Isn’t the prime lens the one that comes with the camera? No, not usually. Many photographers invest in a prime lens because they want a very high-quality lens and are not all that worried about a range of focal lengths. For instance, a prime lens might only offer a 50mm focal length, but it will be manufactured in such a way as to deliver flawless, crisp, and clear images without fail.
So, a zoom lens is not going to be as well made? Not necessarily. A zoom lens is one with a range of focal lengths, such as 14 to 85mm, and there are many versions that are made just as well (if not more so) than prime lenses.
Why is there even a discussion about them? Firstly, many photographers like to have a lot of manual control over their photographic pursuits. Usually a prime lens is going to give them more options as far as the speed of the lens – which is not related to shutter speed but to the ability to work in lower light conditions due to aperture controls – and the weight of the camera too. Some photographers will go so far as to argue that zoom lenses make photographers lazy because they don’t have to find a way to make low light and difficult angles “work” for their cameras.
While it is true that the ability to zoom in clearly on a subject from a distance can allow the photographer to enjoy some freedom and effortlessness, the zoom lenses have more to offer than that alone. For example, as stated a bit earlier, the zooms will allow the photographer a handful of focal lengths. This means that they can use the camera in the same way that they might have used a 50mm prime lens, but they could also use it as an 85mm or even a 14mm lens too. This translates to convenience and efficiency, and it also means that the photographer could be saving a ton of money on additional equipment. Instead of purchasing two or three different lenses, the savvy photographer could research the most appropriate lenses for the work they hope to do and then find most of them in a single zoom.
This brings us to the last point in the debate over a prime or zoom lens – the type of photography. Clearly, most photographers don’t do just one variety of work. They might be a portrait photographer who also enjoys some landscape work. This would mean that the zoom could be handy in the studio, but would not give them the range they require in the field. This is the reason that it is so essential to understand the needs of the photographic endeavors in order to select the right equipment and lenses.