I take better pictures with primes.

As I mentioned in my previous article I am a devotee of the humble fixed focal length lens, AKA “prime”

As a predominantly fine art/street photographer, I have spent most of my photographic career not really “needing” zooms, but as I move more into the realm of commercial/assignment photography, I recently picked up a fast standard zoom (16-50/2.8) for when I need the flexibility over a prime.

so for the past few months while I play with my new toy, learning it particular quirks and characteristics my primes have sat on a shelf while my 16-50 has been attached to the camera.

And you know what? My pictures have gotten worse. Not because of the lens, mind you- it’s a beautiful performer – tack sharp with quick focusing and impressive bokeh. I think using the zoom has made me “compositionally lazy”

To explain: As I mentioned in said earlier article, when using a prime you begin to “see” in that prime’s focal length. Your eyes begin to notice compositions to fit the field of view. I would go out on a limb and venture that this is a manifestation of what is known as “directed attention” in psychology/neuroscience (here’s a good, but somewhat technical article on the subject)

With a zoom, you don’t have to think in terms of a single focal length, and I think this hampers the directed attention needed for compositional focus (mental focus that is, not camera focus!)

Maybe I just need to re-train my brain to think in terms of *ranges* of FOV rather than discreet steps, but I just thought it was an interesting illustration of one of the less obvious strengths of prime lenses.

2 thoughts on “I take better pictures with primes.”

  1. I totally agree about the ‘lazy’ factor. My best photos were all taken with a Rolleiflex TLR. A fixed 75mm lens, and no auto anything. I had to think about composition and exposure on every shot, and with only 12 shots on a roll, I had to make every one count. I switched to a digital SLR with two zooms, and all that automation made me lazy. I recently bought an older manual 85mm lens which shuts off all of my camera’s automation, and things are looking better already.

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