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Primes vs. Zooms

3 Lenses

Do you prefer to get the right focal length with a zoom, or do you think in one format like a prime? Everyone's different. I'm a prime person, but I also appreciate a good zoom when I see one.

Last Updated: 18 Feb 08 (v3)

What's a prime?

A lens with only one focal length. This means that it will not be able to zoom in and out, i.e. your shooting is limited, to a certain extent. Also known as fixed-focals.

So what should you buy? A prime or a zoom? Well first you need to know what's your preference.

Take the test to find out

I've written a mini questionnaire that will hopefully get you closer to an answer. Taking it will help you find out which kind of person you are. Take your time, and think about each question and how it applies to you. If need be re-take it to see if you arrive to the same answer.

2 ways to download the test:
You can download and take the test in either GIF or PDF format. I recommend the PDF version.

Download links

  • GIF version
  • PDF version (link 1) (link 2)
    (note: try the first link, if it doesn't work then try the second link)
    Test Preview

    Below are advantages of going with primes or zooms. In the end it's your choice as to which you prefer.

    Advantages of primes

    - Smaller and lighter than equivalent zooms, with all other factors being equal. This is because you don't need a lot of glass to build primes. E.g. a 400mm f/5.6 prime is much lighter than a 200-400 f/5.6 zoom.

    - Primes are much sharper, especially wide open and at the corners. Because of their simpler optical formula, these lenses perform much better than zooms wide open. A zoom lens needs stopping down to get acceptable quality. You won't gain too much sharpness by stopping down a prime.

    - Almost always faster. This is probably the most appealing point. This allows more background blur and higher shutter speeds (or lower ISOs). In order to get their EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS to match their EF 200 f/2 IS, Canon would need to make it 2x the size and 2x the cost of the current version, and it STILL wouldn't be as sharp. This is simple maths.

    Advantages of zooms

    - More convenient and versatile. This is the biggest reason why zooms are more popular. People care more about being able to set a precise focal length. They don't like being limited to one focal length

    - Fewer lenses needed to cover the same focal lengths (however each one is larger, heavier, and less sharp).

    And another thing...

    I personally prefer primes for the normal range, around 18-150mm. They're more portable and offer better quality. However I like the convenience that my 18-55 offers, provided I'm willing to live with the compromises involved.

    One last point, primes have their own "character". Because of the fact that they have a simpler optical design, primes can get their own optical character. My Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI-S (look out for an upcoming review) has a slightly warm touch to its images and a crispness to its images. This crispness stems from the fact that the few glass elements used in the construction allow for higher image contrast. Zooms have a lot of glass inside them. When light enters the lens it will have more pieces of glass to bounce against, thus inevitably reducing contrast.

    Further reading

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Nikon digital SLR family

Last Updated: 17 Jan 08 (v2)

Nikon have a total of 6 digital SLRs in production today.


  • Nikon D40
    6 MP DX sensor (announced November 2006)

    Nikon's lowest-end digital SLR. Aimed at either the absolute beginner; those moving up from a point-and-shoot; or those looking for a low-cost gateway to the Nikon system. Famous for: price and image quality. Infamous for: supporting auto focus only on AF-S/AF-I lenses. Having 'only' 6 megapixels. The Nikon D40 replaced the Nikon D50.

  • Nikon D40x
    10 MP DX sensor (announced March 2007)

    A 'big-brother' to the Nikon D40. The biggest difference is that this has 10 megapixels (4 more over the D40). It is primarily intended to provide competition to the Canon EOS 400D in the crowded 10 MP entry-level market. Famous for: Having the same image quality as the excellent D40. Infamous for: auto focus with AF-S/AF-I lenses only. The Nikon D40x has no predecessor. It doesn't replace the Nikon D40 or D50.

  • Nikon D80
    10 MP DX sensor (announced August 2006)

    Nikon's feature-full intermediate camera. Priced above the D40/x line and offers more features, including autofocus with older AF lenses. Famous for: Image quality, features. Infamous for: Often flawed Matrix Metering. The Nikon D80 replaces the Nikon D70s.


  • Nikon D200
    10 MP DX sensor (announced November 2005)

    Offering a robust magnesium body and superb ergonomics in a compact body, the Nikon D200 is a camera mainly aimed at professionals looking for a backup body, and amateurs/enthusiasts looking for premium performance. Famous for: build quality, features, performance. Infamous for: Noisy high ISO. The Nikon D200 was a huge upgrade over the aged Nikon D100. Note: the new D300 has NOT replaced the D200. D200's are still being produced today.

  • Nikon D300
    12 MP DX sensor (announced August 2007)

    The Nikon D300 is a semi-professional camera. It has a lot in common with the much larger, professional level D3. Its main features are: a weather-sealed magnesium body; 6 fps (expandable to 8 fps with battery grip); 14-bit image processing (shared with D3); professional 51-point AF (shared with D3); 922k-pixel 3" LCD screen (shared with D3); Live View with Contrast-Detect AF (shared with D3); and a dust shaker. Famous for: professional features, value for money. Infamous for: Some early adopters are reporting faulty metering, these were replaced under warranty. The Nikon D300 doesn't replace the D200 according to Nikon literature.

  • Nikon D3
    12 MP FX sensor (announced August 2007)

    The Nikon D3 is a professional camera. It offers plenty of professional-level features and many firsts for Nikon. Most notably, it is the first Nikon to have a full-frame 35mm sensor (coined FX-format). It offers: an unprecedented 9 fps; 51-point advanced AF system; 14-bit image processing; 5.1 MP DX crop mode; 922k-pixel 3" LCD screen; Live View with Contrast-Detect AF; and a robust, fully weather-sealed body. Famous for: FX format sensor, image quality sets new standards. Infamous for: Nothing, except that the high price tag puts it out of the reach of many. The Nikon D3 seems to have replaced the D2Hs. But because it has no 'H' suffix, it is suggested that it also replaced the D2Xs. However, rumours of a high-resolution D3X have been circulating for months.

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