Zoom Or Prime? A Lens Discussion

Lens newsletter photography Prime Lens Zoom Lens

‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 

A question that arises regularly when out photographing, at markets, online, etc., is: 'What lens did you use to shoot that image?'

Lenses, a subject that is discussed daily by photographers. In my opinion, lenses should be the biggest investment you make in your gear. An excellent lens will last you a lifetime (bar any accidental damage), and will most likely find itself seated on a number of camera bodies over the years. I'd use a mediocre camera with a great lens over a great camera with a mediocre lens any day of the week. Make no mistake, a really good camera will get the best out of a great lens, but it will also pick up the flaws in a bad lens.

Lenses come in two main formats, zoom lenses and prime lenses.

Zoom lenses are incredibly versatile, allowing one to change the focal length based on the scenario one is photographing. A 70-200mm lens will therefore allow you to zoom from 70mm all the way through to 200mm. If you’re travelling light, you can find zoom lenses with much more range, such as an 18 - 270 mm, allowing you to photograph both close up and in the distance. A good zoom lens is a powerful, adaptable tool to have in your arsenal.

Prime lenses have a fixed focal length, meaning that you cannot zoom in or out. The main advantage of prime lenses is that they specialise in just one focal length. They are finely tuned to deliver on one specific type of photography, unlike a zoom lens which can be used in a multitude of cases.

Because of this, prime lenses produce much higher quality images than a zoom lens in general, but you will need to know in which situation to use them. For example, the 50mm prime lens, (the Nifty Fifty), is perfect for portraits, as the focal length is as close to the human eye as possible.

My favourite lens, which pretty much lives on my camera body, is my Nikon 14-24mm ultra wide angle lens. It's perfect for landscape photography, giving me the ability to capture an entire vista in a single shot, but still staying sharp enough to keep all the detail. With its fast 2.8 aperture, it's also great for any low light situations, as well as astro photography.

This image of Dungeness New Lighthouse was taken at the end of September 2020, pretty late in the night. The bright light to the right of the lighthouse is Jupiter, with Saturn sitting just to the left next to the mast.

I used the aforementioned 14-24mm lens for this shot, with a focal length of 14mm, which allowed me to get close to the lighthouse, and still capture the night sky behind it. The large aperture in the lens allowed the camera to collect as much light as possible in the time the camera shutter was open. (EXIF Data: Exposure 30 sec; f/2.8; ISO 2500).

The evening certainly didn't start with clear skies, we battled rain, gale force winds, wet equipment, and blown over coffee mugs. As we were about to give up and head home, a clear patch appeared, and very quickly after, the winds blew the clouds over the horizon, resulting in spectacular star-studded skies.

I tried to recreate this image recently, unfortunately there is now a powerful spotlight at the base of the lighthouse, making it impossible to expose for the sky without overexposing the lighthouse itself. I've had a number of photographers comment on this recent addition.

I captured this image of the setting summer sun behind The Shard in London in early July 2018. There's an area called Vista Field behind Eltham Palace in South East London, which offers clear, elevated views of the London skyline. I first started planning this shot before the summer solstice, but I just could not get it to line up the way I wanted it to. At the end, I came to the same location for 18 days in a row, until I got the shot I wanted. Luckily the weather stayed constant throughout, and I managed to get a number of different shots from this location, but this is the one I had seen in my mind's eye, and patience finally paid off.

Now the distance from Vista Field to The Shard is about 7 miles, as the crow flies. This is where a big zoom lens comes into its own. I used a Sigma 150-600mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached. This image was taken with a focal length of 700mm. The teleconverter magnifies the power of the lens by 1.4 times, but comes with the drawback of slowing the lens down. This means you need to use a slower shutter speed than normal, but as I was shooting straight into the sun, this was not an issue. (EXIF Data: Exposure 1/800 sec; f/20; ISO 100). I did however, require a tripod, as it is next to impossible holding a lens steady at that focal length.

The image above of Rochester Castle was taken in August 2017 on a day visit to Rochester. There were tourists wandering around the grounds, which I was hoping to exclude from the image, to give it a sense of abandonment. I was looking for an angle that was uncommon, whilst still giving a sense of age. I came across one of the old trees on the boundary of the castle grounds, which had a lot of character. By focusing on the tree itself, with the camera at a low angle to capture a section of the tree root, I was able to give the feeling of age. This tree had been there for a while, and had seen many things in its lifetime. It also helped hide the tourists on the grass. A very good tree.

The lens used was a Nikon 28-300 zoom lens at 55mm, so very close to what the human eye sees. By opening the aperture as wide as possible on this lens, I was able to soften the focus on the castle, drawing all of the attention to the detail in the tree bark, while still making the viewer aware of the location. By converting the image to black and white, the bark becomes almost tactile, one can imagine running one's hand down the tree, feeling the roughness of the bark. (EXIF Data: Exposure 1/1250 sec; f/5; ISO 100).

Older Post Newer Post