What is a prime lens?
I have a penchant (some would say unnecessary addiction), to prime lenses for my dSLR camera. This is an expensive habit to have but I can’t help it, I just love the images they produce so much!
Wisteria – Canon 40D and Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens
A prime lens is one that has a fixed focal length – that means you can’t zoom in and out. Your first thought might be that this sounds quite restrictive and much less convenient, and in many ways, yes, you’re right. However, I believe there are so many wonderful reasons why prime lenses are amazing and totally worth it – hopefully I can convince you to consider joining me in this expensive habit. Maybe you do already!
Horny Cow – Canon 5DMkII and Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens
Why I love them
- Prime lenses do not have any moving parts, therefore the build quality tends to be much higher.
- Lenses are optimised to let in as much light as possible i.e be ‘faster’ – this is a good thing, it means you can shoot in low light, use faster shutter speeds and get lovely shallow depth of field – look for those small f numbers after the focal length, for example, Canon EF-85mm f/1.8
- Whilst they may still seem quite pricey, the equivalent quality lens that zoomed would cost a much more.
- It makes you better at composing photos – rather than being rooted to the spot and zooming in and out until what you have is nicely framed, you are forced to move around to find the best shots.
- The ones I have used seem to have a certain je ne sais quoi, a unique ‘character’ – this may be me reading too much into it, but for instance, even though I have a 70-300mm zoom lens which I could easily set to 135mm, I much prefer the photographs my prime 135mm f/2.0 takes.
- We manage OK with non-zooming eyeballs, don’t we?!
Why they might not suit you
As mentioned before, you may find yourself in a situation where it would really be helpful to zoom in or get wider, in which case a zoom lens would be ideal.
Also, if you are like me and find yourself a bit smitten with these lenses you will end up with a camera bag that weighs you down like a ton of spuds – I find a small pack pony is useful in this situation though.
Shoes – Canon 5DMkII and Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens
How to choose
Some people will have very specific requirements for a lens in which case it becomes much easier to choose – a landscape photographer will probably want wide (short) lenses and won’t need to worry too much about the speed of the lens as they will mainly be setting up with a tripod – a sports photographer however will want a long focal length and a fast lens so she can freeze the action.
For me though, I’m a walk around photographer and I want a lens that will be versatile in all sorts of situations. For anyone on a budget (aren’t we all) you may have heard of the ‘nifty 50’ – a 50mm lens is a great all-purpose one to start off with – it’s the one that closest mirrors human vision which may be why it feels so natural to use. Whatever brand of lens you use you will find there are a whole raft of 50mm lenses varying in speed (and price) – the f/1.8 is around £70/$100 which is quite the bargain!
Vintage Finds – Canon 5DMkII and Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens
I tend to use flickr like a giant photographers shopping catalogue; I type in a lens name into the search box and browse through to see how I feel about the images I’m seeing – if I keep coming across photos I like that all use a particular lens I will check it out on a review site, I like the one at FredMiranda.com. Then it’s the scary bit; I look at the price. Nine times out of ten I give a low whistle and step away from the Internet for fear of agreeing to sell a kidney to feed my habit. I am lucky enough to have made some money from photography which I have invested back into equipment (that’s my rationalisation for it, anyway), so sometimes I will actually splash out and buy one (then I need to have a bit of a lie down)!
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
- Canon EF 135mm f/2 L USM
- When I had a cropped sensor camera (my Canon 40D) by far my favourite lens was my Sigma 30mm f/1.4 – sadly it wasn’t compatible with a full frame camera and was the only downside to upgrading to my 5D
Danish – Canon 40D and Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens
(I have a wishlist too, it’s quite long – let me know if you want to see).
At the end of the day though, it’s not about the lenses at all, or the camera. It’s about you, your vision, your photographs. Use what you love, love what you have and get out there and use it!
Queen Anne’s Lace – Canon 5DMkII and 135mm f/2.0 lens
Do you have a favouite lens? Is it a prime lens?