A few days ago, I wrote a post about zooms versus primes for people learning photography. Over on DPR, David Braddon-Mitchell posted something that I really liked. Oh, you caught me; probably one of the reasons that I like it is that the writer agrees with my point of view. However, I think his post was eloquent and authentic, and, with his permission, I reproduce it here.
I started practicing photography seriously as a graduate student, back in the 1980s.
I started with an OM camera and a pair of Sigma zooms. Sigma zooms weren’t great back then, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I didn’t have a clue about perspective or composition. I’d set the camera up on a tripod, or hold it, in the most convenient position, and then compose by zoom.
Nothing in my photography improved until I started getting a bunch of OM Zuiko primes.
They forced me to learn about the perspectives and the images I made improved by leaps and bounds. Probably the IQ improved too, but really that was not the important part! Now in fact I was motivated by that – I bought those primes because I expected better IQ and faster apertures. But neither the IQ improvement nor the faster apertures and shallower DOF were important parts of the huge improvement. It was the discipline and the learning.
In principle one could say to someone (I recall a friend saying it to me “use your zoom like a set of primes”) just lock your zoom ring on different settings each day with gaffer tape, and learn that setting. But in reality almost no-one ever will do it (I didn’t, anyway). Just some bizarre fact about human psychology. I’m also guessing that few people today will be persuaded to use primes for the learning experience. In fact today, as back in the 80s, I’m betting the same thing will often happen – people will get primes because of GAS lust for higher IQ, but in the process actually learn some photography.
I still almost always use primes. If I were a professional that had to get certain specified images and might miss them in a lens change, I’d probably use a bunch of f2.8 zooms. But I’m not. I make images for my satisfaction and to show friends and peers. I can afford to take it carefully, and perhaps sacrifice getting some images for getting better ones when I do. That’s the luxury of the amateur. Our aim is only to get great images (not that I often succeed!). The professional has to get certain images, even if they are only good.
Max Berlin says
Salient points. When I am on a paying gig, I start out with getting the shot -what ever it was that I was getting paid for. This often means a medium f-stop, (2.8 – 5.6) and using AF and often with a zoom. But between every shot I am evaluating which prime I’ll bring out for the money shots. These are the f1.4-2.8 shots almost always with a Zeiss manual prime. The advantage of bringing these out later also means that my subject is comfortable and/or I am comfortable with my subject.