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Buying your first prime lens

Your First Prime Lens

Okay so you’ve decided that it’s time to buy your first prime lens. You’ve outgrown your kit lens or maybe you’re looking for something faster and sharper. But, with so many choices, where do you begin? In today's blog I’m going to give you some tips to figure out what might be best for you.

What is a Prime Lens? First of all if you are new to photography let me briefly explain. A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens, meaning it doesn’t zoom. Generally these lenses have a lower aperture (f-stop) than traditional zooms. I’ll get into that more in a second. Let’s look at the pros and cons vs. kit lenses.

Pros of a Prime:

  1. They have a lower f-stop which means the lens can open really wide and blow out the background in your images. This is referred to as bokeh (the amount of out of focus blur in a shot).

  2. Generally they are very crisp and sharp, especially in low light. Lower f-stop means more light is hitting your sensor.

  3. They last longer than zoom lenses because there are no moving parts (depending on the model and usage).

Cons of a Prime:

  1. They can be expensive (but not always). Lower f-stop lenses like 1.2 and 1.4 aperture glass can be costly.

  2. There’s no zoom. Well there is sort of, it’s your feet. Move close to zoom in, move away to zoom out.

  3. Shorter focal length lenses like a 28mm or 35mm can distort people faces if used too closely to the subject.

So which lens is right for you? A lot of photographers will tell you to go to a camera store and try out a few options. Well, can you really tell while shooting a bunch of camera bags from across the aisle in 15 minutes? Most likely not. If you have the option of renting or borrowing a lens for an inexpensive price, this might be a great option. But let me give you a third option. The best option in my opinion.

If you are a user of Adobe Lightroom (quite possibly the best and most simple editing software available) then you can follow along below. If not, click here to download a trial version.

Select a catalog from the left side of the screen and work within Library mode. This should open a number of photos. If you’ve rated your best photos, then open them.

On the bottom righthand corner of Lightroom you should see a dropdown box with an option labeled “camera info”. When you select this you’ll see several things across the top of your screen. One of which will say focal length. This will give you the statistics on what focal length you shot all of your shots in that library. This is a huge indication of what range you’re comfortable shooting in.

As you can see by my example, most of my shots are around 50mm. So if this was you, I’d say pick yourself up a 50mm prime lens (“nifty fifty”) 1.8 and get snapping! If you notice you’re higher in the range, maybe an 85mm or lower in the 35mm range. If you're not seeing the camera info, make sure that the Grid View is selected.

Crop Factor - Full Framers move on: One last thing to understand if you are using a crop sensor camera. There is a 1.5x magnification on your camera. So if you're using a 35mm on a Sony a6000 for example, your focal length is actually 52.5mm. So based on my screenshot above you'll see that I had a couple of shots with my crop 35mm. Which again is close to 50mm. That's my sweet spot.

Conclusion: So if you’re tired of that kit lens and you want a super sharp prime lens, you should hopefully know what focal length to start with. Deciding on the aperture however, depends on your style and budget. That decision is for you to make and research. Personally, I’m very happy with a 1.8 and don’t see any really good reason to go lower at this point in my career. A good value is important to me.

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