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Are Primes Really That Much Better Than Zooms?
Old 03-29-2008, 11:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
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I am sure this subject has been debated to death here but I want to revisit the subject of primes vs zooms. I have two highly rated zooms I use in my Fashion/Glamour/Commerical work and on the whole I am happy with them but I could be happier.

One thing that is a source of concern is the fact that zooms change aperature when they are zoomed. I try as much as possible to shoot on manual and use my light meter to nail the exposure and veryify it with the in camera histogram.

If I frame a headshoot of a model at 75mm (approx. 100mm with a DSLR) and then I want to get a half or three-quarter shot my normal tendency is to simply zoom out but that changes the aperature value I have set and affects the exposure. I know I could (and probably should simply back up or step forward but old habits die hard) and the less I have to remember the better off I am.

I am looking at the Canon 85mm F1.8 prime (non-L) and I have heard some good things about this lens and it is in my price range. I am simply not thrilled about a 50mm lens and I never have been thrilled about those lenses because on a film camera (which I still use) I do not like the perspective. I know on a 1.5 ratio DSLR the 50mm lens is more like a 75/80mm lens but I want to buy only 1 lens.

So the question is, and I am throwing this out for the group, are the primes really that much better than the zooms? All opinions both pro and con are appreciated. Thanks.
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Re: Are Primes Really That Much Better Than Zooms?
Old 03-30-2008, 12:13 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by PhotoDave1 View Post
One thing that is a source of concern is the fact that zooms change aperature when they are zoomed.
None of mine do.

Or are you referring to zooms which have a varying maximum aperture along their focal length range? Even then, the aperture will only change when you zoom if it is open past the minimum maximum for the range that you are using.

Whether you have a 24-70/2.8L or a 24-85/3.5-4.5, if you set either one to 50mm @ f/5.6 and then zoom out to 24mm, it will still be at f/5.6 and no metering differences will exist.
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Re: Are Primes Really That Much Better Than Zooms?
Old 03-30-2008, 01:49 AM   #3 (permalink)
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In my experience prime lenses do give a better quality image than a zoom. But the zooms are getting so good now that it's hard to tell the difference. You might just consider buying a higher end zoom lens that holds it's aperture through the entire zoom range, then it won't be an issue. Tamron makes a
28-75mm f/2.8 for nikon, canon and other mounts. Check with Sigma and Tokina too. However, IMO stay with your camera brands lenses for best results.

JP
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Re: Are Primes Really That Much Better Than Zooms?
Old 03-30-2008, 07:24 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I have both types of lens. I don't find any noticeable difference between shooting with zooms and primes. The worst thing about shooting with primes is that you lose the convenience of the Zoom feature. Modern zoom lens are incredible pieces of technology that use ever more advanced computer technology for their design and construction and thus they easily rival the primes in most areas. I typically use a cheap Sigma 18-125 zoom in the studio and it gives me everything I need. Its sharp (in fact for most glamour its too sharp) and covers the range of full length to head shot. The only time you deal with the fstop changing on you is when shooting in one of the programmed meter modes. But if you shoot in manual mode, that can't happen with any zoom lens I know of. What were you really trying to say in that part of your post?
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Re: Are Primes Really That Much Better Than Zooms?
Old 04-01-2008, 03:01 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I think the biggest advantage of a prime is the weight. They're a lot lighter than a zoom -- especially if you're dealing with L glass. Let me tell you the 70-200 f/2.8L IS gets heavier as the day progresses!

The second advantage you will get is speed. Quality is I think down the list -- especially if you're comparing lenses of similar build and you're comparing them at their own optimums. For example, compare the 85mm prime L at f/4 to a 70-200 f/4 L and the prime will be sharper hands down. But that's as much due to the fact that the 85mm was used in a sweet spot vs the zoom being used at its extreme as anything.

And remember, primes give you less control over DOF and perspective than do zooms. (Getting closer with an 85mm to be equivalent to a 200mm lens does not give the same DOF and perspective as the 200mm).

As others have said, if the aperture is changing as you zoom it's ONLY because you started with an aperture that was higher than the maximum focal length could support. It changed as you zoomed in. There is no other reason. If you have a f/3.5 - f/5.6 lens and you set up at f/5.6 or smaller that will work for all focal lengths. If you set up for anything below f/5.6, then you will only be able to zoom so much until your camera will jump to work with the lens.
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Re: Are Primes Really That Much Better Than Zooms?
Old 04-01-2008, 04:10 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PhotosbyChuck View Post
I think the biggest advantage of a prime is the weight. They're a lot lighter than a zoom -- especially if you're dealing with L glass. Let me tell you the 70-200 f/2.8L IS gets heavier as the day progresses!

The second advantage you will get is speed. Quality is I think down the list -- especially if you're comparing lenses of similar build and you're comparing them at their own optimums. For example, compare the 85mm prime L at f/4 to a 70-200 f/4 L and the prime will be sharper hands down. But that's as much due to the fact that the 85mm was used in a sweet spot vs the zoom being used at its extreme as anything.

And remember, primes give you less control over DOF and perspective than do zooms. (Getting closer with an 85mm to be equivalent to a 200mm lens does not give the same DOF and perspective as the 200mm).
Yes, the ability to have the fast fstop in the 1.2 to 2.8 range is a definite plus in low light situations (something that most glamour shooters don't really have to deal with very often). As for size and weight, if we compare a 85mm f1.2 to my Sigma 18-125, then the 85mm is bigger and longer, etc.

Cheers,
rfs
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Re: Are Primes Really That Much Better Than Zooms?
Old 04-01-2008, 04:24 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R_Fredrick_Smith View Post
As for size and weight, if we compare a 85mm f1.2 to my Sigma 18-125, then the 85mm is bigger and longer, etc.

Cheers,
rfs
Yes...my point was limited to the comparison of zooms and primes at similar qualities and speeds. Betting your 18 - 125 is not anywhere near f/1.2 at even the short end...and probably 4.5 or even 5.6 at the long end. And as you're aware, the f/1.2L at $1800 should never be compared to a Sigma lens costing around $200. Let's hope Canon does not hear of this!
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