If you haven’t already heard, prime lenses are the bees knees. Unlike zoom, they feature fixed focal length lenses that offer superior optical quality, wider maximum apertures, and other enticing bonuses – depending on the size. For many beginners though, prime lenses are overwhelming. But if you get in the habit of switching your standard lens for a prime, you shan’t regret it. Read on for a short list of common primes and when to use them.

20mm – 28mm Prime

fixed focal length
Sophie Higginbottom, 24mm

Anything shorter than 35mm is great for capturing landscapes or sprawling vistas. These lenses are also useful for photographing large crowds. Some photographers use 20mm and 28mm lenses to convey the overall ‘feel’ of a wedding or similarly big event. The problem is that a lot of super wide lenses cause distortion around the edges, so be sure to focus in on your sweet spot!

35mm Prime

fixed local length lens
Simson Petrol, 35mm

This prime is the ultimate ‘street photography’ lens, so you can use it for almost anything.  From landscape to portrait, the 35mm lets you capture subjects relative to their environment – unlike a zoom, which creates distance and dissonance.  This type of lens feels real because it so closely resembles the focal composition of the human eye. It’s also small enough to take anywhere, which makes your camera super adaptable and easy to use.

50mm Prime

50mm focal length
Artur Rutkowski, 50mm

Some of the best quality lenses, 50mm primes have been around for a long time. They’re simply built, and feature wide maximum apertures to take in more light. While it isn’t a good specialist lens, the 50mm is convenient for casual photography. Some photographers use them for portrait lenses, but if you want to go portrait, then you should really go 85mm.

85mm – 100mm Prime

fixed focal length lens
Mike Wilson, 105mm,

An 85mm prime lens is a classic portrait lens.  It’s fast and sharp with a wide aperture, and captures subjects beautifully.  However 85mm to 100mm prime lenses are also useful for discreet street photography. They let you capture depth and emotion at a distance. At concerts and sporting events, they’re equally valuable for their quickness – since musicians and athletes rarely stay in one place, and capturing their energy is crucial to conveying the proper expressive edge.

 There are pretty standard rules for each fixed focal length prime: 20mm is great for landscape, 50mm for casual, and 85mm is best for portrait, but it’s really up to you. Borrow lenses and experiment with different lengths at different times. Who knows, you might find something that works with a lens you never expected.


  1. Brawley comments that the Tamron is a bit more flexible due to a longer focal length and wider aperture but hampered by rather lackluster performance in the sharpness category, particularly with corner sharpness, and even when stopped down.


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