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Are there any examples comparing the picture quality of prime lenses and zoom lenses with the same scene and shot at the same focal length? I have not seen anything that shows me why a prime is better (other than a higher maximum aperture). A simple example would be a view of a lake, forest or mountain.

I'm more interested in landscape / nature style photographs, so not sure which type of lens would be the best for starting out. Also want to take picture with a shallow depth of field (a few meters away), but not macro level (for the time being).

If anyone had to pick a zoom lens and a fixed one, what is the general consensus of lens choices (not the cheap ones bundled, more mid-level)? Wide angle (not extra wide like 18mm or less) and medium telephoto zoom

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possible duplicate of Are prime lenses sharper than normal or telephoto zoom lenses? –  mattdm Jun 20 '12 at 13:18
    
    
Primes of similar cost are usually superior to zooms because they can be optimised for the specific geometry involved. Lens elements do not need to be moved relative to each other and compromises are not needed for non ideal changes as zoom is varied. –  Russell McMahon Jun 20 '12 at 13:24
    
@mattdm the questions you linked don't have examples, I believe that the questions is asking for show cases, so it's not a direct duplicate –  akram Jun 20 '12 at 14:06
    

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Here is one Zoom vs. Prime Lens Sharpness Comparison on Flickr. The prime lens looks sharper. But of course, this is just one case. As someone points out on the first thread that @mattdm linked "Prime lenses are usually sharper than zooms". (emphasis added)

Perhaps you would be more interested in comparing a zoom lens you already own to a prime lens you are considering. Normally this is where I would refer you to DPReview.com and tell you to check out the lens reviews. Their reviews have a lot of great data on the performance of the lens. Sadly it seems there are a lot of lenses they have not reviewed. So once you know what lens(es) you are considering, you might have to search the forum for posts related to the lens(es) or post your own question.

There are a lot of professional/experienced photographers on these forums that love to use prime lenses, and of course their forum posts will reflect this. Rightfully so. But that doesn't necessarily mean prime lenses are right for you. There are also plenty of newer photographers on these forums. For newer photographers I would recommend using a zoom lens for a while. Good starter zoom ranges are 18-55mm or 18-135mm lenses. Then you can keep an eye on what focal length(s) you use the most by checking the EXIF data in the pictures, or just by paying attention to it as you shoot the photos.

If you want someone to pick for you ... well if you're going to twist my arm then here are my two cents: It seems most people opt for a 50mm for their first prime lens. But if you're more interested in landscape then 24mm would be more suitable. As you said, I personally wouldn't go wider than 18mm unless you're looking for a little distortion/fisheye effect. And you probably already have a zoom lens that will get you down to 18mm if 24mm isn't wide enough. As far as medium telephoto: Well, 50mm counts as medium telephoto unless you are shooting on a full frame camera. (At least according to Pentax.) If you are looking for something a little longer that you can still take portraits with, consider 85mm. But again, I would use a zoom lens to see what these focal lengths look like and what kind of shots you can get with them.

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Great answer, +1 for the DPReview link. It is a WEALTH of useful 'before you buy' information! –  huzzah Jun 20 '12 at 17:01
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I'm almost tempted to downvote for the DPReview link. IMO, their reviews (lens reviews, in particular) are mediocre at best (unfortunate, since they do present the results nicely). My first recommendation for lens reviews would be Photozone. –  Jerry Coffin Jun 20 '12 at 21:30
    
Also on lens reviews and comparisons, see: theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2012/… (In short, there's a lot of variability.) –  mattdm Jun 20 '12 at 23:37
    
+1 for the Photozone link. They have a ton of lens reviews! –  Stainsor Jun 21 '12 at 13:32
    
How do the third-party lenses compare with the official ones, e.g. Tamron or Canon with an APS-C sensor (rather than full frame) –  SamWM Jun 22 '12 at 12:21

You can compare many lenses here:

http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/ISO-12233-Sample-Crops.aspx

Generally, landscapes aren't shot wide open. If you're stopping down a few stops, you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference in a print from any decent modern lens.

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