Are Modern Zoom Lenses a Better Choice Than Primes?

A decade ago, the differences between zoom and prime lenses were stark: zooms offered convenience and versatility, while primes offered better image quality and more extreme apertures. However, the gap has closed in recent years, with zooms showing marked jumps in image quality and pushing their designs to new extremes, blurring the line between the two. So, can you get by with just zooms now? This insightful video takes a deep look at the question.

Coming to you from Jan Wegener, this interesting video discusses zoom versus prime lenses. It really is quite incredible how far zooms have come in recent years. Standard options like 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses have made impressive jumps in sharpness, but what really impresses me is how extreme some zoom designs have gotten. For example, I used to have a bag full of primes to cover low-light and portraiture work. However, once I got the RF 28-70mm f/2L, my entire shooting paradigm changed. Its combination of image quality, convenience, and extremely wide aperture (for a zoom) have earned it a nearly permanent spot on the front of my camera, and most of my primes are now gone. No doubt, there is still a place for primes, but the question is something worth talking about. Check out the video above for Wegener's full thoughts. 

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15 Comments
Harry Bloomberg's picture

My beloved 400mm f2.8 died during a football game. I replaced it with a 200-400mm f4 zoom. I'm fortunate to shoot in an NFL stadium so I don't really miss going from f2.8 to f4.0. I really love the flexibility the zoom lens gives me, especially when a ballcarrier is running towards me. The 200-400 is not a lightweight lens, but it does weigh much less than the 400mm lens. So, I agree with Jan that zooms are very much worth considering.

m hinton's picture

I loved my compact Pentax 300mm zoom, but photographing birds I used it at the max 90% of the time. Now, I use the Canon RF 800mm prime plus 2X TC. Maybe twice I've wished I could back off a little without moving.

Deleted Account's picture

Taking a singular example as being indicative of modern quality, this is mental.

Nikkor Z 24-120 f/4 MTF

J. H.'s picture

Not true. 10 years ago there were already professional zoom lenses that were similarly good or even better than many, if not most, normal lenses. The Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 have been excellent lenses since they appeared as manual focus lenses. The legendary Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 outperforms any fixed focal length.

Prime lenses generally have much less barrel or pincushion distortion and less vignetting at open aperture. But this is easily corrected in post-processing these days.

This video is about 10 years too late.

Reginald Brown's picture

Sorry, but while that Nikkor 14-24 is solid, it most certainly doesn't outperform any prime in its range. I actually sold mine and switched to a much sharper 14mm prime (the Sigma f/1.8 Art). I liked the 14-24 a lot, but it's awfully hyperbolic to call it better than any prime.

J. H.'s picture

At the time it appeared that was the case.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

The title of this article, "Are Modern Zoom Lenses a Better Choice Than Primes?" :P

J. H.'s picture

10 years ago is not modern? The title is not: "Are todays...".

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Correct, 10 years ago, aka a decade ago, is not modern compared to today. Technology is constantly changing and adapting...unlike some people.

J. H.'s picture

You have no idea. Optical design is long lasting. Have a look at all those modern Leica lenses. The optical design is decades old. You think a 600mm f/4G ED VR AF-S NIKKOR is vintage (not modern) because is a decade old?
The only ones who care are pixel peepers and not photographers.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Sigh, I have to explain this sort of thing to you, again. You have the tendency to misconstrue comments. No one said that all zooms are now better than all primes. No one.

I currently shoot with only primes, 35 and 75, with two bodies, but man, zooms like the Tamron 35-150 f2-f2.8 has piqued my interest.

J. H.'s picture

Neither did I, learn to read.

charles hoffman's picture

gee
18-300 mm
think of all the pictures you could take
and think of the weight, the complexity, the loss of common perspective, and the total inability to enter a room without drawing attention

I'll stick with a 35 or 50

E H's picture

Are apples tastier than pears?

charles hoffman's picture

no! but you don't send a kid to school with a whole watermelon as a snack