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3 Prime Lenses that Serious Photographers Should Have

Updated on November 30, 2012

If you want to get the best out of lenses, then you will undoubtedly have a prime or at least you’re looking to have one -- better yet a set of them. Prime lenses oftentimes have better optical quality than zooms, and this primarily is linked to their fixed focal length.

Whichever brand D-SLR that you shoot with, the same applies. Photographers of the past swore by primes, and so it is today. If you’re into general photography without much concern about bokeh and sharpness, then you may not necessarily need a prime. Otherwise, there are 3 particular prime lenses that are most popular and have proven over decades to offer some of the most appealing images.

The 35mm Prime Lens

Lenses with this focal length are used by photographers and filmmakers alike. You've probably heard of this focal length being spoken of over and over again, and were in an age where film cameras were more popular, you may remember that measurement used a lot. This lens is used a lot for portraits, group shots and some amount of photojournalism. From this list, it has the widest field of view and can capture the most in a scene.

XR Rikenon 35mm f/2.8
XR Rikenon 35mm f/2.8 | Source

The 50mm Prime Lens

This is the most popular lens of all probably because it’s the most economical choice. It’s a favorite among a number of photographers to the point where it has nicknames such as ‘Nifty Fifty’. It has a bit more on the focal range than the 35mm and is better suited for portraits and some amount of group shots. It is said that the field of view (FOV) of this lens closely matches that of the human eye which is a plus for natural looking photographs.

The 85mm Prime Lens

This has to be the absolute prime lens for portraits, and has the best optics of all three lenses if not all primes. The focal length is ‘perfect’ to capture beautiful headshots and up-close images of people and animals with phenomenal background blur (bokeh). It may not be the best walkaround prime lens, but for what it does it’s definitely worth to have.

Buying Tip: There is usually the consumer version and the professional version. In some cases, there is the prosumer version which may carry the best fusion between build quality and cost.

More Advantages of Having a Prime Lens

Apart from these primes having better optical quality than zooms, there are other advantages that you may want to consider. For one thing, they are usually cheaper than zoom lenses and focus much faster. Prime lenses have a wider maximum aperture than zooms -- usually no smaller that f/1.8. That’s a huge plus, because it allows more light in within a given shutter opening -- meaning that they’re fast lenses. They will perform well in low light and may eliminate the need for flash or high ISO values. This causes primes to be the favorite for portraits which are best done when under natural conditions -- speaking of a part from studio situations where artificial light is manipulated.

Furthermore, the wide aperture allows for a beautiful background blur to be formed. Such blur causes the sharp subject to be even more distinct against the background. Speaking of sharpness, primes do tend to produce sharper images.

These three primes, the 35mm, 50mm and 85mm are of the most attractive you can get. There are several other primes with focal lengths beyond these listed which also do perform well. But from a traditional and tested point of view, these are probably the best. Use them wide open at their maximum aperture and see the magic. Make sure to check out the build quality of the prime you are buying.

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