What is a Prime Camera Lens

Hello and welcome to my post on ‘ what is a prime camera lens ‘. If you are curious or beginning to venture into the exciting world of photography, then knowing some facts about prime lenses will help you decide when to use them. Typical prime lenses come in focal lengths of 28mm, 35mm, 55mm, and few others.


When I was getting into photography, I used to wonder why not just buy a zoom lens like 28mm to 55mm or 55mm to 200mm. This way all the focal lengths will get covered. Why waste money on different size lenses? It sounded like a sweet deal, well it turned out that it wasn’t as sweet as it sounded. Prime lenses and zoom lenses have characteristics.


What is a Prime Lens?

Prime lens is a fixed focal length lens. This means it does not have any zoom capabilities. What you see through the lens is what you get. A 50mm prime lens is very common. Its focal length approximately matches an area that our can eyes see clearly in focus.


A prime lens with fixed focal length is built for a large aperture. The aperture on prime lens can be as wide as f/1.2 or even wider on some expensive models. The large aperture means it is a fast lens. This way more light can travel through the lens making it great for low light situations. A fast lens also allows for higher shutter speeds where the lighting conditions are poor. An ordinary zoom lens will not allow a large aperture when fully zoomed. This is due to the law of optics. Read this post you’re not familiar with aperture.

The construction of a prime lens is simple which makes it cost effective to manufacture. There are few moving parts inside the barrel making it easy to design. Simpler design leads to high quality images. Prime lenses are prone to few image defects such as chromatic aberrations and lens distortion.

Prime lenses can produce a very shallow depth of field making them great for portrait photography. The larger aperture can create what is known as a bokeh effect. This effect blurs out the background making the subject stand out in a photograph.

Because a prime lens does not have any zoom capabilities, the photographer must adjust his or her position to the subject being photographed. Landscape photography is another example where a wide angle prime lens would be well suited.

How it differs from a Zoom Lens.

Zoom lenses are much more complex and expensive to manufacture. In a zoom lens, the focal length can be adjusted according to its capabilities. Variable focal length is actually what creates a zooming effect. An 18mm to 55mm zoom lens will cover all the focal lengths in its range making it extremely versatile. But all this flexibility comes at price of aperture.

We will use the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 GII lens for an example. The numbers 1:3.5 – 5.6 are the maximum aperture values for the smallest and longest focal lengths. At 18mm, the lens will have a maximum aperture of f/3.5 and at 55mm the maximum aperture will be f/5.6. As you can see the aperture size decreases as the focal length is increases.

If on the other hand you had an f/1.8 – 55mm prime lens, you would have a large aperture of f/1.8 at your disposal at a focal length of 55mm. This is a huge difference in the amount of light available compared with the zoom lens at 55mm.

Which one is better – Prime or Zoom

Both. .They both have their place in photography. Prime lenses are remarkable at image quality at a reasonable price. They are the first choice for many professional photographers over a zoom lens. Prime lenses excel is the field of portrait photography, landscape, nature or even group shots. Some city skylines can be stunning at sunset and a prime lens may be excellent choice.They may not be as convenient as zoom lenses for certain situations.

Zoom lenses offer convenience of an all in one solution without the need to carry several lenses. Zoom lenses can be great for outdoor events where portrait like photography is not required. Because zoom lenses have smaller aperture, they can be great for sunny days when light is available in abundance.

There are some zoom lenses that allow large aperture at their longest focal lengths. But the price can be up to four times more than a prime lens. If you are planning to move from a hobbyist to more serious photography than a fast zoom lens may be your option. Fast zoom lenses are used mainly by sports photographers where they need to act quickly and not have to worry about switching lenses. These lenses will produce the same quality as a prime lens but with zoom capabilities. It may be good idea to invest this kind money if you’re making an income from photography.

I hope this article has given you a starting point when it comes to selectin lenses. If you have a question or comment, please leave them below.



  1. I just got my first DSLR and it came with a 50mm prime lens. I really want to get a zoom lens though because I love the idea of getting shots from afar, especially of animals!  That being said, I’m willing to learn first if it makes sense…

    Would you recommend getting started with a prime lens or should I just splurge and get myself a zoom lens too?

    1. Author

      If you like photography, you will eventually want a zoom lens.  Start off and learn with what you got and pick one up when you see one at a  good price. 

  2. Great article, I now know what to buy for my camera. Is the picture of the lady captured by one of then?  It could have been great to have pictures taken by the topic at hand. Could have enjoyed looking at a couple more taken by either one of them. Great pictures by the way.

  3. I must say that this article is very helpful to me. I like to take photos and especially like it in winter season. I don’t know much about camera lens but I definitely see that this ones are of great quality. This is for me only a hobby but maybe someday it will evolve in something bigger. I will definitely go for zoom lens.

  4. Oh so prime lens is for portrait. Now I know. I am an actor and so is my husband. We constantly having to get new headshots, since the casting directors want to see what we currently look like or if we cut our hair or not. From reading this I guess we need prime for now and once we save up that money then we can get the zoom. Thanks for clarifying that. 

    Happy Holidays

    1. Author

      They are great for portrait photography but not limited to portrait.

  5. Thanks for this educative piece on camera lenses.  it really came in useful for someone like myself with no professional training whatsoever in photography but still handles the camera always because of my love for taking pictures of nature all around me for fun and self consumption.

    My camera has always had one lense; the 50mm and I did not bother changing it because I felt it had always given me the quality I desired for my need. However things are about to change with this write up as I intend to delve into the world of camera lenses and explore other options.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *