1. Welcome to NikonCafe.com—a friendly Nikon camera & photography discussion forum!

    If you are thinking of buying a camera or need help with your photos, you will find our forum members full of advice! Click here to join for free!

Zooms vs. primes...have they caught up yet???

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by Vernon t, Jul 8, 2005.

  1. I think I'm better with primes because I use my head and feet rather than my wrist to compose.

    Zoom quality is approaching, or perhaps exceeding prime quality. Something tells me good prime quality continues to be better than the best zooms.
    Has anyone really tested this?

    For example:
    180mm prime vs. 70-200 or 80-200 at 180mm.
    50mm primes vs. 17-55 or 28-70 zooms.
    20 or 24mm primes vs. 12-24mm or 17-35mm.
    85 or 105 DC vs. 70-200.

    I'll try to get a comparison of my 300f4 vs. my 70-200+TC put together. The prime is better I'm pretty sure. The 1.7 TC makes this a bit unfair though.

    If I assert were are inherently better photographers with primes I suspect many or most would agree. Perhaps not.
    How about quality of the image itself.

    Anybody got side-by-side testing to post?
    No way we'll get a definitive answer to satisfy all...but I'm sure wondering.

    Healthy debate would be most welcome.
    If the primes are better it's gonna' cost me because I'm migrating that way already, lusting for 20mm and 180mm and DC as I am! :eek: 
  2. twig


    May 23, 2005
    Though historically I think people may have preferred primes for absolute quality and zooms for ease of use, thigns are changing with the newer technology I think.

    On the new high resolution bodies I think the older primes are not as sharp and contrasty as the newer DX lenses. Please do not take this as gospel because I have not tried them all, but I see especially the widest 14/2.8 not performing too well on the d2x. I also hear the 20/2.8 and 24/2.8 which are excellent lenses are very good but not fantastic on the d2x.

    For some time however, people have stated in this range the nikon 12-24 zoom is sharper than the primes. However you shoudl check with a d2x owner to confirm it holds up, but I Think it does.

    The 17-55 is a very very good lens, sharp as heck wide open, and not much distortion past 20mm (not too much before it, but some)

    Still at 50mm I think the 50/1.8 stopped down is just as good, and a heck of a lot cheaper and lighter. A ton less flexible though.
  3. cwilt


    Apr 24, 2005
    Denver, CO
    I find my primes are still better than the zooms I have tested. The 50/1.8 is not a lens that I recommend anymore. IMHO zoom lenses are still for convenience and primes are for performance.
  4. Perhaps that's because you've got a fine collection of primes, but consumer grade zooms. It would be interesting to compare your 35/2 with the long end of the 17-35/2.8. The prime has a one f/stop advantage, but the zoom is af-s and boasts an ED glass element.
  5. jfenton


    Jan 26, 2005
    Haverhill, MA
    AIS MF Vs Primes

    I've been doing a fair bit of testing and admittedly, I've only been shooting those AIS primes that Bjorn rates highly.

    So far I feel (IMHO):

    The 28 2.0 and 28 208 AIS (one for close to medium distance) surpass what I can get out of a 17-35.

    The 50 2.8 AIS definitely surpasses anything I've gotten in a zoom with that range both is sharpness and color / saturation.

    The 55 2.8 is every bit as sharp and contrasty as the 60mm AFD, HOWEVER...it is just as good at distance whereas the 60 micro is not.

    The 105 2.5 AIS is one sweet lens....sharp, contrasty and great saturation. I haven't really compared it to a recent AF in that range.

    Thar's what I've done for comparison testing. They are definitely cheaper than the newer counterparts...seem to me to be better....but certainly don't offer the versatility of a zoom.
  6. Well, I have a 35 f/2 and a 50 f/1.4 as well as a 17-55 f/2.8. I haven't done a formal test of some target on tripod etc, simply because I don't sweat this issue, and the reasons for me to use these primes over the zooms are of lower light ability and size (intrusiveness in particular).

    However, in my (admittedly) limited experience, the zoom is doing about just as well as the primes and that's a remarkable feat given that the primes are stopped down one and two stops more than the zoom, at equal aperture! ;-) Then again, the 17-55 is said to be very good wide open, much better than the 17-35 (which has other qualities such as more flare resistance...). If you were to compare all three at say f/8, I don't think you'd be able to pick one over the other... Is there a particular target or type of image (and aperture) on which you would like to see a more formal comparison done?
  7. I haven't done enough testing of lenses to be sure, but I imagine that primes are easier to get "right", and therefore have less sample variation.

    There seems to be so much variable comment about lens performance, but these are nearly always related to zooms.

    Zooms offer so much convenience. I mean who likes to get up from their chair and change the channel on the T.V. or adjust the volume? On the other hand, there is something relaxing about the simplicity of a prime, that allows you to concentrate more on the actual photography. Time to dust off my old TLR!
  8. I've always considered my 60mm micro to be the standard to which I compare the sharpness of my other lenses.

    Both my 17-35 2.8 and 70-200 VR are every bit as sharp as the 60... I sold both my 35mm f2 and 85mm 1.8 primes because they did not measure up to the 60 or the zooms. (Some have suggested I had a bad 85, I don't know... it was sharp but not AS SHARP as the 60)

    Now my beloved 35-70 2.8 is in solid last place in the sharpness race in my arsenal. I'll be looking into the 28-70 as a possible replacement later this year.

    If I can control myself that long (-:

  9. Maybe I can save you a false step. The 28-70 isn't sharper than the 35-70. It's advantages are in focusing speed and range, but aside from those, I think the images produced by the two are comparable. If you're looking for absolute sharpness, you should be looking at the 17-55.
  10. Iliah


    Jan 29, 2005
    Some IMHOs, with permission:

    17-35 is optimized for digital;
    35/2 is not a gem;
    35/1.4 is much more interesting (D2x will make you to reconsider this lens in terms of sharpness too)

    Primes, especially older ones, have their signature on images, it is not all about the sharpness at the end of the day.
  11. Steve, I thing you are poking around at my real thoughts.

    In my limited experience with primes I shoot less but better.
    I get "out of the chair", think, engage the subject and have a better time and so do they.

    In a related thought...shooting strangers in public is much more engaging with a shorter lens. It forces you to make, however brief, a connection to them. A mom is OK with you shooting a cute kid with your 60mm while the 70-200 would make them bristle.

  12. I think I'm going to buy the used MF 105 I was handling the other day.
    It's a joy to fucus and 1/4th the cost of a DC.
  13. Closer is always better

    Vernon, I can't agree more. The whole notion of street shooting needing long lenses so that you could be invisible is pretty much bunk. You're farther away, yes, but with an 80-200AFS you are far from invisible unless you're behind a closed door. What you ARE is disengaged - so you don't realize your subject is as uncomfortable with your shooting them as if you were in their face with a 35mm prime.

    I took a class on street photography where the instructor - five books of harrowing documentary street work, prizes of all sorts - banned anyone using a lens longer than 35mm for class work. He required me to show the exif data. He forced us to engage with subjects - if you're going to shoot that close, you almost always have to ask permission, and then come to some kind of understanding about what you want and don't want to shoot. If you got turned down, you moved on - with 5 billion people on the planet, there are a lot of subjects out there.

    The result was six weeks of shooting where every people shot was of someone who was engaged, who had opinions that you could see, feelings you could feel, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Big, big difference. And at least for me, almost everybody who turned me down in the early weeks of the project, reconsidered later on, most approaching me and telling me I could shoot them. I mean, a big fat grey haired white guy in a Puerto Rican/Dominican neighborhood with a Nikon is hardly invisible anyhow...but that actually turned into an advantage.

    Engaging with subjects gets you engaging images. I now only use longer than 50mm when I want pieces-parts closeups, partial faces instead of whole ones. Does require some courage pumping, even now...
  14. Good thread.

    2 Questions:

    1) I have been thinking about getting a 50 f1.8 as I understand this is a great little sharp lense to have and I do not own any primes yet and this little lense is very affordable.

    2) I also want a nice little macro lense so should I wait and not get the 50 1.8 and go with the 60 micro. Is the 60 micro sharp at distance?
  15. Yikes, you're going to get a lot of opinions

    I've got the 60 macro. I haven't noticed any problems at mid range - I tend not to do anything long range. But, I have the 50 1.4, and I honestly think it's a nicer lens than the 1.8. The whole thread about lenses with character going on elsewhere - I find the 1.4 has some indefinable character. I find the 1.8 to be kind of cold and bloodless. But if you asked me why I believe either thing I couldn't tell you. Just gut.
  16. ckdamascus


    May 14, 2005
    New Jersey
    You have to take this on a case by case basis. There isn't really a good generalization except that the BEST primes are undoubtedly better than the BEST zooms, but they might not necessarily fall into the same focal lengths. I say it is not a good generalization, because it doesn't necessarily mean a 20 mm prime is going to outperform the 12-24mm zoom. It means there probably IS some very good prime in that range that might compete. Once again, carefully find reviews on the primes and hopefully someone who has compared them against a corresponding zoom.

    There are crappy primes and there are crappy zooms. Some of the newer lens are better than the old, some of the older are better than the newer ones.

    On the side, primes can achieve faster speeds than f/2.8. This can be handy for auto focusing since a camera will open wide with regards to the AF. I have heard this can cause hunting if it is too fast (i.e. Michael Webber notes his 50mm f/1.8 is fast but it HUNTS a lot). However, most lens are not at their sharpest open wide. You usually hope it is "acceptibly" sharp open wide so it is usable. That's why people pay huge bucks for the faster lens. Once again, this is NOT always true. Case in point would be Canon's 50mm f/1.0 lens which loses to it's slower breathen with regards to sharpness. Someone here mentioned the 50mm f/1.4 has worse infinity performance than the 50mm f/1.8 but close up the 50mm f/1.4 achieves sharpness at f/2.8 vs the 50mm f/1.8's f/4. This only strongly reiterates my statement, you HAVE to do this on a case by case basis.

    I could never figure out what makes someone with a prime so much of a better photographer than the one with a zoom. I thought it was about the end picture, not how you got there? i.e. I thought good photographers did not care about equipment, yet you hear them talk about how primes are the way to go. Can't have your cake and eat it too.

    That said, if a prime will fit my need and outperform a corresponding zoom, I will certainly use it. Otherwise, it seems a lot easier to get good composition with a zoom and get more "winners". Of course if you have a fixed type of photography, you might as well get a prime if it will outperform the corresponding zoom.

    That's the funny thing. I've heard from people that "primes are so much cheaper" yet if you add up all the best primes, you basically surpass the price of a zoom and you get less flexibility. Depending on your final output, the quality difference might be negligible or it might be WORSE


    Scroll down to see how the 85mm f/1.8 has all that wonderful CA vs those 80-200mm and 70-200mm zooms.

    I'm not saying primes are evil and bad, far from that. Just you should get a prime if it fits your type of photography. i.e. hey you bought a 70-300mm zoom and all you do is shoot at 300mm, maybe you should just get a prime instead. Or you should portraits all day and night at the same distance, maybe you should get a prime instead.

    So finally,

    1) Primes are not always better than zooms, and vice versa. You HAVE to do it on a case by case basis because they have beaten each other in different areas time and time again in raw optical performance
    2) It's the common convenience vs 'quality' except with some zooms you get both. The highest end primes ARE better than the highest end zooms (the fact that a TC 2.0X is useful on a 200mm f/2 is proof of this), but that you MUST follow rule #1 (the 85mm vs the 80-200mm regarding purple fringing).
    3) Don't forget to buy if it fits your needs. Find out if you are shooting the same focal length a lot OR try locking your zoom at that focal to see if you can live with it. If you can, and the prime is cheaper, and the prime is higher quality, you got yourself a winner.
  17. Iliah


    Jan 29, 2005
    For the price of modern 50/1.4 AF one can get 50/1.2 AI near mint (lotsa character in it:) ; slightly more then for the price of modern G-d-knows-how-good 50/1.8 AF one can get 50/1.4 AI in excellent condition; and if you want excellent 50/1.8 - it is AI-s version, not modern AF:) 

    Auto Micro Nikkor 55/3.5 AI/non-AI considered one of the top lenses in terms of sharpness (I'm still under impression it is better then 60mm, and more convenient IMHO), the price varies from $100 to $300, depending on condition and seller. 55/2.8 lens is also very good.
  18. Well said, Carroll!
  19. my take on primes versus zooms

    I plow any earnings from photos back into either gear or classes. The best part about classes is it gives me access to excellent pros I'd never get to meet otherwise. One of the constant questions I hear in the classes is this primes versus zooms, and to a person, every one of the pros I've met has said that they use almost all zooms now. Each one has a single favorite prime that is a focal length that they favor most, and they use a prime mostly because if you're going to shoot at 35mm 90% of the time, you can take a lot of weight off your camera by using a 35mm prime. A few have picked the prime in their bag emotionally, and own up to hardly ever using it.

    Most of these folks have assistants who carry their bags, mount and unmount lenses, multiple bodies, and if there was ever a way to handle the inconvenience of multiple primes versus zooms, that's it. But they use zooms. The older ones say that the prime versus zoom debate was very relevant 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, but not now, as long as you pick your zooms carefully.

    A side note, though. Almost every one of them also forced the class to shoot with a single, short prime for several weeks of a class, if the class was a longer one instead of a short workshop. Not because they believe primes are better, but because they believe that most people use zooms incorrectly, as a way of not moving their feet, and not thinking through composition and perspective.

    I've heard pretty strong arguments that a 17-35 zoom isn't to allow you to try close up and farther back without moving feet, but is instead a way of controlling perspective and angle of view, with feet involved in trying close up and farther back. Initially it struck me as a weird "inside baseball" kind of thing, but the more I force myself to work that way, the more I"m starting to believe.

    "The best landscape lens is a 100mm telephoto" is one of the more extreme pronouncements that fits this - wide angles force you to choose between gobs of foreground or gobs of sky, where a telephoto compresses the perspective and turns miles of skyline into a pattern.
  20. Re: my take on primes versus zooms

    Thanks for sharing that insight, Ed. It describes a change in approach I've been unintentionally experiencing since I purchased the narrow zoom range 28-70. During my Coolpix 5700 days I used aperture selection to control shutter speed, and zoom to frame compositions based on my shooting position. Once I upgraded to a dslr I began to use ISO to control shutter speed, and aperture selection to control depth of field. Now that I have The Beast, I am just beginning to learn that zoom is best used to manage perspective rather than framing. That means I have to frame with my feet, much as if I were shooting with a prime.
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.