The question of “What is best – zoom lenses or prime lenses?” has been around for years, and it is one that will never be answered. The long and short of it is that neither is better than the other, since they both excel at different things. I am sure you are aware of the pros and cons of each type of lens, so I won’t bother going over old ground.
Having used both my preference is for zoom lenses, and I will use a zoom lens over a prime every time, unless it isn’t possible of course. So, why do I love zoom lenses so much? Take a look at the following and I am sure you will soon see why………….
Zoom lenses aren’t as sharp as prime lenses
The difference in image quality between zoom lenses and prime lenses is very small, however prime lenses are sharper. It may seem strange wanting to use a softer lens - after all every photographer wants the sharpest lens right? The reason I like softer lenses is because a lot of my photography is portrait based (corporate headshots, group shot, wedding shots, school shots and family shots) and using lenses that are too sharp in these situations highlight every spot, blemish, variation in skin tone and imperfections, which doesn’t make for flattering photos.
Even though zoom lenses are typically softer than prime lenses, the photos I capture with a zoom lens are sufficiently sharp enough for me, and since I have never had any of my clients complain about the sharpness of my photos, I can only assume the zoom lenses I use are sharp enough for my clients too.
In my experience with portrait photography using a lens that is too sharp results in more time in the digital darkroom editing the photos and removing the imperfections, so using a slightly softer zoom lens saves a lot of time and effort. Besides, I prefer spending my time taking photos than actually editing them so using a zoom lens is ideal for this.
Zoom lenses save time
In my experience using zoom lenses not only saves time in the photo editing stage (as above) but also during the shoot itself. My style of shooting involves me being mobile and walking around the subject taking photos from different positions and angles. This constant moving around the subject means I shoot at different focal lengths in order to get the shot I want.
If I used prime lenses in this situation I would need several prime lenses and would constantly be changing between them. Changing lenses disrupts the flow of the shoot, halts the proceedings and also means the subject is often left stood waiting, which can lead to boredom – and a bored subject doesn’t make for good photos.
Zoom lenses make framing easier
Zoom lenses come in to their own in tight spaces or where you have to remain still. The only way to “zoom in” or “zoom out” with a prime lens is to physically move closer to, or further away from the subject, and this is not always possible.
For example, let’s say you are at a zoo or wildlife park taking photos of animals and you are right at the fence to the enclosure. It is not possible to “zoom in” and move closer to the animals, and neither can you “zoom out” and move further away from the animals because someone will jump in your spot and get between you and the subject. In this situation a zoom lens is the only solution to shoot at different focal lengths.
As another example, you are sat watching a basketball game and want to take some photos. You are confined to your seat and can’t move. In addition, the players on court are constantly running around, changing location and position and will not remain in any one place for more than a few seconds. A prime lens would be next to useless in this situation, and the only way of capturing photos is to use a zoom lens that allows you to zoom in nice and close or zoom out and pull back to get the shots you want.
THE ZOOM LENSES I USE
I use a zoom lens for all my photography other than when I am taking macro photos, and I only use a prime lens for macro photography because there is no macro specific zoom lens available. Over the years I have used many zoom lenses, and my current lenses are:-
Canon 8mm – 15mm F4L fisheye
I wanted to capture both full circular fisheye shots as well as linear fisheye shots, therefore the only real choice for me was the Canon 8mm – 15mm F4L. First off, it is an expensive lens but given it is a linear fisheye and a full circular fisheye lens in one it is actually great value for money.
Being a Canon L series lens this lens is tough and durable, sealed and weatherproof, and made using the best optics. The image quality of this lens is stunning and getting sharp shots at wide apertures is no problem at all.
The fisheye is a specialist lens and is only suitable in a few situations, and therefore, it is not a lens that everyone would like. The fisheye effect, especially the full circular fisheye effect, seems to be an acquired taste and if you don’t like it this lens is not the lens for you. If, however, you are a fan of the fisheye effect and shoot Canon this lens, the Canon 8mm -15mm F4L fisheye lens should be at the top of your wish list.
Canon 16mm – 35mm F4L IS
I, like most owners of this lens, bought the Canon 16mm – 35mm for landscape photography. Choosing this lens was not an easy decision since the 16mm – 35mm F2.8 was also on the shortlist. After a lot of research, visits to the local camera shop to touch and hold each lens, and also many test shots I ended up spending my hard earned cash on the F4L IS model.
The F4L IS is sharper (which is essential for landscapes), it is lighter and more portable and it is cheaper too. The F4, being narrower than F2.8, didn’t really factor in my decision because I never use wide apertures shooting landscapes. The image stabilisation technology isn’t much use for landscapes (I use a tripod) but it is great for interiors and taking handheld shots of groups.
The Canon 16mm – 35mm F4L IS is an awesome lens and it is one I would highly recommend. The build quality is second to none (i.e. it is bullet proof) and the image quality has to be seen to be believed. Even though I bought this lens with the sole purpose of landscape photography I have found that I use it for many different applications including interior photography, wedding photography and party photography. For more on this lens please take a look at “Review of the Canon 16mm – 35mm F4L IS”.
Sample images taken with the Canon 16 - 35
Canon 24mm – 70mm F2.8L
.The Canon 24mm – 70mm F2.8L lens is my go to lens for portrait photography since it covers my favourite “portrait photography” focal lengths of 24mm, 28mm, 35m and 50mm. Many photographers wold argue this lens is too short since it doesn’t cover the 85mm focal length, which is very popular. I am not a fan of the 85mm focal length for portraits and I seldom shoot portrait with focal lengths greater than 50mm.
When I take portrait photos I like to get in nice and close to the subject since this enables me to talk to them, direct them, capture a catch light in their eye and take an engaging photo.
It seems I can't do none of the above when shooting at longer focal lengths.
The Canon 24mm – 70mm F2.8L is quite large, and it is a heavy lens however these are shortcomings I am more than prepared to deal with for the image quality of this lens, which is absolutely superb. The Canon 24mm – 70mm F2.8L is a workhorse lens, and it is one I definitely recommend. For more on this lens please take a look at “Review of the Canon 24mm – 70mm F2.8L”.
Canon 70mm – 200mm F2.8L IS
The 70mm – 200mm standard tele lens is one which all photographers should have in their bag. The 70mm – 200mm focal length is versatile and can be used for many photography genres, including landscape photography to compress perspective), sports and action photography, street photography, reportage photography and pet photography to name just a few. I bought my 70mm – 200mm lens for sports photography however I use it for far more than that.
The Canon 70mm – 200mm F2.8L IS is Canon’s flagship 70mm – 200mm tele lens, which is also available in F2.8L, F4L IS and F4L variants, so it is the most expensive in the line-up.
I shoot a lot of indoor sports so the F2.8 maximum aperture is something I couldn’t do without, and the image stabilisation technology is essential to keep ensure handheld shots at slower shutter speeds (most indoor sports venues don’t allow tripods or monopods). Once again, this is a top quality lens in terms of both build quality and image quality which is to be expected. The 70mm – 200mm F2.8L IS is an awesome lens and another zoom lens I highly recommend.
For more on this lens check out “Review of the Canon 70mm – 200mm F2.8L IS”.
Sample images taken with the Canon 70 - 200
Canon 100mm – 400mm L
I bought the Canon 100mm – 400mm L lens for motorsports photography and birding, both situations where you need a super zoom lens. Super zoom lenses have a high price tag and are very expensive, which is fine if you have several thousand bucks surplus to requirements but if you are on a bit of a budget……
Compared to other zoom lenses the Canon 100 – 400L is expensive but compared to other long reach lenses it isn’t that expensive. The 100 – 400 offers the best compromise between cost and reach, and given the build quality and the awesome image quality, the 100 – 400 is excellent value for money.
For more on this lens check out “Review of the Canon 100-400 lens” .
Sample images taken with the Canon 100 - 400
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.