This is my real world comparison between the Fujifilm XF16-55mm zoom with the XF16mm f/1.4, XF23mm f/1.4, XF35mm f/1.4 and the XF56mm f/1.2 prime lenses. I often hear statements like prime lenses are better than zoom lenses. Is that so? Let’s find out…
Model: Mischkah Scott
Size matters when it comes to lenses. The larger lenses are generally easier to operate especially if you are controlling the aperture, zoom and focus. The 16-55mm lens feels just the right size and the zoom function is super smooth too. Take away the need to zoom and the size of the fast prime lenses seems right too. If you really want compactness in your lens system you can opt for the pancake primes to cover the wide end. These are the 18mm, and 27mm. Pair these up with the 35mm and 60mm and you have a sub f/2.8 prime set up. These lenses offer stellar optics but have traded a fast maximum aperture for size and weight. The apertures are still larger than the zoom so these can be a real choice if size really does matter.
Weight on the camera is the one of the most important factors for me to consider when choosing between zoom and prime lenses. How heavy the camera feels in the hand directly affects my shooting frame of mind. If I look at a pro level SLR now I can’t be bothered to lift the bulk to my eye to take a shot. The weight is just unreal and I find it hard work to hold a Nikon D4 or Canon 1Dx let alone use them. The Fuji X series is a super size for me and up until the latest fixed aperture zooms arrived the setup was lightweight too.
Weight in the bag is the least important aspect for me to consider as I always put my bag down to take pictures. I’ve no concerns with the weight of my camera bag even with the substantial 50-140 f/2.8 OIS zoom that I take out from time to time. My bag will always be lighter that the one I used for my SLR kits and I don’t treck up mountains. I use lighting kit a monopod and various other bulky bits of kit when I am out on a shoot so the camera bag weight is not a significant factor in the whole scheme of things. I carry my bag from the car to the location – maybe 100m and that’s it.
Price is a major consideration when choosing between the four prime lenses and the zoom lens. The web price for the 16, 23, 35 and 56mm lenses is £2486 ($3788 or €3477) and the 16-55mm zoom is just £899 ($1370 or €1258) I say ‘just’ because you get a lot of lens for your money. The savings to be had going down the zoom route is £1587 ($2418 or €2219). For 95% of the time most people who shoot at f/2.8 or smaller will be getting pictures at the same optical quality whatever option they choose. The f/1.4 shooters better start saving.
Optical quality is a big issue in most peoples minds but it really isn’t a factor when you choose to go for Fuji zoom or prime lenses. Yes there are a few subtle differences, mainly at f/2.8. By that aperture the primes are already two stops down and nearing their optimum working aperture while the zoom is fully wide. By f/4 there is little between the optics and at f/16 the zoom will deliver better shots with one more stop in hand over the primes on their limit. Of course your choice of optics depends upon the kind of photographs you take. I work in dark interiors so I need the primes. If you shoot landscapes at f/8 on a tripod the zoom will be perfect.
Two extra stops make the difference between getting the shot or not. If like me you shoot portraits and are drawn to dark places like caves and cellars you will know just how amazing the light can be in these places. Although the quality of the light is superb there just isn’t much of it. So how would I cope with an f/2.8 lens? I can’t really drop the shutter speed any further because subject movement starts to be significant when shooting portraits. The aperture is maxed out at f/2.8 so I can only resort to a high ISO to get the shot.
Lens hoods I always use lens hoods. I’ve grown up using lens hoods and I’m not going to change now. I want every bit of optical quality I can get and even when I’m using Black Pro Mist filters I like to control flare with a hood. A lot of photographers have complained about the petal shape hoods because they look ugly. I happen to like them because they are effective. With the zoom however the lens hood is a compromise at all focal lengths except fully wide. It looks as if Fuji are finally going to make a series of dedicated bayonet mount metal lens hoods with rectangular apertures. I hope they are made with precision and are as efficient at removing stray light as they can be. Time will tell.
Conclusion We are spoilt for choice but there are definite reasons to choose the zoom over the primes and visa versa. The things that matter at the end of the day are creativity and productivity. Choose the option that will inspire you to get out there and fill your life with the magic of photography.
Feel free to join the debate below. Don’t be hard on my techniques because this isn’t science, this is a real world testing. No tripods were used for these shots and I have no desire to take pictures of brick walls, I just shot regular portraits in various lighting conditions.
I hope this helps you decide what route you will take with your Fuji X lens choice.