I love prime lenses

There, I’ve said it.

I learned to shoot using a prime lens. It had a 58mm field of view – far too narrow for a standard lens – but for several years it was all I had. I learned to live with its restrictions, but then when I got my first zoom lens, I immediately forgot everything I’d learned.

‘Zoom with your feet’ is the advice experienced prime users give to novices. It’s good advice, but zoom lenses are just so damn handy. To this day, I can’t imagine going on holiday without a zoom lens.

And yet … Around 18 months ago, I started to spend more time with a friend who shoots vintage lenses. At first, I thought his behaviour eccentric. What was the point of restricting yourself to a single focal length when the most basic kit lens today is capable of stunningly sharp images?

The answer is all to do with the creativity which comes from thinking round restrictions and limitations. With my prime lens, standing in front of a scene, my first thought is invariably ‘how am I going to interpret this scene?’ This, of course, is the correct approach. When I stand in front of the same scene with a zoom lens, my first thought tends to be ‘how far should I zoom?’ And then I’m thinking about my camera, when I should be thinking about how to interpret the scene.

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. And when I realised that prime lenses helped me to bond with the scene in front of me, I realised that my friend wasn’t so eccentric after all.

Of course, prime lenses are restricting. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it just gets in the way. But for the moment, my zooms are staying in my camera bag.

Featured image: Wrecked car, Aberdeen, circa 1983. Konica Color SR 100, Zenit E, Helios 44 58mm. Converted to black and white using Affinity Photo.

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