Primes not worth it?

Started Sep 3, 2008 | Discussions
BHPhotog Contributing Member • Posts: 812
Primes not worth it?

The delivered wisdom is that a prime is a magnitude better than a good zoom under the same conditions. As a newcomer, if you buy into that dogma you can face some daunting prices. However, how much"better" is a prime?

Here's a very humble used FA 24-90 @f/8 set at 73mm contrasted with a top quality prime 77mm also @ f/8. Both shot in RAW, no post-processing, same conditions, tripod mount, stabilization off and 2 second delay to minimize blur.

24-90:

And the 77:

Is the 77mm "better" in absolute terms? Absolutely. But is the zoom 95% as sharp at one-tenth the price? Looks like to me. And for casual photography, the cost-benefit for a prime, even a used one, doesn't seem to be there.

I guess excellence is the enemy of the good in this case.

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osv Veteran Member • Posts: 9,970
Re: Primes not worth it?

i don't believe for a minute that you can take one scenario, and use it to declare a winner either way.

you start out with zooms until you find the scenario that they don't work well for, then make the switch to prime glass.

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dan

JensR Forum Pro • Posts: 17,971
Re: Primes not worth it?

Hi BHP!

The delivered wisdom is that a prime is a magnitude better than a
good zoom under the same conditions.

That's a bit oversimplified, I'd say, as it depends on the lenses at hand - and the conditions. Oh. And what you look at for determining "better".

Here's a very humble used FA 24-90 @f/8 set at 73mm contrasted with a
top quality prime 77mm also @ f/8.

f/8 equalises much of the advantage of a prime.

However, what strikes me the most is the difference in contrast and/or saturation. I'm at a loss at what caused this difference.
Was the white balance the same? Did the lighting change?

95% as sharp at one-tenth the price?

A used "Excellent" used copy of the 24-90 at a usually reputable store sells for 400 USD. Best legitimate price for a new 77 that I know of was 560 USD - now more like 670.

Looks like to me. And for casual
photography, the cost-benefit for a prime, even a used one, doesn't
seem to be there.

If you are only shooting at f/8 and narrower, you remove much of the appeal of a prime, IMO.
Also, not only resolution is important.

Cheers
Jens

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Jonathan Demarais Veteran Member • Posts: 3,607
Re: Primes not worth it?

Primes serve only 2 real functions, speed and portabillity. If you don't need those, and can afford the pro zooms, primes make little sense to own.
--

'I cried because I had no E-3. Then I met a man with no E-510'

Olympus E-410, E-330, Nikon D100 (IR) & Pentax K20D.
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JJJPhoto Senior Member • Posts: 2,584
Please repeat this test ...

... with both lenses set to f/1.8 for a true comparison.

What? The zoom doesn't open up to f/1.8?

Well, I guess primes ARE worth the money to some people.

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baldeagle21b Contributing Member • Posts: 999
Re: Primes not worth it?

This is a case of stacking the test conditions in favor of a foregone conclusion.

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egordon99 Senior Member • Posts: 1,119
bad comparison

At f/8, even a coke bottle looks pretty good. Try shooting your cheap lens at f/2.8 and let us know how that works out!

jonas_photo Regular Member • Posts: 329
Re: Primes not worth it?

The 77mm are too over exposed to see the quality..

But with the 77mm, I did buy it for the F1.8, bokeh, colors + mechanism.

But with a wide angel lens, or a lens for studio work, I would go with a zoom when I are going to shoot at it at f8-16 anyway.. Thats why I dont care if the 21mm ltd only has F3.5.

If the 16-45mm just was less kit feel too it, I would buy it directly and use it as a landscape and studio lens..

Thanks for the test,
Jonas

Joseph Tainter Forum Pro • Posts: 11,408
Re: Primes not worth it?

A. You cannot tell anything from onscreen jpegs in this size.

B. Your question is too simple. Some zooms are better than some primes at sharpness. My FA* 80-200 F2.8 is sharper at distance shooting at 200 mm. than my FA* 200 F4 Macro. But the macro is much better at its intended purpose, close-in shooting.

C. What matters to you? I have the FA 77 for the F1.8 speed. Otherwise I have several zooms at or near that focal length that are quite good. If not for its speed the FA 77 wouldn't have interested me.

D. Zooms have gotten better in recent years faster than improvements in prime lenses. But there are still many things that primes will do somewhat better. It depends on how exacting one is, and that varies with individuals. There are some people who just don't notice image quality at all.

E. Are both of those lenses autofocusing accurately?

F. The FA 24-90 is not a "humble" lens by any means, although it was not too expensive. It is actually very good.

Joe

gazonk Veteran Member • Posts: 3,070
Re: Primes not worth it?

jonas_photo wrote:

But with the 77mm, I did buy it for the F1.8, bokeh, colors + mechanism.

Bokeh is an important point here. But I must say I've seen some really nice bokeh from the 50-135.
--
Espen

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Marc Sabatella Veteran Member • Posts: 6,679
Re: Primes not worth it?

As others have noted, this particular is stopped down enough to hide the differences that would be apparent at larger apertures, and of course, the zoom is completely incapable of opening up as wide as the prime. But I'd agree - in the situations where stopping way down is an acceptable option, a zoom can often do just about as well.

As a newcomer, if you buy into
that dogma you can face some daunting prices.

On the contrary, one reason I prefer primes over zooms in man cases is because, depending on which ones you are looking at, the primes can be a considerably cheaper (as well as lighter) way of getting the same IQ.

For instance, if I want to shoot telephoto at f/2.8, the DA*50-135/2.8 is by all accounts a great lens, albeit pretty big and heavy. But for a fraction of the price - and size/weight - I can shoot with a 50, a 100, and/or a 135. In fact, the three together don't cost a third of the zoom, and don't weight any more, either - but if I don't mind giving up the flexibility of the zoom (and usually, I don't), I don't* need to have all three lenses with me.

jonas_photo Regular Member • Posts: 329
Re: Primes not worth it?

Yeah, but not if you shoot it at f8;)

I want the 50-135! but think it would be little too heavy..

Jonas

ManuH
ManuH Veteran Member • Posts: 3,898
Re: Primes not worth it?

BHPhotog wrote:

Is the 77mm "better" in absolute terms? Absolutely. But is the zoom
95% as sharp at one-tenth the price? Looks like to me. And for casual
photography, the cost-benefit for a prime, even a used one, doesn't
seem to be there.

Zooms usually reach their peeks around f8-f11 so it's not surprising. Try to compare the FA77 at f4 or f5.6 and you'll probably see a bigger difference. Now, sharpness is not everything. Just compare a lightweigth prime like the DA40/2.8 with the 16-50/2.8. Or the FA77 with the relatively compact (for a zoom) 50-135/2.8. And the FA77 is sharp at f/1.8.

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Manu

Steve36 Senior Member • Posts: 2,237
Law of diminishing returns nt
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A Modest Mouse Veteran Member • Posts: 3,235
Two Mistakes...

You made two mistakes with this comparison... the first being your having shot both lenses at f8. Any modern lens should appear halfway decent at this Ap - totally negating that the 77 is worlds faster, smaller, better built, has better rendering, can manipulate DOF, can shoot in low light... etc. etc. etc. The second being that you mistake sharpness as the mark of a good lens - simply put, most lenses are 'sharp'... that is hardly the lone criteria for overall quality.

Now in a world where you walk around shooting snapshots at f8 with your consumer zoom in good light.... sure, you probably should have stuck to a compact. In the real world I'll take the 77.

-Mouse

BHPhotog wrote:

The delivered wisdom is that a prime is a magnitude better than a
good zoom under the same conditions. As a newcomer, if you buy into
that dogma you can face some daunting prices. However, how
much"better" is a prime?

Here's a very humble used FA 24-90 @f/8 set at 73mm contrasted with a
top quality prime 77mm also @ f/8. Both shot in RAW, no
post-processing, same conditions, tripod mount, stabilization off and
2 second delay to minimize blur.

24-90:

And the 77:

Is the 77mm "better" in absolute terms? Absolutely. But is the zoom
95% as sharp at one-tenth the price? Looks like to me. And for casual
photography, the cost-benefit for a prime, even a used one, doesn't
seem to be there.

I guess excellence is the enemy of the good in this case.

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All them books I didn't read
They just sat there on my shelf
Looking much smarter than me
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gazonk Veteran Member • Posts: 3,070
Re: Primes not worth it?

jonas_photo wrote:

Yeah, but not if you shoot it at f8;)

I want the 50-135! but think it would be little too heavy..

Yes, compared to my DA70, it's a monster....
--
Espen

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Don Allison Veteran Member • Posts: 6,163
I can't believe I read this thread...

Sorry, but the hypothesis, the resulting tests, and conclusions...oh, why bother....
--

'Photography is not like painting,' Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. 'There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,'

K1000Photographer Veteran Member • Posts: 6,894
Re: Primes not worth it?

There are a some "flaws" in this test.

1. The processing is different. I can tell there was a considerable amount of sharpening added as well as a difference in contrast between the 2. Even then, the 77 does show a bit better micro contrast and detail in the dark areas.

2. F8 is stopped down a bit and takes out a lot of the issues one may encounter when shooting a zoom. I shoot with a Sigma 17-70 in the daylight @ F8 and it can go up against just about anything. At F4, the zooms may not do quite as good, especially in the finer points. Primes start to shine then.

There are a number of qualities that make a lens good, great or just plain suck. I do not rank my lenses as 1,2,3... but do have a tier one and tier 2 for the best group and second best. The Sigma 17-70 stopped down can be nearly as good as anything but it is in my second tier along with my sharpest lens, the Rokunar 90 macro. The F50/1,7, A28/2.8 and K45-125/4 are in my tier one and produce sharp photos at all usable apertures and pretty much nail the finer points.

TMalford
TMalford Veteran Member • Posts: 7,693
Re: Primes not worth it?

One image does not a fair comparison make.

Here is an example where the FA24-90 blows the 77 limited away;
At 24mm:

This proof is about as valid as yours, but the real proof would come via a comparison of the virtues of each lens over a range of conditions, rather than comparing only one image.

If the scope of what/how you shoot is covered by your simple comparison, I'd say you don't have a need for a 77 Limited. The FA24-90 is a very nice lens and handles shots like this with ease.

GMT minus 7

One lens leads to another.
http://www.gorgephotos.com/

Norm1234 Senior Member • Posts: 1,215
Primes are great if you have the cash, and the muscles to carry them.

Thank you for a very well thought-out thread.

Obviously, you have hit on a prickly subject.

When it comes down to the final image, prime lenses will, in the majority of cases, have the edge over zooms, albeit at a higher price in terms of dollars and versatility.

There are some primes that are sharpest at the mid-range apertures, and some zooms that are very sharp at the same apertures. When comparing lenses, you have to consider the full aperture range, the corner-to-corner contrast, edge resolution, distortion, and chromatic aberrations.

Often, only a trained eye will catch the minor flaws in a reasonably good lens, especially if you shoot at the sweet spot in the aperture and focal length range.

In an ideal world, we would all use the finest optics available - in the real world, most of us cannot justify the expense of the "best of the best" in photographic equipment, so we make do with what we can afford.

For professional use, or for the really active amateur, the build quality of the prime lenses tends to surpass the build quality of the "prosumer" zooms. This is true for most of the manufacturers - not only Pentax.

The build quality and optical performance of the old FA* and the new DA* lenses is at or above the level of the "best in class" across the industry.

The 24-90mm is a particularly interesting lens - build quality is not something to write home about, but the optical performance is very, very good throughout the aperture and focal length range, thanks to the top quality aspherical lens and internal focussing design. It is a real steal at today's used lens prices.

We have three of the smc PENTAX-FA 24-90mm F3.5-4.5 AL [IF] zoom lenses in the office, and I have an smc PENTAX-FA* 28-70mm F2.8 AL zoom, which is quite outstanding, but large and heavy. On days when I just can't see myself schlepping the extra weight, I swap the 28-70 for the 24-90, and I shoot at mid-range apertures (which I tend to do in most cases). The results are quite excellent. On assignments when I must have the absolute best sharpness possible, I mount the smc Pentax FA 50mm f/1.4 - the least expensive yet sharpest Pentax prime lens in the line.

Bottom line - why anguish over the price of the lenses in your bag? It's the value and performance that counts - you are better off acquiring reasonably good lenses that you can afford, and trade-up to the top-rated optics when you have the cash (or the burning desire) to refresh your optical capabilities.

I usually travel with three Pentax lenses - a 12-24mm, 28-70mm, and 50mm; plus a 70-300mm Tamron, and two flashes in my bag. That covers any assignment I may be called upon to handle. If I had to carry the primes to cover that focal length range, I would have to hire a Sherpa.

So thank you for your observations - you are quite correct in your general premise - for the average photographer, a good quality zoom can stand-in for two or three primes, at a fraction of the price... for the perfectionists, however, the assumption (however correct) that a prime lens would deliver better results would just rot their socks.

Don't let the gear heads get you down... the important thing is that you shot the cactus, and won. Of course, comparing the pricey prime to an FA* or DA* zoom would have made the debate a bit more interesting...

Norm.

Guess what lens this is...

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