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Prime Lens: What is it? What can you do with it?
Whether you just took the leap into the wonderful world of photography or you have been at it for a while, no doubt you got to a point where the ‘kit lens’ that came with your brand new camera, just wasn’t enough anymore. Maybe you found yourself moving towards taking more and more portraits of people or perhaps you just felt like it was time to make that upgrade leap. Enter the prime lens. Just what is a prime lens? What can you do with it?
Not sure if you need a prime lens? Check out The Top 7 Reasons to use a Prime Lens vs a Zoom lens.
First of all, let’s chat about what a prime lens is, and what that means. In photography land, a “prime” or “fixed” lens, is a lens that you cannot zoom in or out with, because it’s “focal length” has been set. Prime lenses come in different focal lengths such as, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, just to name a few. Both Canon and Nikon have a wide array of prime lenses for you to choose from with different aperture capabilities. I’m going keep this simple, and hone in on one particular lens that we recommend as a must have for your arsenal, the 50mm prime lens.
The 50mm 1.8 or 50 1.4 lens should be a go to for any photographer, whether you are an up and coming hobbyist, or professional. Not to take away from other prime lenses at all, since there are many great choices out there, but the 50mm is a fantastic pick.
Often referred to as a “nifty fifty” for it’s versatility and everyday use, if you do not have this prime lens, you could be missing out on a world of flexibility when it comes to what you can shoot. Check out Cole’s Top 5 Reasons to go with a 50mm here.
Why Do Photographers Use Prime Lenses?
As mentioned, there is no zoom option here. What you do have however, is a compact powerhouse that doesn’t take up a whole lot of room in your bag, and packs a punch when it comes to your photos. Firstly, the wider aperture value of the 1.8 or 1.4 allows for more light, to enter through the lens. This, in turn, means you can use a faster shutter speed to get that crisp elegant look in your photos that really make them pop and gives your work that polished and professional feel. A prime lens, such as our nifty fifty can add great depth to a photo while shooting wide open as well, keeping your subject in focus, and giving you that creamy blurred background sometimes referred to as ‘bokeh’. Here are just two scenario’s photographers often choose a prime lens for:
Since I shoot for many live music events, I am constantly faced with challenging lighting. Using a Prime lens, like my 50mm 1.8, gives me a great advantage in these situations, because I am able to get more of that natural lighting from the stage and the house lights through the lens. This allows me to use a faster shutter speed if I needed to get that shot i’m looking for.
Above photo settings: 50mm f/3.2 ISO 1600 SS: 1/125
Using a prime lens is a game changer for any photographer looking to take control of their creativity. While some may say that you are limited because you do not have zoom on a prime lens, this enables you to think outside the box when it comes to taking portraits. You definitely need to rely more on actually moving into the right position to take your well composed shot, rather than relying on the zoom capabilities of a different lens. Again, shooting with a wide open aperture, lets that background noise fade away and highlights your subject and gives you a beautiful shallow depth of field.
Above photo settings: 50mm f/2.8 ISO 800 SS: 1/250
Above photo settings: 50mm f/3.2 ISO 800 SS: 1/250
Why Should You Buy A Prime Lens?
Making a purchase decision with anything day to day can sometimes be tough, but when it comes to your photography it can be flat out disheartening if you don’t know which direction to go in. The beauty though, is that you can still pick up a prime lens for a fairly attainable budget, which helps up your game in you budding career as a photographer. For example, you can score a 50mm 1.8 on Amazon for $149. While this is an excellent investment to make, we don’t want to rely solely on the price tag as a deciding factor.
A prime lens is made with less parts as opposed to their sister zoom lenses. What this means is that a prime lens is a heck of a lot more lightweight and compact, so you don’t have to worry about adding bulk to your bag when you are out on photo shoots. This is important especially if you travel a lot for your shoots and need to be readily mobile with your gear. Another advantage of this, is that it doesn’t feel overbearing when the lens is mounted on the camera body, making it easier for you to hold without the added weight that may come with other lenses.
What do we mean by the speed of a lens? I touched on this briefly when talking about low light, but simply put, the wider aperture of the lens, lets you shoot wide open so that more light gets through the lens. Why this matters is that you will be able to raise your shutter speed, therefore making it ‘faster’, to avoid overexposing your photos, killing that motion blur, and come away with a sharp, crisp photo with that beautiful blurred background effect you may be looking for. This is especially crucial for portrait style photography such as family, or perhaps wedding photography.
Still not sure about what aperture is and how to understand it? Check out this step by step article on understanding aperture basics
Here is your takeaway. Regardless of your photography status or style, a prime lens such as a 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 should be part of your go to gear. Remember, there are many different focal lengths to choose from and ultimately, you will have to be the judge on what works for you personally based on what you do. If you really want to get serious about your photography, picking up a prime lens is an investment you won’t regret making.
See ya next time classmates.