On a Budget? Reasons to Not Buy the f2.8 Zooms

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by tjdean01, Mar 5, 2014.

  1. tjdean01

    tjdean01 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 20, 2013
    I was going to title this "Bashing the Fast Zooms" but I'm really not "bashing" them. They're obviously great lenses. But I suspect that I'm not the only one who can't afford to shell out $2000 to buy the Panasonic 12-35 and 35-100 or the Olympus duo of 12-40 and 40-150, all f2.8s. I guess I could arrange to buy them, but servicing debt or adding to investments, to me, is a better use of my modest paychecks. Had I more money I would probably have these lenses. So, on that note, if you have any of theses lenses, to avoid arguing, I urge you to read no further. When I first got into m4/3s I had an overwhelming feeling that I would need one of these $1000 lenses. But with my current train of thought I'm happy not having them (granted I want a $1000 prime now but that's another problem entirely!). These are reasons for photographers to NOT feel bad for not being able to afford these fast zooms.

    Forcing Shots
    The 12-40 and 12-35 are boring lenses. You can take all sorts of wide angle shots without changing lenses and without moving your body. In fact, if you take one of these lenses to the art gallery, you only need to attend the art gallery once, because you'd have shots from all angles in that one visit. And unless if you forced yourself to zoom in or out too far to be creative, the framing of your subject will be average and expected by the eye (your eye, mostly, I mean they're your images, but read on). If that's your objective, fine. But if you have a prime, you can visit the museum once with a 14mm, and again with a 30mm. I would assume you'd take a good 50 shots that day with the zoom and possibly only 20 shots with each prime, but on average, due to some shots being forced, I'd assume a greater percentage of shots from the primes were taken at focal lengths unique to to the subject. If a given statue is 10 feet away, most people with their P&S cameras would take the shot at, say 25mm (m4/3s equivalent), which would get the entire statue and some of the background. This is the optimal angle for the subject. If you have your 12-40mm workhorse, you also take the shot around 25mm and get an even better shot than those P&S users. But what if you only had the 45 with you? Or the 75? Or a 12? All of those angles on that specific statue would be different than what you're used to seeing, and therefore, in many instances, preferred. The fact that you can zoom might make you lazy and suck the creativity out of you (see the Dodge Viper shots below). Oftentimes, if you had a m4/3s 25mm prime, the only way to get the shot would be to walk backwards so the lack of adjustment of the fixed 25mm forces you into a possibly better angle. With a zoom, you might just take the photo at 17mm and leave it at that. To quell argument, sure, you might want the 17mm in that situation. But if you don't and you take the shot at 17mm anyway, then you're shorting yourself.

    Last year I went to the auto show with an Olympus 14-42mm lens (which I heard isn't too sharp at the long end). The subject of cars made me want to use the wider end of the zoom. Some of the 14mm shots were okay because I could go no wider, but the shots in the 20mm~ range were a bore. I forced myself to test the 30mm~ end of the zoom and actually got some interesting shots doing that. This year I took a 40mm lens with me. I had to keep backing up as the lens was certainly too long for the task; and that made all the difference! I only took a third of the shots as I did the year before but got better shots this year than last. When I got tired of the MF, I put on the 15mm body cap to play with. Same thing. I took some shots from unique positions. Many times, due to many P&S cameras and phones now going to wide angle lenses (28mm equivalent), I think forcing yourself to use something longer more often than not gives you a unique perspective (I guess the same could be said if you only had your 12mm on you...all shots would be wider than expected thus unique).

    Corvettes - The grey one from last year was taken with the zoom at 20mm. Framing is good. In fact, the shiny gunmetal grey with the pretty girl might even make for better subject matter than the yellow one. But I took the yellow one at 40mm. I had to be far away to get the whole car in, but I prefer the results.


    Orange Japanese cars - It might look like it but I did not mean to make this comparison when I took these photos! But again, the smaller Corolla from last year was taken at 19mm for perfect framing (or so my brain thought). This year, working in tight quarters with the 40mm, I couldn't even get the entire orange Nissan in the photo (I shot 3:2 for some reason...none of these are cropped, BTW). But again, I prefer this year's results.


    Dodge Vipers - This might not prove anything, but last year, the Viper (concept?) was taken at the lens's widest 14mm. This year, the green Viper was taken with the lowly 15mm BCL. Almost the same focal length, but from what I wanted to do at the time, the prime gives a more satisfying result IMO.


    Sharpness, Speed, Bokeh
    Again, justifying that we don't need to spend $1000 on a 12-40mm (in addition to a couple primes), let's look at what we can buy. The 14/2.5 is only $200 and much more compact than the zoom. A touch faster, and for $100 more you can make it wider with the 11mm converter. You could spend around $8-900 and get yourself a 17/1.8 and a 25/1.4. That's quite a premium combo that would have the wide-normal FLs covered in the best possible way. Both of those lenses are sharper, smaller, faster, and cheaper than a 12-35. Or, a poor-man's version of that combo would be a 20/1.7 and 25/1.8. Those would run you appx $700 and you would not be skimping on quality from the first combo. The Sigma 19/2.8 and 30/2.8 would be useless if you had a 12-40, perhaps? I'd love to see a sharpness comparison, however, and would place my bets on the primes. Plus those can be had for $150 each on sale. And let's not forget the magnificent 45/1.8. A 14, 20, 30, 45 would give you better shots at all FL than the 12-40mm, faster apertures, better bokeh, lighter weight per lens if you're not carrying them all, and you would have only spent $1000.

    Faster Zooms Exist
    Sigma makes an f1.8 for $800! But it's for CaNikon DSLRs and covers appx 14~26mm range of what we're used to on our m4/3s sensors. Would you be happy using an f2.8 zoom when you know an f1.8 exists? Or how about the old 4/3s 14-35mm f2.0 zoom? It's huge, but it's awesome. And it's not f2.8, it's f2.0! So, maybe get a 14, 17/1.8, 20/1.7 or a 25/1.8, know you're getting even better lenses--pocket size even--at something that fits your budget.

    Cheap, Sharp, Wide Zooms Exist
    Yes, we know the 12-40 or 12-35 are the best options here. But if it's not in your budget, check out this lens: the Panasonic 14-42mm version II. It's like $150 new on Ebay. f3.5-5.6 but who cares, you have primes for speed. And how about that ultra compact 12-32mm? Mine was under $300 and I use it like a P&S when taking "boring" photos of a famous site and I don't feel like creatively taking shots. And throw it in my pocket when I'm done. The 14-45 is good also, but a bit more pricey if you're buying new.

    What about the faster tele zooms, the 35-100 or upcoming 40-150? Personally, I think these would be MORE worth getting than the wider 2.8s, but only for someone who is a) not shooting near the wide end and b) incapable of MF--two things I think most users don't do (if you do, by all means buy the 40-150/2.8 it looks like it will be a great lens!) The 45 is great, as we've mentioned, and the Sigma 60/2.8 ($250) is one of the sharpest lenses around. And if you're willing to adapt, you can get a vintage 50/1.7 for $50 (note above I was using a $30 40/1.8 at the auto show, but most were shot at f2.8 or higher). There aren't many cheap choices in the 60-135mm range, but you really need something in that range? I personally have nothing, but I do have a few 135mm lenses (f2.8-3.5) that were all under $50 mint. I also have a 40-150mm f3.5-5.6 which is one of the best values out there. It could be faster, and maybe sharper at the long end, but I paid $100 new for this lens. I do want something in the 70-90mm range and an f2.8 zoom might be a good solution, but $1000 for the rare instance I use it? And how could I be happy using an f2.8 zoom when I know the 75/1.8 exists, one of the best lenses ever? I'll keep shopping for a bargain in this range...

    I've come to understand that even if I did get the 12-40mm f2.8, I would still want primes for speed, size, and various other reasons. Sometimes I want the simplicity of zoom, but in those types of situations I usually don't need anything fast. In fact, a P&S will generally do the trick here; and it would also fit in my pocket (or use a 12-32 on a GM1 or PM2). If I ever need weather-sealing I'll buy a $200 12-50mm f3.5-5.6 and get macro to boot. If you look below in my signature, you'll see there are some repeat lenses I need to sell (because I enjoy trying them out, comparing, selling them, etc), but if you add it up you'll see that I'm at about $1500. Let's say I buy a 12-40mm for $1000. Which lenses would I sell? Not many. Maybe I wouldn't need the 30 anymore ($125). The 40 is no good at 1.8 anyway so I could sell that ($30). I'd have to keep the 12-32mm because it's so tiny. Everything else I own beats the 12-40 at something or another. And if I get a 40-150/2.8 I could sell all the 135s ($100 total), the 40-150 ($100), and...that's pretty much it. Do I want these zooms? Of course I do. But as you can see, they wouldn't get much use.

    There's no budget lens even close to the FL of the 45. You're going to get it anyway, so maybe get this first? If you like the bokeh, and want a "normal" lens, get the Panasonic 25/1.4. If f1.4 isn't necessary get the Olympus 25/1.8, 20/1.7, 17/1.8, or 14/2.5. You'll have some good lenses, take great shots, and still afford to put food on the table...thanks for reading! :)
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  2. HappyFish

    HappyFish Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 8, 2012
    primes and zooms don't like having just one :)

    zooms are handy when you need to change a lot of course otherwise prefer primes myself
  3. m43happy

    m43happy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 18, 2012
    Zooms and primes serve different purposes. I find it better to have both in order to prepare myself for different situations.
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  4. tjdean01

    tjdean01 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 20, 2013
    This is not about zooms vs primes. It is about how you can purchase budget zooms and/or primes and still take good photos and avoid buying the expensive 2.8 zooms which not everyone can afford.
  5. pake

    pake Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Oct 14, 2010
    Hmm... It seems you worked hard to give reasons not to buy f/2.8 zooms. I can respond to that by saying that I love(d) my P14/2.5 and it was my most used lens - until I got the Oly 12-40 and now I wouldn't give up on my 12-40mm. It's just so much better and more versatile. Now I don't need to crop pictures and lose a ton of details just because the focal length is too limiting.

    I'm not trying to offend you but I don't really see a point in this kind of "article". Are you trying to convince yourself to not buy these zooms or are you trying to get other people not to buy them? :biggrin:
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Rick Waldroup

    Rick Waldroup Mu-43 Veteran

    May 28, 2009
    I own two zooms- the 40-200 Panasonic and the Panny 14-45. I bought the 40-200 for the reach and it is used rarely. However, it is surprisingly sharp and small and is not a bad lens at all. The 14-45 is used quite a bit and it is a really nice, sharp lens. Other than that, I shoot primes. I see where the OP is coming from. For the type of stuff I shoot (street and documentary) I really do not need the fast zooms, my primes are just fine along with the 14-45.

    i guess it all depends on your needs and wants.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. WasOM3user

    WasOM3user Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 20, 2012
    Lancashire, UK
    I think I understand where the OP is coming from:-

    If you have one of the 12-xx F2.8 zooms you will still need at least one prime for indoor low light levels say a 17mm F1.8/F0.95 or 25mm F1.8/F1.4/F0.95.

    You probably still need a ~ 45mm (F1.8/F1.2/F0.95).

    However if you already have a 45 and a 17/25 do you

    A. Buy one of the F2.8 zooms or
    B. Buy a number of other primes e.g. 12, 17/25 to fill out the range with glass that is faster at a similar/lower cost?

    I don't think there is an easy answer and it might be different for each individual.

    I find myself in this sort of situation at the moment:-

    I have a P14, O25, O45 but also a 12-50 as well. Do I buy one if the 12-xx F2.8 zooms or not?

    I am leaning towards "not" at the moment.

    The 12-50 isn't too bad at 12mm (macro not bad either) sealed.
    Got 14 and the 25 and 45 are very nice.

    For the cost of a 12-xx in the UK I could have the O75 and a 9mm BCL and change (or 9-18 and S60 and change) either of which gives me wider and longer for less money. The 12-40 is a big heavy (for m4/3) lens.

    Would I have to work harder and think more with a prime only approach? "yes" but as the OP points out that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

    If I was a "pro" where you don't always have the freedom of choice or time available to you then yes the zooms make a lot of sense similarly in harsh environments yes for zooms again.

    Me I think I will trade the zoom for the spectacular O75 as I don't have unlimited funds (I have two teenage children).
  8. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    I have a PL25, O45, and the O12-50. I need the zoom when travelling, as changing lenses on the go isn't always feasible, and it's hard to say what the weather will do. In that context, the f/2.8 zooms make some sense - but the reality is, I would be happier with a weather sealed 12-X constant f/4 that was sharper than the 12-50, and was smaller and cheaper than the f/2.8 zooms. IMO that's what the 12-50 could and should have been.
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  9. letsgofishing

    letsgofishing Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 21, 2012
    South Africa
    Mike Kaplan
    None of your shots show any thin DOF that the large aperture primes offer - so I really don't understand why you couldn't have used one of the 2.8 zooms...
    As regards getting "boring" shots with a zoom, personally I use the 12-40 range all the time to see what difference the angle of view imparts to the subject.
    I also move nearer and closer to the subject as this changes the perspective. If some people are too "lazy" to do this, then it something they should learn. I would never swop my 12-40 for a 12,17,25 and 45 - this would cost me more than twice the price of the 12-40 and I don't require "razor thin" DOF. Just my 2c worth....
    • Like Like x 2
  10. Hagane

    Hagane Mu-43 Regular

    May 31, 2013
    Limburg, Netherlands
    A lot of words just to say:

    "Zooms are more convenient, primes often deliver more in terms of IQ and speed" :wink:
    • Like Like x 5
  11. alex66

    alex66 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jul 23, 2010
    A constant 12-50 or there a bouts would be my ideal lens of made as a high grade lens and a constant F4 is fine by me, looking at my files from the last year and the ones before that I go over 50 (100) about 1% of the time so its ideal for me. I used to have a Tamron 24-135mm and it was range wise a good lens, but I swapped Pentax for something else so I guess my absolute ideal would be a 12-60 f4.
  12. laser8

    laser8 Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 29, 2013
    Mare nostrum, Istria
    Necessary? Of course not.

    Boring? Not at all.

    Starting from the assumption that one should use the tools that best fit the intended use, 2.8's do have their place. They are first and foremost practical, especially when one does not know what to exactly expect on a certain day (and has the money to afford them, obviously).

    Example - if I go in my orchards, I'll take a macro and a telezoom, as I'll either (i) shoot insects or details of the trees I need to check or simply document or (ii) have the chance to photograph wild animals/birds from distance. A normal zoom, be 3,5-5 or constant 2.8, makes no sense.

    On the other side, an afternoon stroll in a nice seaside village and dinner with friends has different requirements. Could that be done with a 20 or a 25? Sure, but if one could, wouldn't a 2.8 zoom be a good choice? You have ALSO a 12, a 17 and a 35 (or 40) already there.

    And this takes us to the big proviso: it can be good if you care enough to use it properly. If you stay put and turn around the zoom ring until the framing looks acceptable, no need to discuss further. If you already visualized the picture, framed it mentally, and then "change lens" by turning the zoom ring, then it may be a good tool. Not a specialized one, but nonetheless, a good one.
  13. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    Ain't no such thing as necessary. And I reject the 'boring' argument out of hand. A lazy photographer or bad photographer will make boring pictures even if you give him the world's best lens (prime or zoom) and the fanciest camera ever. You obviously don't need the f2.8 zooms to take good pictures, just as you don't need the primes to do saidsame. Matter of context (i.e. travel situations where you can't always move to get the framing you want, or don't want to be swapping lenses in the street/dust/whatever are where I use the zooms most) and preference (sometimes I feel like a zoom, sometimes I feel like a prime).
    • Like Like x 2
  14. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Let me just empathize this point. Real Pros use zooms because their livelihood depends on getting the shot. An enthusiast is merely disappointed. OTOH, primes give more performance for the buck, but you have to be willing to move around and occasionally miss a shot. This si great for most enthusiast who can't use their equipment purchases as tax deductions.
  15. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Inconvenience aside, the main problem I have with primes is spending more to get the same performance. Okay, that's not always the case. But consider the Olympus 12-40/2.8. The only prime that'll get me to 12mm is the Olymus 12/2.0. That's $800, and it's not even as good as the 12-40/2.8. Add the Olympus 45/1.8 ($400) and the Sigma 19/2.8 ($200), and you've spent $1400 vs. $1000 for the 12-40/2.8. Yes, you can do better secondhand, but the zoom will still be less expensive. The zoom is better at 12 and 19mm in terms of quality and the 45/1.8 is better at the long end so it's at best a wash on performance. Meanwhile you've lost the ability to do 1:3 closeups, you don't have weather sealing, and so on.

    So far as the 35-100/2.8 and 40-150/2.8 are concerned, you can't really replace them with primes if you use the long end, because there aren't any primes longer than 75mm. At best you're talking about using Sigma 30/2.8, Sigma 60/2.8 and Olympus 75/1.8. I'll conceded that the 75/1.8 is a better lens than either zoom is likely to be, but still you're spending $200 + $240 + $900 = $1340 vs. $1275 for the Panasonic 35-100/2.8, and you've again lost weather sealing, as well as reach.

    In short, if you're on a budget, collecting primes is not the way to go if you need performance and range similar to the zooms. Obviously if you don't need the whole range of the zooms, then you can probably do better with a handful of primes. But if you need that range, primes are not the best bang for the buck. And if you can sacrifice AF performance and compactness (or already have an E-M1), then the best bang for the buck by far are the 4/3 HG zooms. 14-54/2.8-3.5 + 50-200/2.8-3.5 get you 14-35mm at f/3.1 or faster and 50-100mm at f/3.1 or faster and can be had for a mere $600 secondhand, including the adapter.
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  16. Canonista

    Canonista Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 3, 2011
    Exactly. And for hobbyists like me, what it all boils down to is what one is willing and able to spend to avoid that disappointment; the dilemma of whether to invest scarce funds in specific tools for a particular situation.

    Like the OP, I often go to car museums and shows, and have found a 12mm prime essential because of the darkness and confines of the indoor space. It is also nice to have a fast zoom as it allows me to shoot at lower ISO and properly crop in camera; factors that are important to minimize noise. Neither lens is cheap, but the value proposition was there for me.

    This isn't to say that a good photographer couldn't achieve good results with less expensive gear, but at some point, the limitations of the gear can become a hindrance to what one is trying to achieve. Photography has never been an inexpensive pursuit, and the more one pursues the art, the more exacting one's expectations become, and we all know that inevitably leads to GAS.:smile:
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Jacquesass

    Jacquesass Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 17, 2014
    I agree with the OP, to an extent. For the wider angles, I went with a P14/2.5 and PL25/1.4; for tele I went with the P35-100/2.8. For my needs, this covers everything except super-wide and super-tele. For travel, I have a relatively fast pancake wide, an average sized fast normal, and a relatively fast weather-sealed tele - and all three lenses together only weigh 615 grams!

    I considered the O45/1.8 but decided to apply that money to the P35-100; I'm planning on heading out soon and seeing how much I like shooting at just 45mm (and whether the O45 or new PL42.5 is something I would use enough to justify the cost/weight). If Panasonic updates the 100-300 like they updated the 14-140, I would consider it as well. I also can't wait to see some reviews of the PL15/1.7.

    TL; DR - I'm all for wide primes and a good tele zoom.
    • Like Like x 1
  18. makotosan

    makotosan New to Mu-43

    Feb 13, 2014
    Orlando, FL
    Thanks. I actually was on the fence about buying the 12-40mm zoom and reading this made me more confident about buying it. Just placed an order for it online and looking forward to using it.

    Actually, what reinforced my decision to buy it more was a walk I just finished taking around work. I was carrying around my Olympus E-P5 PEN with 17mm f/1.8 and found that I wanted to take pictures of landscapes and also of plants and animals. The 17mm worked fine for landscape shots, but when I wanted to take pictures of plants and animals, I couldn't get a good shot of them. Walking up to them wasn't really an option since some were birds in a pond and another was of a squirrel in a tree.

    I currently have the 17mm f/1.8 that I mentioned and also have the 45mm f/1.8 that is really great for portraits of my kids. I still plan on purchasing a couple more primes, especially a 25mm f/1.4 or f/1.8, but I realized I needed a versatile walk around zoom lens.
  19. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    There are 3 types of photographers.

    1, Photographers who mainly use their camera to record special events and then generally leave the camera in the closet never to be seen again until the next vacation.
    2, Photographers who mainly use their camera as a hobby and not pursuing any monetary and awards compensation, though some may just as a curiosity.
    3, Photographers who mainly use their cameras as a tool for work or some advanced serious work for monetary or public recognition.

    Guess where the majority of the photographers are in? It's the #1. People who treat their cameras as well, a camera. They don't give a darn about pro zooms or primes. They don't. The only lens that's stuck there is a kit zoom and usually never come off it. These people are the ones who seek the cheapest best kit options and are never loyal to any brand. This is the $400 to $700 buying crowd and there are plenty of those. It's about 80% of the population if not more or less.

    Then you have the hobby people who are slightly more serious than #1. They are the 10% of the people and buy stuff. But they just buy what they need since they treat it as a hobby, they rarely spend a lot of money on upgrades. They'll have a serious body like a Canon 6D, Nikon D610 or an Olympus E-M5 with maybe a few primes and a kit lens. Their motto is to play and just have fun. You usually discover some of these photographers are absolutely amazing; usually ending up winning awards or even took photos that the professional would wish they have some in their portfolios.

    Then you have the very serious amateurs or gear heads and the pros. They are about 10% and are at the top of the echelon. They would settle for nothing less. Some simply have reached the epiphany of photography/nirvana and simply want the best out of their equipment to express their art. Some of these people are either just as good as the pros or have photos better than pros, but sometimes these photos lack the certain uniqueness. It's like they are factory producing these photos based on a certain specification. I can understand pros filling the prescription for their clients. But sometimes I wonder why these advanced amateurs are doing the same.
    So obviously, they NEED the best lenses and bodies because when you are comparing two images of the same genre, the only winning one is going to be the one that's the sharpest. Some pros don't play this game. It's a stupid game. You'll end up expensing more if your income isn't going to compensate for that expense. I've seen many good photographers went bankrupt because they kept buying gear (heavy expenditure) and not the income to justify these expenses. I had been in that boat before -- bankrupt once because of this.

    Whether you need a pro zoom is based on what you want to achieve in the end. If you need to feed an insecurity in your own photography psyche, then get a pro zoom. After all, some people go for plastic surgery (aside from some medical condition) to make them feel more secure about themselves. If that's what you need, go for it and if that extracts divine satisfaction in your final photos, so be it. I agree with the OP. It's all about how you feel. If you need to feel good, spend the money. It's a free country. That's why camera makers LOVE you guys, especially those suffering from GAS.
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  20. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2012
    David Dornblaser
    Put me in the needing BOTH primes and zooms camp.
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