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6 Prime Lenses Every Photographer Should Own

Canon Prime Lenses Set  B

If you own a system camera you really owe it to yourself to own at least one prime lens. Primes lenses have a fixed focal length and so would seem less useful than a zoom (you have to physically move around to compose a shot rather than merely turning a zoom ring). However, this is more than made up by the fact that typically prime lenses are better optically than zooms and have larger apertures. The latter is particularly useful for low-light photography and for isolating a subject by restricting depth of field. Below are six prime lenses for full-frame cameras you should seriously consider and the reasons why (with the nearest equivalents for APS-C and Micro 4/3s cameras).

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Nikon f/1.4 24mm, Canon f/1.4 24mm, Sony 24mm, Sigma 24mm

24mm (16mm APS-C; 12mm M4/3)

Ultra wide-angle lenses are tricky to use, though when used right they create undeniably striking images. Personally, I'm not so keen on lenses wider than 24mm. A 24mm lens is a wide-angle lens, but not so wide that distortion becomes a problem or that the results start to look decidedly unnatural. They're ideal for landscape and architectural photography.

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Nikon f/1.4G 35mm, Canon f/1.4  35mm, Sony 35mm, Sigma 35mm

35mm (24mm APS-C; 17mm M4/3)

The 35mm lens is a great lens if you're interested in street photography (and was commonly used by photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson in conjunction with a 50mm lens). It's a small lens that's unobtrusive and therefore somehow less threatening and intimidating. As it's bordering on being a wide-angle lens it does mean that you have to get close to your subject. However, this is no bad thing as it means you'll be forced to engage with your subject rather than observe them coldly from a distance.

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Nikon f/1.8 50mm, Canon f/1.4  50mm, Sony 50mm, Sigma 50mm

50mm (35mm APS-C; 25mm M4/3)

The 50mm lens is regarded as the 'standard' (or normal) lens. The technical definition of a standard lens is one that has a focal length the same as the diagonal size of the film medium or sensor in the camera to which it is attached. The joy of the standard lens is that creates a natural perspective similar to how we see the world. Think of it as the Goldilocks lens. Not too hot, not too cold.

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Nikon f/1.4 85mm, Canon f/1.4  85mm, Sony 85mm, Sigma 85mm

85mm (50mm APS-C; 45mm M4/3)

If you're interested in portraiture, the 85mm lens is the one to save up for. Because you need to step back from your subject, the perspective when using an 85mm lens is far more flattering to facial features than a wide-angle lens. Restricted depth of field can also be used to good effect to blur out backgrounds by focusing on the important areas of your subject's face (typically the eyes).

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Nikon 105mm, Canon 100mm, Sony 100mm, Sigma 150mm

100mm (70mm APS-C; 60mm M4/3)

Macro lenses are often available in this focal length. The longer the focal length of a macro lens, the greater the working distance this allows. The working distance of a macro lens is the distance between the camera and the subject when the subject is in focus. The further back you are from your subject, the less likely you are to disturb the subject. 100mm macro lenses are a good compromise between shorter focal length macro lens that are lighter in weight but have poor working distances and longer focal length macros that have exactly the opposite problem.

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Nikon  200mm, Canon  200mm,

200mm (135mm APS-C; 100mm M4/3)

A 200mm lens is in semi-telephoto territory. The main advantage of a 200mm prime lens over a zoom with a similar focal length is aperture. The faster aperture of the prime will make the camera's AF system more efficient (the more light there is, the better AF systems perform). There are telephoto zooms available that do have large apertures but these tend to be big, heavy brutes that are a pain to carry around all day.

Geoff Harris

I am a photography journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill, Steve McCurry and the late Mary Ellen Mark. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time.

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