What is a Prime Lens in Photography?

What is a Prime Lens in Photography?

There are many debates in the photography community, but the most common debate that doesn’t seem to end is the debate on prime vs zoom. Arguments can be made for both sides because prime and zoom lenses both have their advantages and disadvantages.

This article isn’t meant to settle that debate because honestly it will never be settled, but this article is here to show you the benefits of using prime and help you decide if it is right for you. Finding the right lens is very important because it can improve your photos a lot if you shoot with the right lens. Special thanks to ShareGrid for the cover photo.

Benefits of a Prime Lens

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At first glance you might decide a prime lens is not necessary for you and go with the more common zoom lens. Before making that decision lets take a look at what prime lenses have to offer.

More Light

The first major benefit of using a prime lens is that it allows for more lighting. A prime lens gives you the option to allow more light into the camera because it has a bigger maximum aperture. Basically the lens can open up much wider when the shutter is open so more light is allowed inside. This is ideal when shooting in an environment where there is not a lot of light present. If you are shooting in these low light conditions then consider a prime lens.

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Sharper Pictures

Do you want more crisp and sharper images? If so then the prime lens excels at producing sharp images. Since prime lens do not have a zoom feature there is less glass inside of the lens itself. As a result of a minimum amount of glass being included in the lens the photo quality increases dramatically. To expand upon the sharper image quality, prime lens are also great for avoiding lens distortion. This is due to a minimum amount of moving parts in the lens thus creating less distortion. Lens distortion is not completely removed, but it is kept to a minimum.

Form Factor

Prime lenses also come in a much smaller form factor compared to its counterpart the zoom lens. As mentioned before there are a lot less moving parts inside the lens so the weight of the lens decreases a ton. With a smaller form factor you can carry more prime lens in your camera bag so there is no need to worry about not having the right prime lens on you. If you take your camera bag with you when traveling then this extra room means more room for other accessories and equipment you couldn’t carry on you before. If you choose not to fill up the spare room with extra equipment then your bag will be a lot lighter resulting in less weight on your shoulders.

Disadvantages of a Prime Lens

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There are not too many disadvantages of selecting a prime lens, but there are some that you should be aware of before purchasing one.

No Zoom

This is the biggest drawback and most obvious disadvantage of choosing a prime lens. The fixed focal length means that zooming in is not an option. If you want to zoom in or out you have to re-position yourself at the appropriate distance. This is a disadvantage, but is not impossible to deal with. If you chose to go with a prime lens you will overcome this handicap and become better at composing the frame. After adjusting to this you will be able to produce some stunning photos.


The price of prime lens can be more expensive than zoom lenses. Base models of prime lenses are very affordable, but if you want a more complete experience and a better product you should skip to more advanced models of prime lenses.

Difference between Prime and Zoom Lenses

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As seen above prime lenses have a lot of advantages to them while keeping the downsides to a minimum. This raises the question what is the difference between a prime lens and a zoom lens?

What’s Inside

A zoom lens is a lot more complicated than a prime lens. A zoom lens has a lot more moving parts and glass inside the lens making it complicated to have a full understanding of what is happening when you are shooting. Prime lenses have minimal moving parts and glass and has a very simple construction that is easy to understand.


There are many high quality zoom and prime lenses on the market, but prime lenses have the advantage. Zoom lenses for years have been behind in quality, both in picture and construction. The zoom lens has been gaining ground in terms of quality though. As mentioned the prime lens has less glass which results in sharper images being captured.

Zoom Zoom Zoom

The zoom lens as the name states has the ability to zoom in or out giving it the ability to have different compositions when shooting. The prime lens does not move at all and what you see is what you get. This could be exactly what you are looking for or could push you toward a zoom lens.


The main difference other than the zooming aspect is the aperture of the zoom and prime lens. A prime lens opens up much wider than a zoom to allow a lot more light into the lens. This allows for the prime lens to excel in low light situations. A zoom lens can sometimes work nearly as good in low light situations, but you will have to push your ISO to the max which is not ideal.

Read next: How Shooting with a Fish Eye Lens Changed my Vision for Photography

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