What you ought to Know About Prime Lenses

Camera lenses can be divided into 2 broad groups: prime lens and zoom lenses. Excellent lenses, which offer a single focal length and can’t move in or out, might appear to be inherently less helpful than zoom lenses, yet that’s not necessarily the case. Leading lenses can offer a wide range of advantages, and in this guide, we’ll break down what you should know about prime lens and why you should consider incorporating prime lenses to your bag.

Table of Contents

What Are Perfect Lenses?

Prime lenses are best realized by looking at the difference among a prime lens and a zoom (explained in detail right here: prime vs zoom lenses ).

The major distinction is that a prime zoom lens offers a single focal length . Focal length, typically given in millimeters or “mm, ” describes how much of the scene you will capture with that lens, from wide to telephoto.   A smaller number is really a wider angle. For example , on the full-frame camera, a  20mm   lens will be a wide angle, a  50mm will be a “normal” or moderate field of view, while a  105mm will be a narrow or telephoto field of watch.

105mm f/2. 8 @ ISO 500, 1/180 second, f/8

Field associated with view changes depending on the camera format that you use – AKA the size of your digital camera sensor or film. Because the closest thing to a “standard” format is full-frame digital (or 35mm film), this gives rise to the concept of full-frame equivalent focal lengths. Read more in our article on crop aspect . For ease of referrals, this article will always refer to full-frame equivalent focal lengths.

Unlike a prime lens, a contact by definition offers a continuous range of focal lengths, like 24-70mm lens. This means that the lens will cover 24mm, 25mm, 26mm, and so on, through 70mm (and all the spaces within between).

While it may seem like this allows the zoom to replace a huge range of prime lenses, it’s not as though you need to carry a perfect lens at every single central length. Lens companies don’t even sell primes each and every focal length. Instead, primes are available at typical benchmark central lengths, like 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm. A well-equipped photographer might only need a 24mm and 50mm lens to have a “complete” package for their photoshoot.

Prime lenses and zoom lens lenses have a large number of differences in features, benefits, and disadvantages. But almost all of those variations stem from the single main difference that prime lenses offer one focal duration and zoom lenses offer a range. Since this article is dedicated to prime lenses, let’s look at some of the benefits they offer.

Benefits of a Prime Lens

1 ) Simpler and Smaller Design

Perfect lenses have a wide range of advantages, and understanding what they provide to you as a photographer can make a big difference in the images a person create. The most immediately visible reason to use a prime zoom lens is in the size and weight. While not always true, many prime lenses are small, lightweight, and portable, which makes them a good choice for situations to need to be mobile.

That said, one important account when looking at the size and weight advantage of primes would be to understand the “class” of zoom lens you’re looking at. A expensive prime with a very fast aperture might be bigger than a lot of zooms. But if all else is identical and features are similar, prime lenses almost always have a dimension and weight advantage.

Fall Trees
24mm f/2. 6 @ ISO 100, 1/640 second, f/2. 8

But exactly why is that the case? As a perfect lens only has to cover up one field of view, the optical formula (all the differently shaped pieces of glass that make up the internal parts of a lens) can be a lot simpler. All the parts inside of are simpler, too. The zoom lens needs to move different elements around to change the focal length, and many zooms have to extend the lens barrel itself to make this particular possible. All this adds up to more glass, more material, and much more complexity in the design. Beneath, you can see the optical diagrams of a basic 50mm best lens on the left plus a zoom lens that covers 24-85mm on the right. As you can see, should you be just trying to shoot in 50mm, you can save a lot of dimension and weight by going with the prime.

Lens Comparison
50mm prime (left) vs 24-85mm zoom (right)

2 . Quicker Apertures

Size and weight are not the only advantages of a perfect lens. In many cases, they’re furthermore capable of shooting at a lot wider aperture settings.

For example , many move lenses struggle with f-stop . A typical zoom will max out from aperture values like f/4 or f/5. 6. Only fast, professional-grade zooms are often capable of apertures as wide as f/2. 8. In contrast, most prime lenses possess a maximum aperture of a minimum of at f/1. 8, and high-end primes can go even further, down to insane values like f/0. ninety five on several specialty lenses.

As a photographer, this means you may get shallower depth of field   with prime lenses to higher isolate your subject towards a blurry background. Additionally, it lets you capture in low-light conditions more easily, allowing for a lesser ISO or a faster shutter speed in dark conditions.

a few. Sharper Images

Along with faster apertures, prime lenses are also generally very sharp. With the optical formula only needing to be optimized for a single focal length, prime lenses might have great sharpness and lower levels of optical defects, such as chromatic illogisme , particularly when compared to zoom lens lenses that cost a comparable amount of money.

Milky Way
24mm f/1. 4 @ ISO 100, 13 sec, f/1. 8

4. Lower Prices

Specifically taking the three points over into account, prime lenses could be great values and offer abilities to beginners that would be prohibitively expensive on a zoom. Probably the most recommended beginner lenses will be the so-called “nifty fifty. ” It’s a catchy name for a 50mm f/1. seven that can often be purchased for just a couple hundred dollars , or less when bought used. All this while offering better image quality, a wider optimum aperture, and smaller dimension than almost any zoom.

The benefit of a lower cost doesn’t just apply to fundamental or used primes, however. Prime lenses of all central lengths and capabilities are usually cheaper than zooms within the same tier of functionality. While this lower cost may be counterbalanced if you need to buy more lens overall (a point we will look at further in the Drawbacks section below), usually professional photographers can still put together a top quality set of prime lenses cheaper than a high-quality set of zooms.

five. Special Features

We’ve already seen how prime lenses can offer aperture capabilities that simply aren’t possible in move lenses. Primes are capable of a lot more, however , with prime lens of special designations. For instance , almost all macro photography lens are prime lenses, making primes the way to go if you need close-focus capabilities. Most brands create macro lenses that can focus at 1: 1 magnification , while some brands offer macro lenses that can focus all the way in order to 5: 1 like the Laowa 25mm f/2. 8 Ultra Macro , which is approaching the place of basic microscopes.

Other specialty prime features include tilt-shift plus defocus control. Both of these are more advanced technical capabilities used in genres like architectural plus portrait photography respectively.

As prime lenses are also less expensive to design and construct, third-party manufacturers have the ability to produce unique designs plus capabilities on their primes. These range from the odd-looking probe macro lens from Laowa, extremely wide or ultra fast lenses like a 9mm or f/0. 95 aperture zoom lens, and more.

6. Visualization

One last benefit of prime lenses is a little tougher to quantify, as it is more artistic. After shooting with a prime lens for some time, you can start to visualize the particular focal length, making it simpler to spot potential compositions plus understand framing, all before you decide to lift your camera. Some photographers only ever take with a single prime zoom lens, like a 35mm or 50mm, for exactly this cause.

Drawbacks of a Prime Lens

After all these benefits, it might seem like there is no reason for zoom lenses! That isn’t the case, nevertheless. While prime lenses do possess a number of advantages, and can be a great choice for several subjects, they do have limitations.

1 ) Field of View

With a best lens being limited to just one focal length, you can’t effortlessly change your field of view while remaining in the same spot. While you can always “zoom with your feet”, by getting nearer or more from your subject, this changes the appearance of your photo simply by altering your perspective. It is also not as simple since just twisting a zoom lens ring. As described in our article on making prime lenses a lot more versatile , you can take a panorama or plants in to get a wider or even narrower composition, but this could take time or cost you quality.

Sunset Saguaros
24mm f/2. 8 @ ISO hundred, 1/20 second, f/2. almost eight

2 . Switching Lenses

If you want to obtain access to different fields of see, you may need to switch prime lens more frequently than zooms. You can end up spending more time transforming gear and less time shooting, as well as more time exposing your sensor to dust plus debris.

This could be particularly problematic in fast moving or hazardous situations, but it is slightly counterbalanced from the greater resilience of prime lenses to environmental dangers like dust, thanks to the fewer moving parts and more basic mechanical design.

3. More Lens Necessary

Even though prime lenses are usually simpler, lighter, and more affordable than zoom lenses, factors start to change when you look at them as a kit. A 24-200mm or 18-200mm zoom lens can effectively cover an entire day’s worth of photographic opportunities, while even mid-range zooms like a 24-105mm could be all you need for most situations. In contrast, you’d potentially need a 24mm, 50mm, and 105mm to cover the same situations, and maybe a lot more (like a 35mm plus 70mm) if you’re concerned about too big of a central length gap .

As a result of this inflexibility, manufacturers have recently bent into primes being specialty lenses – releasing primes that do things a zoom lens could not reasonably do. This often makes new primes, particularly for mounts like Nikon Z and Cannon RF, more expensive propositions than prime lenses of the previous.

You can still build out a full kit made of prime lenses, especially if you’re using an older attach or are willing to adapt lens, but it’s more challenging than it was before.

Are Prime Lenses Still Relevant Today?

I think gear manufacturers have the right idea: Prime lenses these days are in their best in special roles. Whether this means making really fast aperture lenses, supplying unique capabilities like macro or defocus control, or capitalizing on the size benefits by being super small and light-weight, prime lenses do have a niche.

A few of the other historic benefits of leading lenses aren’t as appropriate these days. For example , with zoom lens designs and manufacturing continuing to advance, zoom lenses are now able to offer similar levels of optical quality, while still conferring all the flexibility of a zoom (just consider our  latest review of the Nikon Z . 70-200 f/2. 8 ). In fact , at the best end, lenses like the Canon 28-70mm f/2 have even come close to a prime’s fast aperture, albeit in a significant cost and bodyweight penalty.

11mm f/4 @ ISO one hundred and eighty, 1/20 second, f/5. 0

In my own kit, I’ve discovered that primes can be a great supplement to my favorite zooms. I particularly like having a fast wide angle lens pertaining to shooting astrophotography, like our 24mm f/1. 4 , as well as a macro lens like my 105mm . Family portrait photographers will also find quick 50mm and 85mm lenses to be a go-to option for portraits with blurry backgrounds. Animals and sports photographers have a place for prime lenses in their kits, with 300mm or longer telephoto lens with fast apertures providing high performance.

As a result, prime lenses are still appropriate today, and for a wide range of the market, even if they are no longer the only or most popular optiosn.

How Many Perfect Lenses Do You Need?

Only you can solution how many prime lenses you require. Depending on your interests, style of photography, and budget, you might want to build out a kit featuring 7 primes across your favorite focal lengths, or you might just stick with a few zooms and no primes at all. There is no right or completely wrong answer. Instead, I’d recommend taking a look at what you shoot and exactly what a prime lens can perform for you as a photographer, then simply building out your kit while needed. Ross Martin talked about this a lot in his write-up on buying the right lenses for digital photography .

Should you be looking for a recommendation for your first prime, I’d suggest a 28mm, 50mm, or 85mm. For landscapes, a fast 28mm can make astrophotography far more practical. For mixed use, the 50mm is definitely an inexpensive method to get started with prime lenses, plus it represents a classic field associated with view. Lastly, an 85mm will offer one of the most affordable ways to get that shallow depth of field look in pictures.


Primary lenses might seem like a basic or even outdated category of lens compared to the latest zooms. Yet thanks to some fundamental physics, they can be faster, smaller, plus sharper than zooms, and may open up new frontiers in your photography. Whether you’re planning to add a specific capability to your own kit, or are just searching for some inspiration for your compositions, I’d consider primes. They could give you a whole new view on your subject, literally.

I hope you’ve enjoyed information to what you should know about prime lenses. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments beneath.

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