I Was a Primes Kind of Guy, Until I Wasn't.


I've got a bookshelf full of primes for four different systems–Pentax K, Micro Four-Thirds, Nikon 1, and Pentax Q. I love them dearly, appreciating the diminutive size (when compared to zooms), and photon gathering capabilities. And I also really appreciate their zeitgeist, a notion of elegance and simplicity made manifest in glass, metal, and plastic. In other words, I drank the Kool-Aid suggesting that primes make you a more thoughtful and considered photographer and thus wandered the Earth with a fistful of primes always at the ready. I grew quite adept at changing them on the side of the road too, balancing front and rear caps and two lenses while minimizing the change interval. And when meeting photogs with variable aperture zooms on their cameras, I could say with pride and conviction (and maybe even a hint of dismissiveness), "Oh, I don't have a zoom on this camera. I shoot primes."

And then I got the Panasonic LX7.

The LX7's got this wicked little collapsing zoom lens that goes from 24mm EQ to 90mm EQ while maintaining a pretty fast aperture along the way (F1.4 to F2.3). It also has this neat setting whereby you can zoom in steps along the "Classic Prime Focal Length Highway"–24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm and 90mm–instead of the more normal smooth zoom from end to end. I had seen this feature on the Ricoh GX100 many moons ago; I loved it then and I love it now. So effectively, I've got myself a fistfull of fast primes in a small package:

24mm F1.4
28mm F1.5
35mm F1.6
50mm F1.9
70mm F2.1
90mm F2.3

Not only that, but they've all got the vaunted L on them, and I certainly don't mean "Lumix".

Now ever since the LX7 has entered the household, it's taken a lion's share of the photos, and I've grown to really appreciate the convenience of a fast, small, zoom. No more wishing I had brought the other prime along. No more worrying about dust and debris during a lens change. No more changing to another focal length and then realizing that you wanted the other focal length after all. The ability to compose the photo the way that I want versus the way that I can has been eye opening. Yes, I have a pair of quite nice F2.8 zooms for my Pentax DSLR, but that's become my working kit, not my play toys.

Another camera that's rekindled my appreciation for zooms is the Nikon V1. The 10-30 and 30-110 zooms cover a massive range (~28mm-297mm EQ) yet can both fit in a jacket pocket. Yes, they are slow, variable aperture kit zooms and with the small 1" sensor I've got to try really hard to get any out of focus areas. And forget getting anything that could be called bokeh. That's ok though, as I'm never been a member of the bokehrati. They're pretty damn nice though, and with some careful processing have been producing magazine-worthy output.

And on the video side, I've settled on the sharp Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8 for the bulk of my video shooting. No more adapted primes, no more going back and forth with the tripod. Set and forget. Focus, literally, on other aspects of the shot.

So where does that leave me? I'm not so sure that I'm a primes kind of guy anymore.

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