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3 Reasons to Add a Prime Lens to Your Bag

By Michael Henson on November 29th 2015

A Prime Lens in the Bag

There are so many options when it comes to lens choice these days. Kit lenses, telephoto, fast, budget, manual focus, art, tilt-shift, and prime (or fixed) lenses – they’re everywhere! With so many possibilities to choose from, it can be overwhelming to try to narrow it down when thinking about what to purchase. If you are anything like me, budget friendliness tends to play quite the role in helping you choose which to pick. When I began my foray into photography, versatility was my primary focus. I knew that my budget was severely constrained, and I figured that I would be most pleased with purchasing a lens that would provide the most “coverage.”

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[REWIND: 5 REASONS WHY PRIME LENSES ARE BETTER THAN ZOOM LENSES]

As I progressed and became more aware of the factors that were most important to me, my views began to shift. As this occurred, a few aspects quickly moved to the forefront and became deciding factors that have lead to my packing up my tent and moving over to the prime lens camp. (I have two non-prime lenses that I keep hidden away and use from time to time, but don’t tell anyone.)

The primary factors for my love affair with prime lenses are bokeh, image quality, and predictability. Allow me to explain.

Bokeh

Ah, yes. Sometimes it is overdone, and often it is the precursor to someone saying that they are a “pro” photographer. Because of this, I’ve heard it referred to as a fad or in nearly derogatory terms, however, it is still a valuable tool and is something that is frequently used to enhance the quality and beauty of a photograph. This is one reason that I like my prime lenses so much. Prime lenses tend to be much faster than their zoom counterparts due to a larger aperture. As a result, they are a bit easier to achieve a “bokeh’d” look and render your backgrounds into beautiful, blurry colors. And, let’s admit it, that’s just fun!

[RELATED: THE CANON LENS WARS ULTIMATE BOKEH SHOWDOWN!]

Sharpness

In an effort to achieve the much-ballyhooed bokeh, combat poor lighting when flash isn’t an option, and avoid the noise associated with high ISO, photographers tend to lean more toward the wide end of the aperture spectrum. Unfortunately, most lenses experience a bit of image quality degradation when they are wide open. (Granted, this can be very slight, but it does exist.) With a prime lens that is rocking a super wide aperture, you can stop down (close your aperture) a bit and get the increased sharpness without having to get into the mid-range apertures. For example, instead of stopping down to f4-5 to avoid any degradation in quality due to the aperture, you can achieve the same thing at f2.8 or so.

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Predicability

While this is a bit more focused on those just getting into photography, there’s something that is comforting about a prime lens even if you’ve spent a good deal of time behind the camera. What do I mean by predictability? I mean that when you have a prime lens that you use consistently, you can quickly get an idea of the view through your camera. You begin to grasp more clearly what a specific focal length looks like, what will be included in the frame, and what won’t be included. This allows you to frame a shot and compose it much more cleanly with less manipulation, cropping, etc., than you might if you aren’t so in tune with that particular focal length. This is very beneficial with street photography and portrait work. In both of those scenarios, you want to be able to focus on what’s going on in front of your camera rather than trying to figure out what focal length is best. That holds true for any photography, but hopefully you get the point!

SLR Lounge - Henson Creative - Prime Lens - off-camera-flash-engagement-photographySo, there you have it! Three great reasons to consider adding a prime lens to your camera bag or dusting off that old prime that you’ve had sitting untouched on the shelf for a while. Either way, get out there and shoot!

If you are looking for a great deal on a prime lens, definitely check out some of our favorite vendors for some incredible discounts! Also, don’t forget about our Black Friday sale in the SLR Lounge Store (use code: blackfriday30). These resources are amazing, and you are guaranteed to learn something that will help your business or help you become a better photographer than you are today.

As always, leave me your comments or join the discussion over in our community on Facebook!

Terms: #Prime Lens

Michael Henson is a St. Louis based photographer obsessed with everything creative. His photography interests span genres from still life to sports. When he’s not running around with his face to the camera or behind a keyboard writing, you can typically find a guitar in his hands or catch him out enjoying life with his family and friends.

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11 Comments

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  1. Stephen Glass

    I think a good prime lens is just a wise investment for anybody for a number of reasons. Certainly the three above but also price. Both Canon and Nikon make that 50mm f/1.8 for around $100. I’m Nikon and they make an 85mm f/1.8 for a few hundred bucks vs 5 or 6x that for the f/1.4. In Nikon you can get a used 105 f/2, the older style with the aperture ring, for under $700 on eBay or Craigslist.
    I do think there’s one thing worth mentioning. It’s just the nature of optics that the wider the aperture the more chromatic aberration you’ll get and the softer the image will appear, along with a beautiful blurry background.
    I think it’s also worth mentioning this: Bokeh is achieved by three interdependent factors.
    1) Focal length
    2) Aperture
    3) Proximity to the subject.

    I do a ton of headshots and i’ve tested this. My 135 f/2 will not produce as blurry a bg as my 70-200 f/2.8 racked all the way to 200mm. To get more bokeh at 200mm. So I think there’s a ton of variables to consider.

    So for headshot portrait work I choose the 70-200 over my 85mm f/1.4 because I ‘d have to shoot waist up, no longer a headshot, so the 85 doesn’t “pull” and distort the face at the crop I want with the bokeh I want.

    So I love this article but as with everything in photography, “It depends”.

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    • Michael Henson

      I agree, Stephen! Great points to consider. I use my 70-200/2.8 for headshots as well. I love the look that lens provides at 200mm/2.8.

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  3. Joel Dominguez

    I uses prime lenses and the first thing I noticed was that using a prime lens forced me to really think about my composition and relation to the subject as I couldn’t just zoom in or out. For me, that’s another bonus.

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  4. Justin Haugen

    Working weddings, I have two bodies with a 24 and an 85. I can captures 100% of the photos I need with those two lenses. The only thing I may swap out is the 85 for a long zoom like a 70-200 during the ceremony, but my second photographer works with a 70-200 so I don’t even necessarily need to do the same.

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  5. Dave Haynie

    Zoom and prime each have their place. I have a pretty similar setup on both my Canon and Olympus systems: fast normal prime, fast portrait prime, fast wide prime (Olympus only at the moment), long prime macro, long zoom (f/2.8 on the Olympus, f/4-5.6 on the Canon), normal zoom (f/2.8 on the Olympus, f/4.0 on the Canon), and wide zoom (Canon only at the moment)… and drooling slightly over the Mitakon Zhongyi 25mm f/0.95 for the Olympus.

    Not every photographic outing needs every lens… a rule I instituted after a 1000ft vertical climb with about 25lbs of Canon gear in my bag. But there will always be a couple of primes!

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  6. robert garfinkle

    With the exception of one lens, a Sigma 150mm-600mm Sport, the remainder of my lenses are all prime – 20mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm

    I have been told, primes are better from a picture quality perspective – less elements? Whilst a con “could” be less overall option because I am working with a fixed lens and have to hoof it back n forth (if possible) to get the composition I want. ok, that’s an acceptable risk.

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    • Robert Rockefeller

      Often there’s “too much” lens swapping involved. Especially if I’m changing my position frequently, or the subject is.

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