Prime vs Zoom Lens: Which One is Fitting for You?

Prime vs Zoom Lens

You have picked up your DSLR camera for your next photography project. But you are in double mind about which lens you should go for between the prime lens and zoom lens.

No doubt, failure to pick one of the crucial parts of a camera– the lens can affect the clarity and sharpness of your shots, spoiling your entire photography project. Fret not as we will cover the ins and outs of prime lens and zoom lens alike after having hands-on experience with them.

You will get overviews, benefits, and more of both these lenses in this write-up. By the end of this discussion, you will be able to decide which one between- prime vs zoom lens is perfect for you.

Suggested Article

Best Sigma Art Lenses: Professional Choices in 2023

Prime Lens- What is it?

Prime Lens definition

A prime lens, also known as a fixed lens has a fixed focal length. That means it has a set angle of view that cannot be altered. If you want to enlarge your subject and make it fill more of the frame, you have to physically get nearer to it. So, to fit the subject into the frame, you have to step back.

Prime lenses have a single specific focal length, like 50mm. They come in different types of sizes and focal lengths, including fisheye and super-telephoto.

Zoom Lens- What is it?

Zoom Lens definition

Unlike prime lenses, zoom lenses have movable focal lengths. That means by moving the optical elements inside the lens, you can alter the angle of view.

With a zoom lens, sometimes you can have 3 types of lenses in one – a wide-angle lens, a normal lens, and a telephoto lens. For instance, a 35-105mm zoom lens would cover all the stated.

In other times, zoom lens stays within the same lens type while still rendering a range variation. For instance, a 10-24mm is a wide-angle zoom lens, while 70-200m range would be a a telephoto zoom lens.

With zoom lenses, you can get your subject to come closer or go further away with the turn of a ring, and without shifting your physical position.

Perks of Prime Lenses

Why prime lenses or fixed focal length lenses should be in your arsenal? Here is a list of the main benefits prime lenses offer over zoom lenses:


Prime lenses are considerably cheaper than their Zoom counterparts. A 24mm f/2.8 lens will cost you nearly $400, while a 24-70mm f/2.8 will set you back $1900-2300. Even if you go for focal lengths between 24mm and 70mm with fast primes like 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, and 85mm f/1.8, you will still end up paying less.

So, with prime lenses, photographers with a low budget have the chance to experience world-class photography sharpness at a fraction of the cost of those pricey variable focal length lenses. Also, you don’t have to make compromises with low-cost and shoddy zoom lenses all the time.

Size & Weight

Prime lenses are way lighter than zooms as they have fewer optical components inside. You might wonder if you should choose gear like a camera lens with fewer optical components, but there are two arguments that we can put forth –

Firstly, the quality of this type of lens is often optimum, so you don’t need to compromise your work or your images by considering the weight of your decision making process.

Secondly, a weighty lens can sometimes cause major problems like back and neck pain and even long-term physical injuries. Lugging around a heavy camera can also cause severe health complications in the long run.

On top of that, it’s never a comfortable feeling to carry heavy gear with you. If you don’t have any specific target, you are likely not to carry it. So, chances are that you would end up missing some great shots in various locations.

Creative Control with Quicker Apertures

Bulk of fast, professional zoom lenses like 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm, have a fixed maximum aperture of f/2.8. Contrarily, fast, professional prime lenses can go as wide as f/0.95.

That’s why they not only offer better light-gathering abilities but also a shallow depth of field, which can result in photographs with gorgeously rendered background highlights known as “bokeh“.

Low Light Conditions

A quick prime lens will let you capture subjects in low light environments without introducing blur, thanks to a larger wider aperture. Owing to simpler optical designs, prime lenses can easily “open” up to f/2 or even f/1.2.

These types of lenses will let in two to three times as much light as a fast pro zoom lens with an aperture of f/2.8. While many zoom lenses include optical image stabilization systems to help you in low-light conditions, these systems are pointless if you have a moving subject. 

Learning Factor

A good number of photographers believe that zooming in or zooming out your subject by walking, an outdated way, is a fine way of learning composition and finding better angles. It also supposedly assists one in getting used to a lens better and deploying it to its full potential.


Both zoom and prime lenses are fairly sharp these days. But for longer focal lengths, zoom lenses tend to lose sharpness. This is especially on point with lenses that go up to 500mm or 600mm, where prime lenses in this category always outpace zoom lenses.

Perks of Zoom Lenses

We dealt with the benefits of prime lenses but that doesn’t mean zoom lenses don’t have benefits. Despite their additional weight and cost, they are all the rage for photographers and can be very conducive to use.

Offers Versatility

The most important reason to grab zoom lenses is due to their versatility. Zoom lenses can be a perfect choice when a photographer needs to manage a variety of situations. From wide-angle to telephoto, you can do that with a quick turn of the zoom ring without requiring you to physically move.

For example, landscape and wildlife photographers are often restricted to a particular spot or area, so being able to zoom an area of interest to a particular range can be invaluable for properly framing a shot.

Extends Flexibility

The top benefit that zoom lenses offer is the zoom range and this perk alone can overshadow all the perks of a prime lens.

The ability to adjust focal length without altering the lens is phenomenal. Zoom lenses are also incredibly versatile options for event photography.

But having a selection of different focal lengths in a single product may imply that you have to compromise in aperture, price, and weight.

Ability to Stabilize Images

The latest zoom lenses often offer 3-4 stop image stabilization systems, whether it is Canon’s Image Stabilization (IS), Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR), Sigma’s Optical Stabilization (OS) or Tamron’s Vibration Compensation (VC).

With this feature, even if you have an f/4 lens, you can still get crisp images when shooting immobile subjects in dark environments.

Thanks to the image stabilization technology in some of the zoom lenses, they will make some of their internal optical elements move and shift to counter camera shake, which allows you to use extremely slow shutter speeds.

Important to mention, image stabilization isn’t just restricted to zoom lenses these days. Some of the newer prime lenses also boast image stabilizer features, such as the recently announced Canon 35mm f/2 IS.

Focus on Practicality

Not planning, thinking, and carrying multiple specific lenses for a variety of photography projects are indeed very practical. Zoom lenses with their varying focal lengths enable you to cover all your possible needs effortlessly.

All you need is to grab your camera with your zoom lens and you’re good to go. This can be super handy when you’re traveling, for example, or if you just want to have your camera with you at all times in case the perfect shooting opportunity shows up along the way.

Additionally, in some outdoor locations, it’s uncomfortable and impractical to change lenses after a while. Every time you attempt to do it, you risk getting dust or water in or damaging the sensor. Having just a single lens that serves multiple purposes exempts you from that.

Easy Portability

A single zoom lens can swap two or three prime lenses. That means your focus is just to carry a single attached lens, unlike multiple prime lenses. With a single zoom lens, you won’t have to worry about carrying a large backpack.

On top of that, less lens replacement also means less effort, cleaner sensor, and optical elements, which you would always crave.

Enables Easy Learning Opportunities

If you’re just kicking off in photography, it’s overly tough to know what type of photos you’re going to take the most.

Even if you know, you are unlikely to know which focal length is perfect for that photographic genre. This is where zoom lenses come into play as they will let you try out shooting on different locations with different focal lengths until you’re ready to specialize.

And the good thing is that many cameras sold in starter kits come with a zoom lens included. Although this is a smart way of getting started, you shouldn’t stay too long with that lens.

If you decide that zoom lenses are better for you than prime lenses, you should invest in a professional zoom that will provide you with better quality than kit lenses.

Best Available Prime Lenses

Prime lenses come in various focal lengths but the best 3 for a photographer’s prime lens kit would be – 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm.

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM is a little gem that offers a wider aperture of f/1.8 in a compact size. But one of its unique features is its ability to focus closely enough to bring out half-life-size macro images.

Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO

The 35mm focal length provides a wide view with a natural perspective, making this a popular lens for many photographers, including photojournalists. Additionally, the RF lens range offers two Canon 50mm prime lenses.

A 50mm focal length imitates the perspective of the human eye. 50mm lenses always offer wide apertures and lenses like the Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM provide a perfect balance of performance, size, aperture, and price.

Canon RF 50mm F1.8

For those aspiring for the best of what prime lenses can offer, the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM can be a no-compromise approach to image quality. But it comes in at a way larger size and a considerably higher cost than the RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens.

Canon RF 85mm F2 MACRO

As for Canon 85mm prime lenses, you can go for 2 choices of prime lenses in this focal length. The Canon RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM is perfect for portrait shots but also offers a half-life-size macro, making it bankable for a wide range of photography.

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM

For the ultimate portrait photography, look no further than the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM, which renders gorgeous looks of subjects and flattering skin tones, with striking bokeh to make the subject “pop” out of a soft background.

Canon's 85mm f1.2L

Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L lenses have always been the go-to lenses for portrait photographers, whether it is for the FD, EFor the RF mount.

Suggested Article

Best Lens for Sports Photography in 2023 | Professional Picks

Best Available Zoom Lenses

Now let’s deal with zoom lenses and no other zoom lenses can come close to Canon 24-70mm.

The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM is many photographers’ gold standard lens. It offers breathtaking image quality and a wide range of focal lengths covering most circumstances. Also, it offers a fast aperture, built-in 5-stop optical IS, and Nano USM motors, delivering smooth and sharp shots.

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L

Besides, it falls short compared to a prime lens which has a faster aperture and would be common on a fixed focal length lens. However, f/2.8 is fast for a zoom lens. For many news, sports, or wedding photographers, this lens is their go-to lens, due to its sheer flexibility letting them adapt to any situation.

In the case of prime lenses, they are smaller and lightweight, but that’s not necessarily true for telephoto primes. If you require multiple telephoto focal lengths, you have to carry several large prime lenses.

But why take so much trouble when you could use just one 70-200mm zoom lens, with the flexibility of its range of focal lengths?

Moreover, telephoto prime lenses from 100mm to 200mm have almost vanished from the market, and the 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom is now one of the most common lenses in any professional photographer’s kitbag.

The RF range extends a choice of two Canon 70-200mm zoom lenses, the RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM and the RF 70-200mm F4L IS USM, each of them is the tiniest lens in its class.

RF 70-200mm F2.8L

RF 70-200mm F4L


Both have also been streamlined for video, so it’s up to you to choose between f/2.8 lens and f/4 lenses. For exceptional low-light performance and shallow depth of field, the former is perfect but if it’s the otherwise, go for a cheaperone f/4 lens.

Suggested Article

Canon M50 Lenses: Top Picks for Everyday Photography

Prime vs Zoom Lens: Which One Should You Grab?

Now that you know the benefits of each type of lens, which one should you pick? The answer isn’t straightforward!

If you want to capture a very shallow depth of field, a prime lens would be the right choice. That’s especially true for smaller sensor cameras like micro four thirds cameras, where the depth of field is not as shallow as with full-frame cameras at the same apertures, guessing that the focal length and field of view are the same.

But if you require a single lens for a wide range of applications, a zoom lens would surely be better. That’s why most wedding photographers simply love 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms since this range on a full-frame camera can cover nearly everything from group shots to portraits.

Generalist Wildlife shooters also love zooms such as the new Nikon 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 as it can capture a wide variety of subjects from large mammals to birds.

However, specialist wildlife photographers love primes like the 600mm f/4 due to its speed, image quality, and wide aperture which help substantially for smaller subjects like birds.

Apart from that, some lenses like a true macro lens come only as primes!

So, if you should pick a prime or a zoom depends on your application. Although zooms bring out fantastic images and are multi-faceted, there aren’t any substitutes for owning a top-notch fast prime!

Over to You…

Now that you know the nitty-gritty of prime and zoom lenses alike. You have a complete idea about the features as well as the performance of both these lenses under different conditions.

If you aim to capture low-light event photography, sports photography, astrophotography, etc., or notch up dreamy bokeh background, prime lenses would be a good choice.

However, if you intend to shoot wildlife, landscape, or travel photography where you have to cover large areas, zoom lenses will do the job perfectly for you.

So, set your photography genre, budget, & goal, and take the plunge if zoom or prime lens should be in your arsenal!