Fix Prime Lenses vs Zoom Lenses

Fixed Prime Lens vs Zoom Rory Lewis Portrait PhotographerThis question torments a great deal of lens buyers- Should I purchase a zoom lens or a fixed prime lens? When it comes to versatility  and convenience, zoom lenses deliver a wide range of focal lengths at the flick of your wrist; without having to constantly change lenses. Quickly enabling you to frame and capture a moment with the appropriate focal length. This is a advantage for zoom lenses but also their biggest weakness. Their is a compromise in image quality. Complex arrangements of large groups of elements inside the lens moving back and forth to enable the zoom, reduce the optical quality of your images.

 

Despite their versatility Zoom lenses can cause a several issues with your photography. The Sharpness of your images is the first victim, barrel and pin cushion distortions can often appear at the wide-angle and telephoto ends of your lens zoom range. Zoom lenses can also cause vignetting, a reduction of an image’s brightness or saturation. You can also expect an increase in chromatic aberration (known as colour fringing around high-contrast edges in a scene). This effect is most commonly seen when you’re using large apertures at the wide-angle end. Zoom lenses are also more susceptible to ghosting and flare.

If  you choose a high-quality prime lens, distortion and vignetting will be much less noticeable. Their are fewer moving parts; prime lenses are optimised to a specific focal length or purpose. Which means optical performance is generally better and lenses an be made with larger apertures. The Sharpness of your images  will also be unparalleled, so you can really make the most of the high-resolution sensors fitted to current digital cameras.

Ian McKellenAnother advantage of using prime lenses is that they’re generally ‘faster’. Which means they have a larger maximum aperture, which enables faster shutter speeds. For example, a typical 18-55mm zoom lens has a maximum aperture of roughly f/4 at the wide-angle end, shrinking to a mere f/5.6 at about 50mm. If you Switch to a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens the largest available aperture is four stops faster. In low light you’d be limited to a shutter speed of, say, 1/15 sec with a typical zoom (unless you increase your ISO setting). However, an f/1.4 lens will enable a much faster shutter speed of 1/250 sec. An f/1.8 lens is 3.3 stops faster than an f/5.6 lens, and even an f/2.8 model is two stops faster.

 

One more big advantage is that you can get a much concentrated depth of field, enabling you to isolate the main point of interest in a shot by blurring the background. It’s common practice in portraiture, especially when the background is cluttered and would otherwise be a distraction.

An important factor to consider when you’re buying a prime lens is which focal length to choose. Back in the old days of 35mm film, a 50mm prime was considered a ‘standard’ lens. That’s because it gives the same perspective as viewing a scene with the human eye, without the magnification of a telephoto lens or the shrinkage a wide-angle lens uses to squeeze more into the frame. I would recommend the following lenses, for landscapes the, 18mm or 21mm, full body fashion/editorial shots 35mm, for portraiture half length a 50mm is great but for tightly framed head and shoulders an 80mm, 85mm, 100mm or 110mm is best. As a professional portrait photographer, currently in my bag I wield an 80mm F2.8 and 110mm F2.8, these are the best two portrait prime options. The 80mm great for editorial portrait photography, capturing the person and some of the setting, and the 110mm for closely framed head-shots.

General Sir Nicholas Houghton

General Sir Nicholas HoughtonGeneral Sir Nicholas Houghton is Chief of the Defence Staff of the British Armed Forces. At the beginning of this year, I wrote a letter to Ministry of Defence Head Quarters at Whitehall to invite General Houghton to Sit for a Northerners Photography Exhibition Portrait, the General being from Otley, Yorkshire. General Houghton’s Office replied to my invitation with his Acceptance and the Photoshoot took place in October. The General’s sitting was quite challenging, I have never photographed a high ranking military officer before let alone the highest ranking officer of the British Armed Forces.

On many occasions the General has been Photographed and Painted in his Ceremonial Dress Uniform and wanted to step away from the ceremonial image. General Houghton is regarded as “The Soldiers, Soldier” and Preferred to be Photographed in his Combat Uniform. Shot at at a slightly higher angle, I really wanted to Capture the General’s commanding presence, and with a combination of subtle lighting the images turned out really well.

 

With only a short time and shooting on Location at the MOD in London, I made use of my portable Studio Backdrops, Lastolite Popup Grey Backdrop and Calumet Earth Tone Muslin Backdrop. Both images where Photographed with the Hasselblad H3D-39100MM F2.2 & Profoto B1’s  Provided by Calumet Rental at Drummond St in London.

General Sir Nicholas Houghton Rory Lewis Photographer