Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Prime Lenses Are Better Than Zooms - And Why It Doesn't Matter

Zebras Below The Castle - San Simeon, California
Captured using a zoom lens.
I just got a new camera (more on this in the coming days and weeks), and the very first lens I ordered was a telephoto zoom. Why? Because it was on sale for a really good price. I have a standard prime coming soon, but it hasn't arrived yet. This got me thinking about lens choices and if it really makes any difference.

Prime lenses are better than zoom lenses. A fixed focal length allows the engineers to fine-tune the lens to as close to perfection as possible. With a zoom there are a lot of variables that make it much more difficult to get that super sharp, super crisp glass. There are some zoom lenses that are exceptional and are as sharp as some primes, but those cost a lot of money.

Prime lenses are sharper than zooms, and they often outperform them in other ways, too. Almost always a good prime will have a larger maximum aperture than a good zoom. Often there are less chromatic aberrations and vignetting on prime lenses.

Night Mystery - Stallion Springs, California
Captured using a zoom lens.
One advantage of prime lenses that may not be immediately obvious is that you are limited to one focal length. Limitations improve art. Having only one focal length available will force you to be more creative, and being more creative will improve your photographs.

But does any of this really matter? Should you abandon your zoom and use only prime lenses? No, because equipment doesn't matter. Photographic vision is far more important than camera or lens choices.

Forgotten Faucet - Tehachapi, California
Captured using a zoom lens.
Ansel Adams said, "There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept." I'll add that a fuzzy image of a sharp concept is by far preferable to a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.

Sharpness is sometimes overrated. Looking back at some of the "masters" of photography, there are plenty of photographs that are not tack sharp. The photographs are great because the concepts are great. What lens was used isn't all that important.

Worry more about sharp concepts and less about sharp lenses. The photographer's ability is more important than the lens' ability. Artistic vision trumps equipment every time.

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