lens, even budget prime lenses. Depending on the type of shooting you do most often, a shallow depth of field may not be a high priority.
What Lens Should I Buy?
As a beginner photographer, it’s helpful to own both a versatile zoom lens (i.e., 24-105mm, 18-135mm) and a versatile prime lens (i.e., 40mm, 50mm). Until you’ve shot with both types of lenses, it’s all but impossible to determine which type of lens you’ll like shooting with more. Even when you prefer prime lenses over zoom lenses or vice versa, there will be situations when you want one more than another. Owning versatile lenses will always prove beneficial.
As you become more comfortable with both types of lenses and determine what type of shooting you’ll be doing most often, you may decide to purchase more specific lenses. For example, if you love macro photography, a 100mm or 135mm prime lens will produce better results than a 50mm prime lens or 24-105mm zoom lens. Wait until you know you’ll use a more specific lens often before making the investment.
Do you prefer shooting with prime or zoom lenses?
Are there any additional tips you would offer for lens choice for beginner photographers?
Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.