A few weeks back I talked about the only 3 lenses any photographer really needs, and in that blog post I mentioned that I only have one zoom lens. And that one zoom lens is not one of the top 3 lenses that a photographer needs. So today I’m going to explain why I stopped using zoom lenses, and what I use instead. Hint: It’s my physical movement.
Zoom Lenses vs. Prime Lenses
A zoom lens should be a pretty obvious explanation: it is a lens that zooms in and out, giving the photographer different focal lengths in one easy to use lens. Pro zoom lenses—as opposed to smaller variable aperture kit lenses—are almost always an f/2.8, which is fast but not as fast a prime lenses. So if low light is a big consideration you will get more from a prime lens. That being said, zoom lenses are great and they definitely have their purpose. My favorite zoom lens was always the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, this was a workhorse lens that was pretty fast and could be used in most situations. A Zoom lens allows the photographer to stay in one spot and get closer or further away from their subject, this is obviously a huge pro to using this lens, especially if you have some mobility issues or don’t want to move around a lot. But, alternatively, they can also make the photographer a little bit lazy, creatively speaking. Now hear me out. I’m not saying because you are using a zoom lens you are lazy. What I am saying is that you can become a bit overly reliant on your zoom lens and stop really considering your framing. And that maybe by using a single focal length you become a little more intentional with your framing, thus improving your own creativity.
Prime lenses have single focal lengths (i.e. 50mm or 85mm) that have a set aperture that is usually low (like f/1.4). Prime lenses are often a bit cheaper than their zoom counterparts, and a whole lot lighter. A zoom lens like a 24-70mm or 70-200mm are great but they are HEAVY! And if you are carrying that around for a long time it starts to really feel like a brick. As a wedding photographer on my feet for 8 hours a day, this just wasn’t that feasible for the long term. Plus it starts to cause wrist strain as well from holding that heavy lens. Prime lenses are lighter and often faster (zoom lenses only go down to f/2.8, whereas a prime lens can go as low as f/1.2).
Why I switched to prime lenses
So although things like speed and weight were one factor on why I stopped using zoom lenses, they weren’t actually the biggest reason for me. What was? Client interaction and creativity.
I found that by standing in one single place and using the zoom ring to compose and frame my images started to make me a little bit bored…creatively speaking. Yes I could make quick changes but I never really was moving around so although the cropping (and a bit of the framing) was different, I wasn’t changing the overall look to give a variety of imagery to my clients. So for the sake of my personal creativity, using a prime lens that is a set focal length allows me to really pay attention to what was happening inside the viewfinder of my camera and forced me to make quick adjustments and really be intentional with how I framed my images. Huge game changer for my style overall. The second big thing it did was change my client interaction.
Wedding clients have to stand there and smile all day long. It is exhausting. Have you ever been photographed for that long in your life? Likely not. So they are looking to you for changes and if you just keep standing in the same spot your clients are going to get tired, and bored, and this will show on their faces. So using a prime lens requires me to move around more to re-frame and re-compose my images AND it helps to keep my clients focused on me as the photographer and they don’t start getting freeze face.
For large groups (like family portraits or wedding party portraits) this is priceless because everyone remains focused on you as the photographer because you keep moving around. I always joke with my clients “I don’t have a zoom lens, I am the zoom lens” but what I actually mean with this is that I have to run further back or closer to frame the image the way I want and the group stays focused and stops paying attention to their friend walking up with a drink or anything else that is happening behind me.
Why I’ve Never Looked Back
So in conclusion, the main reason why I stopped using zoom lenses was for the purpose of my own creativity and client interaction. And I have never looked back. If your own client interactions and/or creativity is on the top of your list as something to focus on more then I would 100% recommend giving full prime shooting a try. My clients’ experience was most important to me. It was the best reason to buy a couple more lenses and stop using my main zoom lens. I did, however, keep that 24-70 in my bag that first season I switched…you know, just in case. But I found I never even needed it and sold it the following year. I stand behind only really needing 3 focal lengths (wide, normal, and telephoto) to get all of your photographing needs.