DSLR Camera Prime Lenses Explained

Often new photographers and videographers feel that prime lenses should be the first thing they invest in when they decide to transition from their kit lens and better understand their cameras.

But what is a Prime Lens?

A Prime Lens is a lens with a fixed focal length and aperture that can shoot with wide apertures like F/1.4 or F/1.8 with the latter being the standard.  Because these have a fixed focal length it means you can’t zoom in and out, you’d have to physical move closer or further away.

You get high quality shots, the ability to shoot in low light situations, and the ability to create the shallow depth of field effect in your images. The trade off is the ability to zoom. As a result you get these lenses at a very reasonable price point: $100-$600 in most cases.

See Also: 5 Tips for Beginning With DSLR Video

35mm Prime Lens for Photography and Video

This is a great all around lens, especially for street photography and interview style videos. With this lens you can get close to subject and still work in tight spaces when needed. This is also a good lens for taking pictures of small groups, such as family portraits, or groups of 5 or so at weddings and events.

The one downside this lens has is the fact that when you shoot portraits straight on, there can be some compression due to the focal length, making faces feel slightly flatter or wider that they actually appear in real life.

With regard to video, this is a great lens to get bokeh and the film look that many shooters craze at an affordable price. This lens is also good for lowlight situations, however when using the widest aperture (usually F/1.8) there can be issues with focusing on your subject or taking advantage of focus tracking.

If you happen to be using the Nikon camera system, you will need to buy a separate version of this lens when shooting on full frame cameras.

See Also: Photography Camera Shutter Speed Explained

50mm Prime Lens for Photography and Video

Sometimes called the “nifty fifty: this is the preferred prime lens of portrait photographers. The extra focal length handles compression well, and this can be great for interview videos where you don’t want the subject to feel claustrophobic.

On cropped body cameras the 50mm is ideal for its focal length and lack of image compression. Faces feel more comfortable when shot straight on with this lens, where as with the 35mm they may feel more flat.

This lenses is a great all around option and you can typically find it with a wide aperture range from F/1.2 to F/1.8 in most cases. This lens is made for full frame cameras in the Nikon system, but will work with crop frame bodies as well, making it the typical go to lens for most new photography or video shooters.

See Also: Photography Camera Aperture Explained

85mm Prime Lens for Photography and Video

The 85mm prime lens is more suited to tight closeups than anything else, whether used for photography or for video. While it lacks the versatility of a zoom lens like the 24-70, the color optics and sharpness are amazing and produce superb images. This is a favorite of portrait photographers. With regard to DSLR video this lens is great for switching out from the 35mm or 50mm rather getting closer to a subject, depending on the composition of what you’re filming.

See Also: Photography Camera ISO Explained

Some Final Thoughts on Prime Lenses

Primes are a great way to transition out of your kit lens at an affordable cost and start getting professional looking photography and video with a shallow depth of field look and better overall image quality. They are not however the only option. There are affordable fixed aperture zoom lenses you can purchase when starting out as well. Primes and their lack of zoom capability are great for teaching you composition and better filming and photography techniques. By forcing you to move and to get interesting angles, they will help you grow creatively. Zoom lenses have the unfortunate side-effect sometimes of making a photographer or videographer lazy when it comes to movement and angles.

Posted on: September 11, 2015

Roberto Blake

Roberto Blake is a Graphic Designer helping Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses improve their branding and presentations. Roberto also teaches Graphic Design and Adobe Tutorials through his YouTube channel and community. Roberto's Photoshop artwork has been featured in publications such as Advanced Photoshop and Photoshop Creative Magazine. See robertoblake.com

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