Often I’m asked, “What lens do you prefer to use, a prime or zoom?” My response is usually the lens that best suits my needs, however, I prefer prime lenses. A prime lens is a fixed-focal length lens, usually with less elements inside as it only serves one magnification unlike a zoom lens that reminds me of a 3-in-1 copy, fax, scan and makes coffee for you office machine.
Like a zoom lens, the latter machine has to sacrifice somewhere to provide a variety or diversity of its use, prime lens come with no real sacrifice physically and only require that from the photographer and no photographer should ever complain about moving around their subject for the best image.
Prime lenses are usually faster, better quality glass and come in minimum apertures of F/1.2, F/1.4, F/1.8, or F/2.0. The closest a zoom lens will come in that type of minimum aperture range is usually around F/2.8 and they tend to be the higher-priced zoom lenses, many with image stabilization. While it’s always about using the right tool for the right task, or image in this case, it’s also about making educated decisions, so study your needs first. If you’re shooting glamour, a great medium telephoto prime lens should be your first choice followed by a zoom lens like in the 70-200mm range for 35mm DSLR’s. If you’re shooting sports, it’d be just the opposite, get the fast zoom first, then a great prime.
Now at my exotic workshops, like where we do sunset, infinity pool photos, many photographers arrive with lenses that are no faster than F/4.0. This causes many problems during sunsets. First, the camera’s auto-focus relies on contrast in the area where the focusing point is aimed and when a lens is an F/4.0 or higher at its widest aperture, the camera will take longer to fire between shots because the focusing area in the scene is lower contrast and dark. Even the photographer will have difficulty seeing through the viewfinder to compose the image.
When a photographer is using something like the Canon 85mm F/1.2 or even the 70-200mm F/2.8L USM image-stabilized zoom, the camera will focus faster as with the F/2.8 lens the camera now has twice as much light and better contrast to work with than the F/4.0 lens. This is especially true with an F/1.2 or F/1.8 lens where the camera has two or more times brightness to work with verses the F/4.0 lens. Faster lenses, or lenses with lower minimum wide apertures make it easier for both the photographer and camera to operate and capture images with ease—this is very important during sunsets where the photographer is battling time and darkness. When purchasing a lens, always purchase it with low-light possibilities in mind. Lenses that work well in low-light almost always have better quality glass elements.
In a nutshell I always tell photographers to invest their money in good glass, high-quality lenses, it’s worth the wait if you’re in between paychecks for the much faster lenses. Besides, like studio flash units, lenses should last a lifetime. In fact, the best place to put your money first is great glass and high-quality lighting as light is to an image what blood is to your body. You can always switch camera bodies and still use your lights and lenses. Well have to run, thanks, and God Bless our troops, please don’t forget them, thanks, Rolando.