How Many Folk Here Use Primes?

Started Mar 24, 2015 | Discussions thread
Ray Sachs
Ray Sachs Forum Pro • Posts: 10,580
Not about tech quality or size/weight to me...

stephy wrote:

This could have been posted on the "Lens" forum but I feel it's equally OK here.

I don't currently use a mid range zoom and prefer Nikon primes lenses. Am I alone with this or do others feel a mid range zoom better for them?

So many technical responses, and size weight responses!

To me, those considerations are the least important considerations.

If someone offered an infinite focal length zoom that was as small as the smallest prime, as fast as the fastest prime, and as sharp and technically awesome as the best prime, and as cheap as a middle of the road prime, I'd STILL shoot with primes instead of that zoom.

For me, it's all about how I "see" best. And I'm not claiming this applies to anyone but me or that it's the right approach or that it's anything other than my personal preference. But I can't see well at all when I have a zoom on my camera (long lenses being the exception) except for very specific types of shooting in very specific circumstances. There's something about having infinite choice within a range of focal lengths that paralyzes my mind. I can't see compositions if I don't have a pre-conceived frame in mind to constrain them to. There are just too many compositional variables with a zoom that all that flexibility renders me compositionally blind.

OTOH, I can walk around all day with a 21 or 24 or 28 or even 35mm lens and I see the world in that frame, with that field of view, with that type of distortion bringing parallel lines into a common point in the distance. I can pretty much see a photograph without bringing the camera up to my eye. Sometimes I'll take one prime out and shoot all day, sometimes I'll take 2-3 and shoot with each for a couple of hours. But I don't change lenses from shot to shot pretty much ever. When I have a compact with a step zoom, I can almost trick my mind into believing I just have an incredibly tiny bag of primes with me, instead of a zoom, and just limit myself to one focal length for a couple of hours and then maybe switch to another. But any conventional zoom lens just baffles me.

There are exceptions. At family gatherings I love using a zoom to shoot candid people shots - I'm less looking for interesting compositions than framing a person or couple or small group, and a zoom is critical for this. If I shot weddings or other similar events, I'm sure I'd do the same. On occasion, I'll shoot a local event like a parade and I'll sometimes use a zoom for that as well. And for long lenses I absolutely prefer a zoom because reaching some distant subject is often down to having the right focal length easily available. Although some of my best long lens compositions have come from shooting with a longer prime rather than a zoom.

So I get all of the technical and size/weight tradeoffs, but to me they're distinctly secondary and tertiary considerations and they're a very very DISTANT second and third. To me, it's all about seeing compositions around me, and I need a constrained view to do that. Sometimes I'll take a zoom out for a day of shooting and I might come back with a couple of OK shots, usually from the first half hour or so of shooting, while I'm still enjoying the flexibility, but then I get lazy/confused/paralyzed by all of the options available to me and I can't see a damn thing.

So, I'm mildly envious of those of you who can shoot well with zooms - they're enormously convenient and flexible. But I just can't use them very well except for particular uses. Most of the time, I'm out there with a prime or two or maybe three, but that's all my little brain can handle...

We judge photographers by the photographs we see. We judge cameras by the photographs we miss - Haim Zamir

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