5 Tips ~ Max Out Your Prime Lens

Prime lens are fixed at one focal length (i.e. 35mm, 50mm, 55mm, etc.). They do not charge focal lengths like zoom lenses which are named after there zoom range (i.e. 17-35mm or 70-200mm) The fact that prime lenses don’t zoom, at first, might seem like a turn off. Oh, but wait. Prime lenses have much more to offer:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Tack sharp image clarity
  • Very controllable shallow depth of field
  • Amazing Bokeh
  • Great for portraits
  • Fabulous in low light
  • Incredibly Fast Glass
  • Little to no lens distortion
  • Simple and long-lasting construction

Don’t let these little compact giants fool you. As a matter of fact, many photographers swear by primes lens and seldom use zooms. If you own a prime lens or two, or if you’re thinking about purchasing one, here are some pointers for getting the Max out of your Prime.

[I think there’s a Transformers – Maximus Prime pun in there somewhere. Oh well. I’ll let it slide.] 🙂

1. Move Closer ~ Yes, a prime lens does not have zoom, but this doesn’t mean you should just stand there. Your feet are the main zoom of a prime lens. Don’t be shy, get close. No, closer. That’s it, fill the frame with your subject.

2. Like a Third Eye ~ I find my prime lenses are great for visualizing a scene. Without shooting, I will look through the camera’s viewfinder and move around until I find a composition I like. We’re so used to seeing with a wide peripheral vision, it’s nice to use a prime lens like a third eye to limit what we see.

3. The Friendly Depth of Field ~ Make depth of field your friend. Essentially, when a background is busy, distracting and cluttered, you have the option to turn it into a beautiful Bokeh texture that will most likely compliment your subject. Dial in a low f/stop number (which makes the aperture opening larger.) such as f/4 or f/2.8 and let the background float away.

4. A Little Goes A Long Way ~ If you have a 55mm f/1.8, for instance, be careful shooting all the way down with an aperture setting of f/1.8. You will find that the depth of field can become so small that it’s common, for example, to have one side of an eye sharp and the other side of the SAME eye be unsharp. Now there’s nothing wrong with shooting “all the way open” ( a photog term for aperture set to it’s widest stop or lowest f/stop number), but you will have a bit more control of your shallow depth of field if you set your aperture a stop or two above the minimum, in this case f/2, or f/2.8.

5. Wow That’s Bright ~ Not being able to shoot with a shallow depth of field in bright sunny conditions can be one downside of these light absorbing prime lenses. But don’t worry, there’s a fix. Just like going outside on a bright sunny day and putting on your shades, we can do the same for our prime lenses. Instead of sunglasses, we can use Neutral Density (ND) filters that will block a certain amount of light from entering the camera.

Before purchasing a ND filter, be sure your ISO is all the way down to 100 or lower, and make some test shots. If you’re images are still blown out, a ND filter might be something to consider.

There are two main types of ND filters;

1. screw on filters, which will need to be purchased based on the dimension of your outer lens threads. This info is usually printed on the front rim of the lens or can be looked-up online (i.e. 52mm)

2. rectangular filters, that may be handheld in front of the lens or attached to a holding frame.

Most camera manufacturers make prime lenses in a range of focal lengths and with low minimum aperture ratings. Here are some examples you might consider:

Nikon: 28mm f/2.8,  35mm f/2.050mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8

Canon: 28mm f/1.8, 35mm f/2.0, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8

Still not sure if a prime lens is for you? Take your camera to the store and test drive a prime lens. Be sure to bring a cleared memory card and a fresh battery. Pop on the lens and shoot around the store. Get down low, under a display where it’s not as bright and see what readings your camera is getting. If you brought one of your lenses along, try shooting the same scene and see what readings you get with that to compare. Play with the shallow depth of field by using low f/stop settings. Take some shots and bring them home to view on the computer up close.

I think you will find room for at least one prime lens in your bag, if you don’t have one already. Happy Shooting 🙂


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