There are many articles out there debating, very in depth, about which types of lens is better. I would say both have their advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I love prime lenses. So, in this post, I will write about my experience. I won’t write about mechanical part because I won’t blog what I don’t truly know. I only know prime lens is simpler to manufacture. That’s why they can afford to have maximum aperture (eg, f1.8), without costing a bomb.
How I got into prime lens? That was when I bought my first ever Nikkor f1.8G 50mm prime lens in Dec 2015. I didn’t even know it’s called ‘prime lens’ back then. I also didn’t know what was ‘bokeh’, I called it ‘blurry background’. I remember complaining how 50mm lens was super closed up on my 1.5X crop factor dSLR (equiv to 80mm). But I loved the smooth bokeh effect. That’s when I know such lens is good for portrait. Side note: 50mm lens is super sharp! I miss it so much now that I have sold it off 🙁
After using prime lens, I don’t think I ever want to have a zoom lens anymore. I feel that prime lens forces me to ‘memorise’ and estimate which distance I should stand when I frame my image. This is good for practising ‘visualisation’. With zoom lens, all the focal lengths are messed up.
Of course, sometimes I feel quite irritated when my space is limited, there’s no option to move around and I got to miss my shot because I am either too close or too far from my subjects (eg, if move forward, get hit by car, move backward, block people’s way).
Currently, all the cameras I owned have fixed/prime lens, except Contax TVS, which has zoom lens ranging from 28mm to 56mm. Because I am so used to not adjusting focal length, I always used 28mm for my Contax TVS.
28mm and 50mm
These two focal lengths are my favourite and the most common people used. 50mm is basically a portrait lens because it is sharp and gives you a creamier bokeh effect with the same aperture of a wide angle lens. Because of the shallower depth of field, you need to increase your aperture number (eg to f8-16) for group shot or else some faces will get blurry. In term of street photography, 50mm lens allows you to stand far from your subjects without being noticed (sometime). 28mm is wider, it can capture more stuff into the frame and have higher depth of field. But you need to stand close to your subject to create a feeling of ‘involvement’ by your viewers.
Anyway, 28mm should be the maximum wide angle focal length for street photography, or else, it is too wide and things will start to get distorted. It’s like fish-eye lens. But if you want to do architectural photography, ultra wide angle is the way to go. Things to note, ultra wide angle might seem very nice, but to use it right, is a skill. Otherwise, your image is just another snapshot capturing every bullshit.
I haven’t truly tried 35mm prime lens but it is the middle way of both 28mm and 50mm. So if you strictly only need one lens, don’t like it too wide or too tight up, 35mm is the one.
Prime lens for travel?
I have no problems traveling with only 1 fixed focal lens because I more or less know what types of photographs I like to shoot. However, there are exception where I was quite frustrated with my 50mm equiv lens on my Fujifilm X-pro 2 and 40mm fixed lens on Rollei B35 when I traveled in Hong Kong. Because I needed a wide angle lens for Yick Fat Building. What can I do? So, I used my iPhone! The image turned out alright!
Another disadvantage of prime lens for some people is that they need to bring many lenses out! For example, if I am so strict I don’t want to use my iPhone for Yick Fat Building, I would have to bring ultra wide angle lens. If such, I might as well just get a zoom lens with wide range of focal lengths? Hence, zoom lens has its advantage as it is more versatile.
So, if I ever want to get another prime lens, it would be 28mm. It is good for travel shot, family shot, street shot, etc. It is easier to move closer than to move further back. For now, I have 28mm on my Contax TVS. I will make do with it.
Which type of lens do you prefer? Prime or zoom?