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Fixed focal length vs. Zoom?

Fixed focal length vs. Zoom?

I often get the question what is actually better now, I would like to explain the difference between fixed focal lengths and zoom lenses.

Neither of the two is really better, it depends on what you want to photograph.

Zoom lens

A zoom lens makes life a lot easier for the photographer. We can easily zoom in on objects without moving. Of course, this zoom mechanism needs space. The lenses in the lens have to be able to move and this is usually at the expense of lens performance.

Disadvantages of the zoom lens

Due to the zoom mechanism, the lens is missing in other places. Most zoom lenses are very limited in terms of aperture . That is of course logical. The space that the zoom takes up in the lens is at the expense of the other elements. In the affordable price range, the lenses have a maximum open aperture of 3.5 – 6.3. It all depends on the lens and the zoom level.

Advantage of the zoom lens

Of course, the number one advantage is zooming. You don’t have to change the lens if you want a different focal length . However, this can quickly become a disadvantage. I’ve learned more from prime lenses than I could ever have learned from a zoom lens. You think a lot more about the point of view and the perspective and don’t just zoom in on your subject.

Prime lenses

A fixed focal length is a lens without a zoom function. I cannot change the focal length of the lens and have to walk to get closer to my subject.

Advantages of the prime lens

Of course, the lack of a zoom saves space. This space can be used for a large aperture or to make a lens smaller and more manageable. Fixed focal lengths already offer open apertures of 1.8 in a lower price segment.

Disadvantages of the prime lens

The photographer has to think & move. He has no possibility to zoom but can only change the image section by moving (sneaker zoom).

I don’t really see that as a disadvantage myself. It has boosted my creativity enormously and fundamentally changed my thinking in photography.


My recommendation: Get a fixed focal length and only force yourself to take pictures with this for a certain time. It will give you a whole new view of things. You will know when you need a prime lens and when you don’t. You will think differently and adjust your point of view and perspective on the prime lens. You learn to take photos in a completely different way and don’t just zoom in on the subject lazily.

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The aperture in photography

One of the most important factors in photography is the aperture . The aperture is a lamellar opening in the lens that opens and closes. It has two influences on a photo. On the one hand, it controls the brightness and, on the other hand, the depth of field (or depth of field).

General information about the aperture

Surely you know the portraits or macro shots where only a small part of the picture is sharp. The rest disappears in a blur. With this type of image we speak of a shallow depth of field. We sometimes control the size of this area through the aperture and have different areas of application for this. In landscape photography, we want to be as sharp as possible. But for this it is not necessary to close the shutter as far as it will go! Depending on the lens and camera, aperture values ​​of 5.6 or higher are enough to speak of a high depth of field. The opposite are low aperture values. These open the aperture further and ensure a low focus range.

Aperture value

The aperture value is a little bit confusing, because with a higher value we have a closed aperture and with a lower value we have an open one. This is because the aperture value is a fraction. We don’t actually set an aperture of 4, but an aperture of f / 4. This is because the aperture value is calculated from the focal length of the lens and the diameter of the light passage. This explains why lenses are sometimes very thick, but is difficult to remember for beginners.

Aperture step

If that wasn’t too much for you, I have another tip for you. Because we have a certain approach to the aperture values. As you may have already noticed, you cannot set an aperture of 3.8 on your camera ; an aperture of 4 works though … Why?

It has to do with a very simple calculation and logic. If the aperture makes a full step (from 5.6 to 8, for example), only half as much light falls into the camera. Conversely, of course, from f / 4 to f / 2.8 we let twice as much light into the camera. In this case one speaks of an aperture step. This is available in whole steps and in thirds.

Whole aperture steps:

1 – 1.4 – 2 – 2.8 – 4 – 5.6 – 8 – 11 – 16 – 22

In order to be able to adjust the aperture more finely, there are now third steps. These can be found in most cameras between all the steps for the blind. ( 2 – 2.2 – 2.5 – 2.8 ). Many values ​​in photography are based on this aperture value; also the exposure time and the ISO value.

In simple terms, however, you can say that if you turn a setting wheel on the camera three steps in a certain direction, you have halved or doubled the amount of light. Depending on which direction.

The focus range

The area of ​​focus is the area in an image that is in focus. The size of the focus area is controlled, among other things, by the opening of the aperture . If you keep it open, the area of ​​focus will get smaller, and if you close it it will get bigger.

With the autofocus, you can control at which point the image is in focus, through the aperture how far this focus spreads to the front or back. Please note that this focus area spreads on the camera axis. Everything that is left or right of your subject can therefore also be sharp.

Take pictures with the aperture open

There are several advantages to opening the bezel . In this way, you can keep the focus area in your photo small, which makes for a wonderfully focused look in portrait photography or macro photography.

Take pictures with the aperture closed

The complete opposite is of course the closed aperture . The closed aperture ensures that the picture is naturally darker. Less light comes into the camera, so the picture becomes darker. This can be an advantage if we want to expose longer or if we need a large focus area.

Closing the aperture (f / 5.6 -> f / 8 or smaller) increases the focus area . This is great for group pictures or landscape shots, because at this moment we want everything to be sharp. To do this, it is not necessary to close the aperture to f / 22, i.e. as far as it will go. In most cases an aperture of 5.6 is sufficient. That depends on other influences on the sharpness range. I’ll explain this to you now.

Further influence on the focus range

The focus area depends on the distance to the subject and the focal length used . If you take photos at a wide angle, the field of focus (also depth of field) is significantly larger than with a telephoto lens at the same distance.

An example with aperture 2 and a distance of 4 meters:

  • 17mm = 20.92m depth of field
  • 50mm = 0.77m depth of field
  • 200mm = 0.05m depth of field

The distance to the subject has the same influence. Have you ever noticed that the distance to the subject changes the blurring in the background? With a lot of distance the focus area is quite large, with a short distance it becomes smaller and smaller.

Again the example with aperture 2 and a focal length of 50mm

  • 1 meter distance – 0.05m depth of field
  • 2 meters distance – 0.19 m depth of field
  • 5 meters distance – 1.21 m depth of field

So if you want to have blurring in the background of your portraits, you should not only choose an open aperture , but also get close to your subject (and keep a distance from the background).

The connection between all these influences and factors is certainly not easy to understand at the beginning, but over time this becomes easier and easier. With a little practice you will develop a feeling for which combination of aperture , distance and focal length is the right one for the respective situation.

Limits of the lens

You have already learned a lot about aperture and depth of field. As you have probably already noticed, not every lens can set every aperture . The reason for this is usually the zoom. The zoom requires space in the lens. Every moving part takes its toll and usually ensures this limit. This is why you can usually not open the aperture any further, but what is the solution?

Lenses with the largest open aperture are fixed focal lengths. A fixed focal length is a lens without zoom and usually creates f / 1.8 or even more open (f / 1.4 or f / 1.2). There are also zoom lenses that work in a similar field, but these are often very expensive. So if you want to work with a small depth of field, you should use a prime lens.

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5 good reasons why you must buy a prime lens

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens

Do you need a prime lens? Sooner or later you will absolutely discover the term repaired focal length while learning to take images – right? Do you currently have one?

I bought my very first prime lens about nine months back. Now I have actually seen a few reasons why a prime lens should never be missing out on in my photo bag again.

What are prime lenses?

A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens that does not permit you to zoom in or out. Simply put, the determined focal length of the lens is the distance is the range between the point of convergence in your lens to the sensor or film in your electronic camera.

Prime lenses permit a handful of benefits compared to their zoom equivalents. The first, and most desirable, is the availability of fast apertures. With a quick aperture, a lens has the ability to take full advantage of the amount of offered light by opening its aperture to an f/2– f/1.2 and even f/.95 range! A lot of zoom lenses do not shoot any faster than a f/2.8.

Having the ability to contend a fast & wide-open aperture likewise permits the shooter a more shallow depth of field. Depth of field (DOF) is the range between the foreground, topic and background. Shooting wide-open provides a narrow DOF, isolating the topic from its surroundings in regards to sharpness and clarity. The closer the lens is to the subject, the softer the foreground/background will end up being.

Prime lenses and imagination: you compose your photo.

There are probably 1,000 fantastic reasons to buy a prime lens. The decisive factor for me is the structure of the image. Again and again I failed in my picture structure because of “I have too much in my image”. A 50mm set focal length is stated to have roughly the exact same field of vision as the human eye. This indicates that the view through your viewfinder represents your field of vision. That makes your photographic life simpler. Due to the fact that you simply can’t zoom. You cannot “wide-angle”. It’s not working! If you want more – or less – in your image, use your feet. It’s that simple. It assisted me a lot. I approached the topic, kept my range. I looked again and thought a lot more before I pushed the shutter button. Here.

The fixed focal length teaches you to picture the basics

Zoom lens vs. fixed focal length: Sharp images

A set focal length (in English also Prime Lens or Fixed Lens) gives you very sharp images. There are a variety of reasons that this is so. On the one hand, a repaired focal length has fewer optical components than the traditional zoom lens therefore the image is sharper on your sensor.

In addition, a zoom lens generally has increasingly more distortions and chromatic aberrations. This means color fringes on high-contrast edges, ideally near the edges of the image and the corners of the picture. These chromatic aberrations occur basically depending on the quality of the lens.

The 50mm trick: the lovely bokeh

As quickly as you research study repaired focal lengths, you will often see the term open aperture. Because that is often what makes a good repaired focal length: the possibility of taking images with a fantastic bokeh with a so-called open aperture. With a zoom lens, it is not always simple to get a terrific bokeh, since it requires little aperture values (here, by the method, a brief refresher on the topic of aperture).

Light strength: Lots of light for great images

Just as great bokeh can be created with a little aperture value, a lens with a small aperture value (for instance with an open aperture of f/ 1.8) lets a great deal of light through. The lamellas of the aperture are wide open and allow a lot of light to strike the sensing unit when the shutter is launched.

This is great if you take images in bad lighting conditions and (naturally) want to do without a flash. With a zoom lens that begins with an aperture of f/ 5.6 or in the zoom range even from f/ 6.5, you will have trouble getting a sharp photo in low light without the above ISO (Iso expensive = image- Sound) or a long exposure time (exposure time too long = image blurring). With a fast fixed focal length you are much more independent to take pictures in undesirable light circumstances.

The most inexpensive lens: the fixed focal length

If you have a look around the entry-level market for prime lenses, you will be amazed at how cheap a usable prime lens can be. My first prime lens – the Canon 50mm prime lens with an aperture of f/ 1.8 – expense simply under 100 euros. And I still like the lens! A couple of months ago I bought an 85mm set focal length. It was a bit more expensive, however obviously – pricier is constantly possible. As soon as you look for a fixed focal length with f/ 1.4 or f/ 1.2, you will view as constantly – uh, it can be even more costly.

If you don’t desire to take expert advertising photos, you do not require these. I am really pleased with my two repaired focal lengths of 50mm and 85mm.