"My latest prime lenses - and what a lovely pair they are!"
When I first started out in photography I had no interest in prime lenses whatsoever. Sure, I had heard the arguments that prime lenses are cheaper, prime lenses are smaller and lighter and prime lenses have better image quality than zoom lenses but I wasn’t bothered. As far as I was concerned zoom lenses were more versatile, offered more framing options and the image quality was not noticeably worse than prime lenses, well not to the naked eye. Okay, if you go pixel peeping the difference in image quality is noticeable but who goes pixel peeping in the real world? Hmmm……..
I was convinced I needed a prime lens, and the lens that kept coming up time and time again was the 50mm f1.8. The lens got a great write up (check out this review), although it clearly had some faults, but it was cheap and I thought it was worth a punt so I bought one. The 50mm f1.8 lens is a great fun lens that is capable of capturing some stunning photos. I have had my Canon 50mm f1.8 lens for a few years now, and I am very happy with it and the photos I have taken with it.
A while back I was bored and browsing the internet when I stumbled across another “must have” prime lens, the Canon 35mm f2 IS, and ended up ordering one of these because I was “bored”. I wasn’t intending to buy a new lens, I didn’t need a new lens and I had more lenses than I needed, yet I still ended up hitting the “buy now” button. I really had no idea what I was going to use the lens for, so when it arrived I attached it to the front of my Canon 5d and went out experimenting.
The Canon 35mm f2 IS lens is a fantastic bit of kit (check out this review), and for the price you can’t go wrong. The lens is sturdy and well built (although it is not as tough and durable as my L series zoom lenses), contained image stabilization technology and has awesome image quality. I have to say I was impressed, but not overly impressed when I first held the 35mm f2 IS lens, but when I saw the image quality I was blown away – the image quality is superb, and I still can’t get my head around how a lens costing this little can capture such stunning photos. The Canon 35mm f2 IS lens turned me in to a prime lens convert overnight. Even though the 35mm wasn’t particularly fast (some prime lenses have a maximum wide aperture of f1.2) I find the maximum aperture plenty wide enough most of the time. I say most of the time, because there are times when I have to get the subject further away from the background to get the depth of field needed to intentionally blur the background and throw it out of focus.
"The first two prime lenses I bought were the Canon 50mm f1.8 and Canon 35mm f2 IS"
With the success of the 50mm f1.8 and the 35mm f2 IS lens the next prime lens was the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM lens. Even though 40mm is very close to 35mm and 50mm, I decided to buy the lens because it is a pancake lens (i.e. virtually flat) that is small, discreet, un-obtrusive and very light. I was carrying around my Canon 6d review here) and Canon 28 – 300L IS lens (review here) on a day out hiking and by lunchtime my shoulders were screaming. The Canon 6d and Canon 28 – 300 lens combination is heavy and boy do you feel it after a few hours. That hike made me realize I needed the lightest lens I could find for hiking, and lenses don’t come any lighter than pancake lenses. At the time there was only one Canon pancake lens available for full frame cameras, and that was the 40mm f2.8 STM lens.
The 40mm f2.8 STM lens isn’t an expensive lens however this doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of capturing high quality photos. The image quality of this lens is simply awesome, and whilst the f2.8 maximum wide aperture isn’t very wide (compared to other prime lenses) it is wide enough for most situations. Once again, if I want a very shallow depth of field I will increase the distance between the subject and background wherever possible. The build quality of this lens is okay, but it’s not great. It is sturdier than the Canon 50mm f1.8 but nowhere near the same standard as the Canon 50mm f1.2L lens. That said, the build quality of this lens isn’t that bad, and if you look after the lens it will provide years of trouble free service – mine is still going strong and I don’t foresee any problems in the future. The Canon 40mm f2.8 STM pancake lens is a cracking lens and makes the perfect hiking lens – I can carry this around on my Canon 6d all day totally pain free, and I am so glad I ended up buying it.
I liked the 40mm focal length framing of the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM lens so much I wanted a 40mm prime lens (and a pancake lens at that) for my Canon 7d. The 40mm f2.8 STM does work with the 7d, however with the crop factor it gives an effective focal length of 64mm, which is too long. The only way I was going to get a 40mm pancake lens for the 7d was to buy the Canon 24mm f2.8 EF-S lens, which is what I did. Other than the fact the 24mm f2.8 lens has a shorter focal length and won’t work with full frame cameras, it is identical to the 40mm lens in all respects. The build quality is the same, it feels the same and the image quality is the same too. The 24mm is a cracking lens and I often take this out together with the 40mm f2.8 STM and the 50mm f1.8 lens giving prime lenses that are effectively 40mm (38.4mm but close enough), 64mm and 80mm. This is a small and light set up that is discreet and more than capable of capturing some stunning photos.
My attitude towards prime lenses has definitely changed and I find that I am starting to use prime lenses more and more for my photography, and the zoom lenses less.
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.
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