Choosing the Right Lens: A Beginner's Guide to Zoom and Primes Lenses

The choice between zoom and prime lenses is a fundamental consideration for photographers, affecting everything from image quality to shooting style. Understanding their differences is key to selecting the right lens for your photography needs, whether you're capturing landscapes, portraits, or fast-paced events. This helpful video will show you what you need to know.

Coming to you from Brandon Woelfel, this informative video looks at the nuances of zoom and prime lenses, offering a personal perspective on their advantages and limitations. Woelfel’s transition from exclusively using prime lenses, known for their fixed focal lengths and wide apertures, to a preference for the versatility of a zoom lens encapsulates a journey many photographers can relate to. The discussion highlights prime lenses' superiority in low-light conditions and their ability to produce sharper images with more bokeh, a critical factor for those looking to achieve a specific aesthetic in their work, though it's worth noting that the gap has closed a fair amount in recent years.

However, the video also presents a compelling case for the practicality of zoom lenses, especially in scenarios where changing lenses is impractical or when shooting conditions are unpredictable. Woelfel points out that zoom lenses, despite being heavier and often more expensive, provide a range of focal lengths that can adapt to various shooting environments without the need to switch lenses. This versatility is especially beneficial in dynamic settings like concerts or wildlife shoots, where opportunities can arise spontaneously and the photographer's mobility may be restricted.

The balance between image quality, aperture capabilities, and practical considerations like weight and cost ultimately guides the choice between prime and zoom lenses. Woelfel's evolution in lens preference reflects a broader trend in photography, where versatility and the ability to adapt to different shooting conditions often become increasingly valued. This shift doesn't negate the benefits of prime lenses but rather highlights the importance of choosing gear that aligns with your photographic vision and the demands of your subjects. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Woelfel.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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My favorite lens is 24-105 zoom. for stills, & 17-40 zoom for videos.

Zoom lenses totally make sense for beginners. The prime crowd remind me of brand snobs regarding lenses. Beginners can explore multiple fecal lengths and in the future decide if some prime lens length floats their boat.
I would lay money that zooms overwhelmingly dominate pro and beginner's photos produced.
Zooms like 28-70mm f2, 24-105mm f2.8 and 100-300mm f2.8 petty much destroy the speed argument especially in the long lengths. And weight is a non-issue now also carrying primes to cover zoom ranges s silly and unwieldy as well as a waste of time changing lenses and losing the shot in the street or on the field.

Zooms have gotten so good, there is little reason to purchase a prime lens. Personally, I use a RF 24-70mm f/2.8 L zoom for probably 75% of my work. My RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L zoom is mostly for landscape and special effects. With a zoom you spend a lot less time moving in and out to frame the shot you want especially if you can't get the right distance with a prime. My RF 85 mm f/2.8 L prime is only used typically for head shots.