Glen Goffin Photography

Saturday, July 25, 2009

65 Zooming in on a Prime - Just do it

What does prime mean anyway? When I was younger, we used to say, "woohoo! Now that's prime!" We were usually pointing, grinning, snickering and even sometimes drooling when we said it. I imagined, back then, that it was a reference to the USDA beef inspector's mark - Prime Grade A, though we weren't looking at sirloins at the time. It could've also just been a bunch of goofy teenagers lost in their own made up world of words. Certainly more likely.

In any case, as all my readers know, I've been progressing at a special education-ary pace through all the photography 101 lessons in my journey to take at least adequate pictures. And next on the route - prime vs. zoom lenses.

My first DSLR was a Nikon D80 with a Nikkor 18-55mm VR zoom. Long forgotten are my Mamiya C330 days. Then I bought a Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 zoom for better low-light performance followed by a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 for the same reason. For a time, each of these lived on my camera more than the others. In the end, I came all the way back around to the Nikkor kit lens with the VR because it was sharp and contrasty and easy to carry around. Then, whenever I wanted to impress someone, I'd pull out the "big guns". Don't pretend you don't do it. And when you reeeally want to impress someone, you put the hood on and your big flash unit. whoa!

The option to quickly change focal length was handy but I'd say, for the lazy shooter like me, it resulted in bad habits and missed shots more than resulting in better shots.

But even more subtle than that issue, zooms prevented me from developing an "inner eye" for a given perspective length. Huh!? I mean ... now that I shoot an 85mm prime on my Canon 5D mk II, I've developed an ability to "see" like my camera sees without my camera. I know what a scene will render like just by looking at it. The pro's who are reading this (I like to pretend. Humor me.) are saying ... well duh, 85mm is nearly normal perspective. It doesn't take much "eye" for that. True enough. Maybe it's just the frame boundaries. But nonetheless. I find I can imagine the shot better now. That results in me taking fewer shots and keeping a lot more of them.

The other thing I've realized, now that I saved my pennies and bought an expensive prime, is that IT'S WORTH IT! This 85mm f/1.2 is ... well ... perfection in glass. I can't believe I wasted all my money on those sub-prime zooms. Yes, it forces me to move more. So what!? That's no big deal. Really.

Take my advice - save your money and buy the most expensive 50mm f/1.2 lens you can buy or the 85mm like me. Thank me later.

Peace and happy shooting,


Woody said...

Talk about a timely blog ....

I've been saving for another lens. I'm afraid I'm going to need treatment soon, this will be my 3rd lens in 8 months, not including the one that came with my camera. :-o

I've been contemplating a wide angle zoom, a macro, or a prime (can you say confused?). As of a few days ago, I was pretty set on a macro. Last night, I would have loved to have a wide angle zoom because my son and I saw a SPECTACULAR double rainbow and a wide angle would have done the trick. Prime is good. Prime is great. Prime is wonderful. Prime is as close to perfect glass as you will get.

I still love my zoom.

Glen Goffin said...

I went through that 3 lenses in 8 months thing, too. Now I'm sticking with this 85mm for while. Kathleen Connally got me hooked ... and I'm glad she did! Peace

Ángel Corrochano said...

The stamp of a moment beautifully captured. I love the calidez of this photography

A warm greeting

Ove said...

There are lots of primes, including those you remember from your earlier years. I come to think of prime numbers, whatever good there are in them. Visually, they are not as pleasant as their more round cousins, in my opinion. Primes....wouldn't that be a better descriptive word for being single, btw? Just zooming in on the word....

Ben Simo said...

Great advice.

I think a prime lens will be my next purchase. I miss having one since I went digital.

georgia b. said...


thanks for stopping by my photo blog and for your very nice compliment about my photography.

i looked at your other blog, too. but i am not able to comment on it, because the comment options are set up differently. any blog that has the comments set up that way, my outdated web browser software will not allow me to comment on. not sure why.

but i did enjoy it, as well as this blog, and i plan to be back.

Glen Goffin said...

Many wonderful comments! Sorry for the slowness in posting them. MJ and I are traveling in Old San Juan Peurto Rico. What a wonderful place to use this 85mm but I must confess ... 24mm f/1.4 is my next prime and it won't be long. Peace, Glen

Kamana said...

thanks for visiting me - and your comment. am off to wander around yours and enjoy your lovely photographs.