Zooms vs. Primes: Round 2

It was the holy trinity of Panasonic zoom lenses: the 12-35mm f/2.8, the 35-100mm f/2.8 and the 100-300mm f/4.0 - 5.6. Between the three of them, I was covered by the full frame equivalent of 24mm - 600mm, and it was fantastic to shoot with them. No matter what the situation called for, I was set! But then something unexpected happened. With a new VFX editing job sucking away any free time that I could previously dedicate to photography, I had very few opportunities to take this kit out and use it to it’s full advantage. Suddenly I fell into a rut, and the only thing that got me back up and shooting was a newfound interest in my new 35mm film cameras…and the primes that came with them.

Now look, I clearly remember (and can go back and read) everything I said in my original post on Zooms vs Primes, and I stand by it. There’s a lot of sense in investing in one extremely capable, well-featured zoom lens that can cover the focal lengths of multiple primes that, when combined together, are even more expensive than that one zoom lens. In the case of Panasonic and some of the Fuji zooms, I’ve read great reviews that say they’re just as sharp as some of the primes. Still, having said all of that, I really fell in love with two specific focal lengths on the Mamiya 500DTL: 28mm and 50mm. When I picked up a Mamiya ZM kit from eBay, it came with a 28mm and I quickly added a $20 50mm f/1.7 to that camera as well. There was something instantly liberating about having one focal length to work with. It’s a bit strange, but I think I’m beginning to understand when people say that you learn to train your eye to see that focal length. Other advantages are that these lenses are usually faster (f/1.7 or in the case of a new Fuji X prime - f/1.4) and they’re definitely smaller and lighter in the camera bag (which is handy as I’m attached to my Retrospective 5). Also, when primes are on the camera they don’t shout, “Hey! I have a large lens and I’m someone who’s going to take a picture of you!” Admittedly that last one probably only matters more in cities, because I never had any birds or other animals make a fuss when I pointed my zoom lenses at them. But I digress…

The ZM came with a lovely 80-205mm f/4.5 that is extremely sharp and a pleasure to shoot with, but when compared to the primes it is quite large, especially when telescoped out to it’s maximum magnification. I found myself always shooting with the 28mm f/2.8 or the 50mm f/1.7 on the ZM, and the zoom rarely comes out of the bag. It took up plenty of space, but it was used sparingly. I think I’d use it more for wildlife, but in all honesty I haven’t had the time to go to explore for more wildlife here in Montreal, and I need to outfit myself with a lens kit that is going to suit more city / street use. 

And so, that leads me to my point: change is good. Needs, wants and tastes will change and evolve along with you as you navigate your way through your photographic interests. My Fuji kit is now an 18mm f/2.0 and a 35mm f/1.4. Those are the 28mm and 50mm equivalents for the Fuji X system, respectively. Those two focal lengths will cover the type of photography that I can work on here and now, but in the future I can always expand my horizons and utilize other sharp primes in the 12mm and 14mm range for landscapes (Iceland is calling my name). 

In the end, I think I’ll call a truce, in my own photographic world, to this “versus” debate by admitting that I’ll one day invest in Fuji zoom lenses as well. The current 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 is very nice, but in the future they’ll have the 50-140mm f/2.8 and a much longer 140-400mm zoom lens available. Instead of making lenses compete, I think I’ll try to evolve my understanding to the next phase and realize that each kit has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The next time an opportunity to cover wildlife comes up, I hope to be able to set aside my fantastic primes and replace them with my fantastic zooms. No longer competitors, but instead now one big happy family.