Lonely Ladder

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Munich, Bavaria

I am working my way towards primes, and how to get to love them. Besides some remembrances of the past and the prospect of superior image quality (difficult as my standard zoom is well-renowned Carl Zeiss 16-80) and of course the possibility to use faster lenses, it is, well, demanding. Not so much the fact thatT a prime lens means framing with my feet, but more the lack of flexibility and/or speed to adapt to different situations is what makes me not so rarely longing for a zoom. Of course the reason for this need for speed are my usual picture-making conditions: Only rarely I am dedicatedly pursuing only photography, in maybe 70% of my photographic endeavours, taking/making images is a by-product of errands, business trips, shopping tasks and whatever you can think of. This makes a good zoom more than just nice-to-have.

Excursion: The LX3 I use as the alternative camera is fine by itself, with a small but optically excellent zoom range it would fit the bill, if it just had a viewfinder (and some more leeway for correction in the raw files)! But after 30 years with finder-equipped cameras, framing with a display feels simply ‘not right’.

Back to zoom vs. prime: For example my 1.4/85mm I love very much for the images I can create with it and couldn’t create with the zoom. Admittedly this happens only on rare occasions, as it usually stays at home when I head out with a small kit. The 2.8/24mm lens that was used for today’s image, I would see as basically indistinguishable from the 16-80 zoom. With only one stop faster than the zoom at 24mm, the images look pretty similar, and in-body-stabilisation of the camera as well as the good image quality even at ISO 800 de facto annihilate the speed advantage it has. The real difference however is size and with it conspiciousness: Here the primes shine (albeit not the 1.4/85). And when going out on the street, this can become an important factor.

I think I will continue trying to learn to love the primes, but I make no predictions if I could imagine a jobless future for my 16-80 zoom.


  1. I have much the same set up as you in terms of the camera and lenses except that I have the 16-105 zoom and I do not have the 85 prime. And interestingly I’ve been debating the same thing as you. So far I find myself using the 24mm prime for shooting around the street and keep the zoom for family events.

    Size is a big factor for me and the A700 feels much better with the 24mm lens. I also find the sharpness of this lens to be superior to my zoom. The other thing I have found with the prime is that for some reason I find myself more immersed in the process of seeing and making an image. I would say this is likely to be because the prime limits the possibilities and so extra effort is needed in finding appropriate images and then composing them correctly as opposed to simply zooming in and out.

    I would like to have a fast 50mm prime but unfortunately Sony/Minolta do not seem to have any decent ones, at least none that I have found with good reviews.

    1. Cedric, until now the 16-80 was my bread-and-butter lens, as it is extremely versatile and optically as good as I need it. Were it not for the size, I would see not too many reasons to try something else.

      The 24mm lens I use is a Sigma one, and while it is small and unobtrusive, its flare sensibility is a permanent threat when photographing in the street. Good that I didn’t buy it but borrow from a friend. The 1.4/50mm (old Minolta glass) seems to be very fine, and contrary to the 1.7/50 seems not to produce that sensor reflection bright spot in backlight setups. I’d regard that as a real fine lens.

      What you describe as immersing into the process, intensified by the prime’s necessity to walk a scene instead of just cropping it, that I have not experienced yet. Accustomed to the zoom, I seem to mentally crop sceneries and then use the machine to capture that crop. Cropping with the feet seems to interfere a little bit, as it forces me to re-think my original vision. But it’s an interesting learning experience nevertheless.

    1. Juha, like Chris expresses in the next comment, I was attracted by the color contrast. But of course that similarity of the structures is striking – and maybe it triggered something subconscious and made me put down my load (I was transporting a PC) and take out the camera.

  2. I love the red against the green. Good seeing! Do you shoot a Sony? When I first went back into photography, I shot only zooms. After a couple years, I switched to primes (as in my youth) and haven’t yearned for a zoom since. For me, especially, the smaller the camera the better.

  3. Yes Chris, it’s a Sony A700 I use. Optically I am really happy with my Zeiss zoom, but the size of the package is substantial of course.

    The new NEX7 with the matching Zeiss 1.8/24mm looks fine in that respect, just a bit too heavy on the financial side.

    1. The A700 is a crop (factor 1.5) model. As it was advertised Semi-Pro, it’s not on the light and small side. But the A900 and a matching zoom would go way beyond that…
      The just announced A77 (similar size as the A700) will bring full-frame resolution to APS-C. But more megapixels are my least concern, as I don’t sell images.

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