Are you a prime or zoom person?

Discussion in 'Digital Video' started by igmolinav, Mar 8, 2016.

  1. igmolinav, Mar 8, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2016

    igmolinav macrumors 65816

    Aug 15, 2005

    I come from a still photography background. I have always

    I have always been more of a zoom person, because of
    the versatility that it offers. However, it seems to me that
    people doing video or cinematographic work do use primes
    extensively. I want to start to doing video, and the budget-
    ary option for me to get started would be to start with a
    photographic camera that has video and then to add a zoom
    with manual focus, but no primes.

    A zoom, that may range of 28-85 mm. offers the equivalent
    to three or four of the primes I would use the most like the
    28, 35, and 50 mm. However, should I be or get interested in
    using more the primes instead of the zoom? I mean, from the
    perspective of a videographer, should I learn to work with primes,
    so that my eyes get accustomed and 'educated' to working with
    those specific focal lengths, or is it ok to stay working with a

    If you were to give a photo/video course to people, would you
    recommend them to get trained or stress the need to work with
    primes, or should they take whatever their creativity calls for : 'a
    zoom here, a prime there; only zooms, etc.'

    What advantages do you find working with primes? In still
    photography people buy them in all focal lengths due to their
    luminosity, ranging some from f/1.4 to f/2.8 the best ones and
    more expensive ones! However, my budgetary constraints may
    only allow me to buy used manual focus primes of the above focal
    lengths, with a luminosities of f/4 or f/3.5, perhaps f/2.8 if the price
    is good.

    Would you get a prime or primes if they were not so luminous,
    and their maximum luminosity stood between f/2.8 and f/4 ??

    Thank you in advance for your thoughts and comments.

    Kind regards,

    igmolinav : ) !!!
  2. bent christian Suspended

    bent christian

    Nov 5, 2015
    What camera are you using? The size of the sensor will have an affect on the focal lengths you chose (though you might already be aware).

    I am a hobbyist photographer and videographer (it sounds like you are as well), so take my point of view FWIW.

    Primes are what I like to shoot with. Without expensive, professional equipment, zooming is very hard to do well in my experience. It is generally unnecessary anyway. You can zoom with your feet via steadycam or handheld, or choreography the shot and use a tripod. Consistency is the key. Zooming and movement can be distracting to a viewer. Striving for that constituency makes working within a single focal length much easier in video vs photography, IMO.

    Aperture I think is less important for video in most cases, because you will most likely want a fairly wide depth of field. I have an f/1.4 prime that is my main lens for video. I like to shoot at f/5 at least and rarely go below f/4 (APS-C SLR) if the available light is adequate. Below f/3.5 and into f/2.8, I think you might be struggling to keep a subject in focus. Having a wide aperture is helpful when light is low, however. IMO, a constant aperture is necessary to keep exposure consistent, so primes have another advantage there. Quality zooms with a constant aperture can be quite a bit more expensive than a couple of primes, and when you go to zoom lenses with a max constant aperture below f/4, the prices go way up.

    Another thing to consider is image stabilization in the lens. I find it very important, as my footage is always shot handheld. Even low-end designs of IS are very usable. I think IS is a must for those on a budget.
  3. igmolinav thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 15, 2005

    Thank you for your message : ) !!!
    I am a hobbyist too!

    Cool : ) !!! I see now how you use
    aperture with your primes!

    Yes, you are right zooming in and
    out does not look good! The idea
    with the zoom would be to use a
    focal length at a time, to avoid
    zooming in and out. That way the
    zoom is worked at a fixed focal length
    per take. The result is that at a
    beginning I may be able to save some
    money from the primes I may not have.

    Kind regards,

    igmolinav : ) !!!
  4. joema2 macrumors 65816


    Sep 3, 2013
    It is definitely not correct that videographers use mostly primes. Most people doing event or documentary work use zoom lenses a lot. In fact most ENG (Electronic News Gathering) and EFP (Electronic Field Production) video cameras are zoom lenses. In video, a zoom in or out of a composition is an important part of visual storytelling, just like rack focus is.

    The prime/zoom boundary is often between those doing scripted material where scenes are blocked out ahead of time, and those doing documentary, news or corporate video where this isn't as nailed down. For scripted studio work primes are really good.

    These are the same reasons pro event photographers almost always use expensive constant aperture zooms like 24-70 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8. This enables getting the shot vs missing the shot due to changing lenses or having the wrong lens mounted (a factor even with multiple camera bodies).

    Smoothly zooming with a photographic lens is an issue with video, which is why many DSLR videographers use follow focus systems or at least simple follow focus aids like these:

    Focus Shifter:
    DSLR Solutions:
    Lens Straps:

    Just as with still photography, if your budget is limited you can get better optical quality and faster optical speed on a prime lens than a zoom for the same price.

    For scripted or creative work you can shoot very compelling video with a prime lens. E.g, here is a brief video shot by well-known filmmaker Philip Bloom using a Panasonic GH2 and a 25mm prime lens. The subject is simply his mother cooking a meal, yet he makes it visually compelling.

  5. igmolinav thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 15, 2005

    Thank you very much for your message : ) !!!

    I have liked all the links and videos you have
    shared !!!

    Very kind regards,

    igmolinav : ) !!!
  6. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    What camera do you use? and what kind of video do you shoot. If using Nikon SLRs for scripted shows then you can make use of very inexpensive older manual focus primes. These sense are outstanding quality, better then what you can buy new and sell for maybe under $100 on the used market. This kind of work is when you have time to set up every shot, measure focus with a tape measure, put tape marks on the floor for the actor, use a tripod with sandbags on the legs and so on an so on. If shooting an event (wedding) or sports you go with the big zoom lens on a shoulder mounted camera.

    But on the other hand, people are doing good work with a iPhone 6.
  7. igmolinav thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 15, 2005

    Thank you for your message : ) !!!

    Would you please be so kind to link me
    to some of those Nikon lenses that you

    Kind regards,

    igmolinav : ) !!!
  8. ChrisA, Mar 22, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2016

    ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California

    Nikon started making SLRs in the 1960's then when auto-focus technology came along they found a way to NOT have to change their lens mount like Canon and others did. So most old manual lenses going way back still will mount on the newest digital SLRs.

    Here is a totally random link into eBay. It's the first that popped up when I searched

    Here is a very reputable seller of used gear, prices maybe a little high

    Each of the above place have many more for sale. also B&H and Adorama are good too as well as local camera shops. But you need to learn about Nikon lenses, which are good and the market prices. I have notice prices for these older lenses are going up, I think do to interest from people shooting cinema. Nikon sense are used with some specialized cinema cameras

    I might be trying to sell some too. I have to many but I'ver not yet decided which to keep or sell.

    Here is a very good article about manual lenses on a Sony A7.
    If you shoot video with a full-frame mirrorless this might be the way to go.
  9. DesterWallaboo macrumors 6502a


    Sep 7, 2003
    Western USA
    I love primes when I know I have a controlled shooting situation. Otherwise I default to 24-70 2.8L II and the 70-200 2.8L II...... primes whenever possible though.
  10. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68030

    Aug 28, 2012
    Between the coasts
    "Buy what the other guy has" can be a trap, no matter what field you're in. There's no substitute for experience. Shoot with what you have, rent what you don't have, and become familiar with the specifics o

    I doubt videographers are that different than still photographers - they use the lenses best suited to the situation. Changing lenses takes time, so in situations where rapid changes of lens/focal length are important (such as single-camera shoots), a zoom comes in handy. In a studio situation and/or on multi-camera shoots, changes of lens/focal length may be less important, so the qualities of primes may come to the fore. On a multi-camera shoot, you can equip two or more cameras with primes for the cost of one zoom of equivalent quality and aperture. Then, not every shot that seems to be a zoom is a zoom. Dolly, anyone? Still, there are some shots that are only possible with a zoom. Unfortunately, many zooms made for still cameras do not zoom smoothly enough for video (one reason why cine zooms can be incredibly expensive)....
  11. sarge, Mar 24, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2016

    sarge macrumors 6502a


    Jul 20, 2003
    You really can't go wrong following joema2's advice.

    Prime lenses, being designed for a single focal length, are perceived to be sharper at the corners and are faster than zooms by a couple of stops. By all accounts, however, the Canon 24-70 L II is all around sharper than the 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm Primes that Canon offer in that focal range.

    Personally I hate shooting above 1250 on my 5D Mark III and so often employ a prime but the gains in chip sensitivity as the years go by are obviating the need for those precious extra stops of light gathering...using primes now is more often than not a creative use (or utterly unimaginative abuse) of shallow depth of field.

    Nobody in their right mind is really shooting video at those wide open apertures if they can help it, at least not in run and gun situations, but here again you have to make a distinction between a still photo lens and Cine lenses (this is what ApfelKuchen refers to above when talking about still zooms) where the focus throws are much, much longer vs still camera lenses, where the change of the focal plane against the sensor takes many more turns of the barrel and so is more gradual and subtle and when done by hand enables a natural accuracy, if that makes any sense.

    Cine prime lenses are an entirely different beast altogether and as joema2 says are usually reserved for scripted environments where someone is pulling focus for you. Again though with these dual pixel CMOS sensor autofocus technologies w/60 points and facial recognition coming online, it's another game changer to consider.
  12. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    They really ARE the same. Those still photographers who work in studios don't need a pile of lenses. Some might get by with just one prime lens but likely they might own three primes. They create their own lighting, build the sets and hire the models and have total control. Many video people work this way too they might not need more then a couple primes. But those doing events (weddings) tend to use zooms and have to deal with existing light. The guys doing news never know what will happen and have to deal with it. But watch one of then do an interview and to fall into their "standard" setup

    About zooming. It can look OK or not depending on the effect you want.

    The reason for using a dolly is that the zoom is totally un-natural. Always remember that in still or video
    1) camera to subject distance determines perspective
    2) focal length determines field of view.

    zooming simply CROPS the image but the perspective (respective is the ratio of the size of close and distance objects in the frame) does not change. Try it with your own camcorder, a zoom looks like a crop, not like the viewing point is moving. So they use dollies. When I was 13 we simply put wheels on the tripod and pushed it on the sidewalk. Today it is common to lay tracks even if the tracks are cheep $5 PCV pipe. Experiment: Simply hand hold the camera and walk forward then go back and do the same thing using the zoom. The results look very different. Both are valid techniques, if you want the crop effect (to call attention to some object in the frame)do the zoom. If you want to make the view seem to be getting closer you need the dolly shoot.
  13. igmolinav thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 15, 2005

    Thank you very much for your contributions : ) !!!
    They have given me a lot of insight!

    Very kind regards,

    igmolinav : ) !!!
  14. sarge macrumors 6502a


    Jul 20, 2003
  15. igmolinav thread starter macrumors 65816

    Aug 15, 2005

    Thank you for your message : ) !!!
    Nice article!

    Kind regards,

  16. wubsylol macrumors 6502

    Nov 6, 2014
    As other people have already said, primes traditionally had the superior image quality but zooms are improving.
    If you are doing work which warrants zooming while recording, ENG or documentary work for example, you're going to be more concerned with the subject in your frame rather than the absolute pixel peeping perfect quality.

    For learning, just use the zoom you already have. Use a common focal length like 28mm on APS-C or 35m on full frame to teach yourself framing and how things look at those focal lengths, then if you get to the point that your zoom isn't cutting it you can pickup a prime and keep working with little change.

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