Ken Rockwell on Primes.

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Djarum, May 19, 2010.

  1. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Real Name:
  2. cosinaphile

    cosinaphile Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    new york city
    primes are generally sharper cheaper and faster and lighter , and yes they make you think
  3. LisaO

    LisaO Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 18, 2010
    New York Metro Area
    Real Name:
    Zoom with your feet.
    I love a 24, 28 or 35 fast prime on a full frame.

    I was just about to read the article. Will do so now.
  4. Iansky

    Iansky Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    The Cotswolds, UK

    I agree with Ken.

    Even though there are many good quality zooms on the market currently they are big, heavy, slow and expensive in comparison to a good prime.

    I always used primes when working as a PJ as I needed small fast lenses that could be carried easily and did the job, if I was not close enough or too close I used the old well trusted method of moving until I could get the image I needed and even when locked into a restricted area (Presidential/Royal visits), the primes were more than adequate.

    Zooms have made us lazy and we tend to rely on the zoom to compose the image through changing focal lengths rather than pre-visualising the result with a fixed focal length.

    I do have zooms (14-45 & 45-200) but love my 20mm and am very much looking forwards to the 14mm prime arriving - I may then get rid of the 14-45 and just keep the 45-200 for shows/events where long focal lengths are needed.

    I still occasionally practice what I was taught when studying the art, use only 1 fixed focal length lens for a whole day of shooting and stop, look, think, pre-visualise then shoot the image - it helps a lot and is very rewarding.
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  5. Grant

    Grant Mu-43 Veteran

    I haven't been to DPReview but I think Ken Rockwell is talking a lot of sense even if he is bucking he wave of popularity. For my dSLR I have nine lenses, three of which are zooms. Macro photography aside I tend to get my best results with my 24 mm, 35 mm, and my 50 mm lenses. I would be in seventh heaven if Panasonic came out with fast 14 mm and 45 mm lenses that were in the quality and price range of their 20 mm. That being said I suspect everyone shoots differently.
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  6. Iansky

    Iansky Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    The Cotswolds, UK
    Hi Grant,

    I second that, the 14mm f2.5 / 2.8 is still due out this year (I hope) and is supposed to be a pancake a little smaller than the 20mm.

    I too would love a 45 / 50mm fast prime to use as a portrait lens.

    My primary lenses when working as a PJ were - 28 / 50 / 90mm and they were small, fast and razor sharp - give me these over zooms any day.
  7. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Real Name:
    I guess I'll play devil's advocate here. I really like the Oly collapsable zoom. Yes, its slow. However, its not very heavy nor very big.

    1. I hear the whole "move your feet" arguement. In 75 percent of my shooting, moving my feet to dramatically change the composition was out of the question.

    2. And how exactly does a zoom lens make one not think? If anything, I feel that I become more aware of 3-D space with a zoom lens and how it effects the final shot.

    3. I would miss shots either because I'm changing lenses or moving to get the right composition would simply take too long.

    Ok, let me put my flame suit on :zip:
  8. LisaO

    LisaO Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 18, 2010
    New York Metro Area
    Real Name:
    I grew up in photographic film days in the 70's when you bought a camera, it came with a 50mm. One would often supplement with a 35, 105 as a standard kit, if you shot sports you would get a 200-300 prime. Zooms were quite rare. As technology advanced through the 80's and 90's zooms became much better and short zooms replaced the 50mm as the standard kit lens often giving up speed and sharpness for versatility.

    To me the best thing about primes are their compact size, balance, quality, fast F stops and expectation. I took a 10 day photo workshop in Paris on street photography a few years ago. The instructor suggested we choose one lens and stick with that the entire time. I chose the 35 1.4 for my Canon 5D. I was very happy with the choice I made, I could shoot in low light on the metro, at night on the street and anything else it was light so I could roam the street for hours without feeling over burdened with equipment.

    One of the reasons I came to m4/3 was to get into lighter and smaller camera as I have roamed around all day for hours and hours with big DSLRs with heavy lenses such as a Nikon D3 and 24-70 plus a D300 with 18-200 and it gets exhausting. I prefer feeling more mobile M/43 has allowed me to get there. I do really enjoy the 45 2.8 Macro and the 20 1.7 but the zooms for m 4/3 are nice and light too unlike those for DSLRs.
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  9. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Real Name:
    I get the seniment but I disagree. I have a full set of Canon L series primes and L series zooms as well as a growing m4/3 system (pus some MF film stuff, panoramic cameras, housings etc). They are both useful and important in different situations. I'd agree that primes are better if you want to LEARN photography and improve at the maximum rate, but if you actually know what you're doing????

    When the weather is bad or you're in a sandy windy environment, zooms are better than primes. When your three year old is running laps around the lounge room, zooms are better than primes. When I'm hiking and I don't want to hold up the rest of the group, zooms are better than primes.

    When you want to shoot macro, primes are better than zooms. When you want razor thin DOF primes are better than zooms. When you want to shoot in low light with no flash primes are better than zooms.

    Lazy photographers will always be lazy, regardless of the lens they have on. It's just that lazy photographers don't buy primes. Sure you can stand there and rack a zoom back and forwards, but just like a prime, you can move around. It's not like a zoom lens glues you to the floor. It's up to you to see a zoom lens as a set of lenses, and to make real choices regarding focal length, exposure, DOF and perspective, just as you would using a bag of primes.

    And prime lenses are NOT cheaper and lighter than zooms. Ken loves to compare a consumer 50mm to a professional zoom and claim primes are cheaper/lighter. But if you compare consumer zooms to consumer primes and professional zooms to professional primes the equivalent set of primes is almost always heavier and more expensive. My 85mm lens costs more than my 70-200 2.8 zoom. And that's without also buying a 100mm, 135mm, and 200mm as well.

    Then we have to relate this to m4/3. Everything is a compromise and a preference. If we didn't compromise we'd all be shooting 5x4. Oh, wait, that's a compromise as well. Zooms and primes should be chosen based on need and personal preference, not someone else's opinion. This morning, when I walked the dog, I had an EP-1 with two zooms in my pocket. Tonight, for the corporate event I'm shooting, I'll have two bodies and three pro zoom lenses. For Saturdays wedding I'm carrying 30kg of primes, zoom and extras.

    And one last thing. The best lens for the job is the one you have with you.

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  10. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Real Name:

    Excelent post. I agree with much of what you say. I do a good bit of hiking with my significant other, and I don't have too much time to think about the best composition for every shot, and then change lens if moving my feet is not an optioin. The kit zoom allows me to get the composition I want without having to change lenses.

    I personally feel that if I was using the panny zoom all the time, i'd probably prefer the 20mm prime on a daily basis. But the Oly collapsable is quite small when just carrying it around.

    I probably would be more inclined to use primes if they existed for the mFT. Right now, there are only 3 primes, and only 2 are reasonably priced, and both are close in focal length.
  11. mauve

    mauve Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 9, 2010
    Paris, France
    You're absolutely right ; in fact, I thought reading Ken's paper that he had an untold yet very precise target in mind : the lazy gearhead amateur with more money than brain (or experience), afflicted by lens envy and who doesn't get the point of learning photography bases from books and hands-on experiments.

    But this being an extremely crowded group, his points are quite valid. You learn better and faster with primes ; once you begin to 'get it', zooms become useful tools to add to your bag.

    Trouble is camera companies work like drug dealers : they spend money to advertise how good you'll become as soon as you get this kit lens with the shiny new camera, and how better you'll be as soon as you replace this basic zoom by this one bigger and better, and they almost never put forward their primes because the margin is way inferior. See how Panasonic has been overwhelmed by the requests for the 20mm prime ! They never suspected for a second this would become a bestseller, spreading almost only by hearsay and on its own merits.
  12. adam

    adam Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 21, 2010
    I find that Ken Rockwell often tries to make others look like they don't know what they're talking about to cover up for the fact that he doesn't know what he's talking about. That isn't to say he doesn't know about photography...but he has a certain style, thinks his style represents every photographer, and writes articles to justify the choices he makes.

    In this particular article, his opinions are his. Some people like shooting with primes more than they like shooting with zooms. That doesn't mean the people who shoot with zooms are wrong or take inferior pictures.

    Also, most of his arguments are either wrong, or red herrings (not to mention his clear anti-Canon bias). As Gordon mentioned, he's not comparing apples to apples with regard to primes being faster, cheaper, and lighter than sharp primes are expensive and heavy. Canon does make good wide zooms (although not as good as the Nikon 14-24), and the Canon 28 f/1.8 simply isn't a good lens...the 28 f/2.8 is just as sharp, cheaper, and lighter.

    Finally, the filter argument is nonsense. Almost all pro zooms for Canon and Nikon take 77mm filters. When I shot Canon, I had one set of filters that worked with three of my four lenses.

    (And this doesn't have any real application to micro Four Thirds, because we don't have a selection of primes to cover our needs. Yet :D)
  13. PeterB666

    PeterB666 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 14, 2010
    Tura Beach, Australia
    Real Name:
    Hmm, I think that Ken deliberately acts the fool quite often, just to get some notoriety and self-publicity.

    Moving on, this is one of Ken's better articles. He can make a lot of sense and is spot on with this one.

    I held off going to dSLRs for years due to the bulk compared to my old Nikon FM kit for which I used a 35mm f/2 and 85mm f/2 lenses for 95% of my photography at that time.

    While I have ventured into wider shots and panoramas since going digital (I use the M.Zuiko 9-18mm lens), it has always been the bulk of modern gear that has put me off.

    I don't mind zooms and am very conscious of the compromises in speed and image quality they sometimes have. But for value for money and versatility, you cannot beat them. I have room in my kit bag for both zooms and primes and probably always will.
  14. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Real Name:
    Ray, not Oz
    If I could have gotten the same quality zooms as I have for my 4/3s cameras (ie 7-14mm, 14-35mm, 35-100mm and 90-250mm) for m4/3s, in a reduced size, I'd have the zooms. These are as good as any prime and give you great versatility, much better than zooming with one's feet; how does that work?

    That said, I do like my prime lenses for their size and quality, but I do sometimes miss a high quality zoom. I don't think we'll see any m4/3s top pro lenses anywhere in the near, or distant, future.


  15. From someone using mostly primes – zoom or not is so much about personal preference that its quite off IMO to be educationally strict about; the same qualifies for my private verdict that no lens category is more redundant than 3,5 or even 4,5 to whatever-slow standard zooms…
    So nothing to add from my side to the summaries by OZRay and others, besides that IMO the F/T 2,8-3,5/11-22mm makes a really great lens on Mft as well; not really compact but quite a handy tool when taking photos is the main purpose. It covers a highly interesting range of focal lengths esp. for street “work”, free to be used at whatever focal length as “fixed”; even MF works quite good, not as perfect compared with MF-primes, but well, we´ll never see again a newly designed MF-zoom, sad enough ;-).
  16. kwaphoto

    kwaphoto Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 4, 2010
    Colorado, USA
    As has been said, Ken Rockwell can be a little nutty sometimes, but I agree with the primes. I love them. My GF-1 + 20 is my current love. In the past it was the Pentax K10D/ist-DS + 40 f/2.8 limited pancake too.
  17. Boyzo

    Boyzo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 3, 2010
    There is no argument that Primes are inherently better optically than zooms.

    Zooms today are really very good improved glass (ED) etc and computer aided optimization make them optically very good and even wide open are very sharp (mostly center) Do suffer from rather more Barrel / Pincushion / CA etc but these are corrected now it jpeg engine or RAW software.

    They are slower and heavier unfortunately but give versatility than Primes can't equal.

    Pany and Oly need some fast midrange zooms for m43 ie 28-100mm and f2
  18. Mosca

    Mosca Mu-43 Regular

    May 27, 2010
    Zooms are better for some things, primes are better for others. Sometimes Ken makes sense, sometimes he doesn't.

    If you are learning photography, you might learn a lot from shooting with just a prime lens. If you have been shooting for 10 years and have an established business and clientele, then the article is BS. As he wrote at the beginning of the article, lenses and cameras don't take photographs; photographers do.

    When I go to Disney World in a couple weeks, I'm taking the E-P1 and leaving the 7D/17-55 at home. During the day, when there will be ample light, I'll shoot with the 14-42. At night, I'll shoot with the Panasonic 20mm 1.7. Horses for courses.
  19. landshark

    landshark Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 27, 2010
    SO CAL
    Wow, what an absolutely absurd and self-righteous article. No matter what style lens you use it up to the user to create the image, to think about what they are going to shoot. A high quality zoom can allow you shoot more and change lenses less. A super fast prime can let you shoot when a slower lens would have trouble, they both have their place in a good photographers arsenal. I have been shooting for long time, you use what ever tool you have at hand to make the best image possible, it could be a pinhole, plastic, zoom, uncoated or yes even a fast prime lens.

    Ken is spending way too much time pontificating instead of just doing some real world shooting.
  20. Bokeh Diem

    Bokeh Diem Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 14, 2010
    "Wow, what an absolutely absurd and self-righteous article".

    My exact thought. He's really digging around in the muck looking for something to help puff his image up. All of it at the expense of his dutiful readership.

    Bokeh D