Why use prime lenses? Prime lenses are affordable, sharp, lightweight, and offer the widest aperture.
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Let's cut to the chase on the pros and cons of prime lenses!
Prime Lenses are affordable, sharp, lightweight, and compact. In addition, they tend to be sharper where a zoom lens may lose sharpness depending on quality and focal length. These are the reasons I started my lens collection with prime lenses and I use prime lenses most often.
The first prime lens I acquired was the Canon 50mm 1.8 which you can pick up used around $100. There are 3 Canon 50mm lenses. While this is the cheapest, it does a great job and I still keep it around as a backup. Using a DSLR with a full frame sensor, a 50mm lenses allows you to get close shots without getting in your subjects face but can still capture a wider shot if you step back. Keep in mind that if you shoot with a cropped sensor the end result will look more like you used a 75-80mm. Check out this article to learn more about crop vs full frame sensors. When I could afford it, I upgraded to the Canon 50mm 1.4 which is a little sharper, more durable, and its large aperture can help with low light shots and produces better bokeh. Canon also makes a 50mm 1.2, but for me the extra $1000 does not justify the difference in aperture and quality.
SETTINGS: 1/500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400
The second prime lens I acquired was the Canon 28mm 1.8. I love wide shots, so this lens was a natural second choice. I have this on my Canon 6D almost as much as the 50mm. It does a great job with wide shots, but also produces nice bokeh if I want to get close to my subject and open the aperture.
SETTINGS: 1/1000 sec at f/9.0, ISO 400
The third prime lens I bought was the Canon 85mm 1.8. This lens is GREAT for head shots and I use this lens a lot when experimenting with speedlites and light modifiers.
SETTINGS: 1/125 sec at f/6.3, ISO 100
The next prime lens I will purchase will be a macro lens like this one. I plan to use this lens for shooting details of rings, babies, and animals. While my other primes work ok, they can't focus if you get too close to the subject. The only alternative is to take a photo from further back and crop it which decreases image quality.
When to use zoom lenses: If you are photographing an event or performance, especially a paid gig, zoom lenses can offer more flexibility. Zoom lenses allow you to change focal length quickly when you can't move or get close enough. I prefer to use a zoom lens if I'm walking around an event photographing people or when I'm photographing a speaker or performer on state. For walk around photography, I use a Canon 24-105mm f/4. For speakers or performers I use a Sigma 70-200 2.8. While these lenses are bigger and heavier, their flexibility makes them a work horse at paid gigs.
What lenses do you use most and why?