Prime lenses are a lens with a fixed focal length. Meaning they have no zoom capabilities. Back in the film days, the standard “kit lens” that came with a new SLR was 50mm prime, whereas today the most common kit lens with a DSLR purchase is the 18-55mm. Many readers might be thinking “I’ve only got the lens that came with my camera”. If that’s you, you’re in luck because this article is not about Interchange-lens (ILC) cameras.
Right now each and every one of you has a prime lens on you, or probably within arms reach. That’s right, I’m talking about your cellphone. Yeah cellphones take pictures, but what do they have to do with photography? That’s a great question. Prime lenses are great for a variety of reasons and many of those hold true for cellphones. We are going to look at what some of those benefits are and how you can use them advance your photography.
Some of the benefits of a prime lenses are:
Comparing the list above to your cellphone, we can quickly address the first three bullets. Although we have recently seen a change in the trend of small getting smaller and smaller, as a whole thy are pretty lightweight and very compact. Every week it seems the cameras in cellphones are getting better and better but compared to their larger brothers, they are pretty simple in deign and have limited components. And what is more cost-effective than free. True most phones aren’t free, but the reality is most people are going to own a phone and the camera is an added bonus.
The main focus of this article is going to be looking at skill development. There is a lot to learn about photography. It’s easy to get caught up in the gear and post processing techniques that goes into our favorite images. But what we often overlook is the basics, or fundamentals of photography. Working with a prime you don’t have the luxury, or rather the opportunity to zoom. So instead, you have to move the camera closer or further to get the shot. At first it is easy to discard this as a benefit, but true benefit comes from really learning that particular focal length.
Focal lengths play a huge role in the overall look and emotion of a photo. You can get roughly the same portrait with a 24mm focal length as you can with a 200mm focal length, but the images will be completely different. To get a better understanding of the role focal length plays in your images, and to get a better idea of why you should be choosing the focal length for the desired outcome of your image, take a few minutes to watch this video by Mike Browne
It is amazing in the video above to see just how a focal length impacts your image. Once you have a grasp on the impacts of focal length, you can start using them to your advantage. Sometimes you have to take pictures in a less than perfect location. If you find your self in this situation and have the room, you could use a zoom to separate the subject from the background. On the other hand, if you have a beautiful location you want to highlight, you may want to use something a bit wider to bring more of the scenery into view.
So when shooting with your everyday prime (cellphone), think about how the image looks. Get to know the focal length you are working with and apply those concepts to your photography. Most cellphones focal lengths fall into the “wide” category, meaning they are wider then our eyes field of view.
Here are the 35mm equivalent focal lengths of some of the most popular cellphones.
Now before I wrap this up some of you might be thinking “my cellphone can zoom”. Unless you own one of the very old Nokia N93 you do not have optical zoom, and instead have digital zoom. Digital zoom should be avoided if at all possible as it is simply expanding the pixels to enlarge the photo.
Well that is it. I hope you learned something and if you have any questions or comments, please post them below.