Why I Shoot with Prime Lenses
Prime lenses contain magic of sorts. I started my photographic journey with prime lenses. First, the 50mm on my old Canon AE-1, which was followed by the 50mm on my Pentax K1000, and then the 50mm on my Pentax Super Program. Without being able to deviate from the 50mm point of view I learned to move around, to duck, to dive, to react to situations. I had to be creative, innovative, and work.
When it came time to get my first DSLR, I opted for the kit lens that came prepackaged. The lens wasn't anything to write home about. It was a simple, cheap zoom lens that offered subpar performance and alright images. In the beginning I was taken by these simple images. I mean, it's the photographer, not the equipment, right? It didn't take me long to realize that something was missing though. Instead of moving closer to my subjects, I twisted the lens and let the camera put my eye into the action. My entire angle of photography was quickly changing and I wasn't happy about it.
I began my desperate search for a prime lens after only a few weeks. I scoured the internet in search for the best bang for the buck, the best image quality, the slimmest options. In the end I made my purchase and there I stood in the middle of the camera store with my new 24mm lens. In full frame terms, we're talking roughly a 35mm equivalent, which offered a close perspective to my 50mm I was used to, but it was still something that took me out of my comfort zone; and this turned out to be one of the best purchases of my photographic career.
The new lens still didn't offer impeccable image quality, accurate focusing, or even aesthetics, but when this lens was on, I was on the move. This lens inspired me to get out, to move around, and to change my perspective, instead of letting the camera do it for me. Within a year I had shot over 10k photos with this lens alone. I shot architecture, many of my Framed Series portraits, and everything in between.
I wrote in a recent post that I purchased a new camera: the Leica Q. I had read reviews for months before receiving mine. People argued that a 28mm lens was too restricting, too wide. And I'll be honest, I held some of the same fears. Not because I wasn't accustomed to shooting with a prime lens, but because the Q was an investment in a single lens system. If I hated shooting with its lens, I was stuck. And then, as I tried to get myself unstuck, my wife would be considering ways to kill me. Fortunately for my life, and my wife's sanity, I'm in love with the Q. After four months of constant use I can easily justify the cost and know that I would do it again.
My camera arsenal contains other options beyond the Q though. In fact, I also have a Sony A7 with a couple lenses. And, as if you couldn't have guessed it, all of those E mount lenses are primes. I know, big surprise. I've been trying out some of the offerings from Rokinon currently. When I need a tighter shot than what the Q offers, I throw the 85mm 1.8 onto the Sony and snap a few portraits. Then there are instances when I need something wider than the Q's 28mm. Craziness. When I'm out shooting architecture or interiors, I connect the 14mm 2.8 and ready myself for some post processing. That's it. That's all my gear.
Ultimately, I think prime lenses saved my photography, then challenged me to get creative and work with what's in the moment. I know I've lost plenty of shots throughout my career, but I've learned to let go of those moments. And for every moment I've lost, I know that I've created another image that I'm proud to call my work. Prime lenses have inspired me to actively engage in my environment and allowed me to create my unique voice.
Note: each of the images in this post were taken with the Leica Q.