Primes

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by job, Feb 19, 2007.

  1. job macrumors 68040

    job

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    #1
    School me on primes.

    I've heard on a few forums that primes are on their way out since modern zooms (high end ones) are so good now.

    Who makes the smallest, lightest prime? What about the largest?

    What sort of shots are primes good for? Does the difference between a 50mm 1.8 and a 50mm 1.4 really make that much of a difference?
     
  2. dllavaneras macrumors 68000

    dllavaneras

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    #2
    I don't think they're going anywhere. Primes are smaller, lighter and easier to manufacture (meaning cheaper) and generally sharper since they have a fixed focal length, which means less glass and air-to-glass interfaces that diffract the light rays. Not as versatile as zooms, sure, but they're darn good!

    Smallest in size? I'd guess one of the pancake primes, they're really small and light. The largest would be among the ones used for birding. 500 and 600mm lenses with BIG apertures (5.6 at those focal lengths is plenty big). Of course, Carl-Zeiss made a 1200mm lens a few months ago, but that was a custom made order.

    Primes are used plenty for weddings and portraits, since you have roughly the same lens-to-subject distance. They're sharp and light, meaning you can take a few and not break your back.

    As for the 1.8 and 1.4, that's Aperture you're talking about. 1.4 lets about 50% more light than a 1.8 (I could be mistaken on the amount of light, but 1.4>1.8). a f1.4 would have a shallower DOF at it's widest aperture than a f1.8. And (I'm talking specifically about Canon here) 1.8 lenses are cheap and not so well built as 1.4 lenses. Both of them are sharp, but the 1.4 has a better construction.

    Oh, and since they can have a large aperture and still be small, primes are used a lot for low light photography.
     
  3. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #3
    The word prime has slightly changed in meaning to be a fixed focal length lens. I suppose something like a 10mm fisheye would technically qualify. I know there are lenses larger than 1200mm, but that's the biggest I've seen personally.

    The delta between 1.8 and 1.4 is is 2/3rds of a stop. Each stop halves or doubles the light depending on which way you're moving. In low light, that could be the difference between getting the shot and not getting it.

    In the consumer space, zooms have pretty-much taken over, but while modern zooms can be better than older prime designs, they get really heavy if you want fast, and they don't go as fast on the long end because of that.

    For instance if you're looking for 400mm of reach and you own Nikon, you have three obvious choices in their line (without getting into teleconverters, third party, or older lenses)- the 80-400mm 5.6-6.3 zoom, the 200-400mm f/4 zoom and the 400mm f/2.8 prime. If you're out near dawn shooting wildlife, you'll probably get an average of 25-45 minutes more shooting in if you have the 2.8 than if you have the f/4 which needs twice as much light to shoot in, and most of the interesting creatures will be gone by the time you go double the light again, add another third and start shooting with the f/6.3 lens. Now, the difference in price is very significant. You're looking somewhere near $1500 for the 80-400, probably around 3x that for the 200-400 and around 5x the 80-400 price for the prime. While I find my 80-400 to be softer than I like but acceptable for most situations, what I've read about the 200-400 says it's close to the 400 prime, but not quite there-- more sharpness than most folks need, and certainly enough for any publication you'd want to shoot for. However, the prime is as sharp as the 200-400 even when you add a 1.4x teleconverter. It may even be as sharp with a 1.7x teleconverter. What you don't get is the flexibility of the zoom, as in most things each choice makes you take a trade-off.

    400mm is a fair amount of extension, and besides being able to shoot in lower light, the faster aperture gives two other distinct advantages- a faster shutter speed in brighter light, often enough to account for some sloppy technique or quick movement and a shallower depth of field allowing you to separate the subject from its background more.

    While my zoom's generally loaned out, my 400mm prime pretty-much stays on my camera.
     
  4. Clix Pix macrumors demi-goddess

    Clix Pix

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    #4
    Each lens has its role to play in photography for each individual photographer. Some people shoot exclusively with prime lenses while others prefer only zooms. Many of us use a combination of both, and choose a lens according to the particular situation. Me, for instance: if I'm going to take a casual walk around our little lake here, I'm likely to stick the 80-400mm VR on the camera, but if I am going out for serious shooting, that is when the 200mm f/2 ("Bertha") or the 300mm (and tripod) goes with me..... Sometimes when I'm setting out for a walk around the lake I pop the 180mm f/2.8 on the camera, or at other times if I'm sitting out on my balcony, I'll have the camera beside me with maybe the 70-200mm VR on it, sometimes with the addition of a teleconverter....

    My lightest, smallest lens is the 45mm P, the "pancake" lens. It is just so darned cute!
     
  5. job thread starter macrumors 68040

    job

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    #5
    Could you potentially use a prime as your every day every situation lens, especially if you don't mind using your feet to zoom?

    What focal length is roughly the same as what the human eye sees?
     
  6. sjl macrumors 6502

    sjl

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    #6
    Not a chance. The market for primes is shrinking, true, because consumers are finding zooms to be "good enough", but they will never disappear. I know somebody who owns a 5D; he bought the 85mm f/1.2L recently (worth over $AU3000, thank you very much). Three thousand Australian dollars for a single lens, with a single focal length. Not something I'd do - I don't need an 85mm lens, and if I did, I'd probably go for the f/1.8 instead - but still.

    Or look at the professional sporting matches. Most of the lenses you'll see there will be 300mm, 400mm, 500mm, and 600mm primes.

    You will never find a zoom lens faster than f/2.8, for example, yet there are times when having a lens at f/2.0 or faster is exceedingly useful. You'll also probably never see a zoom lens that goes longer than 400mm; it would be too heavy to use effectively.

    Wrong question. A given prime will have a particular use. For example, an 85mm lens on a full frame body (like the 5D or 1Ds series) is a fantastic length for portrait work and similar. A 24mm might be used for architecture. A 135mm might be used for sporting events with the local school team, and a 1200mm is probably going to be used for bragging rights. :D

    You would pick the prime you want to buy based upon what you want to do with it - you wouldn't just grab any old lens and then ask "what is it good for?" Especially when the fast, long primes can go for five figure sums (400mm f/2.8L: $AU10,000 plus ... and that's on the grey market. Bought through Canon Australia, RRP is over $AU13,000. The Canon 1200mm f/5.6L went for over a hundred thousand US, and was a special order.)

    Yup, there's no reason why you couldn't do that with a relatively wide prime (say, 50mm or wider on a 1.6 crop body). Longer lenses would make it harder to get good shots, although again, it depends on what you're trying to shoot.

    Depends on the camera. What you're talking about is called a "standard" lens. On a 35mm film camera, 50mm is considered standard. On a 1.5 crop body (any Nikon) or 1.6 crop body, like the 20D, 30D, or 400D, around 30mm would be standard. A medium or large format would have a significantly longer lens classed as standard - a 4x5 large format camera, for instance, would use a 150mm (or so) lens if you wanted a standard field of view. There's a bit of leeway in this - eg, in 35mm format, anywhere between about 40mm and 58mm is considered standard. The rule to derive this, by the way, is to take the length of the diagonal of the image sensor (be it film or digital). That length is the focal length of a standard lens for that particular body.

    A shorter focal length than a standard lens is called "wide angle" - it takes in more than the human eye would take in. Longer is called "telephoto", with a much narrower field of view than the human eye - so you can zoom in on birds, or the baseball pitcher, or the bowler in cricket, and so forth.
     
  7. bousozoku Moderator emeritus

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    #7
    Way back when, many people didn't buy a lot of extra lenses and there weren't zoom lenses available so your feet necessary to get closeups.

    Of course, it depends on the sensor size, but Sigma has a nice 30mm f/1.4 that would come close to a 50mm on a 35mm film body.
     
  8. dllavaneras macrumors 68000

    dllavaneras

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    #8
    I guess you've never seen a Bigma or a Sigmonster :D
     
  9. Forced Perfect macrumors 6502

    Forced Perfect

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    #9
    Meh.

    The Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6L... 36 pounds and around $80,000 USD. :p

    [​IMG]
     
  10. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #10
  11. Forced Perfect macrumors 6502

    Forced Perfect

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    #11
  12. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus

    mkrishnan

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    #12
    Gawd, his shorts are hawt! :D

    Seriously, though, I <3 my not-nearly-so-big prime. Not good for every purpose. But I just don't see reality allowing for the kinds of things the fast primes can do with a zoom lens anytime soon.
     
  13. Westside guy macrumors 601

    Westside guy

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  14. sjl macrumors 6502

    sjl

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    #14
    Would you please excuse me? I'll be out the back with my shovel. There's a hole out there that's a little bit on the small size ... :eek: :p
     
  15. Clix Pix macrumors demi-goddess

    Clix Pix

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    #15
    Now that you've seen Nikon's largest, here's the smallest...

    The 45P, which I'm sure looks just darling on the D40!

    [​IMG]
     
  16. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #16
    Actually, the post you responded to was about long zooms. Specifically, it was a repsonse to:

     
  17. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #17
    I've only seen f/2.8 zooms. My 50mm lens in two stops faster than f/2.8

    In terms of sharpness and contrast the zooms are now about as good as primes. But only if you are looking at the high end zooms.

    What's happened to make zooms good is optical coatings. Computer designed coatings have allowed designers to use many optical elements. In the past the reflections from all those air/glass surfaces would have killed the zoom design
     
  18. seenew macrumors 68000

    seenew

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    #18
    You must not get very personal with your subjects very often, eh? ;)
     
  19. Bibulous macrumors 6502a

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    #19
    Sometimes when I go out the shoot, I like to take 1 or 2 primes and see what I can make with them, mostly 24mm and 135mm primes.

    Primes are great lenses to help one think anything thru.
     
  20. Clix Pix macrumors demi-goddess

    Clix Pix

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    #20
    Actually, the other thing I like to shoot is macros and I have several macro lenses. I have both zooms and primes and I choose the lens to use depending upon a situation. I don't do much in the way of portraits and such, though.
     
  21. balofagus macrumors regular

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    #21
    [​IMG]

    This is the Pentax-DA 21mm. It's the smallest Pentax makes, 1".
     

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