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Prime versus Zoom lenses, which ones are better?

It is the Prime lenses thatwide-angle came in first as Photography was invented and gradually became popular amongst the masses. Zoom lenses were introduced much later and these were not only expensive but considered not as good as the prime lenses. Only as the technology made advances, Zoom lenses began to get more and more popular. Zoom lenses even replaced the prime lens as a part of the Kit lens which comes bundled together with a camera.




​Since these have a fixed focal length, they are specifically meant for a particular purpose.

These have a range of focal lengths but that does not mean that they have everything in one lens. There are wide-angle zoom lenses, wide to long focal length general purpose zoom lenses and Telephoto zoom lenses which cover mostly the longer focal lengths.


Since they are made for one specific focal length, they are generally overall better in quality as compared to Zoom lenses. However, a cheaper Prime lens may not always be better than an expensive Zoom lens.

these involve a lot of design innovations so as to include more than one focal lengths in the same structure where the lens elements need to be adjusted to allow one to zoom n or out from one focal lengths. This sacrifices the quality as the priority is to achieve the "Zoom" capability. BUT as technology has improved drastically over the years, the quality of zoom lenses has also improved a lot and based on your working style, zoom lenses are a good choice and not a compromise on the quality.


Prime lenses are generally lighter as these involve less glass elements.

These are relatively heavier as more glass and mechanics is involved. The ones with a bigger maximum opening are even more heavy as compared to their counterparts.

Overall Weight

You may need to carry along more number of lenses to cover the required focal lengths

​One or two lenses would cover a broad range of focal lengths particularly the ones you may need for a particular purpose.


​Relatively Faster

Relatively Slower but the difference in comparison is negligible.

Maximum Aperture

Primes have a bigger maximum opening. There are different variants of the same focal length but they are all good lenses in general and you can pick the one which is affordable instead of the most basic one.

Zoom lenses with larger maximum aperture are more expensive and heavier than their counterparts which do not open that much. Go for the one which has a larger maximum opening but this may not necessarily be a better lens optically in all aspects.

​Maximum Aperture is always fixed.

Depending on the lens variant, Maximum aperture may be fixed or variable. In the case of the later, the maximum aperture is different for different focal lengths. It is a bigger opening at the shorter focal length side as compared to the longer side and it varies.


Less prone to Fungus

​More prone to fungus as more glass elements are involved.

​Flexibility of composition

​less flexible as you will have to move backward and forward to change your framing. If you have a certain focal length on your camera, while shooting from a particular point, you will either be too far away from the subject or too near and it may not always be possible to change your position. To change the focal length one needs to physically change to another lens of that focal length if you have one and this can be time consuming however fast you may be at changing the lenses.

​From the same spot itslef you can quickly zoom in to a longer focal length to closely frame something far off or zoom out to include something nearby by and spread across a wider area. the angle of view can be changed quickly without changing the spot.


​Being light and compact, Prime lenses are in general more stable and one can shoot handheld at a relatively slower shutter speed without a tripod. Since they are less protruding, the centre of gravity remains closer to the body and hand held shots are stable.

​Zoom lenses depending on the focal lengths range are longer, bulkier and heavier. It's important to use a higher shutter speed equivalent to the focal length being used to allow a stable hand held shot. Tripod is unavoidable if you do not have an image stabilisation feature on your lens.

​What should you buy?

If you do a specific kind of work involving a particular focal length, you may opt for a Prime. Start with 50mm as that is equivalent to the human eye view on a full-frame camera and gradually add lenses as per your needs.

​If you do a variety of genres and need to change focal lengths very often in the same session, go for zoom lens. However do keep in mind that a zoom lens covering a whole lot of focal lengths for example 18mm all the way up to 200 or 300mm is not a good buy unless you are willing to trade off quality for flexibility. Its better to go for Zooms which have a lesser range.

I use both Prime lenses as well as Zoom lenses. When I am shooting in the studio or otherwise in a more controlled environment, I almost always end up using prime lenses. If I am traveling and doing street and travel photography, I mostly use Zoom lenses and probably don't even carry any prime lenses with me except for may the Macro or the Fisheye lenses or a 40mm pancake lens.

Your first lens could be any, a 50mm lens or a general everyday zoom lens. Once you get the hang of photography and your gear, move on to buy more lenses. Do not go for what others suggest, go for the lenses which give you the kind of look that you visualize in your photographs.

Learning Photography? check out this Article.

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