Tip of the week: A zoom lens or stick to primes?
This is a question I have been receiving quite frequently from people who are just making their first steps in the world of photography. And the answer to the question is not so straightforward… So let's discuss about pros and cons for each type of lens.
The main benefit in using a zoom lens is its versatility. You get multiple focal lengths in a single lens. It is convenient if you travel and do not want to carry many lenses. You can just carry one lens and use it at different focal lengths. So saving space and having less weight in your backpack or suitcase sometimes really makes a difference. Also, if you are a beginner in photography, and you still do not know what will be your favorite subject and spotlight of your photographs, its good to start with zoom lenses which will allow you to experiment with different focal lengths at the same time. Eventually, you will either favor longer or shorter focal lengths, so when you do, you will know which focal lengths suite better to your genre. Another benefit of using zoom lenses is the ability to adjust your focal length quickly. Using primes, it takes time to switch lenses, and if time is the key factor, they are not convenient.
The main cons in using zoom lenses is their limit in terms of aperture and the optical quality. If you decide to save some money, zoom lenses you can buy for a few hundred euros or dollars will not get you the best quality in terms of sharpness and some other optical anomalies (vignetting, distortion, aberrations…). Also, you will be limited in terms of the aperture, since cheap zooms will not have a fixed aperture throughout the entire focal range. Usually, it gets between f3.5 to f5.6 for the maximum achievable apertures. The next step are the more expensive lenses with fixed aperture (f4, or even f2.8) throughout the focal range. They have higher optical quality, better sharpness, but are usually three or more times expensive than the budget ones. You get what you pay for eventually.
If you want the best optical performance, prime lenses are usually a better choice than zoom lenses. They are in most cases sharper, with less optical problems, and the most important thing is that they provide larger apertures (f1.8, f1.4, f1.2 and even f0.95). They are great for low light conditions, where the opportunity to get more light to the sensor is crucial in some situations. Also, with fewer aberrations, primes are usually the preferred choice for astrophotography. They are generally smaller and lighter than zooms, so if you are certain what focal length you will use, you can choose one lens, put it on your camera and you are ready to go. So, for photographers who know what they need in terms of focal lengths, primes are a better choice.
No one can decide which type of lens is the better choice for you. During the years, you will decide for yourself what suits you the most. In my opinion, it is good to have one good zoom lens with fixed aperture values which you can carry if you go for a walk or take photos from your vacations, generally for situations where you will shoot different genres of photography. And to own a few more primes for the more serious work or for the planned situations. During the years, I have used both types of lenses, but now I stick to primes since I know what focal lengths I will need and I also have enough time to change the lens if I need another focal length.
Photo credits: Milan Ljubisavljević.
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