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A Primer on Prime Lenses

A Primer on Prime Lenses

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For photography enthusiasts seeking to expand their horizons from pictures made with a mobile phone or a point-and-shoot, the major benefit in of upgrading to a DSLR or mirrorless camera system is the ability to swap out different lenses to fit your specific needs. Prime lenses are available in all lengths and varieties and offer numerous advantages in performance when compared to their zoom-lens brethren. Also, the particular choices associated with sticking to a specific focal length can help improve your photographic technique, as well as help you learn. And, a new prime lens can expand your capabilities with features such as a larger aperture for more effective low-light shooting or a specialized capability that enables you to get the close-ups you’ve always dreamed about.

Prime versus Zoom

Zoom lenses are incredibly convenient. They cover a wide range of focal lengths in a single package, and you don’t have to waste time constantly swapping out lenses to create the composition you desire. However, this huge strength also becomes their weakness. Designing a lens for optimal performance at multiple focal lengths is difficult, meaning that there will be some trade-offs in performance and size. Not to say there aren’t good zooms—there are—but they usually come with a premium price tag.

On the other hand, prime lenses are optimized to a specific focal length or purpose. This means that optical performance is generally much better and that the lenses can be made with larger apertures while still maintaining a fairly compact size. Another benefit is that a prime lens will have fewer moving parts, so there is less of an opportunity for problems to appear from general use. Generally, primes perform better than their zoom counterparts and are sharper, with fewer visible aberrations. These differences can be very apparent, especially with the high-resolution sensors currently available in modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

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