When you’re in the market for a lens – that lens that will propel you into the upper echelons of film making history – there are a lot of things to consider.  The biggest debate out there is between prime lenses and zoom lenses.  Prime Lenses, or PL’s, have a fixed focal length, whereas zoom lenses allow for a wider, or varying, degree of focal lengths.  If you’re a professional, you weigh this decision heavily.  And if you’re a beginner, you are probably overwhelmed as to the merits of each, and which you should go for.

Let’s refresh the pros and cons of each so we can be better prepared to make this important and difficult decision.

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PRIME LENSES

The prime lenses provides the ‘cinematic look,’ the most familiar to you as a film lover.  This was all that was available at first, and that is why it is what we identify with film history and as the benchmark against which we compare all other film out there.  Everyone should, as a film artist, grow accustomed and familiar with prime lenses, and have one in their arsenal for sure.

The advantages to prime lenses are:

  • A sharper image
  • A faster reacting aperture
  • They’re cheaper
  • They’re more portable

The faster aperture aspect is by far and away the most important distinction to these cameras, as that is the aspect that affects what you’re capturing and then of course seeing.  It’s much easier for the manufacturer to make a prime lenses camera give a sharp image, which is why they can be cheaper.  Cheaper doesn’t mean worse in this case, not at all.

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ZOOM LENSES

Zoom lenses are of course much less traditional and familiar on a film set, but they are gaining in popularity.  Many revolutionary and cutting edge directors will use the zoom lens, and they offer their own list of advantages:

  • More versatile
  • Easier to use
  • Unique Shots

These lenses are obviously more versatile as you can adjust the focal point without changing lenses.  If you’re into documentary film, where you have to adjust on the fly to the changing environment, or high action sequences in heavy gun shooting scenes, you are going to love the zoom lens’s versatility.  Obviously, you don’t want to use the zoom out of laziness, you want to use it to it’s ultimate efficacy.

If specialty shots is your thing, then you are going to love the zoom lenses, because you will be able to achieve certain looks and feels that would otherwise be impossible.  70’s cinema used zooms heavily, so it’ll provide a vintage look that may be exactly what you’re going for.

And while a prime lens camera is certainly cheaper than the zoom, you’ll have to factor in the fact that you will eventually want more than one prime lens, and having many prime lenses in your arsenal will eventually probably cost a lot more than one zoom.

All of this said, it’s up to your personal taste of course.  If you were a millionaire, you’d have all of the lenses they sell on the market.  If you have to buy just a few or just one, you should weigh whether you’re going more for a vintage or classic look, or want the flexibility to shoot in multiple genres.  A nice zoom lens might be your best bet for the beginner.