Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Digital Photography

This chapter is from the book

5. Prime vs. Zoom

Speaking of things purists and non-purists alike are passionate about, discussing the difference and overall value of prime lenses versus zoom lenses can cause some photographers to have a conniption. Many times, this argument is focused on which is sharper, lighter, or more true to the roots of photography. Nevertheless, photographers prefer to shoot with one or the other, or a combination of the two.

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses are those that are limited to only one focal length (Figure 1.10). The first camera lenses ever were prime lenses, and they are still very popular, especially among those wanting lighter loads and incredibly shallow depth of field. Prime lenses have fewer moving parts than zoom lenses, making them easy to carry around (aside from the super telephoto lenses), smaller (again, aside from the big glass), and less intrusive to subject matter (super telephotos might as well have red flags flying atop). Since they have fewer moving parts, and fewer pieces of glass or lens elements that might be moving otherwise, prime lens are arguably sharper than zoom lenses.

Figure 1.10

Figure 1.10 Prime lenses, like this 85mm f/1.4, are appealing to many photographers for their wide maximum aperture and build quality.

There are plenty of focus charts online and research on the subject. When you nail focus with prime lenses, especially at very large apertures, they are sharp. Perhaps the sharpness is heightened by the extreme bokeh. And when it comes to bokeh, prime lenses cannot be beat. At only one focal length, manufacturing is capable of building lenses that have very wide maximum apertures. Whereas the maximum aperture opening of any zoom lens Nikon makes is f/2.8, some prime lenses open up all the way to f/1.4, a whole two stops more open. Talk about great lenses for low-light conditions and isolating subject matter from an environment!

Prime lenses are not without their issues. Prime lenses, as their name indicates, are limited to just the one focal length. This isn’t necessarily a negative, unless you are the type of shooter who requires a range of focal lengths but doesn’t have room in the camera bag—nor the budget—for every prime lens available. Prime-lens advocates encourage those wanting the flexibility and convenience of zoom lenses to “zoom with their feet” and move around in the landscape. However, there are times when the prime lens comes up too short or too long, without the ability to change on the fly. This usually happens to me when I’m using telephotos such as the 300mm f/4 or 400mm f/2.8. While I’m shooting football games, these focal lengths are great, until the action comes real close, real fast!

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses, on the other hand, offer a range of focal lengths and are many folks’ go-to lenses. Consider the AF-S DX Nikkor 18–200mm f/3.5–5.6G ED VR II. For crop-sensor camera users, this lens offers enough range for 90 percent of their work. On top of that, it’s fairly light and much smaller and less expensive than the AF-S Nikkor 70–200mm f/2.8G ED VR II and the popular AF-S Nikkor 24–70mm f/2.8G ED.

Zoom lenses come in all shapes and sizes, and if you just bought a Nikon D5300 or another crop-sensor camera, you more than likely combined it with Nikon’s standard kit lens, the AF-S DX Nikkor 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6G VR. Many folks also purchase an AF-S DX Nikkor 55–300mm f/4.5–5.6G ED VR or the affordable telephoto zoom, the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6G IF-ED. With just two of these lenses, a shooter has an entire bag full of prime focal lengths—and more—at her disposal. Personally, I carry an AF-S Nikkor 24–70mm f/2.8G ED the majority of the time, and when I’m on an assignment where I expect a variety of shots and perspectives, I carry an AF-S Nikkor 70–200mm f/2.8G ED VR II attached to an additional camera body.

However, zoom lenses are anything but invisible. If your goal is to be inconspicuous in a crowd, a long telephoto zoom is probably not the best choice. Higher-end lenses are also much heavier than their prime counterparts, as well as the consumer-level zooms. Nikon has done a great job in previous years of manufacturing lighter lenses, but big zooms are still heavy (part of which helps stabilize some to be handheld). Lastly, zoom lenses cannot reach the maximum aperture openings of many prime lenses. More expensive, higher- end zooms, such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph, can open up to f/2.8, the largest opening of any zoom lens Nikon makes. But this doesn’t compare to lower-end, less expensive primes that open up to f/1.8 or f/1.4.

Which One?

Like shooting in manual focus or autofocus, shooting with prime or zoom lenses is a choice based on preference and shooting style. Ultimately, you might have the best luck working with a combination of the two types, if you have room in your camera bag. If I need a lens that offers as much flexibility as I can possibly squeeze out of it, I’ll go with a zoom, particularly if I foresee shots made at multiple focal lengths. If I’m needing a lens that does not get in the way, is easy to carry—and more important, doesn’t seem aggressive to my subjects—then a prime lens or two is what I will throw in a small bag. The majority of the time, though, I have a bag with a few zoom lenses and a couple of prime lenses.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020