Many photographers seem to think that everyone needs a fast prime lens, and by fast they mean a lens with a maximum widest aperture of f1.8 (for those on a budget), f1.4 (for those with a little more money) or f1.2 (for those with very deep pockets).
On many photography forums you will find many posts asking “what upgrade lens should I buy?” and the answer that is given time and time again is a fast prime lens. I definitely agree with a prime lens as there is something about a fixed focal length lens that makes getting great shots very satisfying. Having to use your feet and change position to alter the framing and composition seems to make the end photo more rewarding than using a zoom lens. That said, I should point out that I still use zoom lenses for most of my photography – I love zoom lenses.
Whilst I agree that all photographers should own at least one prime lens I don’t agree that it needs to be fast. Photos of a tack sharp subject captured against a blurred out background (i.e. to the extent the background is blurred so it is unrecognizable) are the flavor of the month and very popular – and these are best achieved with a fast lens, however a fast lens is not essential to get these type of shots. If you separate the subject from the background, i.e. create some distance between the two, you still get the same effect shooting at narrower apertures, and a fast lens is not needed.
If you want a good quality fast prime lens you have to be prepared to spend quite a bit of money. There are cheap/budget fast prime lenses out there, like the Canon 50mm f1.8 for example, but these lenses aren’t that great. Let’s take the Canon 50mm f1.8 – the build quality is terrible (it is all cheap plastic other than the ring mount), the image quality is poor at wide apertures (you have to stop the lens down to get sharp photos which defeats the whole objective of owning a fast lens) and it seems more like a child’s toy than a serious bit of photography equipment.
Rather than buying a fast prime lens I would suggest buying prime lens that doesn’t have such a wide maximum widest aperture. A prime lens with a maximum widest aperture of f2.8 is plenty good enough to get the “must capture” sharp subjects against an un-identifiable blurry background, provided you use it correctly of course. These ‘slower’ lenses are much better value for money (everyone loves a bargain right?) and would be what I would recommend.
A prime lens that never gets the attention it deserves is the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM and I fail to see why. This prime lens is sharp (even used wide open), crisp and has excellent image quality. The build quality is very good, and at a few pounds more than the Canon 50mm f1.8 it is far better value for money and a better buy in all respects. Below is a short clip exploring the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM lens you may find interesting:-
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.