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What Is a Prime Lens?

What Is a Prime Lens?

Besides the camera itself, there’s no tool more important for photography than the lens. The lens plays a critical role in the quality of the resulting image.

This makes it essential to know the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of lenses out there. As the favorability of the zoom lens grew due to its versatility, prime lenses suffered a brief bout of unpopularity. However, their use is again on the rise for a variety of reasons.

Let’s better understand what a prime lens is and why it deserves a place in your camera bag.

Prime Lens Definition

To understand what a prime lens is, it’s helpful to first discuss focal length.

The focal length is the distance between the convergence point – a point in the lens where light rays meet to form a sharp image - and the imaging sensor or film inside your camera. If your lens offers an array of focal lengths, this means it’s capable of zooming in or out on the scene.

That is, you can make the subject of the scene appear closer to the camera without changing your physical distance to the subject.

A prime lens is sometimes referred to as a fixed lens. That’s because a prime lens is unable to zoom as its focal length is “fixed” or stays the same. If you want the object you’re photographing to appear closer, you will have to physically move closer to it.

What Is a Prime Lens Used For?

While prime lenses lack the versatility that a single zoom one does, it’s hard to find an occasion where a prime lens isn’t useful.

Prime lenses can be purchased in an array of different focal lengths. This allows you to plan and use the appropriate lens for the scenario. Many photographers use their prime lens for landscape or travel. If this is your primary reason to take photographs, start with a prime lens with a focal length of, at most, 28mm. This wide-angle lens will make it easier to capture large scenes and include more of the background even if your subject is up close.

For general use, most photographers prefer a 50mm lens. This lens is neither too wide nor too narrow. Many hobbyists, enthusiasts, and professionals start with this size focal length for their first prime lens.

Portrait photographers, though, prefer a much narrower angle for their images. So, they’ll typically use a prime lens with a focal length of 85mm. Lenses with this large of a focal length are sometimes called telephoto lenses as they let photographers take photos of their subjects at an appreciable distance.

Prime Lens Vs Zoom Lens

When deciding between a zoom lens and a prime lens, it’s helpful to keep these criteria in mind:

How Much Room Do You Have In Your Camera Bag?

A prime lens has a much simpler construction than a zoom one, which makes the prime lens less hefty. However, to compensate for the lack of flexibility a prime lens offers, you may need to bring multiple primes.

Do You Need The Highest Photo Quality?

Prime lenses generally result in images of superior quality with sharp, crisp details from one edge of the photo to the other. Zoom lenses on the other hand have to make comrpomises in order to maintain their flexibility, often providing a lower overall image quality than primes in order to achieve this.

Do You Shoot In Low-light Conditions?

Prime lenses often have brighter, faster apertures that allow in more light than zoom lenses.

Why Use a Prime Lens?

The main reason is that a prime lens allows for better overall image quality. This alone is often enough reason to use a prime lens. However, many primes can be found with equal or lesser quality overall than a zoom - but they make up for this by being both smaller and lighter, so they can be much easier to carry around day to day than a hefty zoom.

Many find that a prime can also help promote creativity. As you’re unable to zoom with a prime lens, you must put more thought and planning into the composition of the scene. You’re forced to consider your placement, as well as the placement of your subject. Without a physical zoom in the lens, your feet become your zooming mechanism.

The Best Prime Lenses To Use

If you’re considering a new prime lens for your camera kit, it helps to know the best available options. We’ve included below three lenses that are the best on offer.

Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8

The Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 can shoot at very low depths of field, while optical image stabilisation makes it easy to employ while shooting without a tripod. The anti-reflective coating also results in superior images even in low-light conditions.

This lens is popular with portrait and event photographers for all the reasons above and more. It can quickly auto-focus and shoot at high speeds. Furthermore, the OLED display lists the distance and depth of field to make manual focusing a breeze.

Tokina atx-m 85mm f/1.8 FE

If you’re looking for something a little less pricey, the Tokina atx-m 85mm f/1.8 FE may fit the bill. Its construction creates high contrast images from corner to corner.

For those who like bokeh effects, this lens’ fast aperture helps create beautiful images with low depths of field. This lens is also fairly durable, especially when compared to others in its price range. It's designed to be dust, oil and water-repellent. This makes it an ideal choice for shooting in less-than-comfortable environments.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art

Sitting right in the middle price-wise between the two choices above, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art is ideal for both hobbyists and professionals. It's consistent auto-focus makes the photo process simpler, and the fast, large aperture highlights the subject of your photo in a way that a zoom lens simply cannot.

Dust and splash proof, this lens is built to last. Its lightweight and compact nature belie its sturdy construction. If you’re a portrait photographer, this lens finds the right balance between affordability and functionality

If you are ready to purchase high-quality camera lenses that are both affordable and functional, look no further than C.R. Kennedy.

C.R. Kennedy is one of Australia’s leading distributors of cameras and photographic equipment. We offer a wide range of DSLR, mirrorless, full-frame and action cameras.

If you need more information check out more articles on the C.R. Kennedy blog.