For the Love of a Prime Lens

Reflections on Formby Beach. Fuji X-T2, Fuji 10-24 lens at 10mm. ISO200, f/13, 1/50″, 2 stop ND Grad. Converted in Lightroom using the Acros Yellow profile for the Fuji. Contrast adjustment and effects using Nik Color Efex.

I have done something rash! Yes, again.

Having sold all my prime lenses a couple of years back, I bought another. And I have a feeling I may buy more. Want to understand what changed my mind? So would I.

When I look at my camera equipment you can divide it into three categories:

  1. Point and shoot pocket cameras. I haven’t used these much recently and, in all honesty, I have become a little disillusioned with the lens performance of the ones I own.
  2. Mirrorless cameras ranging from Micro 43 to Full Frame. These are the cameras I use most of the time. They are the work horses of what I do, and I only have zoom lenses for these.
  3. Film cameras that I use occasionally. This is now a short list of the Bronica SQAi and Hasselblad XPan. I seldom use them but when I do I love the experience. I only have prime lenses for these cameras.

Now this is where it gets a little weird and I can’t rationalise why.

For some reason I love the experience of shooting with the prime lenses. It’s as though zoom lenses make me lazy whilst the primes make me work for my shots. When I shoot with zooms there’s a tendency to exchange movement for zooming. I know zooming my lens in and out isn’t the same as walking around the scene, but for some reason that’s what seems to happen.

When I use a prime lens, I feel I move more. I certainly need to move in and out of the scene, but I also find myself moving around to find new compositions. I also shoot less, and the quality improves, or at least I think it does.

The downside is that zooms suit Landscape work better than primes. Or at least that’s the feeling I have inside. What made me reconsider them is a strange desire for optimum lens performance. I’m sure it’s a psychological problem you can trace back to a Sigma 10-20 that was soft down one side. It ruined many a good shot and I didn’t recognise it for some time. But that’s another story.

In the end, the lens I bought isn’t a wide angle prime; I’m saving that for another day. I bought a standard focal length lens for the Fuji X-T2. Originally, I was thinking about the Fuji 35mm f2 but then saw the 35mm f1.4 and thought “that looks like it’s in another class” (although I bet there isn’t much difference). I had just finished convincing myself that I needed the f1.4 when I looked at the Zeiss 32mm f1.8. Remarkably it was on special offer and only a few pounds more than the Fuji.

So, I now have a Zeiss 32mm f1.8 for the Fuji and am itching to use it. If it’s good and I enjoy it, I’m going to be saving for the Zeiss 12mm.

As for the image attached to this blog post… It has a tenuous connection to the new lens. It was the corner performance of my Fuji 10-24 (a great lens used for this image) that started me wondering if primes would be better.

15 thoughts on “For the Love of a Prime Lens

  1. Great Photo! reminiscent of the film 2001. If you have seen the film you will understand. If you have not seen the film it is still a Great Photo. I do like black and white, likely because my first photos were all black and white film shot with my father’s British Boy Scout folder.

  2. Dear Mr. Whalley, I’m sure you know Photozone:
    both Zeiss lens aren’t better than Fuji ones.
    The corner performance of Fuji 27 and 50 mm are quite impressive.
    Great Image, of course.
    Best regards.
    Sergio Vianello

    1. Hi Sergio, It may be hard to believe but I don’t read too many reviews these days. There’s always a new a better product. What I do know is that whenever I have owned a Zeiss lens, it’s been exceptional. Yes they are sharp and I agree, it would be difficult to get any sharper than the Fuji lenses. They have little distortion and little in the way of CA problems, but then so do other lenses. But then there is something about the image created with a Zeiss lens that sets it apart in my experience. Something that seems to give the image more depth and reality. I can’t explain what this is and I doubt it’s something that can be tested for. Hopefully, this lens won’t let me down.

      1. Thanks Robin, also Leica lenses work as you told me. But…please, read

  3. I’ve used both Zeiss and Fuji for years with my film cameras. Not a real big difference. Like f1.4 vs f1.8 unless indoors under ambient light the 1/3 stop is not going to make much difference. I end to shy away from zoom lenses unless it is for shooting something changing distance quite often like racing or similar.

  4. Great post, Robin.
    Once you posted that Sony RX10 would be your choice if you had to choose only one camera and lens. After reading this post today, I wonder if you changed your mind?
    For casual travel and landscape photography, how do you compare the versatility of the RX10 and the better performance of Olympus EM5 with f2.8/12-40 mm?
    Thank you for your attention, greetings from Brazil.

    1. Thanks. In all honesty, it depends on what I was going out to shoot and for how long. The RX10 is still the camera I love to use but it’s not perfect. It’s a great camera for general landscapes, urban and travel, but it can’t compete for some things like sport and low light. I’m really impressed by the Fuji X-T2, but it needs a flexible lens. The 18-135 lens gives me that but the quality isn’t quite on a par with something like the 16-55. It it was, there would be no contest. The EM5 with 12-40 offers a more robust experience than the RX10 in terms of image quality and speed of focus. Image stabilisation is great on the Olympus and just average on the RX10. The RX10 is probably more versatile, especially if you want a long shot. It also has that something extra when using it that I can’t put my finger on. In contrast, the EM5 feels more of a utility camera rather than a pleasure to use.

  5. Robin,

    A very stunning image made more so with the B&W conversion. I haven’t tried the Acros conversion in LR so I will have to do so. I’m sure you will be happy with the Zeiss 32mm & expect you will find this focal length quite versatile. I use my XF35 f2 quite a lot for landscape & architecture & prefer doing so over using my XF23mm f2, for reasons not quite clear to me. But I also have the Zeiss 12mm & really encourage you to get one. You will be amazed at the sharpness throughout its images, so the corners should be quite acceptable to you I would think. Please post some photos with the new 32 when you can.


  6. Interesting what you write about moving and compositions with Prime lenses. It’s exactly what i feel as well. Even further you can go if you use a Film camera with a Prime. Then one Film can last 1 or 2 weeks for me 🙂

    1. Thanks. I also agree with your point about shooting film. I also tend to be much more conservative. The last film I ran through my XPan needed three outings. I remember thinking that 21 exposures were a lot.

  7. I’m a landscape and nature shooter and primes just feel really limiting to me. I love to make small adjustments to framing quickly and easily. I don’t mind moving but that doesn’t work to change framing in a wide landscape shot.

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