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Prime Lenses - A Quick Guide

Canon 50mm EF f/1.8 II aka 'Nifty Fifty' 

A prime lens is a lens with only one focal length, like a 50mm or 100mm lens.  They are different from zooms which have a varying focal length such as an 18-55mm 'kit' lens most people buy with their first DSLR.  Shooting with a prime lens is one of the quickest ways to improve your photography.  It makes you think about your image more and forces you to get out of the zoom lens habit.  If you think that you've hit the creative wall and are looking for something to kick start your passion again or are looking for a different angle with your photography than read on to find out how a prime lens can help.

Advantages of a prime lens over a zoom -
Optical quality for even entry level prime lenses is usually better than or equal to all but the most expensive zoom lenses.  This is due to the fact that fixed focal length lenses are less likely to suffer from excessive chromatic aberration (colour fringing near the edge of the frame), barrel or pincushion distortion than a lot of zoom lenses.  A prime is also lighter and more compact than a zoom and is easier to carry around all day.

Disadvantages of a prime lens over a zoom -
You will need to carry around several prime lenses to cover the same range of a single zoom lens.  Changing focal length is sometimes the only way to get a shot if you can't physically move your position.  Changing lenses less often with a zoom can keep more dust out of your sensor area.  A professional level zoom can have very high quality optics but at a much higher cost (you get what you pay for). 

I carry around 24mm, 50mm and 100mm lenses in my kit bag for when I go out for a day’s shooting.  I also have a 24-70mm Canon L series lens for professional work as the optics are very good and there is no time to change lenses on a fast paced shoot.  For street and architecture I almost always use a prime lens as the situation is a bit more predictable, particularly architecture as buildings don't tend to move much.  The 50mm is my favorite for portraits as the shallow depth of field is very effective at isolating my subject and I find the perspective to be quite natural. 

Olympus Zuiko 25mm f/2.8 'Pancake'
A Few Tips -
With a bit of practice you can become quite quick at changing lenses on the fly.  Keep your surroundings in mind while changing lenses, keep an eye on things like rain, high dust environments and always face the camera in a downwards direction as this helps stop things falling inside the mirror box.

You can get a prime lens for a surprisingly small amount of money and it can be a great way to get inspired again, plus, isn't it always nice to buy some new glass?

Check out our wide range of lenses HERE

- Marc Busoli @ DCW


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