Prime and zoom lenses – a beginner’s guide

In recent years, zoom lenses have captured the hearts of many professional photographers as the more obvious and versatile option. The latest image sensors produce amazing quality even at extremely high ISO, so it makes sense that more and more people gravitate toward the convenience of zoom lenses. Most people are also impressed by the sharpness of zoom lenses, with even some cheap combo lenses having enough sharpness for everyday needs and an effective image stabilization system.

Some modern professional-grade lenses provide image quality that matches or exceeds prime lenses in the same focal length range. However, prime lenses haven’t really lost their appeal. Lens manufacturers like Apexel have been rapidly updating and expanding their lens libraries to provide new and better options. As a result, choosing between zoom and prime lenses is harder than ever. In this initial beginner’s guide, I discussed prime and zoom lenses in detail and explained the differences between them.

Zoom lens shot of flowers

1. What is the prime lens?

A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length. This means that such a lens has an immutable set point of view — unless you move, you can’t make the image appear larger or smaller within the frame. The only way to zoom in on a subject and make it fill more frames is physically close to it. Conversely, the only way to get more people into the frame is to step back.

A prime lens has a specified focal length, such as 50 mm. They come in a variety of sizes and focal lengths, from fisheye to ultra-telephoto.

2. What is a zoom lens?

Zoom lenses, on the other hand, have variable focal lengths. By turning the zoom ring, you can move the optics inside the lens to get a different view. This means that you can make an object appear larger by turning the zoom ring in one direction or put more objects into the frame by turning it in the opposite direction.

Zoom lenses come in two sizes, representing the extremes of the zoom range, such as 70-200mm. Such lenses can be used as 70mm lenses, 200mm lenses, and everything in between. In addition, zoom lenses can have a variable aperture range. On many consumer zoom lenses, you’ll often see something like f/3.5-5.6, which represents the maximum aperture of the lens at different focal lengths.

3. Advantages of prime lens

So why do we need a prime lens? Here is a list of the main advantages of prime lenses over zoom lenses.

The beauty of the zoom lens

(1) Cost

Many modern prime lenses are much cheaper than zoom lenses. The 24mm F/2.8 lens will set you back about $400, while the 24-70mm F/2.8 will set you back $1,900 – $2,300. Even if you use fast prime lenses such as 35mm F/1.8, 50mm F/1.8, and 85mm F/1.8 to cover focal lengths between 24mm and 70mm, you’ll still end up paying less. For this reason, photographers on a budget have the opportunity to experience world-class optics at a fraction of the cost of expensive variable-focus lenses and without having to compromise by using cheap, low-quality zoom lenses all the time.

(2) Size and weight

Surprisingly, many beginners often want huge lenses with image stabilization like the 70-200mm F/2.8. Admittedly, these lenses are very sharp, have extremely fast autofocus motors, and can withstand a lot of abuse. However, they are also more noticeable due to their large size, and their weight can cause back and neck pain and even long-term injuries.

We can already see how much of a problem this is by looking at the burgeoning mirrorless market — even professionals are seizing the opportunity to own lightweight, high-quality devices. Prime lenses offer a compromise of sorts — they trade versatility for size and weight. Not long ago, I decided to use an 85mm F/1.4 lens instead of a 70-200 F/2.8 lens and have never really regretted my decision. Having only a large lens can sometimes mean leaving your camera at home rather than carrying it with you.

(3) Learning factors

Many photographers feel that being forced to “zoom in/out” the old-fashioned way, by walking, is a good way to learn composition and find better angles. It is also said to help people get better used to the lens and make the most of it. I agree with this, and I can say that my 50mm prime number has helped me in some ways, but to be honest, this limitation is just as detrimental to your learning process. I believe that if you’re a major photographer, it’s important to have at least one zoom lens, and vice versa.

(4) Aesthetics

On the one hand, most fast, professional zoom lenses, such as 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm, have a fixed maximum aperture of F/2.8. On the other hand, a fast and professional fixed-focus lens can reach F/0.95. Therefore, they not only provide better focusing ability, but also a shallow depth of field, which can give photos beautifully rendered background highlights called books.

Many novice photographers often wonder why they can’t seem to get beautifully separated subjects when using kit zoom lenses. Due to the smaller maximum aperture and lower-quality lens optics, consumer zoom lenses generally don’t get a good “cream” background.

(5) Weak light

Thanks to a larger, wider aperture, fast prime lenses allow you to shoot your subjects in low light without causing blurring. Due to the often simpler optical design, prime lenses can be easily “opened” to F/2 or even F/1.2.

These lenses allow two to three times as much light as fast professional zoom lenses with an aperture of F/2.8. While many zoom lenses come equipped with optical image stabilization systems to help you work in low-light conditions, these systems are useless if you have moving subjects.

A prime lens shot of plants

4. Zoom lens advantages

Some people like to use a prime lens, others like to use a zoom lens. Despite the extra weight and cost of zoom lenses, they are very popular and easy to use. In some areas, even the best fixed-focus lenses can’t beat an excellent zoom lens. Here are the advantages of variable-focus lenses.

(1) Versatility

The most obvious reason to buy zoom lenses is their versatility. Zoom lenses can be very useful when a photographer needs to make sure he can handle a variety of different situations — you can go from wide-angle to telephoto by quickly turning the zoom ring without moving your body. For example, landscape and wildlife photographers are usually limited to specific locations or areas, so being able to enlarge the area of interest is invaluable for proper composition.

(2) Image stability

Modern zoom lenses typically offer 3-4 speed image stabilization systems. Even if you have an F/4 lens, you can still get a sharp image when shooting a still object in a dark environment. Thanks to image stabilization, your lens causes some of its internal optics to move and move in response to camera shake, allowing you to use extremely slow shutter speeds.

Image stabilization is not limited to zoom lenses. Some newer fixed-focus lenses also have image stabilizer technology. Finally, keep in mind that image stabilization may exist on the lens or camera body.

(3) Portability

A single zoom lens can replace two or three prime lenses. This also means you only need to worry about getting around with a connected lens. A single zoom lens saves you from carrying a large backpack. To some extent, certain zoom lenses allow you to save weight because you don’t need to carry multiple prime lenses to cover the entire range.

5. Conclusion

Novice photographers often face a choice between buying a prime or zoom lens. As you can see from this article, both have their advantages and disadvantages, so choosing between the two can be very difficult indeed. You can also refer to this article – will a novice photographer choose a prime or zoom lens? It will give you some buying advice and help you buy the right lens for you more quickly.

It takes time to learn which gear is best for your shooting style. Some people end up with an “all-in-one” super-zoom lens, while others swear by their prime lens and refuse to touch the zoom lens. When you learn how to work overtime with your gear and start honing your photography skills, it doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it doesn’t stop you from being creative.

Lotus flower with prime lens


Should my first lens be prime or zoom?

If getting as close as possible to the subject is your main priority, then you should get a zoom lens. A prime lens has a fixed focal length, so you have to bring additional lenses of different focal lengths for various shooting ranges.

Which is better prime or zoom lenses?

Prime lenses tend to have better image quality and low light performance yet lack versatility and cost substantially more. Zoom lenses usually don’t perform as well in low light, yet offer a wider focal range and are generally cheaper.

Are prime lenses good for beginners?

A prime lens is the first choice of many photographers. You can capture a wide range of subjects so you can try different photography niches before buying more specialized equipment.

Can a prime lens zoom?

A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens that does not allow you to zoom in or out. In short, the determined focal length of the lens is the distance between the point of convergence in your lens to the sensor or film in your camera.

Do prime lenses have better quality?

Prime lenses are significantly sharper than zoom lenses. That is due to the fact that they don’t have extra glass inside that moves in order to zoom. As a result, you get better quality photographs due to less diffraction, which increases with a higher number of lens elements inside as in the case of zoom lenses.

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