22 March, 2014

Primes vs Zooms

West End, Brisbane

We're not talking photojournalism, sports or wildlife photography or "happy snaps." This is about enthusiast photography. Photography for its own sake. And the question is: Are Primes better than Zooms?


Primes are usually brighter, by 2 stops or more.They're simpler, so they're more robust. They generally have better resolution, better contrast, less distortion, less chromatic aberration. Primes are smaller and more innocuous.

Zooms often have a greater number of lens groups, and that can make them more susceptible to lens flare. And, because the lens hoods for zooms were designed to accommodate the widest focal length, the hood is only optimal for that widest setting. A properly designed hood for a prime, however, is always optimal. And, zooms often pull substantial amounts of air into the inside of the barrel of the lens when extending.

So, what DO zooms have going for them?

Look, I loaded the dice with that first paragraph. That was purposefully deceptive and pretentious nonsense. Those kinds of photographs are, often enough, exactly the shots that any photographer will want to get. And, if your only way to get those shots is to replace one lens with another, then you're probably going to miss some of them.

So, what do zooms have going for them? Hell, they zoom.

Brightness: most modern sensors resist noise well enough to give you the ISO headroom that a zoom needs. Resolution: most of the current digital cameras have resolution to burn if you're photographing for the web or for printing at 8x10 or smaller. Distortion and chromatic aberrations: most cameras correct for these in-camera; and if the camera doesn't, then you can kick them both to death in post-processing.

Wana test the robustness of lenses? Change them every hour or so. One good drop onto a hard floor.... And every time you change the lens is an opportunity for getting dust on the sensor.

The choice is really about what each photographer is comfortable with.

I think that some of the proclivities for primes are attributable to the rangefinder days (still here for many). Rangefinder mechanisms work best with primes.

I'm a mirrorless guy, but I still like my primes. I feel most comfortable with a wide, a standard, and a moderate telephoto. So, there is no way I'm going to get too many of those wildlife photos. But, I understand completely the photographer who feels encumbered by three lenses, when one will do.

So who wins? The photographers who get what they want.

P.S. I do have a couple of zooms.

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