Why I love primes.

Hi, my name is Ed, and I’m a Prime-a-holic.

Not that I have anything against zooms.  I have one, in fact – and may even buy another (a 2.8 standard zoom is very useful in many situations)

I’m also not obsessed with “ultimate image quality” – my attitude is that if it’s good enough to get the results I want (namely a print up to my standards) it’s good enough to use.  In the end, it’s the image, not the equipment.

So what is it I love so much about primes?  Yes, I like the fact that my primes are high quality, and yes all the standard arguments for primes apply – they are generally optically better than zooms, are usually faster, and can be much more compact… however to me the appeal goes beyond that.

Consider the following analogy:

I often compare using a prime lens to riding a singlespeed mountain bike.  (for those who don’t know a singlespeed bike is a bike with only 1 gear – no shifters, no nothing – just a single gear)

Now most folks scoff at the idea of riding a bike – espeically a mountian bike without shifters – “you need gears” they cry.  “You need to be able to downshift on hills and upshift on flats”

And yes, it’s true – riding without gears is certainly less convenient than having 18 or 27 or 30 gears at your disposal.

However, there is a certain beauty, a certain “zen” to riding singlespeed.  You aren’t thinkking about shifting or worrying about what gear you are in – you just ride.   You also develop a heightened awareness of the area around you, since without the benifits of gears you must use the terraain to your advantage.  You learn how to conserve momentum through descents to carry you up hills, you learn to mold yourself to the terrain – customizing your effort to the obstacles ahead.

instead of forcing the situation to adapt to you, you must adapt yourself to the situation.

Many of these same ideas apply to photographing with a prime lens.  You don’t have the luxury of changing focal length (read:shifting) when there is a “hill” – you have to adapt yourself in order to frame your shot.   And just like with cycling, there is a certain “zen-like” appeal to this.  Instead of seeing this as a limitation, think of it as a creative opportunity.

Having a single focal length forces you to think more carefully about composition.  It forces you to “plan” your shots more, to pre-visualize them.

After using a particular prime lens for awhile you begin to “think” in it’s focal length – you begin to “see” the way the lens “sees”.   I know how a picture will be framed before I even bring the camera to my eye when using a familiar prime.   This is also a very “zen” experience while shooting – you develop a kind of “rythm” to your shots – the equipment disapears, and you “become one” with the scene – not worrying about zooming, not worrying about framing – just seeing, and recording.   Not to mention this is a great “creative exercise” – for all the reasons mentioned, using primes will definitely improve your compositional skills.  Why not try it – if you don’t have primes, just leave your zoom on one setting for a day (I suggest either 35 or 50mm equivalent – that’s ~23 and 33mm on an aps-c camera).  It may be an eye opening experience!

That being said – I don’t particularly do event or sport photography (or any other kind of “rapidly changing” photography).  If I did, it’s zooms all the way!  Sometimes convenience *does* take precedence!

10 thoughts on “Why I love primes.”

  1. Thank you for the analogy – it’s helpful. This article makes me want to spend more time “learning” the primes I have.

  2. Thanks Jenny, Ryan 🙂

    and yeah, I guess my love of primes may have had something to do with the blog name. Never really thought about it that way…

    personally I do probably 90% of my photography with either a 21mm or 35mm prime (35 and 50mm equiv) the rest is done either with my 50-200 zoom (for when I need reach) or a specialized lens for a specific task (macro etc…)

  3. I could not agree more. I have a tiny kit, and my only prime is the 50mm, but using it alone for a day or two really sharpens your composition skills. I actually LIKE having to move my feet instead of turning a zoom, it makes me think much more about what I am doing, like your biking analogy. And, whereas when I first got into photography and I wanted were the super long zooms, my wish list now consist of primes, primes, and more primes.

  4. I have always loved the “fast 50” prime, which is pretty much the main downside of the current crop of APS-C sensor dslrs (to me at least). The 75mm equivalent focal length is just too long for my “general shooting” preferences. Luckily the 35mm f/2 fits the bill perfectly as a ~52mm equivalent. (although not as fast as the 1.4)

    I also find a 28-35mm prime incredibly versatile for a wide range of shooting, so you might want to look at something in the 20-24mm range (assuming you are using a crop-sensor camera).

  5. i have 1000d and i have 1000d and 18-55mm lens and thinking to buy 55-200mm lens it comes with IS and if you have a good buegdt go for 18-200mm lens so you wont be needing to change your lens .. you have it all

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