food photography, travel photography & cinemagraphs

All Blog Posts

Understanding Prime vs. Zoom Lenses

Some product links are affiliate links but all are where I make my gear purchases. You can also find all of my photography gear recommendations here.

When I first started meandering off with my then boyfriend’s (now husband’s) Nikon for extended periods of time, I had no idea what I was doing. I always kept the camera firmly in auto and used the kit lens to zoom in and out of whatever my heart desired. It roughly worked. Sort of. When I started to understand the basics of photography and began figuring out how to shoot in manual, I discovered that zooming in and out would mess up the balance of my settings. Or more like, I constantly forgot this, took a ton of shots without readjusting my settings and would find myself with tons of under and over exposed photos.  So when I was ready to purchase my first “real” camera, I switched to a Canon and decided to buy a prime lens to go with it. Ever since, I suppose I’d say that I’m a prime person. 

Prime Lenses 

Primes lenses are a fixed length. You have to move around physically a bit more when you’re shooting with a prime lens. Currently, I have a 15mm, 35mm (which is my most frequent go to) and a 50mm. There are 2 major pros in the prime lens column. One, they’re fast. Really in they’re fast in every way comparatively but specifically the auto-focusing is much faster. Also, they generally have a lower aperture and so you can use them with a faster shutter speed. Two, prime lenses are easier to wrangle when you’re shooting manual. If you’re moving around a ton while shooting, especially between indoors and outdoors, you’ll have to consistently check back to make sure your settings are appropriate. If you’re staying in one space with consistent lighting, then you don’t really need to futz around too much with your settings if you’re shooting on a prime lenses, which is nice, particularly early on. 


The image above was shot on the Zeiss 15mm. I've straightened it a bit but you can still see bits of the distortion from the lens. The photo below was shot on the Sigma Art 35mm for Canon.


Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses allow you to change focal lengths. I only own one zoom lens: the canon 100-400mm, which Eli and I bought years ago for a safari. It’s not a lens that I ever use casually because it’s incredibly heavy (a con of some zoom lenses) and very slow to focus. There are moments that are perfect for a zoom lenses, they allow you to capture certain types of images that otherwise wouldn't be possible but I prefer the quickness of a prime lenses. Additionally, while working with a zoom lens, you need to be careful to make sure to adjust your setting accordingly whenever you zoom in. It's not such a big thing but for some reason when I'm shooting, I find that making those frequent small adjustments throws my flow off. Instead of thinking about composition, it forces me to think about my settings.