Prime lenses has fix focal length and do not offer zoom feature. It may sounds weird to people who do not have passion in photography world “Why do we need to buy expensive glass that even can not do zoom?”
So far, all of my photos (both street projects and documenting my daily life) created only with fix focal length lenses. There are three focal length that I use the most: 35mm (read here), 50mm (read here), and 85mm (read here). There are 5 main reasons why I am a believer in prime lenses:
1. Lens as extension of our eyes
Due to nature of fix focal length, when we use same prime lens for quite some time, then we easily adjust our vision based on our lens’ angle of view. Our brain will memorize the way our lens capture the world, therefore, when we see a scene we will able to calculate distance between us and subjects instantly even before we raise camera to our eye. We can frame a scene in our head and lens work as the extension of our eyes.
As you already know, moments on the street happen in decisive moment, even one second different can lead from great capture to a boring one. By understand the angle of view of our lens will speed up the process to freeze a moment that we want to capture instead of raise camera to our eye then still spend time to find the right angle of view with zoom lens.
2. Less is more
Prime lens will help us to get creative and push ourselves to seek new inspiration.
It is true that prime lenses have limitation in term of functionality. For example if subject is too far away when we use wide lens, or we do not have enough space to capture the whole scene when we use longer lenses like 85mm. However, these limitations actually great to push our creativity.
A camera is a tool for learning how to see without camera – Dorothea Lange
Fix lens will “force” us (in good way) to go outside from our comfort zone.
Our lens is too wide and subject too far away? Try to include their surrounding to tell more stories, watch any geometry line, shadows, framing or any objects that able to create story line to include in our shots, it definitely could lead to a stronger image.
Our lens is too “long” and not enough space to capture subject? Try to shoot from different perspective like high/low angle, or try to capture only the essential, see what attract us the most from a scene in front of us, make a composition from it and “mutilate” the rest.
3. Fix lens is simple
We only have one option in our angle of view. We do not to worry anymore which focal length we need to use, which is actually is great because with less option we can focus more on capture moments in front of us. Lets not confusing ourself about focal length, and only focus to make photographs instead.
Some people said that they hate to use prime lenses in street photography because at one time they feel they need 85mm, at other times they need 35mm, and changing lens will take too much time before moments gone. For me, that is not how to use prime lenses. In prime lenses we force our creativity and imagination to create a photograph.
Generally prime lenses are (a lot) smaller in size compare to zoom lenses. If you like to do hunting technique (read here), shoot people from close distance, or simply a person who loves to capture eye contact, then lens size does matter.
With small camera set up people will see us as ordinary tourists or someone who take snapshots casually. Most of the time they will let their guard down around us, and have less issue when they realize we photographed them. Big size of zoom lenses definitely will intimidate many people out there and make them feel a bit uncomfortable.
It is true that prime lenses has limitation in variable focal length, however, zoom lenses also have limitations in term of usability due to their big size. In some places like shopping mall (read here for street photography at shopping mall) or restaurants (here in Indonesia) we can not use big lens as building’s security person will immediately told us to stop. While we can get much higher chance to keep shooting with smaller camera set up.
5. Technical specifications
Not only being smaller, but most of prime lenses have better technical aspect compare to zoom lenses. I think this due to simpler design and less parts inside lens (compare to zoom lens which is consist more glasses to cover various focal length). Generally prime lenses have advantage:
- Big aperture (bigger than f/2), while zoom lenses f/2.8 at max
- Shorter minimum focus distance
- Less distortion
- More sharpness
- Faster autofocus
- Cheaper price than zoom (!)
And actually all of that benefits can help us to shoot in more creative way. Like in the photo above I manage to shoot only the front side of lens and let the rest in blur (bokeh) due to big aperture and short minimum focus distance of Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4 WR. I simply can not do this with any of zoom lenses out there.
That is all my main reasons why I love prime lenses. It is not that zoom lenses are bad, but rather have different functions. To produce artistic images, prime lenses are the true winner. For more informative purpose like documenting event, sports, or wildlife, I do think that zoom can be a better lens to invest.
Keep shooting and stay inspired,