Zoom Lenses vs. Prime Lenses
Posted 11 December 2007 - 03:48 PM
Personally, I prefer to shoot with a good prime lens, but I am seeing more and more DP's sticking to a zoom lens for the duration of a shoot. Just curious to see what you all think.
Posted 11 December 2007 - 03:51 PM
Posted 11 December 2007 - 04:07 PM
For example, the two music videos I gaffed this weekend were shot on Super16, which usually benefits from good primes for maximum sharpness and minimum depth of field when shooting drama. But for music videos the two Canon zooms allowed us to quickly reframe (and sometimes zoom) to grab the coolest looking shots as the performances played out in front of us. Primes wouldn't have allowed us to work the way we needed to to make the most interesting looking images. Lighting to a slightly higher stop actually helped us hold focus as the performers and camera moved around unpredictably.
Multi-camera shooting often benefits from zooms because the B camera may not be in the optimum position to get the best composition with a prime (especially when following action). A zoom allows the operator to slightly adjust focal length to get the best coverage from that position.
Posted 11 December 2007 - 04:34 PM
Posted 11 December 2007 - 05:39 PM
However am I correct in my assumption that prime lenses are typically better in terms of optical quality, and are thus usually preferable for most narrative features?
In the broadest, general sense, yes. Zoom lenses have more glass elements and are more optically complex, so sometimes the optical quality and performance suffers in the attempt to do many things at the same time. Zooms are prone to breathing, ramping (loss of t-stop at the long end), and long MOD as well as being slower and overall less sharp and contrasty. The zooms that do perform well (and there are many) end up being large, heavy and expensive compared to primes.
As for shooting, for a single-camera drama it's usually easiest (and cheapest) to rent a single set of primes. For one thing, a feature may have a lot of different angles which are better accommodated by a smaller, lighter camera profile with quick lens changes. But for multi-camera shows with a lot of "standardized" coverage like TV episodics, zooms can be the easy way to go. A and B cameras can stay in studio mode with short and long zooms respectively, and a third camera body is on hand for steadicam/handheld with primes. Sometimes efficiency and practicality on set have high priority.
Posted 11 December 2007 - 05:52 PM
Some 35mm zooms are so sharp that I would challenge you to discern which shot was made by the zoom, and which shot was made by the prime.
That all makes sense to me. I see the immediate advantage to zooms as you described. However am I correct in my assumption that prime lenses are typically better in terms of optical quality, and are thus usually preferable for most narrative features?
Posted 11 December 2007 - 06:50 PM
Posted 11 December 2007 - 07:02 PM
Primes are smaller, lighter, faster, flare less, breathe less...
On the other hand, I don't mind using zooms so much on an HD cameras because HD zooms tend to be lighter, smaller, and faster than most 35mm zooms, and I don't have to check back-focus as often compared to swapping between HD primes.
Posted 11 December 2007 - 07:22 PM
Primes may cost less to rent, but potentially more to use.
As for shooting, for a single-camera drama it's usually easiest (and cheapest) to rent a single set of primes.
If you have a really big budget and want the very best, the answer is primes. You'll take the time to change lenses and move the dolly in or out a foot and a half to get the composition you want. If you have a really small budget, and need the very cheapest, the answer is also primes. You'll live with being a little loose or tight if you're in a hurry, but since nobody's getting paid much, you can afford the time to tweak most of the time. But there's an in-between range of low budgets where time on the set costs enough money that popping for one good zoom is the cost-effective way to work. That's the reason for the small-range zooms, "variable primes" they're called sometimes.
Posted 17 March 2008 - 09:59 AM
Posted 17 March 2008 - 10:21 AM
But then again, this is for beginners (or maybe old DOP )
Posted 21 October 2012 - 10:54 AM
How do you all feel about this subject a few years later? Are the zooms vs. prime arguments still valid, even with new zooms (Angenieux, Alura etc) and digital cameras with high base ISO values?