It’s possible that photographers have come to blows with each other in the wild debate of what is better: prime lenses or zoom lenses. It’s hard for us not to get defensive as we argue about why the equipment we choose is better than the equipment someone else has chosen. No photographer wants their equipment to seem inferior, or for their images to appear inferior because of their chosen equipment.
As you may know, Single Lens Reflex cameras, or SLR cameras (commonly known today as DSLRs – the D stands for Digital), are larger than point and shoot cameras, and have the ability to work with different lenses. There are literally hundreds of lenses that you can choose to put on your camera, from wide angle to standard to telephoto and macro… and each type of lens is made a dozen different ways, varying in quality and price. Ways they can vary:
- By the maximum aperture (smallest f/stop number) – remember, the smaller the number, the better the lens will work in low light situations (f1.4 is better than f2.8; f4 is better than f5.6, etc).
- Some have Image stabilization (IS) – Particularly useful in low-light situations and slow shutter speeds, and also with telephoto lenses. It helps with motion blur and shake when taking photos in these situations.
- USM (Ultrasonic Motor) – Nearly all of Canon’s lenses are USM now. USM is “Ultrasonic Motor,” which means that the lens autofocuses faster and quieter than lenses without USM (lenses without USM have micro-motors instead). I personally wouldn’t buy a non-USM lens nowadays. I have a non-USM lens, and will sell it when I can. Canon still sells it, as the 50mm Compact Macro.
- “L” lenses, as Canon lists them, are top of the line, “L”uxury lenses. They all have a recognizable red ring around them near the front of the lens so you *know* it’s an “L” lens. L lenses are built better to withstand the elements, and the most recent are sealed from dust and to be more water resistant. L lenses have typically larger apertures than lenses with the same focal length that are not L lenses. L lenses are also usually equipped with image stabilization (IS) and/or ultrasonic motor (USM).
The biggest variation though, and point of debate here, is the difference between prime and zoom lenses. Prime lenses, also known as Fixed Lenses, are lenses that don’t zoom. While zoom lenses can give you a lot of variation in shots with one lens and from one distance, prime lenses will give you a sharper image, but you must do the moving if you want photos at different distances. The optics and moving parts in a prime lens are simpler, which allows the lens to be lighter, sharper, and usually have a larger maximum aperture than zoom lenses. But if you want to cover many distances, are shooting wildlife, street photography, or any kind of photography where you can’t move around a lot, you may find that carrying one zoom lens is better than multiple fixed lenses. It’s also less expensive to purchase one lens than several different lenses, obviously, so if you have a wish list a mile long and budget a yard long, you might be able to cover more wishes by going with zoom.
But how do you know what you’re getting?
If this is helpful, let me know in the comments! Want to know more? Ask me in the comments! Yay! Comments!