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Author Topic: Prime or zoom?  (Read 20303 times)
griff19690
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« on: July 05, 2008, 05:11:28 AM »
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Hi.  I am new to photography and interested mainly in landscape and macro.  My question is which lens should I buy.  I am on a budget but could afford a Tokina 19-35 or a 28mm/30mm/35mm prime. Which would be best?
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DarkPenguin
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« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2008, 09:49:10 AM »
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Not that tamron.
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DarkPenguin
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« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2008, 01:56:54 PM »
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I should ask the question.  Do you have favorite focal lengths?  If so you could buy a prime around that length.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2008, 08:33:29 PM »
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Hi.  I am new to photography and interested mainly in landscape and macro.  My question is which lens should I buy.  I am on a budget but could afford a Tokina 19-35 or a 28mm/30mm/35mm prime. Which would be best?
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Depends on what you like to do and what you're shooting. If you're shooting 35 mm film, Tokina's older 19-35 mm zoom is pretty good optically, especially stopped down to f:8 to f:16 or so, and you can't beat the price. If you're shooting a reduced format APS-C digital SLR, you're better off getting a wider zoom like Tokina's 12-24 mm, if you can swing it the price. You'll almost always be stopping down a wide-angle lens for depth of field shooting landscapes, so wide maximum aperture doesn't matter so much.

Of course, if you're shooting street photography or indoor candids, you're better off with a wide aperture fixed focal length prime, like Sigma's 28 f:1.8.
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rgs
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« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2008, 06:59:53 PM »
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You'll get more lens for your money with prime lenses and the discipline of working with a single focal length will serve you well in the future.

This may be an old fashioned notion, but I think I'm better with the zoom after years of working only primes. And the primes are almost always sharper and faster than a similarly priced (or, in some cases, any) zoom.

Of course I came of age many years ago and usually preferred medium and large format to the 35mm. And I am just beginning to learn digital.

Richard Smith
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peteh
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« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2008, 09:35:50 PM »
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You'll get more lens for your money with prime lenses and the discipline of working with a single focal length will serve you well in the future.

This may be an old fashioned notion, but I think I'm better with the zoom after years of working only primes. And the primes are almost always sharper and faster than a similarly priced (or, in some cases, any) zoom.

Of course I came of age many years ago and usually preferred medium and large format to the 35mm. And I am just beginning to learn digital.

Richard Smith
Richard Smith Photography
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Get ready to spend some $$! Just my opinion but digital costs more than film.But I got rid of my dark room 25 years ago.Now it's monitors, computers and printers and .......? I could go on and on. Ohh yeah, software too!Be very carefull, ask a lot of questions here! FREE ! I have been "SUCKED IN" by the web.Buy a ZOOM.IMHO
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rgs
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« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2008, 10:16:12 PM »
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My point was not that I don't use zooms, I do. But that the discipline of prime lenses is valuable and the IQ is usually better than zooms. I also value the discipline of a view camera, but that's another discussion.

When I said I am just learning digital, I was referring to learning it in depth. I have been working digitally for some time but there is still much to learn. Sorry for any confusion.

RGS
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petermarrek
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« Reply #7 on: July 07, 2008, 09:12:09 AM »
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Most of my life was spent with a view camera. Very simple, find a scene, pick your shooting position, find the lens to make it work. With modern zooms it has become much easier to get the best framing without the loss of quality of early zooms. Three lenses cover 98% of my needs. Peter
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rgs
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« Reply #8 on: July 07, 2008, 03:10:48 PM »
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Apparently my first response has hijacked this thread in a way which was not intended.

The OP said he was just learning and didn't want to spend much. I suggested (or meant to) that prime lenses will most likely give better IQ than entry level zooms, cost less while providing some photographic discipline that will serve well in the future (the just learning part). That's really all I intended to say. Sorry for any confusion.

RGS
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wolfnowl
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« Reply #9 on: July 07, 2008, 03:39:32 PM »
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The OP said he was just learning and didn't want to spend much. I suggested (or meant to) that prime lenses will most likely give better IQ than entry level zooms, cost less while providing some photographic discipline that will serve well in the future (the just learning part). That's really all I intended to say. Sorry for any confusion.

FWIW, I agree.  Having ONE lens to work with really requires that you look for the creative opportunities available with that one lens.  My first 35mm camera was an old Argus with four f/stops and five shutter speeds, IIRC, no light meter, and 'guess' focusing.  I still have a double lens reflex that has one lens and a 6x6 cm image size.  It's a different way of working.  However, if you were planning to do sports photography or something where things can change quickly then a zoom lens might be more practical.  But with landscapes, generally they aren't going anywhere and you can move.

I also recommend 'Photography and the Art of Seeing'.  A worthwhile read in my opinion...

Mike.
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griff19690
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« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2008, 05:31:18 PM »
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Thanks everyone for all the advice.  I am thinking about a canon f2.8 28mm as a cheap standard prime.  Has anyone ever used one?  Any good?
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bill t.
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« Reply #11 on: July 11, 2008, 11:13:11 PM »
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Do you shoot from a tripod?  I was surprised to find that my Nikon 18-70mm "kit lens" was about equal to my 20mm and 24mm primes around f8, and actually shows less chromatic aberration.  It's practically useless at anything longer than 55mm, but a real champ at the wider settings to include 18mm.  (Of course my 28mm f2.8 AIS Nikkor is impossible to beat under any circumstance).

If you do use a tripod a lot of the time, or routinely shoot at mid-range apertures, try out whatever cheap kit lens comes with the camera, it might surprise you.  You can sell those types of lenses used on ebay for about as much as you paid as part of a package.
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Plekto
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« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2008, 04:21:01 PM »
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Sorry - this is long, please bear with me

If you're new and on a budget, I'd recommend any of the older AF Nikons , Canons, or similar film cameras.  I see people practically giving whole setups away on Craigslist all the time, yet they still are comparable to $1000+ new cameras - just using film instead of a sensor.

For what you want to do, it should work perfectly well and after a couple of years, you can think about moving on to digital or medium format or whatever.  First major camera, IMO, should be about as simple and straightforward as possible, and digital cameras these days are anything but that - at least the ones that you can change lenses on/aren't consumer point and shoot models.

People will say go digital, but that requires software and a home printer.  If you're looking at NOT printing at home, the only price difference between a lab printing film and digital is the cost of film, which is cheap.  As in several hundred rolls developed to equal the cost of the least expensive large format inkjet printer.  A typical lab will do identical results under 8*10 to most home units that any beginner would find remotely affordable.  For less money.  The local one to me does 400DPI Dye Sub 5*7 prints for 35 cents each with the coupon in the local community paper.  And no extra charge for developing, either(couple of dollars without the coupon).  I can't hardly buy the paper for that cost, let alone the ink or the printer.

If you're on an even tighter budget, you can find any old Canon, Minolta, or similar manual focus film camera.  Even 20+ years later, an old AE1 is still more camera than most new users can possibly handle.   Tough as nails, too.  Probably buy a body in good condition for about the cost of a full tank of gas.    

Older manual focus prime lenses are often superb quality and you'll find them at silly prices at garage sales and so on.  Even a camera shop usually will have a good price on them, and for what you are doing with landscapes, it's usually a matter of spinning the focus all the way to infinity and playing with the aperture.(auto focus isn't really required for landscapes like, say, sports shots are)

Film also lends itself to a more "art" result.  It can do much better color rendition, dynamic range(and shoulder) and make for a more seamless look under the right circumstances.  Want 16-20MP quality?  Good film can do that.(Fuji Velvia 50 speed side film is a favorite of many here)

I use it for landscapes because I have yet to find a camera under $3,000(used) that does dynamic range close to good film.  And for landscapes, low light, and similar shots(macro as well), contrast is an enormous factor.

But it's obviously not going to work for someone making a living off of it - it's slow, cumbersome,, and time-consuming compared to digital.  But for someone who wants to do a few rolls of landscapes and the like per year and has the time to carefully set up a shot, film gives tremendous bang for the dollar, even today.

Professional quality film is really quite astounding stuff, since it's basically made from the same stock as motion picture film -  which keeps being refined to the point of absurdity.  As long as 35mm cinema cameras are made(100+ years I'd wager), film will still be made - it's not going extinct.  Just more of a specialty product is all.  It's going to be a LONG time every last film is shot in digital, no matter what Lucas says about it.    

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As for the exact lens, 24-28mm is roughly equal to the look that you see in a typical movie theater(80-90 degree visual width).  This also is about as wide as you can get without noticeable distortion.  Since most film can be pushed a stop or so now without much problem, you don't need a "light bucket".  A much cheaper 28mm/F2.8 or so will more than suffice for most shots instead of a pricey f/1.8-2.4.  The same goes for a 45-50mm lens.  Canon makes a 50mm/F1.0. (price of a good used car!) 99% of sane people just get the older 50mm f/1.4 for pennies on the dollar. It's a darn fine lens.

Another advantage is that lenses that aren't the super-low-light models are very short and compact, so you can fit 5-6 lenses in a fairly small bag.  A 1/2 lb 50mm lens is a godsend on a trip.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2008, 04:38:52 PM by Plekto » Logged
Mark D Segal
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« Reply #13 on: July 14, 2008, 07:46:15 PM »
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The present and future of photography is digital - period. The amount of creative headroom you get from digital just makes it incomparable with anything that has gone before it. Don't cripple yourself from the get-go with film and the high costs you would rope yourself into using it - with less quality and less process control than you can achieve with an elementary digital workflow.

You don't need a very high resolution camera to produce perfectly acceptable 11*17 inch inkjet prints, so you don't need to spend a fortune on a camera. At an entry stage I would recommend a relatively low cost DSLR (even the less expensive ones are offering 10~12 MP these days, which is awesome compared with a few short years ago) with a decent quality zoom lens - again to give you maximum flexibility in composing your images to fill the frame with the subject you want. You'll need software to process them - either Photoshop Elements or Lightroom will be great to learn with - leave Photoshop for the next stage; and don't ignore the computer requirements, but these days high capacity PCs and even Macs cost a fraction of what they used to. As for printers - there's a huge range from a few hundred dollars upward depending on your output requirements. You haven't talked about the size of your budget for getting yourself all geared-up, so it's hard to make specific recommendations. Also bear in mind the costs of making the photographs once you have the materials.

OK, this thread started with a question about zoom or prime, but meandered well beyond that, so my contribution did as well. Anyhow, I'd recommend zoom. which one depends on your needs and your budget. Tell us more, we can tell you more.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2008, 07:49:36 PM by MarkDS » Logged

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rgs
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« Reply #14 on: July 14, 2008, 11:20:26 PM »
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Clearly the future (and the present) is digital. And for good reasons.

I will disagree with the previous post on only one point: A beginner is better off with prime lenses.

The visual and working discipline they impose makes one a better photographer. That doesn't mean you should stay with primes, but, in the beginning, it is the photographer who needs to be flexible, not the equipment. The beginning photographer needs to learn to see and think as a photographer and in that task, zooms are a hindrance.

The bane of our computer age is when people stop thinking and just let the machines do the work because it seems easier.

RGS
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ErikKaffehr
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« Reply #15 on: July 15, 2008, 12:05:43 AM »
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Hi!

There are some god suggestions, here on the forum.

Some observations

1) It may hold that single focals have some adventages over zooms.
2) If you go for Nikon or Pentax it may be possible to get some used single focals for a good price. But economy level Nikons won't work with old lenses.
3) You want to keep dust out of the camera. Frequent lens changes may lead to more problems with dust on sensor.
4) You would probably loose a lot of quality with cropping.
5) Yeah, it is a great way of learning composition to use a single lens.


Some suggestions:

1) Keep looking for used stuff
2) There are some really good zooms around there. The Sigma 18-50/2.8 and the Tamron 28-75/2.8 for instance have stellar reputation.
3) If you buy a new lens, test it immediately! Quite a few lenses have centering problems. If you caught a bad one just send it back and ask for a new. Tack a picture of a brick wall and compare corners.
4) Don't spend a lot on an expensive DSLR, it will be old iron in two years, anyway. Lenses are for ever. I have Minolta 80-200/2.8 APO bought 2007, it's still one of my favorites.

Erik

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Apparently my first response has hijacked this thread in a way which was not intended.

The OP said he was just learning and didn't want to spend much. I suggested (or meant to) that prime lenses will most likely give better IQ than entry level zooms, cost less while providing some photographic discipline that will serve well in the future (the just learning part). That's really all I intended to say. Sorry for any confusion.

RGS
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griff19690
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« Reply #16 on: July 15, 2008, 04:16:59 AM »
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Hi!
3) If you buy a new lens, test it immediately! Quite a few lenses have centering problems. If you caught a bad one just send it back and ask for a new. Tack a picture of a brick wall and compare corners.
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What's a centering problem?
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #17 on: July 15, 2008, 07:16:56 AM »
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I will disagree with the previous post on only one point: A beginner is better off with prime lenses.

The visual and working discipline they impose makes one a better photographer.

The bane of our computer age is when people stop thinking and just let the machines do the work because it seems easier.

RGS
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None of of this stands up to serious scrutiny. There is no obvious reason why a fixed focal length makes one a better photographer. One needs to learn how to identify a photograph and compose it effectively regardless of the focal length. Variable focal length in one lens just gives the photographer added flexibility and convenience - as well as a cleaner sensor. If they don't use it properly, that's not the fault of the lens; it's the attitude of the user.

This is like all those who blame the existence of cigarettes for the fact that people smoke them despite everything we know about the risks, or they blame the existence of TV sets for addiction to TV............discipline starts in the mind, not with the hardware.

I don't know how long you've been using computers in a professional capacity, but from the time I started in the late 1960s, if anything, the opportunities they offered and the rigour they imposed on structuring work made me think more than ever, and as the capabilities of these machines kept growing, so did I enjoy learning how to do old and new things in better ways. Again, don't blame the hardware for how the software in some peoples' heads may work.....or not work.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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Rob C
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« Reply #18 on: July 15, 2008, 11:41:19 AM »
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Well, I think that the way for a neophyte to fly is with film. Transparency. And with a single lens - maybe a 35mm focal length. All thatīs needed beyond the camera and lens is a good incident light meter and heīs away on the rocket. There is no need to spend money making prints at this stage; a good transparency tells you no lies and we are talking about learning, after all.

Yes, this  might well be the digital age, but thatīs not to say that the basics are any different, and itīs basics we are on about here. You have to do several things: discover if your eye is any good; find out if the simple mechanics of exposure are beyond you; discover if you really enjoy making pictures; find out if you think the resulting image is worth the pain or pleasure of getting it.

I would not suggest a zoom, not because of IQ but because itīs the lazy way to crop and doesnīt make you go the extra step further to get your ass into the place that gives you the best perspective, not just framing. Zooms, if you need them, may have a job to do much later in photographic life.

The point about the suggestion of starting with a single lens is that at the learning stage, your priorities are all about technique and how to get one. Great, individualistic imaging is a concept for much further down the line. Gotta crawl before you can run!

Rob C
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #19 on: July 15, 2008, 12:43:28 PM »
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Well, I think that the way for a neophyte to fly is with film. Transparency. And with a single lens - maybe a 35mm focal length. All thatīs needed beyond the camera and lens is a good incident light meter and heīs away on the rocket. There is no need to spend money making prints at this stage; a good transparency tells you no lies and we are talking about learning, after all.

Yes, this  might well be the digital age, but thatīs not to say that the basics are any different, and itīs basics we are on about here. You have to do several things: discover if your eye is any good; find out if the simple mechanics of exposure are beyond you; discover if you really enjoy making pictures; find out if you think the resulting image is worth the pain or pleasure of getting it.

I would not suggest a zoom, not because of IQ but because itīs the lazy way to crop and doesnīt make you go the extra step further to get your ass into the place that gives you the best perspective, not just framing. Zooms, if you need them, may have a job to do much later in photographic life.

The point about the suggestion of starting with a single lens is that at the learning stage, your priorities are all about technique and how to get one. Great, individualistic imaging is a concept for much further down the line. Gotta crawl before you can run!

Rob C
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I respectfully disagree thoroughly with just about all of this.

You have very little control over what you can do with transparency roll film. You need viewing equipment of some kind to see the pictures properly.

There are major differences of exposure technique between film and digital which one may as well learn from the get-go, because the present and the future is digital.

Training institutions are gradually, or not so gradually as the case may be, either scaling back or closing their film processing facilities.

The real basics are about learning to SEE and learning to compose and expose an image so that it has photographic qualities. That is learned. Learning happens with continuous experimentation, trial and error. It is much easier and cheaper to do this with a half-decent digital camera than with film. A printer isn't necessary for this. The images can be downloaded to a hard-drive and viewed on a display.

Zoom lenses are not the lazy way to crop. Zoom lenses are the intelligent way to crop because they allow you more easily (and sometimes the only way of enabling) to fill the frame with the image you want. They are an AID to composition. I would definitely recommend starting photographic life with a decent zoom lens.

There's everything to say for buying whatever one can afford at the learning stage to create an ENABLING ENVIRONMENT which expands the scope of what one can learn rather easily. Please point me to any objective research reliably establishing that making one's photographic life constrained and difficult is better for learning.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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