Prime vs zoom: Which one should I choose?

The million dollar question – Prime or Zoom?

Amateurs often get into a tangle of sorts when attempting to choose a lens for a photo-op.

“Should I go with the zoom?” vs. “Should I opt for the prime?”

“It’s a wedding, I think I need to have a wide angle for the group shots.”  ….

There are an endless number of questions floating around inside the head before actually heading out. And often we ask ourselves the question: Prime vs Zoom … ?? What is better for which occasion?

If you are a Point & Shoot photographer these questions would be inconsequential to you, because your camera has a single fixed lens. You are bound by how much it can zoom out and can do nothing about it except for maybe take a few steps in front or back. But if you are a DSLR owner you need to know which lens to use in which situation.

Dans la Vallée by Selden Vestrit
Dans la Vallée by Selden Vestrit

There is no such thing as a good lens or a bad lens, just like there is no good or bad camera.

The camera does not make the images, you do. Similarly, the lens only let’s in the amount of light you decide. Of course if you find your way to a wedding with a 600mm tele, you will have to stand outside the venue in order to make group shots! Or if you are on a wildlife safari with a 12-24mm wide zoom, all you will get are herds of animals at a distance.

So, at least, you will have to choose the right focal length for the occasion. Ultimately it’s all about the decision that you make and then how you work your way in a given situation.

Fixed focal length lenses or primes

Prime Lens 50mm by Andreas Levers
50mm by Andreas Levers

Prime lenses are lighter, faster and sharper.

They have less moving parts inside which means manufacturers can invest their time and energy into refining the optical quality of the lens. Prime lenses can be both telephoto and standard. There are also a number of fixed focal length wide angle lenses. Primes usually have a fast maximum aperture which is why they are ideally suitable for shooting in low light conditions or when you are doing sports and fact action photography.

Related Post: Low Light Photography Tips & Sports Photography Tips

Zoom lenses or lenses with variable focal length

Zoom lenses on the other hand are those which have a variable focal length.

They too can be wide angle or telephoto or even standard length.

Example of a standard zoom is the very popular 18-55mm lens, usually shipped as kit with many crop DSLRs. A zoom lens is a very versatile optical tool and is ideal in situations where you are unsure of the distance at which your subjects will be. A standard zoom is perfect for everyday photography moments such as a family get together, your kids playing in the snow, shooting photos on your vacation and so on.

Zoom in: Bald Eagle in Flight at Babcock Wildlife Management, Florida by Diana Robinson
Bald Eagle in Flight at Babcock Wildlife Management, Florida by Diana Robinson

A tele-photo zoom is ideally suitable when you are shooting wildlife and need to keep a safe distance. One of the better telephoto lenses is the 200-400mm Nikkor lens. It has a fast constant aperture of f/4 which ensures that you can shoot with consistent results throughout the focal length.

Related Post: When to use DSLR Telephoto Lenses

One more Prime vs Zoom clarification: It is often misunderstood that a zoom lens equals telephoto lens. But Zoom lenses just refere to the fact, that you can change the focal length of the lens and it has nothing to do with it being a wide angle or telephoto lens.

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