Of Primes and Men

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
I figured the world needed one more primes-vs-zooms discussion.

I also figure there are at least five classes of zoom lenses out there.

  • Standard zooms (24-70; 24-120)
  • UWA zooms (14-24; 16-35)
  • Mid-tele zooms (70-200; 80-300)
  • Supertelezooms (100-400; 150-600)
  • Superzooms (28-300; 24-200)

I'm a prime shooter at heart but recognize the immense power of zoom lenses. What's interesting in many lens catalogs is that one can replicate the standard zoom with 2-3 primes but oftentimes the other classes of zooms can't be. Many newer systems have maybe just one UWA prime available, but several UWA zooms. Fuji and m4/3?

Moreover, something like a 70-200 feels like a one "prime" meaning the focal lengths are largely perspective-wise pretty much one class. Not really but perhaps?

I don't often look at standard zooms even though the value they offer, I recognize and appreciate. What I often instead think about, are the superzooms! Perhaps it's the fact that a zoom covers several primes and a superzoom covers several zooms at once.

Leica doesn't really do zooms even though two zooms exist on the platform. Whenever I try a TTL system (Fuji, Nikon) I get excited to test out zooms after a hiatus. The benefits and the downsides of primes-only lifestyle are well known, I don't repeat the talking points here.
 
Location
Switzerland
Real Name
Matt
Well, I like both zooms and primes, but prefer to be able to shoot with primes for three reasons: size, speed and image quality.

However, whenever I'm im facing a situation I can't control or predict, I pick zooms - the flexibility (and range) they offer has saved the day for me several times.

I particularily like zooms with a bit more range - 24-120mm-e would be my favourite, 24-105mm-e a close second; fixed aperture, for preference. I hope the upcoming Nikon Z 24-105mm S will be as good as the other Z lenses - it'll be a no-brainer for me if it is ... (as long as it's not too bulky).

At the moment, I own the Olympus 12-45mm f/4 PRO (24-90mm-e) which is an exemplary lens because it's very competent while being small and well made (including sealing). Several other "standard" zooms get a lot of love from me as well, mostly 24/28-70/75/80/85 with varying degrees of quality, but all serve their purpose well enough. Perhaps the most worthwhile of those I don't own any more: It's the lens in the LX100; it may not have been the best in absolute terms, but I got some amazingly well balanced images with it, in spite of everything else.

However, the most fun zoom at the moment is the Nikon 24-200mm f/4-6.3 - it punches way, way above its numbers and its size and weight. This is a FF zoom the size and weight of a :mu43: lens, and it's optically not a lot worse than its very solid 24-70mm f/4 stablemate (I personally like the 24-200mm better at its wide end, at least in RAW). Yes, it's slow, but that's it for downsides (and the Z 6 is a low light/high ISO beast, anyway).

As for primes, I could wax poetically about scores of them, and that's why I love primes: Even if they're "bad" or "not the best", they always bring something unique and rewarding to the table. Some noteworthy ones in my collection:
  • Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 (:mu43:): sharp, contrasty, smooth transitions - a work-alike of the Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.4 for a fifth of the price.
  • Voigtländer Ultron 28mm f/2 (when paired with the Leica M8): an exceptional lens precisely because it's so unassuming - yet it delivers the goods time and again.
  • Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary (APS-C): when it came out, it got spectacular reviews, and it remains one of the best values in the market.
  • 7Artisans 35mm f/1.2 (APS-C): optically most probably the worst lens I own, yet so much fun because of its unique rendering and quirky, yet classic handling ... *
  • Carl Zeiss C Biogon 35mm f/2.8 ZM: sharp, sharp, sharp, small and light, an amazing walk-around (and all-around) lens. Most probably my "best" lens ... **
  • Carl Zeiss T* Tessar 45mm f/2.8 C/Y: a sliver of a lens, yet sharp enough with wonderfully classic rendering - no bargain, but well worth owning.
  • Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary: my favourite affordable medium-fast, medium-sized prime - sharp where it counts, versatile, compact enough, fun, fun, fun. ***
  • Voigtländer Nokton 50mm f/1.5 VM: classic smooth rendering, but modern contrast and surprisingly good sharpness wide open - fantastic value for money.
  • Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S: gosh, what a lens ... formidable performance (though bokeh can be slightly harsher than with other lenses of its type).
  • Leica Summarit-M 75mm f/2.4: best short tele I've ever shot with, bar none - this lens is amazingly sharp, yet offers wonderfully smooth transitions.
* Of the lenses mentioned here, that's the one that only works with a camera I intend to sell: the Sony A6000; I tried it on the Nikon Z 50 via an adapter, and it just didn't work for me even though the Nikon has a better EVF and better magnification than the Sony. Pity ... I think it'll have to go, alongside the body ... see below, though. ***
** I own a lot of 35mm and also quite a number of 50mm lenses, but maybe you've already seen the pattern: I love the sleepers, the underdogs, the special cases better than the "best of breed" stuff, even though some of the lenses mentioned above do certainly qualify in my personal opinion and experience.
*** "et ceterum censeo": If Sigma managed to give us this lens (and, maybe, also the 30mm f/1.4 C for APS-C) with a Z mount, I'd immediately sell the Sony A7 II and A6000. Those two primes are ones I don't want to be without, the 45mm even more so than the 30mm (besides, the 30mm is also available for :mu43:).

M.
 

rayvonn

Hall of Famer
Just one zoom for me, a Tamron 100-400. That’s primarily because its relatively light and has stabilisation therefore doesn’t require a tripod, is sharp but, as I imagine is the case with most modern zooms, is without character. It’s useful. Generally, I don’t like zooms as to me it’s the lens and camera creating the image, not me.
 

agentlossing

All-Pro
Location
S. Oregon Coast (the Northernmost-Cal of them All)
Real Name
Andrew Lossing
There are a few different reasons I prefer primes, size being an easy one. The Panasonic 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 is a cool little exception to the rule. On M4/3, though, those aperture values are pretty slow, if you want to keep ISO low (unless you can take advantage of dual IS with more static subjects).

The way I think about zooms is, how much of the zoom range interests me? I like some specific focal lengths: 21mm, 28mm, 30-35mm, 40mm, 55-60mm. If you can stay reasonably within those points, and offer some added bonus (large aperture, special rendering, something like that) then you're a lens I take interest in. But I'm not adding bulk and slowness in order to have something like 75mm< range just in the off chance I need it. I'll let photos go if I don't have the lens for them, and I feel fine about it.

So there are a few zoom lenses I find very interesting. Just, not interesting enough to plunk down lots of cash for them, currently.
 

bartjeej

Hall of Famer
Real Name
bart
Right now, my thinking is to have one superzoom and one fast prime, preferably both on their own body (or as fixed lens compacts).

Unfortunately I've started to lean towards 40 - 60mm fast primes just to bring more differentiation from phone cameras, and they tend to not exist (fixed lens compacts) or be considerably larger for digital than in the film days (ILCs).*

For superzooms, I'm currently thinking RX10 IV or m43 with 12-100 or 12-200.

*Yes there's the Panasonic 20/1.7 and the Fuji 27/2.8 but I wish they focused faster and were weather sealed, and a bit more DOF control would be nice
 

agentlossing

All-Pro
Location
S. Oregon Coast (the Northernmost-Cal of them All)
Real Name
Andrew Lossing
Right now, my thinking is to have one superzoom and one fast prime, preferably both on their own body (or as fixed lens compacts).

Unfortunately I've started to lean towards 40 - 60mm fast primes just to bring more differentiation from phone cameras, and they tend to not exist (fixed lens compacts) or be considerably larger for digital than in the film days (ILCs).*

For superzooms, I'm currently thinking RX10 IV or m43 with 12-100 or 12-200.

*Yes there's the Panasonic 20/1.7 and the Fuji 27/2.8 but I wish they focused faster and were weather sealed, and a bit more DOF control would be nice
That's actually a good strategy, having one fast, slightly telephoto prime. That's what I did with the Sigma 30mm f1.4, still useful as a normal focal length on m4/3 but with plenty of DoF control and good all around performance. I also had the P20 f1.7 (just sold it) but the majority of the time I'd prefer using the GR (even including the 35mm crop mode), and kept the Siggy on the GX9.

I can get along reasonably well with just two primes, a wide and a short tele.
 

drd1135

Zen Snapshooter
Location
SW Virginia
Real Name
Steve
My zooms are mainly the tele variety and the cheap ones at that. I just don’t use them enough to drop the big $$$ for the nice ones. I mostly shoot primes in the 35-50 range. The Fuji 16-80 is a rare lens for me, but I do really like it.
 

agentlossing

All-Pro
Location
S. Oregon Coast (the Northernmost-Cal of them All)
Real Name
Andrew Lossing
You know, it makes total sense to have tele zooms. I abide by the old "zoom with your feet" adage, but the longer your focal length the less effective moving around a few yards/meters actually is. Once you get out past 100mm or so, framing becomes a "you either get it or you don't" proposition with a prime. That's why I had so much trouble with the otherwise excellent Sigma 60mm 2.8 on M4/3... Framing was too unforgiving.

"Zoom with your feet" might be better stated "micro adjustments with your feet, macro adjustments with a zoom." But that's not catchy. And 'macro' just gets confusing. Oh well, I tried!
 

phigmov

Probably Not Walter Kernow
Location
Aotearoa
On smaller cameras I prefer primes - with MFT I can carry 2 or 3 bodies with a wide, tele and normal in very little space with a pancake zoom for kicks (12-32mm).

On larger bodies, I definitely prefer zooms, just so I can carry one lens only - on the D700 a 24-85mm or 28-105 will do 95% of whatever it is I need to do. Worst case I could carry a Nikkor E 50mm f1.8 pancake as the light dims (although there is no chance of being discrete with a brick-like D700).
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
On smaller cameras I prefer primes - with MFT I can carry 2 or 3 bodies with a wide, tele and normal in very little space with a pancake zoom for kicks (12-32mm).

On larger bodies, I definitely prefer zooms, just so I can carry one lens only - on the D700 a 24-85mm or 28-105 will do 95% of whatever it is I need to do. Worst case I could carry a Nikkor E 50mm f1.8 pancake as the light dims (although there is no chance of being discrete with a brick-like D700).
My take is almost the opposite. :)

FF zooms are too big and heavy, therefore the only system where zooms even remotely make sense for me personally, is M4/3. All my m4/3 lenses currently are zooms.
 

tonyturley

Legend
Location
Scott Depot, WV, USA
Real Name
Tony
I have gone both ways with lenses. I definitely see the value of a good zoom like the PL 12-60 or Fuji 55-200. I've owned both, and their IQ was excellent. If all I did was hiking, I would purchase another 55-200, and just carry the gear in my lightweight sling bag. But I'm on my bike often, and I always carry a camera. A sling bag + cycling is an awful combination, a real annoyance. A camera on a strap around the shoulder is only slightly better. My preference is a small bag strapped to the handle bar, and that precludes anything the size of the 55-200.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
If all I did was hiking, I would purchase another 55-200, and just carry the gear in my lightweight sling bag. But I'm on my bike often, and I always carry a camera. A sling bag + cycling is an awful combination, a real annoyance.
I don't cycle but I watched a recent James Popsys video just the other day:


(Relevant content should start at around 10-minute mark, if not skip there.)

James has used a new bag (Rotation180° Series) and noted they work well for cyclists.
 

bartjeej

Hall of Famer
Real Name
bart
I like to use just a waist pack on my day hikes. A bigger one will fit snacks, drinks, rain jacket and a camera with zoom lens. Mine is 10 liters and will just about hold that if I pack smart. If it has a good waist strap and is built with stability in mind, it should do fine on a bike as well.

In general, I find my cameras need to fit whatever carrying solutions I am already using for the day's activities; if I have to scale up the bag just to bring the camera, it is unlikely to come along.
 

tonyturley

Legend
Location
Scott Depot, WV, USA
Real Name
Tony
I've tried them, but I've never been much of a fan of waist packs. Like the guy in the video, I have way too many camera bags from trying out different carry solutions. Some I liked for a while, then grew tired of them. I seem to change my mind on carry solutions as often as I do camera gear. :hide:
 

William Lewis

Veteran
Location
Hayward WI
Real Name
William Lewis
I bought my first camera in 1983 so consumer zoom still were meh at best. I had a 50/1.8 and the two foot zoom and that was it. My tastes in lenses to this day reflect that and a long period of rangefinders (no zooms available.).

Right now I'm mostly just running around with my new to me 45/2.8 on the D7100 and either not brining another lens along or either my 24/2.8 or 105/2.5 depending on what I think I might prefer. I own one zoom right now and it's quite good. I think I really ought to get a good tourist zoom for those times when it would be useful but then I realize I don't know which are good and I really don't want to spend time I could be using a Tessar or a Sonnar on researching what is for me a niche lens.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
To me and my undeveloped sensibilities UWA zooms and supertelezooms are almost like treatable as primes.

You don't control the perspective as much with the choice of FL whether it's 10 mm or 12 mm. Moreover, many platforms simply don't have enough options to cover UWA angles with primes. I think Leica M is the only one: 9, 10, 12, 15, 18 mm options available from three different makers.

TTL systems usually have one fast prime and then there are fast and slow UWA zooms. A matter of prioritizing what to R&D.

With supertelezooms the situation is even more obvious. A tele prime only buys you speed, largely -- compositionally speaking a 150-600 is very much like one supertele prime.
 

melanieylang

Regular
As much as I prefer the look of photos shot with fast primes, my most used micro four thirds lens is Panasonic 14-140mm mark II (covering 28-280mm FFE). Even though it's not a pro lens, I occasionally shoot daytime events, and wear this lens on my main camera plus a prime on the other, and the sheer convenience wins out.

It's a terrific travel lens, with something complementary like the tiny 20mm f1.7 for low light or a compact street option, and is weather resistant for extra usability with weather sealed bodies.

But I'd hate to have to choose just one lens for all time, they all have their place!
 

Latest posts

Latest threads

Top Bottom