What Is A Prime Lens Explained In Plain English In Less Than 10 Minutes. Hi and welcome to Episode 58 of the Photography Explained podcast.
I’m Rick, and in each episode I will explain one photographic thing in plain English in less than 10 minutes (ish) without the irrelevant details. What I tell you is based on my lifetime of photographic experience. Not Google. Well there might be the odd thing that I had to look up but mainly this is stuff that I know.
Here is my answer
A prime lens is a lens that has a fixed focal length. Prime lenses are generally smaller, lighter and have larger maximum apertures than zoom lenses. Prime lenses generally provide higher quality images than zoom lenses, with less potential optical errors due to the parts in the lens being fixed.
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What is a prime lens explained in plain English in less than 10 minutes? Hi, and welcome to Episode 58 of the photography explained podcast.
I'm your host, Rick, and in each episode I will explain one photographic thing in plain English in less than 10 minutes without the irrelevant details. That’s 10 minutes ish. What I tell you is based on my lifetime of photographic experience, not Google. Well, there might be the odd thing that I had to look up, but mainly this is stuff that I know. Or in the case of things that I don't have like prime lenses things I had to research.
Okay, I said 10 minutes, we'll see. My average time is 12 and three quarter minutes. So I'm pleased to share this time with you, if you want to stay with me till the end, which I hope you do.
Right then. So what is a prime lens? This is the answery bit.
A prime lens is a lens that has a fixed focal length. Prime lenses are generally smaller, lighter, and have larger maximum apertures than zoom lenses. Prime lenses generally provide higher quality images and zoom lenses, with less potential optical errors due to the lens being fixed.
That's the answer. that's it in a nutshell. If you don't want to spend any more time with me, there's your answer. But please, let's look at these things in a little bit more detail. Stay with me.
First question I have is this.
What does prime actually mean?
Now in photography, there are lots of terms that don't seem to make any sense. There are lots of terms that seem baffling, but when you look into them, there is a logical answer
Is prime lens one of those? Not really.
If you try and find out where the term prime lens comes from, you'll get a number of quite vague answers to be honest with you. As in, it was the primary bit of kit amongst a combination of things. Or the primary lenses, the prime lens is the primary lens. Sorry, I'm repeating myself there.
It doesn't really matter where the term came from. What matters is a prime lens is what I call a fixed focal length lens (not much better). I know it's not very snappy, but (for) prime lens, fixed lens does it for me, let's go with that.
As well opposite of a zoom lens, or the counter to zoom lens, variable focal length, a prime lens, fixed focal length. (And now I am confusing myself).
Okay, that's it. Let's move on.
What other types of lenses are there?
You got zoom lenses, and you have got prime lenses.
Do prime lenses take better photos?
If you are comparing similar lenses, and I will use the example of a Canon 28mm lens, it'll be an F2.8 probably, and compare that to the Canon 28-70F2.8L zoom lens, then you will probably get a higher quality photo with the prime lens than you will with the zoom lens.
This is in general terms, making sensible comparisons. You could put a rubbish zoom lens against a fantastic prime lens - you get the point.
How much do prime lenses cost?
Well, one disadvantage of prime lenses is you have to buy one for each focal length. They tend to be cheaper than zoom lenses, but you need more of them.
Again, it depends.
A standard lens is one of the cheapest lenses you can get (a standard lens being a 50mm focal length on a full frame camera).
Now then, the wider you go (generally), the more expensive the lens, the more telephoto you go from standard, the more expensive the lens (generally).
The larger the maximum aperture, the more expensive the lens.
Let me give you one example.
A 50mm F1.8 standard lens costs what, £80-100 quid, maybe more now how about a date when my prices (post podcast note - £129 I found on the Canon website).
Take that for example, and compare that against the 400mm F2.8L lens made by Canon.
I'd love to take one of them!
It costs £1,000s and £1,000s (post podcast note - £12,739 I found on the Canon website). So the 50mm lens is the cheapest. If you go to 8mm fisheye lens, you're talking a few quid. So those are the variations in the price.
What are the advantages of prime lenses?
Why should I be interested in prime lenses when I've got zooms? What is the point? What benefits do they give me?
Again, in general terms when comparing a prime lens to an equivalent focal length zoom lens. In general terms, notice I am adding caveats in this quite a lot. In general terms (for the third time!), you get better image quality.
There's no moving parts, so there's less to go wrong. It's a fixed lens, everything's fixed apart from the focus and ring and the aperture. There's no lens elements moving in and out and doing complicated things.
They are generally smaller than zoom lenses, they are generally lighter than zoom lenses, and they are generally cheaper. But again, the larger the maximum aperture, the more expensive lens, the more away from standard lens, the more expensive lens.
What are the disadvantages?
Okay, quite a big one for me, is if I wanted to use a different focal length (I'll come on to that in a minute), and I changed lenses, I have a massive issue of dust getting in, I need to minimise the amount of dust that gets into the bits, where the lens changing happens - where the mirrors and all that stuff and the sensor are.
This is because I photograph construction sites, I don't want any dust anywhere. So if I don't have to change lenses, it's a good thing for me.
Another disadvantage, you have to change the lens to get a different focal length, again this can be a bit of a pain. If you've got a zoom lens that covers all the focal lengths you need, then you are good to go.
You need more gear unless you take everything at a single focal length. (You'd never catch me doing that). You need more gear, you need more lenses, and that comes with more expense.
So what are the most common focal lengths?
Well I said before 50mm is standard.
Wide angle lenses
Popular focal lengths are 24mm, 28mm, 35mm.
85 millimetre is very mild telephoto, also called a portrait lens. 85 millimetre gives you a really good focal length for photographing people's faces (hence the name).
135mm, 200mm, 300mm, 400mm. They're popular telephoto focal lens.
I will make the point again, the wider or longer (the focal length), the more expensive (the lens). The larger the maximum aperture, the larger, heavier, and more expensive they are.
Okay, what do I use?
Well, I don't have any prime lenses anymore.
I used to have
I sold them all. I didn't use them, to be honest with you.
The tilt shift lens I bought because I thought I needed one because I'm an architectural photographer and everybody told me I needed one. That's why you have to be careful who you listen to, because I don't need one. I've managed all these years without one.
I bought the macro lens to give it a try, to try macro photography. I have no problem with that. It's just not for me.
So I sold them and the 50mm standard lens. I just never used them. They were in my bag, just taking up space. I never used them, so I got rid.
The pancake lens, that was just me getting something small to put my Canon 6D in my pocket. No, it doesn't fit in (a pocket)! So that was a waste of a few quid.
So I use zoom lenses only.
Some people will say you're wrong. You should be using prime lenses. But I use zoom lenses. I'm being honest with you. And that's it.
Next episode I'm going to talk about zoom lenses. Make sense, doesn't it?
Okay, so my one line explanation.
Prime lenses have a fixed focal length and are generally smaller, lighter, and cheaper than zoom lenses and provide better image quality in general terms, but you have to buy more of them.
Okay, next episode, Episode 59 zoom lenses explained by me in plain English in less than 10 minutes Yep, I took the snappy title from this episode and chucked zoom in where prime (not Brian) was.
Okay, I'm nearly done not too long today I'm quite happy with that. I'm not gonna make the 12 ¾ minutes unless I pad out for another two minutes, which I'm not going to do.
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This episode was brought to you by takes 1, 2, 3 and 4 where I wasn't able to speak properly. I've been Rick McEvoy. Thanks again very much for listening to me and forgiving me just over 11 minutes of your valuable time, and I will see you on the next episode.
Cheers from me, Rick.
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