Old topic: primes, framing and composition in landscapes

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Dennis Forum Pro • Posts: 20,139
Old topic: primes, framing and composition in landscapes

I know it's all personal preference, but thought it would be interesting to hear from people who have considered the compromises of framing with primes.

Pre-digital, I used to do nature photography with a series of primes:
24mm, 50mm, 100mm, 200mm, 400mm
and a 1.4X that worked with the 200 and 400

And I vaguely remember being pretty content shooting with primes. And that was on slide file, where I wasn't cropping after the fact. I did eventually move to a UWA zoom (initially a 21-35, then a higher end 17-35, even though I found 21mm wide enough). I seem to recall thinking that the differences in WA settings were pretty significant in compositions, where, at the tele end, I was more often looking to "fill the frame" with something, and less concerned with excluding stuff at the edges of the  frame. Eventually, I moved to a tele zoom as well, and I think I was ultimately less happy with my kit after that.

Fast forward 20+ years; I haven't done much serious nature photography (mostly opportunistic stuff close to home or on vacation), but want to get back into it and thinking about primes v. zooms for when/if I move to mirrorless. (I have a perfectly fine APS-C DSLR kit that's not stopping me from getting out there now.)

The compact size, handling, sharpness, low distortion of primes are all appealing.  Smaller filters are appealing. Changing lenses isn't all that appealing, but this kind of photography is better off slowing down like I used to do, so that's a factor, but not a showstopper. The biggest issue is framing. I can go out for a day with a prime and find things to shoot with it. But obviously there are times when, once you choose your perspective (or not - sometimes you have few choices in a landscape) your ideal framing requires a 22mm lens or a 38mm lens or something other than the handful of primes in your bag. The quality gain you might pick up from shooting a prime can be lost by cropping.

So what's your approach ? There are plenty of world class landscape photographers shooting primes and plenty shooting zooms, so there's obviously no right answer. My philosophy suggests zooms are best, because I'm a big believer in choosing your shooting position to get the perspective you want, then picking the FL to get the framing you want. I love the idea of going out with something like an A7R-something and a few Zeiss lenses, for the sheer joy of using quality gear. There's also a part of me that says it would be a lot of fun to put a 24-200 on a Z7 and never have to change lenses.

Thanks for any thoughts you care to share ...

- Dennis

Gallery at http://kingofthebeasts.smugmug.com

Nikon Z7
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