Art Model, Alba ©2021 Terrell Neasley 
Shot on Sony a6500, 55mm, 1/30th, f/1.8, ISO 640

It may not be a well-known fact about me, but I like to shoot with prime lenses more than I do zoom lenses. Yep, it’s the truth! And this is a preference for me that has developed from years of experience with both types of lenses. Over time, my palate has been refined to a different taste and zooms lenses have become baloney to my “prime” steaks.

I began photography shooting zooms. Before I even understood zooms, I figured a small number that goes to a big number was the shit. So a 55mm that zoomed to 250mm was big stuff. Then I came to realize my ignorance and switched to the trifecta of lenses, the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and the 70-200mm… all f/2.8! I ran with this for a long time and eventually added my first prime, the 85mm 1.2! That’s correct. My first prime was a $2500 lens and not the $100 nifty-fifty 1.8. 

Art Model, Alba ©2021 Terrell Neasley 
Shot on Sony a6500, 24mm, 1/10th, f/5.6, ISO 3200

The 85 1.2 is where it started and where I first learned real speed in a lens. F/2.8 USED to be fast glass. F/1.2?? Now that’s speed! But what good was this speed? How often would I need this speed? Yes, I like fast glass, but honestly, it’s a bit over-rated. I shoot in the dark a lot, so it comes in handy, but rarely do I find myself needing 1.2 shallowness as a travel photographer. Two-Eight is still really good and so is One-Eight. That being said… don’t kid yourself. F 1.4 is the standard. 

But the more true reason I’m all primes now is the quality of my work and that’s all that should matter. And I’m not talking just sharpness, but that’s high on the list of considerations when you’re shooting a high-resolution camera system. What I DON’T get from a Prime lens is also important. I don’t get chromatic aberrations. I don’t get a lot of vignette. Distortion is also minimized. And when I do get a little barreling when shooting my Sony 24 1.4 G-Master, it’s pretty much auto-corrected when I begin editing using lens profiles. I also don’t get any gravitational lensing in my work. Shit… sorry. Mixing astrophysics into my photography. I do that sometimes.

Art Model, Alba ©2021 Terrell Neasley 
Shot on Sony a6500, 24mm, 1/50th, f/2.8, ISO 100

Anytime you consider the pros and advantages of something, it’s fair to do cons and disadvantages. However here’s the thing… with prime lens, the Number 1 disadvantage is a PRO for me!

Yep, I said that right and that’s what you read. Ask anyone. The biggest disadvantage for primes is the fixed focal length. It only has one. It’s such an disadvantage that they made it the name of the alternative to prime lenses… Zoom Lenses. Having a fixed or singular focal length means you CANNOT zoom to a greater or lesser focal length.

What’s a focal length? That’s the first number you use to describe a lens. You refer to it in millimeters, such as a 24mm lens. A 200 millimeter lens. Twenty-Four to Seventy Millimeter lens. Like that… see?

Art Model, Alba ©2021 Terrell Neasley 
Shot on Sony a7r2, 24mm Macro, 1/80th, f/2.8, ISO 400

If there is one number, it’s a prime. Prime, meaning one. If there are two numbers, it’s a zoom. You can zoom from one focal length to another. Sometimes that zoom range will be short and sometimes long. A 16-35mm lens is short focal range, but typical for a wide-angle lens. A 28-300mm lens is considered to be an all-in-one lens with a long zoom range. 

A point of fact to understand is that focal length has nothing to do with the Angle of View for a lens. Wide-angle vs Telephoto isn’t defined by millimeters. It’s defined by degrees. Focal length is an actual distance defined by the distance between the point of convergence and the sensor (or film plane). Click on the highlighted text for illustrations of this. 

Art Model, Alba ©2021 Terrell Neasley 
Shot on Sony a7r2, 55mm, 1/40th, f/1.8, ISO 640

So back to my point. How is the main disadvantage of a prime lens a PRO for me? In a nutshell, it helps me develop as a photographer. A prime lens makes turns ME into the Zoom function. If I need a closer perspective (Zoom in) I move my feet! If I need to zoom out, I move my feet! In either case, I am choosing my composition and interacting with my subject. It makes me more involved to make these choices and since it is not something as unconscious as spinning a zoom ring on a lens, I become more purposeful and more focused on what my selections are. I think about my composition more. I do not do it as an afterthought while operating the camera. I become more resolved and the reasons for making those specific choices are much more conscious and deliberate. I am better for it, because I took the control away from my tool and did it myself. 

Light has to travel through more glass and air inside the barrel of a zoom lens. This makes it more prone to light loss and diffraction as it bounces around the inside of the lens. It’s manipulated through more glass of various concave and convex shapes on its way to the point of convergence before it hits your sensor. This can vary the degree of sharpness from one photo to the next as well as introduce chromatic aberrations and vignettes.

Art Model, Alba ©2021 Terrell Neasley 
Shot on Sony a7r2, 55mm, 1/60th, f/3.5, ISO 100

I enjoy shooting with prime lenses, even when I am forced to change lenses from my 24mm to my 55mm lens. I shoot wide to standard. Rarely do I shoot telephoto anymore. It’s not my genre and hardly ever has it been so. I noticed this 10 years ago while doing a lens profile on my photos and less than 10% of my images where shot on anything longer than 90 or 100 millimeters. 

I don’t say I’ll never use zooms. I’m even thinking about the Tamron 35-150. I’m a travel photographer but not all my work needs to be artistic. Sometimes I just want to see further out and get that shot. And I don’t knock zooms either. The 24-70 served me well! But as I said, I refined my tastes and prime lenses suit me better. They might even be more expensive in some cases. But I get my speed. They are often smaller and lighter weight. And as I’ve stated, the quality is unmatched. The 24 to 70 is badass. But I prefer a 24mm lens and a 55mm lens. And soon to have… a 105mm Macro!

Art Model, Alba ©2021 Terrell Neasley 
Shot on Sony a7r2, 55mm, 1/60th, f/1.8, ISO 100