Why You Need a Prime Lens - And Which One To Buy

 
You don't need a zoom lens, just zoom with your feet. -Unknown

Congratulations, you finally took the plunge and bought your first DSLR! Your pictures are great, and you’re learning new things about your camera every day. But two months in, you get bored. Your 18-55mm kit lens is limiting you. You can’t get that creamy bokeh you always see on Instagram, and you feel like your image sharpness is lacking. Yep, you’ve officially outgrown your kit lens.

Don’t worry, we’ve ALL been there.

You should feel proud you’ve made it to this point, as it's a testament to your artistic prowess. Now that you’ve been shooting for awhile, it’s time to invest in your first prime lens.

Okay, what is a prime lens?

A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length, meaning it does not zoom. While this limits the versatility of the lens, prime lenses have a much more unique and artistic look. Typically, prime lenses are faster (a wider aperture which allows more light allowing you to use a faster shutter-speed), sharper, have deeper contrast and bolder colors, are more compact, and have overall better image quality. Your first prime is your first step into the world of fine art photography, and shooting with one for the first time is quite an experience.

Which one should I buy?

Typically, there are two primes that are perfect for your first big purchase:

35mm or 50mm.

These are both fantastic focal lengths. Both have their own signature qualities, as well as their drawbacks. Let’s take them one by one.

 

Nikons 50mm (left) and 35mm (right) 1.4 line. See the size difference!

A NOTE ON CROP FACTOR (Important)

A 35mm/50mm lens on a full-frame camera is NOT the same on a crop sensor camera. If you have a cropped-sensor camera, you must multiply your focal length by ~1.5 (depending on your make). So, a 33mm lens on a crop sensor x 1.5 (for the crop) = ~50mm and a 24mm lens on a crop sensor = ~35mm. If you have a micro 4/3 sensor, you must multiple even more. For the following comparisons, we will be speaking about 50mm and 35mm equivalents if you are on a crop-sensor camera.

 

50mm

Why It’s Great: Not only are 50mm lenses usually cheaper than 35mm (because they are easier to make), they are also smaller. 50mm is an amazing focal length for capturing a relatively deep depth of field without sacrificing too much versatility. The 50mm allows you to create more separation between your subject and the background, create beautiful bokeh in unfocused areas, and instantly gives your photos an artistic look.

Why It's Limited: The 50mm is not as versatile than the 35mm, and you'll find that you will miss shots because you can't step back far enough to fit everything in the frame, especially when shooting in doors. If you want everything in focus, you will need to stop down (reduce your aperture size) more so than you would on the 35mm, ultimately letting in less light which might be an issue in low-light situations.

35mm

Why It’s Great: 35mm is the closest to what our eyes naturally see, so the images look very real. The wide focal length allows you to capture more in your frame and shoot in tighter spaces, making the lens more practical and versatile than the 50mm. The 35mm is a classic focal length that has been used by some of the most famous street photographers of all time due to its versatility and sharpness. If you want your entire image to be in sharp focus, the 35mm might be for you, as you can shoot wide open (largest possible aperture) and still expect relatively sharp images across the frame.

Why It’s Limited: The lack of a deeper zoom results in a shorter depth of field, more image distortion (bending of the image) than the 50mm, as well as less of an artistic look. If you are looking to separate your subject from the background when shooting portraits, the 35mm is not up to par with the 50 on this. 

Photo by Digital Rev TV

How do I Decide?

Ultimately, it depends on your style. If you like having more subject matter in your images, having everything in your shot in focus, enjoy shooting your subject up close and personal, and often shoot in more tight spaces, the 35mm might be for you. But if you enjoy of bit of separation between your subject and the background, don't mind being slightly more limited in versatility, and enjoy more of an “artistic” look, the 50mm might be for you. Personally, I would opt for the 50, because I enjoy a deeper depth of field and more bokeh. But, everyone is different and your decision should be your own! Whichever decision you make, you can't go wrong with either of these lenses.

Lenses to Check Out:

Full-Frame Sensor

Note: There are more expensive versions of these full-frame lenses available. 


Note: There are more expensive versions of these full-frame lenses available. 



 

Note: Fuji does not make Full-Frame cameras