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Old Oct 3, 2010, 11:05 AM   #1
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Default Zooms instead of Primes?

Coming to Digital Photography late in the game I find myself feeling about 20 years out of date more often than not (as may well be the case here).

With that said there was a thread asking for advice on an upcoming wedding where several posters suggested that the person forget about taking any prime lenses and stick with the zooms.

I grew up watching the professionals shooting mostly RB 67's with waist level viewfinders, if a person had asked back then if they carried a zoom lens all hell would have broken loose possibly ending in the loss of life. (is it just me or should it be swinging a camera)

My question is "What, if anything has, changed"? Current thought seems to be contrary to how things were done the last time I was up to date on any of this.

Is it for convince so we do not have to worry about moving around? I have found that primes can be tough with an APS-C body so can see where most have fallen out of favor for the majority.

Have our post processing capabilities come to the point where any shortcomings the lens might have can be corrected so it does not matter? (few reviews of zoom lenses praise the quality through the full range)

I look forward to your thoughts

Steve
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Old Oct 3, 2010, 11:22 AM   #2
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I think it's more related to the fact that Zooms have gotten much better over time, and that lenses are easier to make, and therefore easier to make well, for smaller image sensors. Even now, there are few zoom lenses for larger cameras like the RB67.
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Old Oct 3, 2010, 12:00 PM   #3
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You are correct about the limited availability for the medium format. I mentioned those as it was the wedding thread that made me think. <ouch> I have three lenses for my 645 and other than replacing one that had seen better days have not shopped those in years.

Even with the 35mm hand-me-down I remember pointing to a zoom in the camera shop and being told "they exist but never use one" (the shop owner did not disagree).

I can see where CAD and ease of manufacturing should yield a superior product

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Old Oct 3, 2010, 1:20 PM   #4
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I got one of the first model of the Vivitar Series One zooms, a 70-210mm with relatively fast, constant f/3.5. The zoom range was, for the time, incredible, at 3:1. The IQ of these lenses was very good, as well, but the price reflected all that.
Fast forward to today, when computing power to design lenses is a thousand times what it was then, and the designs can be directly converted to programs for CNC machine tools to manufacture parts to very close tolerances.
I believe that the glass is the limiting factor in producing lenses, but give it time, and the blanks will be made in orbit, where microgravity and hard vacuum will yield really superior quality.

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Old Oct 3, 2010, 1:20 PM   #5
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There's also CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing), which has enjoyed several significant advances over the past several years.
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Old Oct 4, 2010, 9:03 AM   #6
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One more factor in the "then vs. now" discussion is that a 6x7 film camera allowed a fair amount of "zoom" in the printing process without the IQ dropping below 8x10 standards so a zoom lens wasn't required to acheive tight framing in the final product.

A. C.
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Old Oct 4, 2010, 10:04 AM   #7
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I think now the argument for zooms v primes is more about someones creative shooting ability as well as low light rather than quality. Yes, primes are still generally a little sharper but the real win is the ability to have a wide aperture so you can get shallow DOF even at pretty wide angles and also the other gain is low light/natural light work that can't be done. Sure, we have higher usable ISO ability now but still keeping that noise down and getting low light is great.
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Old Oct 4, 2010, 11:16 AM   #8
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While Mark's point about brighter lenses is well-taken, there are various other shortcomings of zooms that we don't care about any more. We post-process everything in a computer now, and are not concerned about simple barrel or pincushion distortion, for example. As long as the distortion is regular, it is child's play to remove. Similarly, we are much less concerned about CA than we used to be. My camera's processor corrects CA so effectively that I can't find any CA, even in lenses that people with a generation older camera say is unusable because of its CA.
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Old Oct 4, 2010, 11:25 AM   #9
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In addition to the points already made (you can get brighter primes than you can zooms, etc.), size and weight also enter into the equation.

For example, I sometimes use a Minolta 28mm f/2 for walk around purposes with my Sony A700. That makes for a smaller and lighter package compared to lugging around a brighter zoom (and the prime is brighter than any zoom you could find for this body anyway).

It's also less likely to draw attention (objections) when visiting venues (for example, smaller restaurants and clubs with live music), whereas some venues may object to someone with a bigger kit, as that can make their patrons nervous when they see someone taking photos with a larger camera and lens. In some venues, if you tried to walk in with a 70-200mm f/2.8 attached, you might be turned away. ;-)

Ditto for longer lenses. For example, I may bring along a couple of longer primes with me at times, too (50mm f/1.7, 100mm f/2, 135mm f/2.8). These are also much smaller and lighter than f/2.8 zooms, and I can keep one or more of them in spare vest pockets (or in my wife's purse if she's with me), versus lugging a larger kit around.

Some venues can be a bit picky when it comes to someone that's attracting a lot of attention. So, I try to be as inconspicuous as possible (holding the camera with a small prime attached in my hand versus a larger kit hanging around my neck when entering).
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Old Oct 11, 2010, 9:34 AM   #10
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I like to say that an auto zoom makes shooting easier, and a manual prime forces you to learn to see. But there's more than that. My original K20D kit consisted of the DA10-17, DA18-250, and FA50/1.4. The 18-250 is big and conspicuous and ideal for traveling. The 10-17 and FA50 are both short and inconspicuous.

Outdoors in daylight, the 18-250 rules. In smaller spaces, or when I don't want to be a center of attention, I'm more likely to draw upon smaller lenses. The Zenitar 16/2.8, smaller and faster than the 10-17. A little Panagor 24/2.8 modded from N-AI to PK, for not-too-dim indoors work. (I'd be happier if my Vivitar 24/2 was fixed.) An F35-70, almost as small as the FA50. A Nikkor 85/2, also modded for PK and about the same size as the 35-70. And I'll probably get a tiny M135/3.5 soon, smaller than the Zenitar.

Small is beautiful. Big fast zooms are groovy. Maybe I can afford one some day...
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