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Prime Shooting - Help Please

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by gobeatty, Sep 22, 2014.

  1. gobeatty

    gobeatty Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 15, 2014
    I'm new to m4/3 but not new to photography. I'm reading lots of places that to get the best out of m4/3, I need to shoot primes. I've shot primes in the past - entire weddings on one lens - but my uses now are more casual. I'm enjoying the kit zoom but am lured by primes.

    My difficulty is imagining myself out on outings with the family and shooting primes. I see myself switching lenses all day and at times being caught with the wrong lens on the camera.

    I'm curious how prime shooters think about lenses and focal length when out and about. I have primes for my 6D (35, 50, 85) and will leave the house with only the camera and 35 or 50. But if I think I will need different lengths I use the 28-135. IQ with the budget zoom on FF is more than good so I don't sweat the difference. Less sure of this with m4/3 though.

    So...how do you prime shooters comfortably use your primes? This old dog wants to learn some new tricks :) 
  2. BigTam

    BigTam Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 19, 2012
    Dortmund, Germany
    Of course there will be situations where you're caught with the wrong lens. A little planning goes a long way. If I'm doing mostly casual portraits - at a garden party, for example - I leave the Sigma 60mm on. Walk-around, the 25mm. Tight situations, the 9-18: I feel that a zoom is most useful here, as the 'zoom with your feet' is often not practicable. Same with longer stuff: the 40-150 tremendous value for money zoom is invaluable.

    I often have the X100 with me to cover the 35mm-e length, sometimes my only camera if I want to go ultralight.

    I feel primes force me to think more abput framing and distance, I get better shots and more keepers.
  3. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    First I don't think you have to shoot primes to get the "best out of m4/3". It just so happens that m43 has a bunch of very nice, quite small primes that have excellent IQ right from wide open. If you like primes then that is a big advantage for m43 compared to most other systems where a collection of primes would be larger or not sharp wide open. That said, m43 also has some excellent zooms. The 12-35/2.8, 12-40/2.8, old 14-45 and the relatively new 12-32 are all excellent "walk around" zooms the cover a wide range of size/feature trade-offs with few compromises in IQ. For my landscape shooting I've gotten the "best of m43" entirely shooting slow zoom lenses.

    As to primes/zooms and outings it really depends on what I'm going out for. If I'm going out for a hike, or some other bright outdoor activity then it is a zoom coming along with me (GM1+12-32 usually). If we are going to be indoors then it is a prime. These days shooting with the 15/1.7 a lot because it is wide enough for the more typical "environmental portraiture" I'd be doing out and about and it is sharp enough that I can crop to smaller fields of view when needed.

    Here's one from just yesterday:

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    That's cropped a bit from 15, by opening to 1.7 I got more separation from the hard to control background (other people walking around back there) and still could shoot at ISO320 and 1/60 despite the low light. A shot with the zoom would have been quite a bit different even though I in theory could have zoomed to a more appropriate focal length rather than cropping the 15 a bit. Would have been higher ISO and less blurred background. I find indoors I usually need to be pretty wide angle and that I want the wide aperture to keep ISO reasonable.

    On the flip side, if we are outdoors at a playground I generally prefer the zoom as I may be doing close or more distant shots depending on whether or not I'm close and she is interacting with the camera or I'm more distant and candid. Plenty of light and in general I want a bit more depth of field from a smaller aperture anyway.

    So there really isn't a right answer to this. But if there is a particular focal length that you think you'd like to have the advantages of a wider aperture with then adding a prime to the mix is worthwhile. I'd personally recommend sticking with the smaller bodied primes so you can bring it in a pocket along with your zoom you are already pretty happy with. The 15/1.7, 17/1.8, 20/1.7, 25/1.8 and 45/1.8 are all "barely notice it in a pocket" kind of primes great for out and about shooting. Take a look a the focals you are typically shooting with your zoom where you think a prime would be nice and pick from one of those to start would be my advice.

    My other piece of advice would be "beware of GAS", see my gear list below to understand the risks of primes...
    • Like Like x 3
  4. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    If I leave the house with a specific subject in mind, I bring the lens, or possibly two lenses, that will allow me to capture my subjects in the manner that I wish. For example, I have been shooting at farmers' markets for the past few years, and as of late, the two primes that I use are the 45/1.8 and the 60/2.8 macro, primarily the latter. If I am shooting sunsets at my favorite location, then I usually bring my 40-150, but it is almost always set to 150. Zooms are usually used at events where things are changing quite quickly, and I do not need the extra 1+ stop advantage of a prime. In short, the subject and my shooting style dictate what I choose. My advice is to just try and bring a single lens with you, or carry just one extra lens. This "limitation" will help you better understand your preferences if they are not already evident. Also, before I head out, I try to visualize what I expect to see, and how I wish to capture it. I am sure that we all do this to some extent, but try and take a minute and just think about this and nothing else. Pre-visualization is a very useful skill to further refine and develop.

    Good luck,

  5. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Personally I find a 17mm lens provides a perfect all-purpose field of view for me, and is one that I rarely feel the need to switch. As far as native lenses go I'm using the 17mm most of the time and the Sigma 30mm a smaller percentage of the time - I haven't gelled with the 30mm field of view all that well, but that's probably because I don't shoot many portraits (and have some nice adapted Konica Hexanon lenses with larger apertures which look better for portraits - like the 50mm f1.4). Everyone is different, but that is how primes are working for me, currently.
  6. gobeatty

    gobeatty Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 15, 2014
    I am leaning heavily towards the 17 1.8. The 20 1.7 is attractive also, but shooting Oly I'd rather stay in family. And yes - with added DOF of 4/3 compared to FF and that these primes are sharp wide open makes 1.7 usable in a wider range of situations than the FF equivalent.

    Now I have just the two kit zooms - 14-42 and 40-150. I'll have a look at the 2.8 zooms you listed as well. Wish there was a more active second hand market in my area as buying/selling at no loss becomes viable. The 14-150 with the 17 could be a complete 2 lens solution as well.

    The primes are so stinking good though :) 
  7. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    The 17/1.8 is a great walk around prime lens. I shot it for about a year and was very happy. I presently prefer the 15/1.7 but that is completely a personal thing - I happen to like the out of focus rendering on it slightly in preference to the 17 and also like the slightly wider angle of view. I think for many people the 17 is the more preferred focal length not to mention less expensive than the 15.

    The 17/1.8 does come up from time to time on the Olympus refurbished site at $350 which is quite a nice price for a nice little prime.

    Personally I've never taken to the 20/1.7 but a lot of folks swear to it. The perception seems to be it is sharper than the 17/1.8 but in my testing of my copies of each lens that is not the case, they are nearly identical and the main difference is one has slightly sharper center at the cost of slightly softer corners.
  8. gobeatty

    gobeatty Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 15, 2014
    I guess this whole business of primes and 4/3 in my understanding may relate to the sensor size. On my FF, I can shoot the cheapest glass and still approach or exceed 3000 lines. More than needed for any use I have. Lenses differ in other ways of course, but the large sensor makes a difference.

    With m4/3, the pixels are packed so tightly I would expect the sensors to signicantly out-resolve softer lenses such as the kit zooms. I would hope for a significant increase in sharpness and 'bite' with a prime. I'm not a sharpness fiend, but am spoiled by my 6D in this regard. Kit zoom on the oly is holding its own. I've turned down in-camera sharpness as I find it gives more artifacts and less sharpness than I can do in post. I shoot JPEG only these days, btw (no flames please - I'm considering lightroom and Photoshop, just not there yet).
  9. NickLeon

    NickLeon Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 20, 2010
    Somerset UK
    Don't forget the Sigma 19mm. It is a little on the large size, but it might be a good idea to find a decent s/h example and give it an extended test.
  10. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    This is also happening with APS-C and FF as well. The D800/810 is a good example. There is often a hidden cost of moving up in pixel density that some folks forget to consider when seeking a bump in IQ - the need for better glass.

  11. Itchybiscuit

    Itchybiscuit Photon Mangler

    Dec 10, 2013
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Throw your money at the problem - everyone else seems to. :biggrin:
    • Like Like x 2
  12. Mohun

    Mohun Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 19, 2012
    The principal benefit of an interchangeable camera body is, well, interchangeable lenses, but, with a bit of planning, it's quite possible to undertake a day's shooting without fumbling with lenses, Rocket Blowers, and admitting any more dust to our digital camera bodies than need be.

    I've been fortunate to have traveled to Europe a handful of times: first with a modest gem of a film camera, the Retina IIIC; next with my first digital experience, a pretty compact, fixed-lens Canon S40; then with my first DSLR, a Nikon D80; then, finally, with Panasonics GF1, GX1 and GX7.

    With my D80, I at first carried and inter-changed my 35mm f/2 prime and my 16-85 zoom once or twice each day for the first few days, but that became a bit of a hassle with hot weather, cobblestone streets, and church and museum concrete floors. I then hit on the idea of really thinking ahead about each day's shooting venues and planning for the most appropriate single lens for that day.

    During the remainder of the "D80 trip", I mounted the "lens of the day" on the body, and locked the otheer lens in my hotel safe or hotel rooom safe (I have a scheduled personal property endorsement for my homeowner's policy, just in case). I've since followed this practice with my M43 gear, and doubt that there's ever been more than 3 or 4 percent of the time that I'd wished I'd had brought the "other" lens a the day's outing.

    While my "traveling kit" is now a 14-45 Lumix zoom (which I may soon trade in on the Lumix 14-140mm II) and the 15mm Summilux, I brought both lenses on a recent travel to Paris and Dublin and, as an experiment, simply kept the 15mm mounted on my GX7 body the entire time, never removing the zoom from its protecive sack. I can't remember that I ever missed not using the zoom.

    Even as I contemplate traveling no more at my age and find myself moving "back" toward more use of my Nikon FF gear on the domestic front, I hope my lens selection philosophy will remain consistent. As some others here have written or implied, consider thinking ahead to planning for a single lens for your day's shooting and also enjoy the benefits of lens interchangebility. They're not mutually exclusive concepts.
  13. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    My learning days in photography were with 35mm film in the '60s and I used primes for the very simple reason that there were no zooms back then. I got used to using primes. I dropped out of photography for a while and came back to it a few years ago when I bought an E-P3 with the 14-42 and 40-150 zooms bundled with it. I then set about reverting to primes for most of my stuff. They were my preference and I only used zooms, the 40-150 and 75-300 for things like bird photography where I was photographing small things I could not get close to.

    I recently got the 12040 F/2.8 PRO zoom and it seems to be glued to the E-M5 at present. I haven't touched a prime in weeks. The sharpness and rendering from the 12-40 are great and the F/2.8 maximum aperture across the whole of the zoom range is fast enough for any situation with reasonable light. With a good quality zoom that has a fixed maximum aperture of F/2.8 there's no real need to use primes in order to get great results unless you want to shoot in low light and you want faster lenses, or unless you want shallower depth of field. That's where the good primes hold the advantage. You can read a lot about how the primes are sharper but the truth is that with real life scenes rather than test charts you will rarely notice the difference in sharpness between a top quality zoom like the 12-40 and the best primes like the 12mm, the 17mm F/1.8, the two 25mm choices, and the 45mm options. The best zooms are more than good enough provided you're not in low light and/or aren't chasing the shallowest depth of field you can get. The only other advantage most of the primes hold is that they are physically smaller than the zooms. There are times when that can be an advantage.

    And it's worth noting that when people talk about resolution and getting the most from a system, actually being able to see the resolution that is present in a file requires looking at it at 100% resolution on the screen or at the biggest print size you can manage without upscaling. If you can see the whole image frame on your monitor or you're looking at a print that's 11" x 14" or smaller you're not going to be able to see all of the resolution that's there anyway. You simply won't be able to see the difference in resolving power that can exist between very good lenses anyway, and there are some zooms in the very good lens range for M43.

    I think there's too much talk about what you need to do to get the most out of a system, regardless of which system we're talking about. If you want to get the most then you're going to use a tripod and remote release all the time as well as the sharpest lenses, and most of the time we're not only not doing that but it would get in the way of what we want to do. The truth is that we rarely want, or need, to get the most from the system and what the system delivers under normal conditions and good quality lenses rather than the absolute best quality lenses we could use, is not only more than good enough but often extremely good anyway. You could get a bit more resolution if you pushed things but you'd be pushed to see it on most monitors or on most normal sized prints. You'll make a far bigger difference, and improvement, to your images by improving your exposure and shooting techniques than you will by choosing lenses that deliver at the bleeding edge of performance. Seeing the differences at the bleeding edge requires pixel peeking or the largest prints. The improvements you get from improving your exposure and shooting techniques are immediately and clearly obvious under normal viewing conditions.

    If you want to use zooms, use zooms. Get the best performing ones that cover the range you want to cover and learn how to use them to your best advantage. You won't be disappointed.
    • Like Like x 5
  14. gobeatty

    gobeatty Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 15, 2014
    I handled the 12-40 2.8 when I was buying the camera. Nice lens and stellar performer from what I read. I chose to spend a bit more than the kit lens and get the pancake zoom for the very small size and low weight of the package which is why m4/3 in the first place for me. Thin enough it can slip into my messenger bag and light enough I'm taking it everywhere. I fear I would lose this with the 12-40 while the 17 or 20 preserves the tiny form factor. Then again, if I start carrying extra primes, a prime and a zoom, etc. the 12-40 looks more attractive as nothing to carry aside from the camera/lens and it does it all out to 80mm FF equivalent.

    Decisions decisions!
  15. Ropes4u

    Ropes4u Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 24, 2012
    Funny you bring up this subject because I am in the same boat. I currently have the 45 1.8 and 12-50 and have been debating which direction to go - primes or 12-40 2.8.

    Today while walking around with my mother the 12-40 would have been perfect. But for hiking, the reason I bought the camera, I think I will end up with the 17, 25 and possibly the 60 macro.
  16. gobeatty

    gobeatty Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 15, 2014
    As I ponder the 12-40 2.8, I'm persuaded against it for my needs.

    At f2.8, it's only 1/2 stop or so faster than the pancake kit zoom at the wide end, which is where I would most use the speed of the lens. At 40, the 2.8 would be nice for portraits to blur background, but I have limited use for this. In another thread, a fellow contributor offered an interesting alternate solution - use a longer zoom, say my 40-150, at 70mm or so (135-140 FF equivalent) and get the shot with a blurred background. Not the same thing, but works for my limited need for portrait shots. 40 2.8 might be useful for indoor sports with my boys, but it's likely too short, a compromise I'm not excited about at the premium price point of the lens.

    In contrast, the 17 1.8 is a full two stops faster than the kit zoom and may be a more useful companion to the kit zoom for my needs. It is also tiny and light, and so I would not hesitate to use it. The 12-40 is heavier than Fuji's 18-55, which I had with my XE-1 and decided was a bit much to carry as a compact system. The Oly is 2.8 all the way though which is quite an achievement.
  17. letsgofishing

    letsgofishing Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 21, 2012
    South Africa
    Mike Kaplan
    When I bought my E-M5 9 months ago, I was considering primes only, but there was no way I could justify the cost. I'm not into "razor thin" DOF, and in the rare occasions I shoot low light, I just use a tripod.
    The 12,17,25 and 45 Oly lenses come to just over $2000 - there was no way I accept that compared to the 12-40 f2.8 which is a GREAT lens that costs $900.
  18. gobeatty

    gobeatty Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 15, 2014
    I hear you. I'm also on a budget as I'm not planning on shooting for dough anytime soon. If I went $2000 on primes, it would be because I decided the size/weight savings of what I would need to carry at any one time were worth it (and I wouldn't eat for a few months). I'm leaning towards just the 17 for indoor low light, but even then I'm finding 3.5 not bad for my uses and the EM10 has a flash on board as well.
  19. SkiHound

    SkiHound Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 28, 2012
    I don't think you have to do one or the other. If I'm out with family and friends or visiting someplace that I don't have any good idea what to expect and want to make sure I can get some good shots to record the event, I much prefer a zoom. My wife and dogs have little patience with me changing lenses, and often, by the time I get the lens changed, it's too late. OTOH, I often find it very liberating to just go out with 1 or maybe 2 primes and see what I can capture. I find using a single focal length lens very educational. But when dealing with family and friends in social situations where you want to make sure you capture the day, it's hard to beat a zoom, IMO.
  20. I use slow zooms (12-50mm, 40-150mm) and fast primes (25mm, 45mm). Outside during the day, it's usually the zooms. In low light, or for DoF control, it's usually the primes. There's also the 7.5mm FE when the situation calls for it. Since getting to grips with external flash, however, I've found the slow zooms perfectly usable at night for controlled shots as well. Unless I'm really going on a dedicated photo trip (pretty rare), I'll only pack a few lenses to suit the situation.
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