Prime vs. Zoom lenses

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by lkWinnipesaukee, Apr 15, 2007.

  1. lkWinnipesaukee

    lkWinnipesaukee TPF Noob!

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    I have heard that zoom lenses yield lower quality pictures. What exactly is worse about a picture taken with a zoom lens? Does anyone have an example?

    I was looking at some telephoto lenses today. I would like something to shoot people sailing at my club, as well as other stuff on the water. Usually it is pretty bright out, so I was thinking of getting a slow zoom, because the distance boats are away from me change.

    I was also thinking I could get a somewhat faster prime lens. I figure with 8 megapixels (XT, EF(S) mount), I can just crop out shots of things too far away, and I would also have the advantages of a wider max aperture.

    So what are the pros and cons of prime and zoom telephotos? Suggestions?


    Thank you!!
     
  2. sothoth

    sothoth TPF Noob!

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    There are many pros and cons, and you shouldn't avoid one type because someone says they are lower quality, it's all a balance between form, function, cost, etc, and not a simple case of "one is good, the other is bad."

    Assuming you're talking about decent quality lenses you'll probably get better clarity at a given focal length with a prime. Zooms (most of the time) have more glass in them and since they have to be optimized to be good over a range of focal lengths, its typical for them to be less optimal at the shortest and longest focal lengths. It's just a simple tradeoff in the optics.

    Primes are usually "faster" meaning the maximum aperature is bigger (smaller number) so they have advantages if you're taking action shots with them or photographing in lower light.

    The obvious disadvantage of primes is that they aren't very flexible, so if you want a wide angle, a medium, a telephoto, etc, you have to buy several lenses if you want to have the flexibility to shoot in more situations. It's also kind of a PITA to change lenses every time you take a new shot. If the clarity and speed isn't critical, you might prefer a zoom like a 28-70 (slight wide to slight tele) or something like that.
     
  3. blackdoglab

    blackdoglab yeah I'm easy.... but I'm not cheap

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    I only have prime lenses for my Zenit, but I have a 35mm-105mm tokina for my olympus. What I've found is that I rarely actually use a zoom lens and tend to stick to my 35mm prime. For me, I could find good prime lenses cheaper than good zoom lenses.
     
  4. Alpha

    Alpha Troll Extraordinaire

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    Zoom lenses can also sometimes mess you up if you have very long exposures, especially if it's not a really well made lens. You can basically get a sort of lens reciprocity failure, where you have all this additional spacing between the elements, and you get light bouncing around inside your lens that can manifest itself in some very strange ways on your photos. This can be corrected with a polarizer, but that's a pain since your exposure is already really long.
     
  5. RVsForFun

    RVsForFun TPF Noob!

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    I could never complete my assignments (weddings, commercial work) with a prime lens. Things happen too quickly. Modern lens design done with computers pretty much eliminates the old zoom vs. prime issue. Zooms made today are so much better than even primes made 20 years ago that there's really not much to worry about as long as you get a well-made zoom lens (NOT a $100 20-400mm f/8 Phoenix lens made in China). Kit lenses that come with DSLRs are generally worthless - they aren't even usually made by the camera manufacturers themselves! They're made in China as cheaply as possible to help sell the camera body.
     
  6. Sw1tchFX

    Sw1tchFX TPF Noob!

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    ^^^^ Tell it how it is.
     
  7. Alpha

    Alpha Troll Extraordinaire

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    I think that every leica M user on the planet would beg to differ.
     
  8. danalec99

    danalec99 TPF Noob!

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    If you do not have to work in low light environments, I'd pick the convenience of a fixed f2.8 zoom.
     
  9. DeepSpring

    DeepSpring TPF Noob!

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    Right now I only have a 50mm but my goal for when I can collect the money is purchase a pretty cheap wide angle and telephoto zooms, just to have them if I need the ease of a zoom Then start making a collection of primes.
     
  10. usayit

    usayit No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    There are some pretty generalized statements being made in this thread which probably won't be much help to the OP. Comparing a zoom to a 20 year old lens is pretty useless. Even the term "A is better than B" is pretty useless... "better" in which way? I'm an M user and would agree but again not for every M mount lens ever made 20 years ago. I have yet to see a modern lens that gives me the same results and low light ability of a Noctilux from the mid 70s. Note, I didn't say the Noctilux is "better" than modern lenses.

    I shoot with both primes and zooms... I found that I shoot quite differently depending on which one. Zooms are unbeatable when it comes to convenience and quick on the fly shooting. No need to swap lenses.. in general less weight and equipment to carry. Primes on the other hand make me study the subject and slow down. I feel like I have a bit more control over the composition of a photo. I use them when image quality is a must and/or low light is going to be a major concern.

    Modern zooms from the major manufacturers (Canon and Nikon included) have come a long way... many compete with the image quality of even a modern prime... here's the catch that no one has mentioned yet.. PRICE.

    A relatively inexpensive prime lens will outperform most zooms at a fraction of the cost. Fast zooms with image quality that approaches that of a prime will require a significant amount of cash. Two zooms in the Canon line known to rival primes are the 24-70mm f2.8L and the 70-200mm f2.8L but cost $1200 and $1600 USD respectively. A set of primes, with f1.4 and f1.8 apertures in that range won't cost near as much.

    As much as I like shooting with my primes, I still think that you can benefit more from a zoom than a set of primes. You didn't specify a budget... I personally like the Canon 28-135mm USM IS which is a good bang for buck lens and for more cash I also like the 24-105mm f4L USM IS for walk around lenses. If you see yourself shooting in low light... throw in the inexpensive Canon 50mm f1.8. Either lense choices will give you a good start for shooting people.

    now shooting boats at a distance is a different story. Telephoto zooms (good ones) can get really expensive. Perhaps someone could recommend something moderately priced. I like the Canon 100-400mm but again a bit on the pricey side.
     
  11. lkWinnipesaukee

    lkWinnipesaukee TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the replies. To the poster above me, I already have the 50mm f1.8 and the 28-105 f3.5-4.5.

    For a budget? Ehhhh, I'm going to say $4-500. It sucks being a poor student.


    Thanks again.

    edit: is there a Sigma version of USM?
     
  12. RVsForFun

    RVsForFun TPF Noob!

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    ...have their heads in the Leica sand. The new Voightlander and Zeiss lenses that cost 1/10th and 1/5th the cost of Leica glass perform just as well or even exceed Leica quality in terms of resolution, contrast and CA. If VT and Zeiss don't exceed the resolution of a M lens, you get 98% of the resolution for 1/10th the price. And no one ON EARTH can lay a Leica M photo next to a comparable Voightlander photo and reliably pick the Leica lens's photo. This scares Leica users as all their money may have been wasted, so they continue to believe a Leica lens design is superior to anything on the market today at any price. Did I mention Leica has nearly gone bankrupt several times?

    I agree with my M user that you can't make a general statement about lenses OTHER than you can't say all primes are better than any zoom...it's a lens-to-lens issue. I have an ultra-wide zoom that I've directly compared to a 50mm prime lens and the prime lens was so bad that I took it back to the store for a refund. Just like ISO 400 film is as grainless as ISO 100 was 10 years ago, you cannot conclude primes are better than zooms.

     

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