Luminous Landscape Forum

Equipment & Techniques => Landscape & Nature Photography => Topic started by: griff19690 on July 05, 2008, 06:11:28 am

Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: griff19690 on July 05, 2008, 06:11:28 am
Hi.  I am new to photography and interested mainly in landscape and macro.  My question is which lens should I buy.  I am on a budget but could afford a Tokina 19-35 or a 28mm/30mm/35mm prime. Which would be best?
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: DarkPenguin on July 05, 2008, 10:49:10 am
Not that tamron.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: DarkPenguin on July 05, 2008, 02:56:54 pm
I should ask the question.  Do you have favorite focal lengths?  If so you could buy a prime around that length.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Geoff Wittig on July 05, 2008, 09:33:29 pm
Quote
Hi.  I am new to photography and interested mainly in landscape and macro.  My question is which lens should I buy.  I am on a budget but could afford a Tokina 19-35 or a 28mm/30mm/35mm prime. Which would be best?
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Depends on what you like to do and what you're shooting. If you're shooting 35 mm film, Tokina's older 19-35 mm zoom is pretty good optically, especially stopped down to f:8 to f:16 or so, and you can't beat the price. If you're shooting a reduced format APS-C digital SLR, you're better off getting a wider zoom like Tokina's 12-24 mm, if you can swing it the price. You'll almost always be stopping down a wide-angle lens for depth of field shooting landscapes, so wide maximum aperture doesn't matter so much.

Of course, if you're shooting street photography or indoor candids, you're better off with a wide aperture fixed focal length prime, like Sigma's 28 f:1.8.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: rgs on July 06, 2008, 07:59:53 pm
You'll get more lens for your money with prime lenses and the discipline of working with a single focal length will serve you well in the future.

This may be an old fashioned notion, but I think I'm better with the zoom after years of working only primes. And the primes are almost always sharper and faster than a similarly priced (or, in some cases, any) zoom.

Of course I came of age many years ago and usually preferred medium and large format to the 35mm. And I am just beginning to learn digital.

Richard Smith
Richard Smith Photography (http://www.myrsphoto.com)
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: peteh on July 06, 2008, 10:35:50 pm
Quote
You'll get more lens for your money with prime lenses and the discipline of working with a single focal length will serve you well in the future.

This may be an old fashioned notion, but I think I'm better with the zoom after years of working only primes. And the primes are almost always sharper and faster than a similarly priced (or, in some cases, any) zoom.

Of course I came of age many years ago and usually preferred medium and large format to the 35mm. And I am just beginning to learn digital.

Richard Smith
Richard Smith Photography (http://www.myrsphoto.com)
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Get ready to spend some $$! Just my opinion but digital costs more than film.But I got rid of my dark room 25 years ago.Now it's monitors, computers and printers and .......? I could go on and on. Ohh yeah, software too!Be very carefull, ask a lot of questions here! FREE ! I have been "SUCKED IN" by the web.Buy a ZOOM.IMHO
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: rgs on July 06, 2008, 11:16:12 pm
My point was not that I don't use zooms, I do. But that the discipline of prime lenses is valuable and the IQ is usually better than zooms. I also value the discipline of a view camera, but that's another discussion.

When I said I am just learning digital, I was referring to learning it in depth. I have been working digitally for some time but there is still much to learn. Sorry for any confusion.

RGS
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: petermarrek on July 07, 2008, 10:12:09 am
Most of my life was spent with a view camera. Very simple, find a scene, pick your shooting position, find the lens to make it work. With modern zooms it has become much easier to get the best framing without the loss of quality of early zooms. Three lenses cover 98% of my needs. Peter
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: rgs on July 07, 2008, 04:10:48 pm
Apparently my first response has hijacked this thread in a way which was not intended.

The OP said he was just learning and didn't want to spend much. I suggested (or meant to) that prime lenses will most likely give better IQ than entry level zooms, cost less while providing some photographic discipline that will serve well in the future (the just learning part). That's really all I intended to say. Sorry for any confusion.

RGS
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: wolfnowl on July 07, 2008, 04:39:32 pm
Quote
The OP said he was just learning and didn't want to spend much. I suggested (or meant to) that prime lenses will most likely give better IQ than entry level zooms, cost less while providing some photographic discipline that will serve well in the future (the just learning part). That's really all I intended to say. Sorry for any confusion.

FWIW, I agree.  Having ONE lens to work with really requires that you look for the creative opportunities available with that one lens.  My first 35mm camera was an old Argus with four f/stops and five shutter speeds, IIRC, no light meter, and 'guess' focusing.  I still have a double lens reflex that has one lens and a 6x6 cm image size.  It's a different way of working.  However, if you were planning to do sports photography or something where things can change quickly then a zoom lens might be more practical.  But with landscapes, generally they aren't going anywhere and you can move.

I also recommend 'Photography and the Art of Seeing'.  A worthwhile read in my opinion...

Mike.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: griff19690 on July 11, 2008, 06:31:18 pm
Thanks everyone for all the advice.  I am thinking about a canon f2.8 28mm as a cheap standard prime.  Has anyone ever used one?  Any good?
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: bill t. on July 12, 2008, 12:13:11 am
Do you shoot from a tripod?  I was surprised to find that my Nikon 18-70mm "kit lens" was about equal to my 20mm and 24mm primes around f8, and actually shows less chromatic aberration.  It's practically useless at anything longer than 55mm, but a real champ at the wider settings to include 18mm.  (Of course my 28mm f2.8 AIS Nikkor is impossible to beat under any circumstance).

If you do use a tripod a lot of the time, or routinely shoot at mid-range apertures, try out whatever cheap kit lens comes with the camera, it might surprise you.  You can sell those types of lenses used on ebay for about as much as you paid as part of a package.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Plekto on July 14, 2008, 05:21:01 pm
Sorry - this is long, please bear with me

If you're new and on a budget, I'd recommend any of the older AF Nikons , Canons, or similar film cameras.  I see people practically giving whole setups away on Craigslist all the time, yet they still are comparable to $1000+ new cameras - just using film instead of a sensor.

For what you want to do, it should work perfectly well and after a couple of years, you can think about moving on to digital or medium format or whatever.  First major camera, IMO, should be about as simple and straightforward as possible, and digital cameras these days are anything but that - at least the ones that you can change lenses on/aren't consumer point and shoot models.

People will say go digital, but that requires software and a home printer.  If you're looking at NOT printing at home, the only price difference between a lab printing film and digital is the cost of film, which is cheap.  As in several hundred rolls developed to equal the cost of the least expensive large format inkjet printer.  A typical lab will do identical results under 8*10 to most home units that any beginner would find remotely affordable.  For less money.  The local one to me does 400DPI Dye Sub 5*7 prints for 35 cents each with the coupon in the local community paper.  And no extra charge for developing, either(couple of dollars without the coupon).  I can't hardly buy the paper for that cost, let alone the ink or the printer.

If you're on an even tighter budget, you can find any old Canon, Minolta, or similar manual focus film camera.  Even 20+ years later, an old AE1 is still more camera than most new users can possibly handle.   Tough as nails, too.  Probably buy a body in good condition for about the cost of a full tank of gas.    

Older manual focus prime lenses are often superb quality and you'll find them at silly prices at garage sales and so on.  Even a camera shop usually will have a good price on them, and for what you are doing with landscapes, it's usually a matter of spinning the focus all the way to infinity and playing with the aperture.(auto focus isn't really required for landscapes like, say, sports shots are)

Film also lends itself to a more "art" result.  It can do much better color rendition, dynamic range(and shoulder) and make for a more seamless look under the right circumstances.  Want 16-20MP quality?  Good film can do that.(Fuji Velvia 50 speed side film is a favorite of many here)

I use it for landscapes because I have yet to find a camera under $3,000(used) that does dynamic range close to good film.  And for landscapes, low light, and similar shots(macro as well), contrast is an enormous factor.

But it's obviously not going to work for someone making a living off of it - it's slow, cumbersome,, and time-consuming compared to digital.  But for someone who wants to do a few rolls of landscapes and the like per year and has the time to carefully set up a shot, film gives tremendous bang for the dollar, even today.

Professional quality film is really quite astounding stuff, since it's basically made from the same stock as motion picture film -  which keeps being refined to the point of absurdity.  As long as 35mm cinema cameras are made(100+ years I'd wager), film will still be made - it's not going extinct.  Just more of a specialty product is all.  It's going to be a LONG time every last film is shot in digital, no matter what Lucas says about it.    

***
As for the exact lens, 24-28mm is roughly equal to the look that you see in a typical movie theater(80-90 degree visual width).  This also is about as wide as you can get without noticeable distortion.  Since most film can be pushed a stop or so now without much problem, you don't need a "light bucket".  A much cheaper 28mm/F2.8 or so will more than suffice for most shots instead of a pricey f/1.8-2.4.  The same goes for a 45-50mm lens.  Canon makes a 50mm/F1.0. (price of a good used car!) 99% of sane people just get the older 50mm f/1.4 for pennies on the dollar. It's a darn fine lens.

Another advantage is that lenses that aren't the super-low-light models are very short and compact, so you can fit 5-6 lenses in a fairly small bag.  A 1/2 lb 50mm lens is a godsend on a trip.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mark D Segal on July 14, 2008, 08:46:15 pm
The present and future of photography is digital - period. The amount of creative headroom you get from digital just makes it incomparable with anything that has gone before it. Don't cripple yourself from the get-go with film and the high costs you would rope yourself into using it - with less quality and less process control than you can achieve with an elementary digital workflow.

You don't need a very high resolution camera to produce perfectly acceptable 11*17 inch inkjet prints, so you don't need to spend a fortune on a camera. At an entry stage I would recommend a relatively low cost DSLR (even the less expensive ones are offering 10~12 MP these days, which is awesome compared with a few short years ago) with a decent quality zoom lens - again to give you maximum flexibility in composing your images to fill the frame with the subject you want. You'll need software to process them - either Photoshop Elements or Lightroom will be great to learn with - leave Photoshop for the next stage; and don't ignore the computer requirements, but these days high capacity PCs and even Macs cost a fraction of what they used to. As for printers - there's a huge range from a few hundred dollars upward depending on your output requirements. You haven't talked about the size of your budget for getting yourself all geared-up, so it's hard to make specific recommendations. Also bear in mind the costs of making the photographs once you have the materials.

OK, this thread started with a question about zoom or prime, but meandered well beyond that, so my contribution did as well. Anyhow, I'd recommend zoom. which one depends on your needs and your budget. Tell us more, we can tell you more.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: rgs on July 15, 2008, 12:20:26 am
Clearly the future (and the present) is digital. And for good reasons.

I will disagree with the previous post on only one point: A beginner is better off with prime lenses.

The visual and working discipline they impose makes one a better photographer. That doesn't mean you should stay with primes, but, in the beginning, it is the photographer who needs to be flexible, not the equipment. The beginning photographer needs to learn to see and think as a photographer and in that task, zooms are a hindrance.

The bane of our computer age is when people stop thinking and just let the machines do the work because it seems easier.

RGS
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: ErikKaffehr on July 15, 2008, 01:05:43 am
Hi!

There are some god suggestions, here on the forum.

Some observations

1) It may hold that single focals have some adventages over zooms.
2) If you go for Nikon or Pentax it may be possible to get some used single focals for a good price. But economy level Nikons won't work with old lenses.
3) You want to keep dust out of the camera. Frequent lens changes may lead to more problems with dust on sensor.
4) You would probably loose a lot of quality with cropping.
5) Yeah, it is a great way of learning composition to use a single lens.


Some suggestions:

1) Keep looking for used stuff
2) There are some really good zooms around there. The Sigma 18-50/2.8 and the Tamron 28-75/2.8 for instance have stellar reputation.
3) If you buy a new lens, test it immediately! Quite a few lenses have centering problems. If you caught a bad one just send it back and ask for a new. Tack a picture of a brick wall and compare corners.
4) Don't spend a lot on an expensive DSLR, it will be old iron in two years, anyway. Lenses are for ever. I have Minolta 80-200/2.8 APO bought 2007, it's still one of my favorites.

Erik

Quote
Apparently my first response has hijacked this thread in a way which was not intended.

The OP said he was just learning and didn't want to spend much. I suggested (or meant to) that prime lenses will most likely give better IQ than entry level zooms, cost less while providing some photographic discipline that will serve well in the future (the just learning part). That's really all I intended to say. Sorry for any confusion.

RGS
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Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: griff19690 on July 15, 2008, 05:16:59 am
Quote
Hi!
3) If you buy a new lens, test it immediately! Quite a few lenses have centering problems. If you caught a bad one just send it back and ask for a new. Tack a picture of a brick wall and compare corners.
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What's a centering problem?
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mark D Segal on July 15, 2008, 08:16:56 am
Quote
I will disagree with the previous post on only one point: A beginner is better off with prime lenses.

The visual and working discipline they impose makes one a better photographer.

The bane of our computer age is when people stop thinking and just let the machines do the work because it seems easier.

RGS
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None of of this stands up to serious scrutiny. There is no obvious reason why a fixed focal length makes one a better photographer. One needs to learn how to identify a photograph and compose it effectively regardless of the focal length. Variable focal length in one lens just gives the photographer added flexibility and convenience - as well as a cleaner sensor. If they don't use it properly, that's not the fault of the lens; it's the attitude of the user.

This is like all those who blame the existence of cigarettes for the fact that people smoke them despite everything we know about the risks, or they blame the existence of TV sets for addiction to TV............discipline starts in the mind, not with the hardware.

I don't know how long you've been using computers in a professional capacity, but from the time I started in the late 1960s, if anything, the opportunities they offered and the rigour they imposed on structuring work made me think more than ever, and as the capabilities of these machines kept growing, so did I enjoy learning how to do old and new things in better ways. Again, don't blame the hardware for how the software in some peoples' heads may work.....or not work.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Rob C on July 15, 2008, 12:41:19 pm
Well, I think that the way for a neophyte to fly is with film. Transparency. And with a single lens - maybe a 35mm focal length. All thatīs needed beyond the camera and lens is a good incident light meter and heīs away on the rocket. There is no need to spend money making prints at this stage; a good transparency tells you no lies and we are talking about learning, after all.

Yes, this  might well be the digital age, but thatīs not to say that the basics are any different, and itīs basics we are on about here. You have to do several things: discover if your eye is any good; find out if the simple mechanics of exposure are beyond you; discover if you really enjoy making pictures; find out if you think the resulting image is worth the pain or pleasure of getting it.

I would not suggest a zoom, not because of IQ but because itīs the lazy way to crop and doesnīt make you go the extra step further to get your ass into the place that gives you the best perspective, not just framing. Zooms, if you need them, may have a job to do much later in photographic life.

The point about the suggestion of starting with a single lens is that at the learning stage, your priorities are all about technique and how to get one. Great, individualistic imaging is a concept for much further down the line. Gotta crawl before you can run!

Rob C
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mark D Segal on July 15, 2008, 01:43:28 pm
Quote
Well, I think that the way for a neophyte to fly is with film. Transparency. And with a single lens - maybe a 35mm focal length. All thatīs needed beyond the camera and lens is a good incident light meter and heīs away on the rocket. There is no need to spend money making prints at this stage; a good transparency tells you no lies and we are talking about learning, after all.

Yes, this  might well be the digital age, but thatīs not to say that the basics are any different, and itīs basics we are on about here. You have to do several things: discover if your eye is any good; find out if the simple mechanics of exposure are beyond you; discover if you really enjoy making pictures; find out if you think the resulting image is worth the pain or pleasure of getting it.

I would not suggest a zoom, not because of IQ but because itīs the lazy way to crop and doesnīt make you go the extra step further to get your ass into the place that gives you the best perspective, not just framing. Zooms, if you need them, may have a job to do much later in photographic life.

The point about the suggestion of starting with a single lens is that at the learning stage, your priorities are all about technique and how to get one. Great, individualistic imaging is a concept for much further down the line. Gotta crawl before you can run!

Rob C
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I respectfully disagree thoroughly with just about all of this.

You have very little control over what you can do with transparency roll film. You need viewing equipment of some kind to see the pictures properly.

There are major differences of exposure technique between film and digital which one may as well learn from the get-go, because the present and the future is digital.

Training institutions are gradually, or not so gradually as the case may be, either scaling back or closing their film processing facilities.

The real basics are about learning to SEE and learning to compose and expose an image so that it has photographic qualities. That is learned. Learning happens with continuous experimentation, trial and error. It is much easier and cheaper to do this with a half-decent digital camera than with film. A printer isn't necessary for this. The images can be downloaded to a hard-drive and viewed on a display.

Zoom lenses are not the lazy way to crop. Zoom lenses are the intelligent way to crop because they allow you more easily (and sometimes the only way of enabling) to fill the frame with the image you want. They are an AID to composition. I would definitely recommend starting photographic life with a decent zoom lens.

There's everything to say for buying whatever one can afford at the learning stage to create an ENABLING ENVIRONMENT which expands the scope of what one can learn rather easily. Please point me to any objective research reliably establishing that making one's photographic life constrained and difficult is better for learning.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Plekto on July 15, 2008, 03:50:02 pm
Here's the thing, though:

He's just starting out.  He doesn't have the programs, the scanners, the printers, or well, likely any of it OR the budget.  When he says "limited budget - just starting out" - IME, that means he has well under $1000 and wants to start shooting less than a hundred shots a month.

That level of output as well as lack of technical/computer tools and his budget means that film(slides specifically) are his best bet to start out with.  Get a nice used film camera and a couple of lenses and buy some rolls of 100 speed Velvia and go.  $500, tops.   He's gong to be using photo labs to do anything larger than a postcard at this stage, so the differences in quality is moot, really - film and digital at 5*7 or even 8*11 are slim to none.   Add another $100-200 or so for a projector and screen, used of course.   There he WILL be able to see the difference good slide film gives you over digital.

The best photographers I know of started out with 1-2 types of film and 1-2 lenses and learned to use them really really well.  

My first real camera was a Rolleicord.  Even more basic - manual everything.  I have a few shots of Yosemite and Petrified Forest National Monument that I took with this that look as good as anything that rube Rockwell has on his site.   (tells you where poor Ken's skills are, really)  It's not world-class photography, but good film is still no joke if you're looking for quality and have plenty of time to compose a shot.  

My second camera was a Minolta X-7a.  I have some amazing shots of trips and scenery from all over the U.S. from it(usually a fast 28mm lens was all I took on my trips - occasionally I also packed a 50mm).   Small, light, no batteries(winder was removable if the batteries died), and one lens.   Perfect for trips or carrying with me in the car.  I could focus, shoot, and tweak aperture and shutter speed in about two seconds thanks to the bright leds in the finder.  No menus, no interfaces - just point, focus, and click.  

The skills that you learn from a manual or simpler camera matter.  Really.  too many of us learned these skills on film cameras and have moved to digital - but forget how important they are.(and like I mentioned, you can get into film for silly low prices).

The money he will spend on a spare battery and a memory card can buy him a manual prime lens from the 80s with optics to drool over.  Manual lenses are insanely cheap now if you hunt around as a lot of people don't know what they actually have.

Now if he's *really* interested in photography and landscapes, he might look at an old TLR for $100 someplace and start shooting.  It's where I started and I'd do it exactly the same if I had to do it all over.  Doubly so if he shoots black and white - setting up your own darkroom is almost a rite of passage - heh.  Black and white film can be has as cheaply as $2 a roll in bulk and developing on your own saves a lot of money.  I'm a fan of black and white as well since it forces you to concentrate on lighting a lot more(IME of course)
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Rob C on July 15, 2008, 04:52:53 pm
Plekto

I agree absolutely. The point about transparencies is that you canīt fake them: you get it right or you do not. Donīt let anyone introduce stuff like hi-key etc. into the argument at this point: we are talking about entry-level photography and the best way is to get a standard "Kodak" sunlight (over your left shoulder) and play with the exposure meter in your hand to see how the thing works, how different things look as you use alternative apertures, shutter speed combinations etc. Ignore negative film, colour or b/white, because there is too much latitude with those things and you could be right or wrong with your exposure and not really be sure.

Yes, a transparency might need a lightbox at some stage, but I have made more than one in my days of youthful poverty and the final one I bought, a Kodak Model 3, works as well today as 100 years ago, when I got it!

What schools of photography might or might not be doing is hokum: they are not starting point institutions and I would be amazed that anyone going to one would be doing so from step one: what on earth would drive you there at that stage? You might not even like photography that much once you try it - why spend money before you know?

To tell you the truth, learning to print in b/w is no easy matter either. I thought I could do it pretty well until I had the great opportunity of learning to really do so  when I joined an industrial photo unit where the object of our existence was to produce the best possible match on paper to a piece of engine, broken fan blade out of a jet engine or even an entire, shining engine in its cradle. You messed about with it - in colour too - until it was as close a colour of metal as God would allow. That way, I learned how to do things to the nth degree, not the īcommercially acceptableī way that haunted my life after I went out from there into the big bad world of colour labs doing one test for your job and saying thatīs that!

Zooms. Does anyone here fail to understand the difference between standing in one spot, probably the first one where you became aware of the possibility of a picture and zooming in and out to make a shape and the different technique of walking in closer, perhaps moving out further, in order to change not just shape and whatīs in frame, but, as importantly, PERSPECTIVE?

Damn - itīs too late for another illicit glass of cava, but these kinds of situations drive me nuts.

Rob C
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mark D Segal on July 15, 2008, 05:42:57 pm
I disagree absolutely. It's a heap of regressive advice. Firstly, don't make assumptions about the O/P's budget - he hasn't told us yet. Secondly, he can start digital very inexpensively. There's a complete price range of very decent starter cameras. Cards are cheap. He probably has a computer. Entry level software is cheap. This is a no-brainer.

All the fine experience you had decades ago growing up with film is fine. I had those experiences too. But technology has advanced, improved and opened creative opportunities a thousand-fold, so it's time to move on. People learning this art and craft should do so with today's and tomorrow's technology, because that is forward-thinking and that is how they will become most creative, most easily.

As for zoom lenses - walk there or zoom there - anyone's choice once they have a zoom lens. But if you want a real close-up of a bird in a tree, I'd prefer to use the zoom than to climb the tree. Ya, I know, I can buy a telephoto prime for next to nothing - may be two or three or four so I can try each one of them to maybe get the focal length just where I want it for that bird, if it's still there.

To the original poster: Jump into the 21st century both feet forward using 21st century technology. There's enough equipment to suit all budgets that will work fine. There are decent zoom lenses that will give you a lot of freedom and flexibility to be creative more easily. There's software that will satisfy entry-level requirements for little more than 100 dollars. There's TONS of absolutely free education all over the internet, starting with this website. Once you've learned photographic processes as we now know them and you have the curiosity, you can always play with some film to see what you're not missing, or you can develop certain photographic niches that still require or benefit more from film - but those are few and far between, and not for beginners.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: DarkPenguin on July 15, 2008, 06:09:30 pm
I do think that primes develop an eye for a focal length.

I tend to use my (short zooms, anyway) as a series of primes.  I know what 24mm will look like before I shoot.  Not so much 22 or 26mm.

No need to actually use a prime for that, however.  Just use your zoom as if it has click stops rather than a continuous range.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Rob C on July 16, 2008, 06:44:34 am
Mark, it isnīt about jumping into the 21st century: itīs about learning basic practice and theory at one and the same time. Basic, I repeat.

The use of a single lens is a great education in itself.

I have never owned or used a zoom in my entire life, not because they were too expensive but because I knew what I wanted to do, the look I was going to get, and how to achieve that. In other words, the image style came first. There was no need for second-guessing myself on the job. I knew (still do) which optic in my armoury would serve my purposes.

Thatīs really about all I can say or add that has value to anybody, so I might as well surrender further argument to anybody who wishes to continue whipping the fog.

Ciao - Rob C
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mark D Segal on July 16, 2008, 08:40:07 am
Quote
Mark, it isnīt about jumping into the 21st century: itīs about learning basic practice and theory at one and the same time. Basic, I repeat.

The use of a single lens is a great education in itself.

I have never owned or used a zoom in my entire life, not because they were too expensive but because I knew what I wanted to do, the look I was going to get, and how to achieve that. In other words, the image style came first. There was no need for second-guessing myself on the job. I knew (still do) which optic in my armoury would serve my purposes.

Thatīs really about all I can say or add that has value to anybody, so I might as well surrender further argument to anybody who wishes to continue whipping the fog.

Ciao - Rob C
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Rob - anyone can learn basic theory and practice with a digital camera - and a whole lot more using current technology without wasting many hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year on film and processing. The fact that you never owned a zoom lens and can manage perfectly well without it is both good for you and an interesting curiosity, but not relevant to the general principles at issue here. Zoom lenses just give photographers easier access to better composition and more image styles - the real issue is learning how to conceptualize the images, regardless of the lens - it's in the mind first and foremost; have the vision, then use the tools which best and most easily translate that vision into a good photograph. More often than not, a decent zoom lens will be advantageous. I've been using them for decades, and millions upon millions of people, whether amateur or professional, make perfectly satisfactory photographs with them.

I agree with you that we've pretty much exhausted this topic. Readers on the verge of jumping-in to this fascinating world of photography have enough points of view from these exchanges to decide for themselves how to do it.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Plekto on July 16, 2008, 05:42:40 pm
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I disagree absolutely. It's a heap of regressive advice. Firstly, don't make assumptions about the O/P's budget - he hasn't told us yet. Secondly, he can start digital very inexpensively. There's a complete price range of very decent starter cameras. Cards are cheap. He probably has a computer. Entry level software is cheap. This is a no-brainer.

Most entry-level digital cameras, even used, that allow you to use different lenses for under $500 either have poor resolution(4-6MP) or are significantly behind the curve.  Add in a replacement battery (or two, since the original is likely shot) and a memory card and even one good lens...  then add in that $100 in software.. $1000+ easy. And that's with no photo printer(not recommended at this stage, really)

For someone who is looking to see if they really want to get into photography(which is my best guess here), cheap as dirt and effective is a good goal.  

A $100 SLR with a couple of lenses(doubly so if it's an old AE1 or similar manual focus model someone is selling cheap) plus a replacement watch battery or two and he's ready to go.  $250-$300 tops.  That $600-700 difference compared to a basic digital setup buys a lot of film at $3 a roll in bulk.  With slides, there is the light box/viewer issue, but 35mm slides don't need prints - a huge cost savings. Under $7 for 100 slide mounts last I checked.  Mounting your own is simple enough.  

Even at $10 a roll including processing, that takes a huge time for digital to break even if he's using a local lab to run prints.  The cheapest of acceptable quality that I can find in L.A., for instance, is about 20 cents a print(Costco).  Way cheaper for 5x7 than a home photo printer.(why I don't recommend one to start)  But still, that's 36 prints for ~$7.20 versus maybe $3-4 more for slides.  The processing and printing of photos is hugely expensive compared to the gear in either case.  That's 150-200 rolls of 36 exposure film to make up that $600 difference.

By then he should know whether he really wants to do this or not.(my guess is by 30-50 rolls even)
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mark D Segal on July 16, 2008, 06:35:44 pm
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For someone who is looking to see if they really want to get into photography(which is my best guess here), cheap as dirt and effective is a good goal. 

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This is the statement which makes most of this thread and most of these specific considerations, to put it politely, "beside the point". He didn't say he was looking to see if he really wanted to get into photography. He was looking for advice on what kind of lens to buy.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: JDClements on July 16, 2008, 06:48:09 pm
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Hi.  I am new to photography and interested mainly in landscape and macro.  My question is which lens should I buy.  I am on a budget but could afford a Tokina 19-35 or a 28mm/30mm/35mm prime. Which would be best?
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I'd get the zoom.

I also like DarkPenguin's advice about using a zoom like a series of primes. I do the same thing: always look at the lens and set it to what I think I need. It is important to note that in many cases you simply cannot walk closer to something to frame it the way you want. Others have mentioned increased risk of dust on the sensor from frequent lens changes, which is an important consideration.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Plekto on July 17, 2008, 03:36:01 pm
Many people lurk and read posts here, and so I try to also write any comments or advice with that in mind.   This specific example - it's not clear what his gear is or his budget, but he does say that he's new to photography and on a tight budget.

For just starting out, many people wrongly assume that film isn't an option.  Or don't realize it still exists and you can even get a few new film cameras if you want.  It has its place and works very well for low volume work.  Plus. the cost to get started is less than digital by a large margin.

Film may be dead for commercial use, but for amateur use, it's still worth considering.  Plus, even $2 a roll 120 film in bulk is going to produce fantastic results.  I still shoot 120 film and it's truly dirt cheap compared to a digital back.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mark D Segal on July 17, 2008, 04:29:40 pm
Yes, there may be some very specific circumstances in which it is worth considering, but on the whole it is yesteryear's technology with a great many limitations and inefficiencies compared with what is now available to us. The entry point can be low cost in either medium; from then on it depends on volume and purposes. I think we've beat this horse to its limit by now. Cheers!  
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: DarkPenguin on July 17, 2008, 05:00:15 pm
$430 will net you a DSLR with lens.  If you do ebay you should be able to drop that even more.   Digital is cheap.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: clearescape on July 17, 2008, 08:59:13 pm
If you're just starting out with photography you may not know if you prefer the wide angle look or a tele-photo look.  Obviously wide angle and tele-photo can be dictated by your subject, but to really find your style a zoom lens would allow you the best of both worlds.  Once you find that out then invest in a prime lens more suitable to your own style, and in case you are unaware always have your camera off when changing a lens to reduce the possibility of dust.

Eric Blackman Photography (http://www.eablackman.com)
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Plekto on July 17, 2008, 09:13:18 pm
$430 plus a spare battery and a memory card and $100 in software is $600, not including shipping and/or tax.   Some of use just don't have $600 to spend on a hobby to start with.  

Ebay# 200238478952   
Bit pricey, but this is an overhauled and serviced AE1 Program. $90.  Note the $16 price on the prime lens.(bet you could haggle to just get it thrown in for free)  I wasn't kidding when I said it was dirt cheap.

Ebay# 280216674337   
This is a Minolta X9, new and in the box.  It may be ten years old, but new old stock like this is everywhere. This actually is overpriced - it should be $100-$120.  Takes great photos and simple for a new person to photography to use.(I happen to like aperture priority)  Used examples of cameras like this from a typical camera shop in good condition are well under $100.  Buy, get a lens, drop film in, and start shooting for next to nothing spent.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Pete Ferling on July 18, 2008, 12:57:20 am
Frankly, unless you're printing something larger than an 8x10, then there's a whole lot of used gear out there that will work.

Primes.  I try to get something that looks close to what I see when I'm judging the scene with the naken eye, (without looking through the view finder).  After all, that's what you want, the very thing before you as-is.  Otherwise, you'll have to sneaker zoom to the next hill or ridge...
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: lovell on July 18, 2008, 07:21:51 pm
Landscapes at F8 and down from there will show little improvement over zooms, when using primes.  However, my L primes can show some color and contrast improvements over my L zooms but this is a small nit.

For stopped down landscapes, it's a draw....use a good prime, or an L zoom. Generally, and with few exceptions nearly all non-L zooms are craaap.  However there are many non-L primes that are very good.

In summary, I would suggest using an L zoom with the required focal range, and if you want to go prime instead, then the L primes are of course great, but there are many non-L primes that are great too.

For my landscapes I use L primes only, but only because I love the challange of working with a fixed focal length, and not for any image quality improvements over an L zoom.  As to my other work, like weddings, candids, portraits, I only use L primes, for their faster apertures, and optimized qualities for their given fixed focal length.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mark D Segal on July 18, 2008, 09:21:40 pm
Nobody on a really tight budget will be shelling-out for an "L" zoom (unless there is a completely different concept of "tight budget" than the one I have in mind). "L" lenses are top-of-the-line professional equipment and priced accordingly.

There are numerous less expensive zoom lenses which perform very well. It depends on the make, the zoom range, the alignment of the elements on each individual unit, etc.

The safest way to buy a zoom lens is to buy from a dealer who will allow exchanges within a reasonable time period until the customer is satisfied with the quality.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: elkhornsun on July 20, 2008, 06:04:21 am
For landscape photography most people have used a lens in the range of 24-35mm with film. With a 1.5 crop camera that would mean a 18/20/24mm primes. Of these the 18 and 20mm are no better than a modern zoom lens. The old thinking regarding primes was true when zoom lenses were designed with a slide rule. With the dawn of computers to design optics zooms have gotten dramatically better.

The Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens has come out ahead of the Canon 14mm f2.8 and 24mm f2.8 prime lenses in terms of overall image quality in reviews. Where primes still add value is in providing 1.2/1.4 apertures, which are of little or no value for landscape photography.

I would buy and would recommend a quality Nikon 17-35mm f2.8 used zoom over any prime lens for landscape photography with a DSLR. With the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 I would want to do a first hand test of the lens what with all the QC problems, but a good copy would still be an excellent choice.

A factor not touched on but worth considering with DSLRs is dust on the sensor. With 3 primes the user will be doing many lens changes during an outing. Using a zoom lens and having no lens changes needed in the field, there is no chance of dust getting into the camera's light box and onto the sensor's filter pack.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Rob C on July 20, 2008, 06:26:59 am
Quote from: elkhornsun,Jul 20  Using a zoom lens and having no lens changes needed in the field, there is no chance of dust getting into the camera's light box and onto the sensor's filter pack.
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Forgive me if Iīm wrong, which I might be as I have never wanted nor owned one, but do some zooms not create a flow of air within themselves and onto the sensor/film as the lengths are changed? What then sensor cleanliness?

Going back to the forbidden ground of the Luddite, one of my current methods of photographing life is the reverse of most: I put on a lens, usually 24mm on D200, and it never comes off until I get home. I was going to remark about my dust experience but have decided not to tempt Fate! There is something freeing about not having to change focal length...

Rob C
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: DarkPenguin on July 20, 2008, 12:26:41 pm
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$430 plus a spare battery and a memory card and $100 in software is $600, not including shipping and/or tax.   Some of use just don't have $600 to spend on a hobby to start with. 

Why would a beginner need to bother with a spare battery?  A memory card that will take an insane number of jpegs (particularly with a 6mp camera) can be had for $10.  Why buy any software to start?

So, $440.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: rgs on July 20, 2008, 03:58:36 pm
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For landscape photography most people have used a lens in the range of 24-35mm with film. With a 1.5 crop camera that would mean a 18/20/24mm primes. Of these the 18 and 20mm are no better than a modern zoom lens. The old thinking regarding primes was true when zoom lenses were designed with a slide rule. With the dawn of computers to design optics zooms have gotten dramatically better.
Please forgive me if this seems picky, but I do not find the wide angle right for most landscapes. In particular, it decreases the grandeur of many mountainous shots because distant mountains look far too small. I prefer normal to short tele for many landscape subjects and like the compressed sense of depth they provide. I even like the look of my 400mm for landscapes sometimes. Much of my work with the Pentax 67 is done with a 105mm (35mm equivalent of about 55-60mm) and then slightly cropped.

Quote
Going back to the forbidden ground of the Luddite, one of my current methods of photographing life is the reverse of most: I put on a lens, usually 24mm on D200, and it never comes off until I get home. I was going to remark about my dust experience but have decided not to tempt Fate! There is something freeing about not having to change focal length...
When I was first learning wedding photography, I found changing lenses to be a huge distraction so I learned to shoot weddings with one lens on my 6x7 (my 105). I rarely needed anything wider and really got to know how the lens looked. Now that I use a zoom, that training has more than paid off.

I also studied with a man who refused to carry a meter. He insisted that almost all wedding venues were lit about the same and he had it all memorized so he could move faster and concentrate more on the photograph than equipment. Perhaps a little extreme, but he was right. More training that has paid off.

RGS
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Pete Ferling on July 21, 2008, 10:25:47 am
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Please forgive me if this seems picky, ...

I also studied with a man who refused to carry a meter. He insisted that almost all wedding venues were lit about the same and he had it all memorized so he could move faster and concentrate more on the photograph than equipment. Perhaps a little extreme, but he was right. More training that has paid off.

RGS
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You've hit the nail on the head.  Too many beginners get over-whelmed with technology.   It's just best to find a good prime lens and start shooting.  My first camera was a canon T50 with a simple 50mm lens.  I was in the Navy then and having no access to addtional lens' I learned to make that lens work.  I just focused on composition and the end result was pleasing pictures.

Today I still use a 50mm, the 1.4 on my 40D and 1Ds.  Shoot two or three pans and stitch them together.  I get sharp, wide and without the typical distortion as found with wide angle lens.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Goodlistener on August 08, 2008, 12:02:08 am
Griff, please, please save yourself some trouble, it makes me cringe to think of it:  BUY GENERAL PURPOSE EQUIPMENT FIRST.

What is general purpose equipment? Both Nikon and Canon ship 28-55 zoom lenses with Prosumer level DSLRs.  That's a good general purpose focal length. I happen to like Tamron 18-75 better but the thing to notice here is that its a general purpose lens good for a wide variety of situations.

A OEM kit lens purchased with the camera will always be a lot less expensive.  Hope  you find this useful.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: OldRoy on August 12, 2008, 01:00:26 pm
Hmm. I wonder how confused the original poster is by this stage, interesting though it is to read the intelligent responses which have followed. I am no great photographer and certainly not a professional. Although the original question is about lens choices the discussion has rapidly broadened. My own experience may be illustrative.

About 10 years go I found myself deciding to buy a decent SLR having only used P&S's for about 20 years (prior to that I had been using an old Zenith with a 50mm lens - a real people's camera: that's what I call discipline...) Fatigue caused by working with computers and associated technology caused me to react by buying a totally manual camera - a Nikon FM2n: on balance a mistake, although I'm still fond of the camera. To accompany it I bought (second hand and not at that time yet particularly cheaply!) a 20mm Nikkor, a 28-70 Tamron zoom and an 80-200 F4 Nikkor.  However the limitations of the totally manual system became apparent pretty quickly, because quick it wasn't - which was often a significant limitation. However, having read up on basic photographic principles this system forced me to learn a lot, even though my results were generally underwhelming, even to me.

I fell into a similar trap a year ago when I bought a D200, heavily influenced by its capacity to use my existing AIS lenses. However comparing their performance to the two modest new A/F lenses that I bought at the same time I can honestly say that I can see little difference in real-world performance. My 50mm 1.8 AIS gives nice results, although I hardly use it. On balance I have learned vastly more about getting decent results since buying DSLR.

BTW I'd say that the comments about lens changing and dusty sensors as a factor to consider, are spot on!

Recently some friends who are financially challenged asked me about learning photography (always ask an expert...) and I initially advised taking the same approach as I had (which is what I believe most photographic college courses require). Paradoxically, this is a good route - but primarily for those who can afford to waste a lot of money on stock and processing. In the final analysis you need to take a lot of photographs to advance your skills, irrespective of the medium used. And film really weighs heavily against this, particularly since for many people the viewing and distribution medium for their snaps always entails computer/email/web to some degree. The idea that "discipline" is the key value associated with using prime lenses and/or film and/or manual equipment is totally at odds with the requirement to get a lot of practise. I discount darkroom skills because I can't imagine too many people without an already overwhelming committment to photography would ever bother to learn them. There is definitely an ascetic as much as an aesthetic component to this position!

Assuming a useable computer is available I'd advise buying a Nikon D40 (resolution limitations notwithstanding) with its kit lens (there may be many good second hand alternatives too) and then adding whatever primes or venerable zooms are available second-hand at bargain prices, as and when.

But what do I know?
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: gdanmitchell on August 16, 2008, 09:02:30 pm
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You've hit the nail on the head.  Too many beginners get over-whelmed with technology.   It's just best to find a good prime lens and start shooting...

Today it is better to find a decent ZOOM lens and start shooting. "Back in the day" the only realistic option (mostly due to cost, but also quality) for beginners was to get a prime, but those days are long gone. Today quite decent zooms are available at very reasonable cost and the only thing significant that the beginner gives up is a stop or two at the large aperture end. ("In the day" the typical starter lens was probably a 50mm f/2, though sometimes f/2.8. Today a "starter zoom" is probably around f/4 or a bit smaller, but higher ISO somewhat compensates.)

Except for the larger aperture, there is nothing that the beginner can't do as well with the zoom. If he/she wants the "discipline" of shooting at a particular focal length it is an easy matter to not change the focal length. If he/she wants to learn about the effects of focal length on composition (e.g. DOF and relative sizes of subjects in the frame) that is now possible in one lens.

And let's not forget that shooting with a zoom is probably more fun for a beginner - and fun is an absolutely critical aspect of starting out in photography. :-)

Dan
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Mike Guilbault on August 17, 2008, 09:34:22 pm
I've used both and much prefer the zooms.  Well, back when I was shooting Canon I did have the 85mm 1.2 L series and that was one sweet lens.  I didn't have zooms for my Hasselblads either, but that was mainly a cost factor and limited selection.. and added weight of the zooms that were available.

But since 'going' digital with Nikon, I went right away to the AF-S 2.8 zooms and haven't regretted it. My only prime is the 85mm PC and that's just for special jobs.  My favourite zooms are the 12-24 (even though it's an f:4) and the 70-200mm.

I find the quality of these zooms just as good as the primes.  At least, not of significant difference that I nor my clients can see.  The versatility of the zooms is so much better than primes.  I think the main advantage is that I can crop easier in camera without moving the camera.  If I was using a prime, I may be tempted to go ahead and 'shoot it' and crop later in post.  I'd rather get as much on camera as possible in the first place.
Title: Prime or zoom?
Post by: Pete Ferling on August 17, 2008, 10:43:09 pm
I can certaily understand price being factor years ago, and yes the quality wasn't as great.  However, due to habit, I still have a 50mm 1.4 that lives on my camera.
For extra reach, I also have the 135mm 2L in the bag.  

After using those primes for so long, I began to see and compose shots almost subconciously.  That is, I quit worrying about composition a long time ago as it just comes naturally.

I was considering a 24-70mm 2.8L, and a friend of mine loaned me one of his to try out.  However, I was constantly shooting with it around 50mm, and when I wanted to reach, the 70mm was too short.  So, here I was using a zoom as a prime!  So maybe a better option to fit my habit would be a 24-105mm 4L, but I would miss those extra stops, (I think what I really need is something out there like a 400mm).

I think the real answer to this thread is to get a good sharp lens (prime or zoom), and get good at using it.