Why A Prime Lens Will Beat A Zoom Lens Any Day

These days I’m becoming more and more of a fan of prime lenses. There are a lot of reasons why, but what is the one thing that ALL photographers seek? TACK SHARP images! And when it comes to tack sharp, a prime lens will be a zoom any day of the week.

I won’t dive into the weeds of the technical differences between primes and zooms because you would all be asleep by the time I was done. But in short, primes have fewer moving parts and less glass which presents a smaller window for error in the optics. Zoom lenses also tend to be more susceptible to front or rear focusing, which requires the lens to be sent back to the manufacturer for adjustment (unless your camera body is capable of fine focus adjust).

I did a quick comparison while shooting my daughter’s 6th birthday photos. I compared my Nikon 16-85mm VR lens @ 50mm against my Nikon 50mm f1.8 prime lens. I shot at f8 because that’s the tell-all aperture between all lenses. Most lenses are somewhat soft when shooting wide open anyway.

Click on the shots below and view them at 100 percent. Look at the eyes and you will see exactly what I mean. The first image was shot with the 16-85mm VR and the second with the 50mm f1.8. (If you’re new to Flickr, click on the image and then at the menu bar at the top of the image click “All Sizes” and then click “Original”.)

It’s pretty evident when you look at the images at 100 percent. I can definitely tell a difference and that means a lot to me. Especially if you plan on making big prints, a sharp image is critical. Not to mention that we should all strive for the sharpest shots we can get.

Speaking of which, I didn’t apply ANY sharpening in Lightroom to these images either. They are just as they were imported from my camera. I only made adjustments to color and tone.

I could go on an on about why I am favoring prime lenses to zoom lenses, but that would make for a really long post. I only own one prime lens currently (my Nikon 50mm f1.8), but I plan on adding at least 3 more to my camera bag and possibly a 4th too!

Have a great weekend and happy shooting!


5 thoughts on “Why A Prime Lens Will Beat A Zoom Lens Any Day

  1. hi i have a sigma 30mm 1:1.4 and need a wider angle lense for shots in my mirror shop as i often dont get the distance to us the 30mm sigma EX, have you any ideas on what model would suit close up wide angle shots, with the superior quitity of a prime lense

    thx matt

    • Hi Matt,

      If you shoot Nikon, your best bet if you want an ultra-wide prime lens
      would be Nikon’s 14mm f2.8 lens. But be prepared to spend a lot of
      money for it (approx. $1,700.00 US). Canon also makes a 14mm f2.8
      prime lens if you shoot Canon (approx. $2,000.00 US). The widest
      Sigma goes without being a fisheye is their 20mm f1.8 prime lens.
      Tamron also makes a 14mm f2.8 lens for Nikon which would be a less
      expensive route for an ultra-wide.

      The Nikon or Canon glass would be the best, but would also cost you
      the most money. I wouldn’t recommend a fisheye lens for shooting your
      mirrors. 🙂

      Hope that helps,


  2. thanks Stephen

    I shoot a D80 at the moment thinking of upgrading to a D700! this should help as well. it feel like a big jump in money though. do you think its worth the expense?


    • Hi Matt,

      Not a problem. Going to a full frame camera body like the D700 would
      remove the 1.5x magnification factor that you get with your D80. The
      D700 is a great camera, there is no doubt about it. Whether or not
      it’s worth the expense is a question that only you can answer.
      Instead of your D80 and 30mm Sigma lens giving you the perspective of
      a 45mm lens, the D700 would give you a true 30mm perspective with that
      same lens. However, it’s gonna cost you about $2,300.00 US (from B&H
      Photo). You could spend less money on some different glass. Even the
      Nikon 14mm f2.8 prime would be less expensive.

      Another thing to consider when upgrading to FX Format is how many DX
      Format lenses do you own? If most of your lenses are DX, even though
      they would work on the D700, you wouldn’t be taking advantage of the
      FX Format. In my opinion, that would be a waste of money. However,
      if you have a lot of lenses that would work for FX (like your 30mm
      Sigma), then you would be all set.

      Remember, a camera body is simply just a box that traps light. The
      biggest factor in technical image quality is the optics, even more so
      than the camera. If I shoot a portrait with a Nikon 85mm f1.8 lens on
      my D90 and then on a D3, the images will be surprisingly close in
      image quality. For an example of what I’m talking about, read this
      post by Ken Rockwell.

      I apologize for the long reply, but I wanted to explain my answer
      thoroughly (to the best of my ability anyway) :-).

      Good luck with your decision and let me know what you decide on.



  3. This story is biased, opinionated, without substantial proof and comparison between prime and zoom. I like prime for its less design complexity. I find that using a prime requires that I get involved with taking the image, whereas, when I use a zoom, I tend to be composing the image from a distance.

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