5 Easy Steps to Choose the Perfect Prime Lens for You

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“But how will I zoom in and out?”,  I blinked my eyes in disbelief.

“You’ve got feet, don’t you?”

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My first encounter with the concept of fixed or prime camera lenses was when they were explained to me (a baby photographer) when I met with a local wedding photographer whose work I was (and still am) crushing on. I was so surprised to hear that there were lenses that (gulp) didn’t zoom. ‘What’s the point of that?’ I wondered. Why pay more for less?

Clearly, I had lots of catching up to do!

There are many merits to utilizing prime lenses in your photography. One is that you may find you can achieve mind blowing sharpness and quality with a lens that isn’t 10 lenses in one. I like to say that the 50mm prime lens doesn’t have to try to be anything other than 50mm. It only needs to focus on (pun intended) being the best 50mm it can be. Of course, there are many fantastically sharp and capable zoom lenses out there, but you will find that you’re not only paying for quality, but versatility. Prime lenses aren’t very versatile, but what they lack in versatility, they can make up for in quality which may leave you asking, “what zoom?”

How to choose

So with so many to choose from, how do you choose the perfect prime lens for you? You can be like me and buy-to-try a whopping 14 lenses in 5 years, to the tune of $10,250, (true story) or you can try these great 5 steps:

  1. Choose one of your existing zoom lenses
  2. Set it on a focal length and leave it there
  3. Shoot for a week or so only on that setting. Experience what it’s like to use your feet instead of your zoom. Photograph your typical subjects, ones you photograph the majority of the time, and see how that focal length feels.
  4. Repeat the exercise at different focal lengths.
  5. Assess your experience shooting at different lengths. The setting at which you felt most comfortable will be a great indication of where to start when purchasing the perfect prime lens for you.

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Bonus tip!

If you use multiple lenses (or even just a few), there’s a super cool way to use Lightroom to see all the images taken with a particular lens. First, make sure you’re in the library module. On the left (under the smaller preview image) click ‘all photos’. Then on the top bar, click ‘metadata’. You’ll then see many sorting options depending on what photos you want to see. In the middle is the box which shows every lens you’ve used for all the images in your catalog (if you don’t see that use the pull down menu to select “lens”. How cool is that?! Then you can sort by focal length and see which one(s) you use most often.

50mm-canon-lens

My Final Choice

As I mentioned before, I’ve experimented with many different zoom and prime lenses. As for primes, I’ve owned the following Canon lenses: 50mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.8, and 24mm f/2.8. After all that, the only one that remains in my collection is the 50mm f/1.2. I personally love quite tight portrait shots so although I think the quality was fantastic, the 24mm was too wide. The 85mm had phenominal sharpness and quality, but I sold it to help pay for the 50mm. I find the 50mm great on my full frame camera for wideish family shots but also tight-enough portraits. The f/1.2 means it’s my best lens for ultra low light and the sharpness is a little mind blowing. For me, it’s the perfect prime lens.

Now, there are many lenses from which to choose and that’s where you fine people come in! If you’re a prime lens aficionado or even just a fan of a particular lens, get involved below and tell us what prime lenses you have experience with, and which are your favourites!

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

  • Mark Fisher

    Im afraid im a prime user.My favourite is my Nikon 50mm 1.2 on my a7r11.But another great lens is my 35mm fd canon stunning quality

  • stripey

    Would you say the f1.4 would offer a little bit more versatility if you wanted to branch out from portraiture? i’m sold on buying a prime lens but i know for work i would need a bit more than exclusively portrait work. would love to avoid buying more than one to start with if possible.

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