A lot of people fail to understand how using a prime lens can make you a better photographer than you are at the moment. There’s a mindset that believes that you are constrained by using a single focal length, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In this article I’ll explain why using a prime lens can, and will, make you a better photographer. You’ll see things differently, and your photography skills will become enhanced in ways you never thought possible.
There are five major points to using a prime lens, all of which give you more discipline in what you do, and all of which will give noticeable difference to photographs and attitude. Of course, as perfect as the one camera one lens and one focal length is, there are times when you will need a longer, wider or zoom lens, it would be silly to think otherwise.
So, here’s the guide to why using a prime lens will make you a better photographer, and the advantages of brings.
One: The Hunt
Although the phrase “Zoom with your feet” is one that is thrown away each time people mention prime lenses, a better term would be “Hunt for your composition”. With the constraint of just one length, you simply just can’t stand in one place and zoom in and out on a composition, getting the same old compositions that everyone else gets. You have to move around and hunt for compositions that are not as obvious. You’ll wander around, get closer or further away, you’ll move more around the perimeter and your eyes will concentrate on your subject.
It may not sound much, but hunting for your composition is much more rewarding. You’ll discover things on the way to your composition, you’ll have different angles and different points of view to what you would get with a zoom lens. Most of all, you’ll be engaging with your brain. No longer will you be lazy and point and shoot from a couple of spots, you’ll figure out each move, step by step.
Two: Creative through assumed limitation
Because of the nature of having a fixed lens, you’ll find yourself being far more creative when taking photos. You’ll usually have a shallower depth of field to play with, giving you a more artistic approach to reaching the final photograph.
In other ways you’ll be able to experiment with things such as panoramas, combining numerous shots to make wider landscapes, or play with with Bokeh to get better depth if field. You’ll also generally benefit from using the lens in low light as generally speaking prime lenses have much wider apertures, meaning they let in much more light.
Having a focal length you know, and get used to give you a number of advantages. First of all, and most important if you want a body of work to stand out, is that all your photographs will have a consistent look due to the single lens and focal length you are using. A lot of people get confused by this simple point. The human eye hates juxtaposition. If you’re looking at something, and the images vary widley from one focal length to the other, it can seem rather messy if viewed as a body of work. Simply put, your work will look much better, and people will appreciate it much more by being consistent.
Another great advantage of using a prime lens is that your eyes and brain will know exactly how a composition will look before you take the photograph. You’ll be able to envisage the subject in the frame, without lifting your camera, and at the right moment pick up the camera and instantly know your composition before you even less the button. It’s why the 35mm prime lens focal length is so perfect. You look, you see, you photograph, and it’s exactly as you pictured it in your mind.
Four: Set yourself free
A prime lens is usually (but not always) smaller than a zoom lens. For photographers who photograph street photography, weddings, portraits, events or even go on long walks and do landscape, you no longer have to worry about the weight of your lens, you can have the one or two prime lenses and be covered for all occasions.
You’ll be set free because you can forget about putting up a zoom lens to your eye and endlessly moving zoom in and out, you can simply look at your subject and press your shutter button. It’s an invigorating experience, that once you understand, will set you free.
Five: Don’t worry about light
As mentioned, with a prime lens you usually get much wider apertures. Where as most zoom lens start at around F/3.5 or above, prime lenses average anywhere between F/1.2 and F/2.8. You’ll find most are around the F/1.4-F/1.8 range, leaving in a couple of more stops than an average zoom. It’s the difference between shooting at ISO1600 and ISO6400 if you are looking at nighttime shooting!
You’ll find you won’t care about what light your are taking photos in, you won’t mind what your top end auto ISO is set to, and you know you can set a minimum shutter speed of 1/60th with next to no issues. Prime lenses really are your friend in do many situations!
Set yourself a task before questioning these five steps. Put a 35mm or 50mm equivalent lens on your camera (that would be approx 23mm or 33mm on a crop body), and make it the only lens you use the next ten times you go out. Don’t think about it, go out and shoot (use common sense, you wouldn’t use a 23mm taking photos of birds). At the end of the ten photography sessions, print out a couple of photos from each shoot (printing is an important part of learning). Then think to yourself how you felt, and how much more unique your photos are. Think how you learned everything from above, and how you didn’t need to zoom at every opportunity.
There’s no denying some people won’t feel comfortable with a prime lens, and there’s no right or wrong, that’s the way of the World. But just take the time to take your prime out like mentioned above, and after that you may not want to stick to it, but you sure as hell will improve your photography!
Which Prime Lens?
Ideally you need to choose a prime lens that is great for general use. Forget the 50mm on a crop sensor camera, that’s equivalent to 75mm on a full frame camera, and in no way useable day in and day out. You need to use equivalent to 35mm or 50mm (so 23mm or 33mm/35mm on a crop) for the best results and to understand why Prime lenses are so amazing at making your photography better.
If you don’t own a prime lens, there always the option of using your basic lens (usually 18-55mm or thereabouts) at 18mm or 55m (27mm and 82.5mm) and not moving off that focal length.
13 thoughts on “Improve your photography with a prime lens”
Interesting article on the prime lens…can you clarify for an old soldier..
I have one prime , a rokkor mc 50mm f/1.7 (used on a srt101 minolta of 40 yrs)….I do get confused with the cropped focal length vs ‘full frame’ focal….please confirm, will my 50mm then be equal to x1.5…approx 75mm. in full frame language or, is it the other way around = 33mm ? I use a X-E3 fuji…usually using the kit xf18-55 OIS, which I am very happy with. I intend to concentrate on street a little more, and I am considering the fuji 27mm pancake, possibly the mark2, if it is released or, 18mm pancake. I like stealth where possible.
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The 50mm lens on your X-E3 will give you equivalent to 75mm on a full frame camera, so it’s a bit long, but people still love it.
I have the 27mm pancake lens in my collection and I love it! It’s so small, and that 40mm equivalent focal length is not too far off 35mm (23mm on crop). It’s really am amazing lens for just taking with you and shooting everything and anything. The 27mm F/2.8 is seriously stealthy and great value!
To understand and remember:
A “cropped” sensor crops in the image produced by a lens built for a larger sensor. As a result the field of view is reduced and corresponds to what would have give a lens with a longer focal length on the larger sensor.
May be this note could help https://hpchavaz-photography.blogspot.com/p/understand-practical-effects-of.html
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Correct, a 50mm is always a 50mm lens, but the crop factor not the lens changes the effective focal length.
Photography described as it was originally intended, top article Mark!
May I say, for those who don’t have a prime, 7artisans and Meike have reasonable good 25mm and 35mm manual alternatives, a fairly cheap solution and easy to resell if a manual prime isn’t your thing.
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The 7Artisans 25mm F/1.8 is one of my favourite lenses I ever owned. I am sorry that I sold it! Thank you for the comments.
Great article. Ive got a 35mm prime lens I hardly ever use. I must change that
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You’ll be surprised at how differently you think with it on!