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Prime Lens vs Zoom/Macro/Non-Prime Lens – What gives?

If you’ve shopped for a lens, and looked at all the sites out there that do lens comparison write ups, then you know that there seems to be a lens for everything at every focal length. And you might ask yourself why not just live with the kit 18-55mm lens! It has EVERYTHING.

person holding black dslr camera and some lenses because that is the life of a photographer, if you're just starting out, a few lenses and one camera, if you're mega rich, multiple cameras strung around your neck or something
This is not kit lenses, literally 2 prime lenses and I was too lazy to take a pic of my kit lens, because I don’t know where it is. Photo by Luis Quintero on

You know, you could actually live with a kit lens, as I’ve said before, the best camera is the one you have. HOWEVER, you might need some more versatility or a crisper image.

So, how to justify the prime and professional lenses out there? Simple, what do you need them for?

Every Portrait photographer seems to have the same 4 lenses in their arsenal or at least some combination of them.

  1. 50mm
  2. 85mm
  3. 70 – 200mm
  4. 28 – 70mm

You might notice I didn’t mention the aperture of the lenses, because in the end, as soon as you get below 2.8, you’re starting to get into crazy speeds that you generally don’t need for portraits anyway because the Depth of Field is too shallow at those F/Stops.

women wearing white tank top posing for a photo, that people like showcasing that they can take a photo of a person without getting any background distractions
Look, Blurry background , That’s what you want Photo by Ali Pazani on

Sure, getting an 85mm f/1.4 vs a f/1.8 might net you that half stop and have some clearer glass in it, but… does it really? And what about a zoom lens like a 28mm-78mm f/2, that covers a huge gamut of lengths at an incredible aperture.

Well, how deep are your pockets?

hard cash on a briefcase that you need to spend on your lenses, like thousands and thousands
Photo by Pixabay on

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 is sitting at $500 right now on Amazon, and that is the option I have. The difference between that and the f/1.4 version of that lens? Well, the price is a start. You’re out $1,600 USD for that version of the lens.

Let’s do a run down real quick of the tech differences between them.

  1. It has 1 more aperture blade in it (I know right? AWESOME! /sarcasm)
  2. You have that half stop wider aperture!
  3. It comes with a Lens Hood!
  4. It’s weather Sealed!
  5. It has Image Stabilization built in

See, totally worth the extra $1,100 dollars.

So why have I went through all this? What is the main difference of getting a Prime vs Zoom lens?

It’s up to you!

This is something of a theme I have. It really depends on you, what you are shooting and what you want to spend.

My “daily driver” is the 18mm-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Macro lens. I use this for most of my shooting because it can do most of my shooting. Now, does that mean I ONLY use that lens? NO!

I am a huge fan of the Nifty 50mm. For Canon, the 50mm f/1.8 is a favorite of mine that lets me get bokeh and all the fun portrait stuff, and sometimes you can find it bundled with a 10-18mm wide angle lens, and that is just neat.

My 85mm lens attached to my canon camera, shooting stuff with bokeh because that is all people ever want.
This is my 85mm f/1.8, it’s seen some things. Because that is its job.

If you find yourself really going for it and wanting to see what the hell an f/1.4, 1.2, 1, or even .9 can do… do yourself a favor and don’t buy it brand new unless you don’t care about money, and if that’s the case, go for it. That’s the level of life I am striving for, where going out and spending $12,000 on a lens brand new is just like someone going out to get a cup of coffee.

Until you can get there though, buy used!

Prime, Zoom, Macro, Spaghetti, whatever Lens you choose, just make sure it’s a fit for your style of photography.

I will review lenses though, when I get them or even ones that I have had for a while that I love or hate or am indifferent to.

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Stefan Glazer
Stefan Glazer

Author, Photographer, Artist, Pug Dad, Podcast Host, Teacher, Friend

Articles: 210

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