When you start practicing photography your first DSLR will most likely come fitted with a kit lens – usually the 18-55mm (check Tips to Choose Your First DSLR Camera).
That is a common, cheap and versatile piece of glass which offers good images. However, its aperture isn’t too wide which doesn’t allow for good selective focus. If you switch to prime lens you trade convenience to better image quality, wider aperture – thus better selective focus (bokeh) – and much sharper image (grab your free photography ebook about How to Choose Your Camera Lens by joining our mailing list on the right sidebar).
The good way to start with prime lens is the 50mm 1.8. It is the cheapest of them all and will serve as a great tool for your photography learning curve. The most important feature that any prime lens will offer – learning wise – is the inability to zoom. Basically, in order to zoom you need to walk with it instead of simply twisting a ring. That way you’ll force yourself to anticipate the shot more and think more about framing. When you don’t have the convenience of zooming easily, your brain adjusts to using the offered, thus training you to frame.
Additionally, not having zoom makes you think more about the field of view and how it affects the image specifically. You tend to get more aware of zoom compression and you start to understand how optics actually work. That is all due to the fact that there is nothing you can do to change the focal length on the prime lens, so you make the most out of it, and more often than not that turns out to be a better result than using a zoom lens (also learn more about Fun with the Fisheye Lens).
Prime lenses often have quite wide apertures and with quite wide apertures you get 3 things: more light, smaller field of focus, and more bokeh (as a direct result of the smaller field of focus). Learn more about exposure: Understanding Camera Exposure
That smaller field of focus means that a small movement forwards or backwards will make the subject in focus go completely out of focus. Therefore when you have the prime attached you tend to learn quickly how to recompose after focusing without losing focus, and you learn to pay more attention to detail and to recognize the parts that are in or out of focus.
Having the wide aperture makes you more aware of the background and the specular lights it generates, thus you learn how to manipulate the light and be more aware of your surroundings. Additionally you worry less about losing light since the lens is more than capable in low light, which eventually will make you use less flash and rely on (and learn more about) ambient light (check Familiarize Yourself with Hand-held Camera Light Meter).
All that said, as added bonus you get much crisper images when compared to zoom lenses, and it is a huge improvement when compared to the kit lens. If you are a photographer which just bought his first DSLR I recommend getting the nifty fifty (50mm 1.8). It is cheap and you will get better quality images while learning a whole lot about photography essentials.
If you have any doubts about the process, just remember that photographers back in the day had to do everything manual and didn’t have no preview display. They learned everything the hard way, and that is the best way when it comes to photography.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you can check the related topics below:
- Fun with the Fisheye Lens
- Neutral Density Filters: What, When and How
- Familiarize Yourself with Hand-held Camera Light Meter