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New Poll - lens types and image quality

Discussion in 'Weekly Poll' started by Damien_Demolder, Jun 4, 2007.

  1. Damien_Demolder

    Damien_Demolder Well-Known Member

    There is a new poll on the home page in which we are asking what you think about the relative image quality obtainable from fixed focal length lenses and zooms.

    Loads of purists claim lenses with a fixed focal length (such as a 28mm, a 50mm, a 200mm or a 500mm) provide much better quality than zoom lenses that cover multiple focal lengths (such as a 28-135mm). Is that just an old fashioned elitist view or is is actually still true even with today's technology? We are not talking about any one lens in particular, but lenses in general.

    Go vote now and have your say.
  2. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    I reckon it's still true, but that doesn't mean I don't use zooms far more - it's Roger Hicks's old point about a quality threshold again IMHO.
  3. The Circle Of Confusion

    The Circle Of Confusion Well-Known Member

    The image quality is better, they are almost always have a faster maximum aperture and weigh less. Until a few days ago I only had primes in my camera bag. I've just bought a long zoom for sports photography where the convenience of a zoom will outweigh any other considerations.

    However, having just tested this batch of Canon lenses for work I must say zooms are a hell of a lot better than they used to be

    16-35mm f2.8 L
    17-40mm f4 L
    24-70mm f2.8 L
    24-105mm f4 IS L
  4. parisian

    parisian Well-Known Member

    As far as I know the maximum zoom ratio should be no more than 2:1
    E.g. 35mm - 70mm before the various distortion gremlins become too apparent.
    Current fashion dictates that much higher ratios are required to meet the need for the 'one lens covers all' demands of current buyers.
    Even the honeyed words of testers across the gamut of journals cannot deny that the performance of these lenses at the extremes (funnily enough just where the majority of punters use them)is not good, requiring specialist software at times to correct the problems.
    The huge ratios available may well suit the manufacturers, may well suit the majority of users but they do not in any circumstance have the drawing capability of prime lenses.
  5. bagpuss

    bagpuss Well-Known Member

    I tend to use mostly primes (20mm, 24mm, 50mm, 60mm macro) though I do have a few zoom lenses; but I find that with Nikon G-lenses, they aren't as sharp.
  6. parisian

    parisian Well-Known Member

    I can certainly recommend the 50mm, 80mm, and 150mm primes that sit with my 'Blad Pam.
    Prime lenses and medium format = heaven :D
  7. Matt_Hunt

    Matt_Hunt Well-Known Member

    Kind of the same here: I would agree that primes are still best.

    Some of my old M42 primes beat the zooms I have for the Nikons and the do it all kit zoom that came with my F75 (a 28-100) is not great at all ( I appreciate that it not designed to be a 'great' lens). It is outshone by the 18-35 D lens
  8. Per

    Per Well-Known Member

    Damien likes stirring things up, doesn't he!

    I suspect that the old adage that you get what you pay for is true here.

    All other things being equal, zooms will cost significantly more at the same level of optical and engineering quality.

    The typical prime buyer is also looking for a different set of compromises (and willing to pay more?) than the typical 'do everything' zoom buyer. Manufacturers know what sells.

    Having said that, I'm very impressed with the results from one of my zooms and tests just run give it the edge over a W.German Zeiss T* prime.
  9. SqueamishOssifrage

    SqueamishOssifrage Well-Known Member

    In a perpetual 'triumph of hope over experience' I have built up a stash of zooms over the years, in the hope of finding one I can live with. Although I have a 'second system' with a couple of reasonable zooms, in case I want to shoot something when I am out and about, the main camera bag contains only fast primes - f2/28, f1.4/35, f1.4/50, f1.4/85 and f2.8/135.
  10. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    I would certainly agree that drawing is the one area I can tell a bigish difference between my zooms and my primes. That said, for the majority of my photography it's simply not an issue.

    When it comes to zooms, I only use newer, decent-quality ones these days - Sigma EX and Canon L for the most part. They're very good, but many very cheap primes can beat them in ultimate quality - just not by enough to matter, and at a big cost in versatility. The Canon primes I use most are the 15mm Fisheye, 50mm f1.4, and 50mm and 100mm Macros - all offer something I just haven't got in my zooms.

    For MF, or with my other 35mm film cameras, I only use primes. If convenience isn't the priority, I might as well go for the purer experience and quality - that way I get the best of both worlds, at least in my head. ;)
  11. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler


    Double drool!

  12. SqueamishOssifrage

    SqueamishOssifrage Well-Known Member

    ...but is it as fast? Just as high quality zooms are difficult and expensive to build, so are very fast primes (unfortunately :().
  13. SqueamishOssifrage

    SqueamishOssifrage Well-Known Member

    It's a lovely, and rather rare lens - in fact probably one of the few lenses that goes for more on eBay second-hand than it cost new!

    And the answer's NO! :D
  14. Per

    Per Well-Known Member

    Good point. In this case there is just 1 stop difference. The zoom is still better wide open.

    Of course if you have a specific requirement like speed then you buy the lens that delivers - but that's my point about
  15. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    It is a lovely lens. In QBM, I'm stuck with the Voigtlander-branded Mamiya 28mm f2.8, which is perfectly reasonable, but....

    For Contax, I have the superb 28mm f2.8 Distagon. Only trouble is that f2 version is eve better. Never mind!
  16. If you ignore the upper end of the zoom market and look at the affordable end, those zooms fitted to digital compacts and supplied as a second kit lens (sort of 100mm-300mm) I am quite sure that performance is nothing much to shout about, particularly at either end!

    Most of these kit lenses and the majority of compact cameras seem to end up at f5.6 as a matter of course!

    Wouldn't even the humblest of old (and now very cheap) 1970s w/as and telephotos do better at that - faster too at f3.5/f4!

    My reasoning for preferring a fast prime lens is twofold:
    1. They give you a nice bright image. I am absolutely certain that this makes a difference to my photography by helping me to better compose my picture.
    (Hence my dislike, in handling terms, of many of the current "tunnel vision" DSLRs)

    2. The option at working "wide open" at all focal lengths has a great advantage, not just in low light, but in enabling one to have a choice of what is "in focus" something I miss very much with the all purpose zoom on my digital camera (though it is a constant f2.8, a small sensor doesn't help!)

  17. IvorETower

    IvorETower Little Buttercup

    So how many people actually study a photograph and think "Hmm, was that taken with a zoom or a prime?" Would be interesting to set up some photos taken on the 2 different types of lenses and see just how many people can tell the difference
  18. huwevans

    huwevans Not Really Here

    It's close, I'll grant you, but if you can't wiggle it there's still something lacking. ;-)

    Maximum wiggle on:

    But more seriously, even within their own category primes are differentiated - the retrofocus requirement for SLRs (and even many rangefinder lenses) causes serious distorsion in wide lenses. It's a fundamental principle of any mathematical optimization (which is what lens design is all about) that any additional restrictions (of which retrofocus is one, and zooming is a massive one) only, in general, make things worse.

    But multi-dimensioned compromises are awkward things to pin down, and we don't all even want the same thing from lenses, so I shan't press the point. Ultimately primes undeniably can or at least could give at least as good and usually better image quality, but they don't necessarily get the development time and money that zooms are given by the manufacturers, nor would they sell in sufficient numbers to be priced low enough if they did.

    FWIW, a few months ago I happened to repeat (more or less) a morning's shooting with prime lenses (mostly 20-30 years old) that I had done a few days earlier with modern zooms. It wasn't directly comparable, as I was using the primes all at maximum aperture, and except in one case they were anywhere from one to three stops faster than the zooms. That was actually the reason for the repeat - I wanted less DoF. All except one really shone. The one which didn't particularly impress is vastly improved one stop down, and certainly beats the zoom it was competing with at that aperture.
  19. Footloose

    Footloose Well-Known Member

    I'd split my reply to this into 3 sections:

    a] As Paul says, the general quality of zooms supplied with cameras, cannot match the quality of a similarly priced prime, but the quality of zooms since (say) 2000, have improved. Unless comparisons are made whilst using a tripod, I would guess that shake masks the real difference, so many people may well not see just how great the difference actually is.

    b] Comparing Olly's 7>14 zoom (which might not have a high zoom ratio, but certainly has a high price!) to Voightlander's 12mm Heliar, certainly proves that the zoom produces considerably better images than the Heliar in terms of evenness of exposure across the frame, (marginally over 1 f/stop as opposed to 2.5 f/stops without the very expensive Heiopan graduated filter by Schott/Zeiss.

    c] I gather that Olly's widest prime, delivers better results than their 7>14, set to the same focal length, and since both these optics are all totally new computations, (4/3rds and telecentric designs) this would seem to indicate that zoom lenses due to the 'compromises' that their construction imposes of image quality, unless some really radical development is made in optical design, primes will continue to deliver better results.
  20. parisian

    parisian Well-Known Member

    Yeah, Viagra :eek: :eek:
    Go on just watch someone ask how many megapixels that is. ;)
    Taking negative size away though Huw, would you still rate the Rodenstock over the Zeiss?

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