Zoom vs. Fixed-Focal-Length

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by BWL, Oct 18, 2004.

  1. BWL

    BWL Guest

    Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon 20D, probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be my first DSLR. I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that fixed-focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality. I was initially thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300 or 400mm for wildlife photography.

    My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough to offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in photo quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.

    Also, I've read that DSLR's are very sensitive to dust that can get on the sensor when the lens is off, even for a short time. Does having fixed-focal-length lenses, and having to swap them fairly frequently, invite problems with dust & debris inside the camera?

    Thanks for any insights,

    BW
    BWL, Oct 18, 2004
    #1
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  2. BWL

    Tetractys Guest

    BWL wrote:

    > Just wondering which way I should go
    > on this....


    I cover 18mm through 300mm with three
    good quality zoom lenses, so my opinion,
    backed by hard-earned cash, is:

    > ... is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses
    > great enough to offset the convenience of
    > zoom lenses?


    No. There is a difference, but for the average
    amateur and even most pros not doing studio
    work, it's not enough to go prime unless you
    have a specific need.

    >.... Does having fixed-focal-length lenses,
    > and having to swap them fairly frequently,
    > invite problems with dust & debris inside
    > the camera?


    Yes. You will need to clean the CCD filter
    from time-to-time, but the interval will be
    greater, the less frequently you open the box.
    (Also, avoid opening the case outside in
    high wind at the beach, downwind of a
    dusty baseball game, stuff like that.)
    Tetractys, Oct 18, 2004
    #2
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  3. BWL

    Bill Crocker Guest

    Zooms are much better than in previous years. Unless you're going for the maximum perfection, at a cost, both monetary, and one of convenience, go with the zooms.

    Bill Crocker

    "BWL" <> wrote in message news:...
    Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon 20D, probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be my first DSLR. I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that fixed-focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality. I was initially thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300 or 400mm for wildlife photography.

    My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough to offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in photo quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.

    Also, I've read that DSLR's are very sensitive to dust that can get on the sensor when the lens is off, even for a short time. Does having fixed-focal-length lenses, and having to swap them fairly frequently, invite problems with dust & debris inside the camera?

    Thanks for any insights,

    BW
    Bill Crocker, Oct 18, 2004
    #3
  4. BWL

    C J Campbell Guest

    I have been shooting aircraft and doing aerial work with zoom lenses for
    years. There is a theoretical difference, but you really can't tell unless
    you work with a tripod in very controlled conditions and blow it up huge. My
    favorite current lens is the Nikon 80-400mm VR. It is a bit heavy, but the
    thing has almost become my normal lens. OK, it is real heavy.
    C J Campbell, Oct 18, 2004
    #4
  5. Tetractys wrote:

    > BWL wrote:
    >
    >
    >>Just wondering which way I should go
    >>on this....

    >
    >
    > I cover 18mm through 300mm with three
    > good quality zoom lenses, so my opinion,
    > backed by hard-earned cash, is:
    >
    >
    >>... is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses
    >>great enough to offset the convenience of
    >>zoom lenses?

    >
    >
    > No. There is a difference, but for the average
    > amateur and even most pros not doing studio
    > work, it's not enough to go prime unless you
    > have a specific need.


    Well, I'll disagree. But it really comes down to
    style. In the shorter focal lengths, if you do
    landscapes and usually stop down to f/8, then you
    probably will not see a real difference in quality
    from a zoom to a prime. If you only hand hold, then
    you probably will not see a difference either.
    I use a 28-135 mm IS as my "everyday" lens.
    It is really nice at about f/8. I also have
    24, 28 and 50 mm primes but use them a lot less.

    But in the longer telephotos, the zooms are not
    as sharp as the primes. Also note some zooms by
    their zooming action may actually push and pull
    air into the camera and therefore dust onto the
    sensor. I just tested the 100-400 L IS and it is
    amazing how much air it pumps. I'll never put it
    on a DSLR again! But besides that issue, for wildlife
    you can get an f/4 lens that you can use a 1.4x TC on
    and still be sharper than the zooms. I replaced
    my 100-400 L IS with a 300 f/4 L IS (cheaper and
    sharper). I sure like the flexibility of the
    zoom, but have stopped using them in the telephoto
    focal lengths (>200mm)

    Roger Clark
    http://www.clarkvision.com



    >
    >
    >>.... Does having fixed-focal-length lenses,
    >>and having to swap them fairly frequently,
    >>invite problems with dust & debris inside
    >>the camera?

    >
    >
    > Yes. You will need to clean the CCD filter
    > from time-to-time, but the interval will be
    > greater, the less frequently you open the box.
    > (Also, avoid opening the case outside in
    > high wind at the beach, downwind of a
    > dusty baseball game, stuff like that.)
    >
    >
    Roger N. Clark (change username to rnclark), Oct 18, 2004
    #5
  6. BWL

    Tetractys Guest

    Roger N. Clark wrote:

    > But in the longer telephotos,
    > the zooms are not as sharp as
    > the primes.... (>200mm)


    I agree with the premise. At longer
    lenghts, you're probably better off
    with a prime. But -- for me -- the
    break point would be higher, about
    400mm plus.

    > Also note some zooms by their zooming
    > action may actually push and pull air into
    > the camera and therefore dust onto the
    > sensor. I just tested the 100-400 L IS
    > and it is amazing how much air it pumps.


    Never heard of that. How did you test?
    Tetractys, Oct 18, 2004
    #6
  7. BWL

    Nostrobino Guest

    Fixed-focal-length lenses generally have the advantage of being lighter and more compact than zooms, and often have larger maximum relative apertures too. But as far as image quality is concerned, today's better zoom lenses are so good that the difference (if any) compared to FFL lenses is not likely to be noticeable. FFL fanciers don't like to admit this, but how many of them have ever been able to actually tell from a photograph whether it was shot with an FFL or a zoom? The convenience of a zoom is not something most users would want to give up, and your point about frequent lens changing allowing ingress of dust and dirt is also a good point and something to think about. That fixed sensor is obviously much more likely to make this a problem with digital SLRs than with 35s.

    N.
    "BWL" <> wrote in message news:...
    Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon 20D, probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be my first DSLR. I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that fixed-focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality. I was initially thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300 or 400mm for wildlife photography.

    My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough to offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in photo quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.

    Also, I've read that DSLR's are very sensitive to dust that can get on the sensor when the lens is off, even for a short time. Does having fixed-focal-length lenses, and having to swap them fairly frequently, invite problems with dust & debris inside the camera?

    Thanks for any insights,

    BW
    Nostrobino, Oct 18, 2004
    #7
  8. BWL

    Nostrobino Guest

    "Roger N. Clark (change username to rnclark)" <> wrote in
    message news:...
    > Tetractys wrote:
    >
    >> BWL wrote:
    >>
    >>
    >>>Just wondering which way I should go
    >>>on this....

    >>
    >>
    >> I cover 18mm through 300mm with three
    >> good quality zoom lenses, so my opinion,
    >> backed by hard-earned cash, is:
    >>
    >>
    >>>... is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses
    >>>great enough to offset the convenience of
    >>>zoom lenses?

    >>
    >>
    >> No. There is a difference, but for the average
    >> amateur and even most pros not doing studio
    >> work, it's not enough to go prime unless you
    >> have a specific need.

    >
    > Well, I'll disagree. But it really comes down to
    > style. In the shorter focal lengths, if you do
    > landscapes and usually stop down to f/8, then you
    > probably will not see a real difference in quality
    > from a zoom to a prime.


    A zoom lens is just as much a prime lens as a fixed-focal-length lens is.
    The OP's terminology is correct. His choice is between zoom and fixed focal
    length (FFL). Both are prime lenses, though there is no reason to use the
    term "prime lens" except to distinguish that lens from some supplementary
    lens or other optical device used with it.


    > If you only hand hold, then
    > you probably will not see a difference either.
    > I use a 28-135 mm IS as my "everyday" lens.
    > It is really nice at about f/8. I also have
    > 24, 28 and 50 mm primes but use them a lot less.


    Use a tele extender with a zoom and the zoom is the prime lens. Use a 24mm
    (or 28mm, or 50mm) lens alone and there is no reason to refer to it as fixed
    focal length anyway; you have already done that with "24mm lens" (or
    whatever). No offense, but this silly misusage of "prime" should be stamped
    out.


    >
    > But in the longer telephotos, the zooms are not
    > as sharp as the primes.


    Zooms are primes.

    N.
    Nostrobino, Oct 18, 2004
    #8
  9. Start with a zoom...think wide, normal, or long and pick one with a range
    you expect to be most useful for the subjects you shoot most. For most
    people I expect that its a wide to slightly tele. That will cover scenics to
    portraits. Then....if you find yourself doing the same sort of work over and
    over again get a prime for that. I do a lot of portraits and small objects.
    So for me a slight tele with macro would be a good choice.


    "BWL" <> wrote in message
    news:...
    Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon 20D,
    probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be
    my first DSLR. I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that
    fixed-focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality. I was
    initially thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300
    or 400mm for wildlife photography.

    My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough to
    offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in photo
    quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.

    Also, I've read that DSLR's are very sensitive to dust that can get on the
    sensor when the lens is off, even for a short time. Does having
    fixed-focal-length lenses, and having to swap them fairly frequently, invite
    problems with dust & debris inside the camera?

    Thanks for any insights,

    BW
    Gene Palmiter, Oct 18, 2004
    #9
  10. BWL

    JohnR Guest

    I always recommend the typical wide to tele zoom as a standard lens. For
    extreme wide or long tele, fixed is good.

    The fast 80-200mm zooms are not too bad either. If you shoot architecture or
    perform copy work, I'd suggest a fixed lens (less distortions).

    I fast 50mm lens is nice to have for available light work.
    John

    "BWL" <> wrote in message
    news:...
    Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon 20D,
    probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be
    my first DSLR. I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that
    fixed-focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality. I was
    initially thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300
    or 400mm for wildlife photography.

    My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough to
    offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in photo
    quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.

    Also, I've read that DSLR's are very sensitive to dust that can get on the
    sensor when the lens is off, even for a short time. Does having
    fixed-focal-length lenses, and having to swap them fairly frequently, invite
    problems with dust & debris inside the camera?

    Thanks for any insights,

    BW
    JohnR, Oct 18, 2004
    #10
  11. BWL

    EHHackney Guest

    I may be wrong, but it seems that single focal length lenses are faster, in
    general, than zooms. I remember a number of single F.L. lenses that went to
    F/1.4 or even F/1.2. Most of the zooms I'm familiar with don't go any faster
    than F/2.8 or so.

    So, some of the single focal length lenses allow you to blur out the background
    with a narrow depth of field better than the zooms. RIght?

    Hack
    --//--
    EHHackney, Oct 18, 2004
    #11
  12. Without doing any real research....just from memory I would say that is
    true. I cannot recall a case where a zoom was faster than a prime. Maybe if
    you compare a cheap prime with an expensive zoom...

    A bigger aperture give you less DOF...so that is true...you can blur the
    background better.

    You got it!


    "EHHackney" <> wrote in message
    news:...
    > I may be wrong, but it seems that single focal length lenses are faster,

    in
    > general, than zooms. I remember a number of single F.L. lenses that went

    to
    > F/1.4 or even F/1.2. Most of the zooms I'm familiar with don't go any

    faster
    > than F/2.8 or so.
    >
    > So, some of the single focal length lenses allow you to blur out the

    background
    > with a narrow depth of field better than the zooms. RIght?
    >
    > Hack
    > --//--
    Gene Palmiter, Oct 18, 2004
    #12
  13. BWL

    Tetractys Guest

    Nostrobino wrote:

    > A zoom lens is just as much a prime lens
    > as a fixed-focal-length lens is.


    http://photonotes.org/cgi-bin/entry.pl?id=Primelens

    > The OP's terminology is correct.


    His is, yes. Yours is not.

    > His choice is between zoom and fixed focal
    > length (FFL). Both are prime lenses, though
    > there is no reason to use the term "prime lens"
    > except to distinguish that lens from some
    > supplementary lens or other optical device
    > used with it.


    Where did you say you went to school?
    http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Canon-Lenses/Zoom-Vs-Prime-Lens.aspx

    > Use a tele extender with a zoom and the
    > zoom is the prime lens.


    Deeper and deeper.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_lens

    > No offense, but this silly misusage of "prime"
    > should be stamped out.


    Okay, I get it. You're a wacko crusader

    > Zooms are primes.


    Knock yourself out, trollmeister. Then you can
    start on the rule of thirds, the metric system,
    and perhaps the two-party system in American
    politics. Go for it! Rage against the ocean!
    Tetractys, Oct 18, 2004
    #13
  14. In article <>,
    "BWL" <> wrote:

    > Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon 20D,
    > probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be my
    > first DSLR. I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that
    > fixed-focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality. I was
    > initially thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300 or
    > 400mm for wildlife photography.
    >
    > My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough to
    > offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in photo
    > quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.
    >
    > Also, I've read that DSLR's are very sensitive to dust that can get on the
    > sensor when the lens is off, even for a short time. Does having
    > fixed-focal-length lenses, and having to swap them fairly frequently, invite
    > problems with dust & debris inside the camera?
    >
    > Thanks for any insights,
    >
    > BW


    Zooms can be very good as long as you stay away from lenses with very
    wide ranges, like 28-300. The real disadvantage of zoom lenses is
    weight, cost, and reduced light.

    My Canon 300D hasn't gotten any dust on the sensor yet but the
    viewfinder lens is a dust magnet. Dust has fouled up the autofocus a
    couple of times too.
    Kevin McMurtrie, Oct 18, 2004
    #14
  15. Tetractys wrote:

    >>Also note some zooms by their zooming
    >>action may actually push and pull air into
    >>the camera and therefore dust onto the
    >>sensor. I just tested the 100-400 L IS
    >>and it is amazing how much air it pumps.

    >
    >
    > Never heard of that. How did you test?


    I picked up my 100-400 and took the cover caps off,
    put it up to my cheek and zoomed.
    I was quite surprised how much air it was moving!
    I learned about this in this newsgroup.
    Roger
    Roger N. Clark (change username to rnclark), Oct 18, 2004
    #15
  16. BWL

    BWL Guest

    Thanks for all the input, everyone. This NG is a great source of info & experience!

    "BWL" <> wrote in message news:...
    Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon 20D, probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be my first DSLR. I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that fixed-focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality. I was initially thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300 or 400mm for wildlife photography.

    My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough to offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in photo quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.

    Also, I've read that DSLR's are very sensitive to dust that can get on the sensor when the lens is off, even for a short time. Does having fixed-focal-length lenses, and having to swap them fairly frequently, invite problems with dust & debris inside the camera?

    Thanks for any insights,

    BW
    BWL, Oct 18, 2004
    #16
  17. BWL

    gsum Guest

    "Tetractys" <> wrote in message
    news:...
    > Roger N. Clark wrote:
    >
    > > But in the longer telephotos,
    > > the zooms are not as sharp as
    > > the primes.... (>200mm)

    >
    > I agree with the premise. At longer
    > lenghts, you're probably better off
    > with a prime. But -- for me -- the
    > break point would be higher, about
    > 400mm plus.


    For landscape photography, you need primes at the wide angle end
    to minimise flare when shooting into the sun, and to minimise distortion.

    >
    > > Also note some zooms by their zooming
    > > action may actually push and pull air into
    > > the camera and therefore dust onto the
    > > sensor. I just tested the 100-400 L IS
    > > and it is amazing how much air it pumps.

    >
    > Never heard of that. How did you test?
    >
    >


    You're not just pumping dust. Zooms (and primes to a lesser
    extent) pump lens lubricant. This is much worse than dust as it smears
    when you clean the sensor.
    gsum, Oct 18, 2004
    #17
  18. BWL

    Ken Tough Guest

    BWL <> wrote:

    >Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon 20D,
    >probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be my
    >first DSLR. I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that fixed-
    >focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality. I was initially
    >thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300 or 400mm for
    >wildlife photography.
    >
    >My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough to
    >offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in photo
    >quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.


    I'm in about the same boat, thinking the same. [Not sure if Nikon
    or Canon yet]. Have you considered the "1.6x crop" of the dSRL
    (making a 28mm actually give the field of view of a '45 mm' on a
    35mm film cam).

    Seems to me that a shorter Fixed Focal Length lens (say up to 50 mm)
    is more useful than a long FFL telephoto, since you can 'zoom with
    your feet' more easily on the wide end. With a telephoto you may
    need to walk a long way to zoom out if necessary. (I can imagine
    shooting wildlife, then have something show up 5m away and only be
    able to catch its eyebrows). So I'd personally plan on a zoom tele
    and a fast 50mm for people & 'walking around'. Due to the dirt-on-
    the-sensor issue and wanting to travel light, I'm also thinking the
    17-85mm IS lens is nice because it has a decent zoom range, and the
    IS effectively opens its aperature a couple of stops at the tele end.
    (The Nikon 18-70 feels a little short for my liking, and its relatively
    smaller aperature isn't countered by any IS).

    --
    Ken Tough
    Ken Tough, Oct 18, 2004
    #18
  19. BWL

    Tony Lewis Guest

    On Mon, 18 Oct 2004 02:51:26 GMT, "Nostrobino" <>
    wrote:

    >This is a multi-part message in MIME format.
    >
    >------=_NextPart_000_0076_01C4B49B.D8BD1F20
    >Content-Type: text/plain;
    > charset="iso-8859-1"
    >Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
    >


    I would like to read what you are saying but it is very difficult
    unless you post pure text and not html.

    Thanks.

    --
    TonyL
    Tony Lewis, Oct 18, 2004
    #19
  20. BWL wrote:
    > Just wondering which way I should go on this. I'll be getting a Canon
    > 20D,
    > probably between new year's and spring. I have a G1 now, but this will be
    > my first DSLR.


    My 20D just came in a few days ago. I am very pleased with it. Good
    choice.

    > I've been reading up on lenses, and it seems apparent that
    > fixed-focal-length lenses have much better optics and photo quality.


    I would not say "much better"

    There is a wide range of "quality" in both types and a large number of
    lenses are in the overlap area where some zooms are better than some primes.
    For the most part. I would tend to say that quality of design and
    construction is far more important in determining the quality of the final
    image than the zoom-prime type difference.

    If you are looking at the most critical best lenses from a optical
    standpoint, you are likely to find almost all are prime. If you look at the
    real life very good to outstanding results, I think you will find a good mix
    of both types.

    > I was
    > initially thinking of getting a 28mm (or thereabouts), and a nice long 300
    > or 400mm for wildlife photography.


    28 is a good general use range for the 20D and a 300-400 will get you
    into the edge of wildlife photography, but if you want to get serious, you
    are going to need much deeper pockets. :)


    >
    > My question is: is the quality of fixed-focal-length lenses great enough
    > to offset the convenience of zoom lenses? I mean, if the difference in
    > photo quality is negligible, a zoom would be much preferable.


    Each of us are different in the way we use and judge images. I find
    that 90% of my work now is with zoom lenses. I don't find any decrease in
    the quality of the final image due to the fact that I am using a zoom lens.
    Some else may see things different. That's life. I do have a couple of
    primes and for special images I may choose one in part do to the improved
    possible quality.

    I suggest this as a standard. If you don't use a tripod for 80% of your
    work, you will never miss any loss of quality due to the difference between
    a good zoom lens and a good prime lens.

    >
    > Also, I've read that DSLR's are very sensitive to dust that can get on the
    > sensor when the lens is off, even for a short time. Does having
    > fixed-focal-length lenses, and having to swap them fairly frequently,
    > invite problems with dust & debris inside the camera?


    Well it could, but that would not be a prime worry of mine.

    >
    > Thanks for any insights,
    >
    > BW


    --
    Joseph E. Meehan

    26 + 6 = 1 It's Irish Math
    Joseph Meehan, Oct 18, 2004
    #20
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