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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why primes cost more than zoom lenses

Many photographers know the term 'prime' and 'zoom' lenses. What they don't know is why primes tend to cost more then zooms. Before we go any further, let me explain what are prime and zoom lenses.

What's a zoom lens?
You already might know what zoom lenses are. They basically zoom in and out giving you more versatility. Beginners usually get these, since they're completely new to photography. Don't take this the wrong way, pros use these too. They replace the whole bag of lenses. Instead of bringing 8 prime lenses, why not bring one lens to cover that specific range?

What's a prime lens?
Primes however, are the opposite, you can't zoom in and out at all. Instead, you're stuck with a fixed focal length. The only way to recompose your subject is by moving until you get your desired composition. It might sound hard but practice makes perfect. Try this, if you already have a camera(doesn't matter whether it's a DSLR or a point and shoot), zoom 'till a desired focal length, and try taking a few shots without zooming. Pros tend to buy primes, mainly because they're more 'pro'. Don't believe me? Check your manufacturer's retail price. A 24mm f1.4 from Nikon costs RM7,600. A 10-24mm from Nikon costs RM3,500. That's almost half of that.

How do you differentiate a prime and a zoom?
So, how do you differentiate a prime between a zoom lens? Simple. Check the focal length. For example, if its a 10-24mm f/3.5-5.6, the hyphen(-) would mean you can zoom and the f/(number) means that the aperture is variable/changeable. A prime like the 24mm f/1.4, doesn't have a hyphen(-) and usually doesn't have a variable aperture. Great, now you know you can save thousands and thousands of dollars. So why do primes cost more than zooms?

1) Better Image Quality
Primes have been around longer than zooms. So it won't be surprising that primes have better optics than zooms. Even now, the debate between these two is still on-going. Zooms have advanced these few years lately. I'm not sure when zooms will overtake primes in terms of Image Quality, but if it does, it might be the end of the prime lenses. Versatility is every photographer's friend, so why would you get a prime if they are of the same image quality?

2) It's faster
Most of the primes have fast apertures. Especially portrait primes. Some primes even have f/1.2. At that aperture, you'd get a very shallow depth of field, and you'll be able to shoot in low light since its a light drainer. I think its the fastest lens ever made. Compared to primes, zoom lens usually have variable apertures making them change as you zoom. But there are some lenses that have fixed aperture throughout the whole zoom range.

3) Better build quality
Primes usually have very good build quality. Most of them are made with high quality plastic(known as posh plastic). And there are lenses that are made of metal. There are a few however like the 50mm f1.8D, that has very cheap plastic. Compared to primes, zooms are usually made of cheap plastic and tend to have not-as-good build quality. The past few years, Nikon came up with quite a few zooms with good quality but as always they're expensive.

What do I say
Instead of leaning on either zooms or primes, why not have both? A prime lets you shoot in low light, and a zoom gives you versatility. If you're sure of what you're into, then its easier to choose your lens. If you're not, then I'd suggest the usual 18-105mm + 70-300mm/18-200mm that will cover most of your shots. Add a 50mm f/1.8 prime, and you got everything you need. Check My Gear page to see how much that'll cost.

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