I was told that prime lenses with low element counts have the potential to produce better colors and greater contrast than lenses with many many elements inside. I was told primes mostly 'render' better than zooms. Since even optical glass is not 100% transparent this sounds comprehensible to me but I really try to find an example to visualize that.

I took two images - one with a prime lens with 5 elements and one with a zoom lens with 19 elements at the same focal length and aperture. Same settings - same camera. Both images are untouched. Can you tell a difference in rendition, color saturation, contrast or micro contrast? (Im not looking for a comparison in sharpness or which lens is better). Of course there is a noticeable difference, but can you tell which is which?

Image A:

Image A

Image B:

enter image description here

Im going to add the information which image is which after I got some comments or answers. I want you to choose and tell me the difference. Maybe you can give an even better exmaple. Im really interested in the results.

EDIT: Image A is taken with the Nikkor 200-500mm F/5.6 zoom lens and image B is taken with an older Nikkor Ai-s 200mm F/4, both at 200mm F/5.6

  • 2
    B looks a whole lot crisper in the middle, but that wouldn't let me really guess which was which, as one might be a softer lens or the focus is simply different - compare the boxes far right & the fence post centre. Different focus points.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 19, 2020 at 11:46
  • 2
    "Same settings - same camera" doesn't alway mean "same light curves, WB, and other developing steps applied." If you used any "Auto" settings, then the raw conversion application (either inside the camera or an external one) could have applied different levels to try and make the images look the same based on its programming to produce images with a certain ideal color, saturation, WB, etc. To truly compare lenses, one should use all manual setting when exposing and use all manually selected development steps when processing.
    – Michael C
    Jun 19, 2020 at 14:24
  • 2
    I'd say that "primes render better than zooms" is a statement about the population of lenses, i.e. picking a prime and a zoom at random, it is somewhat likely that the prime will be better. But from this it does not follow that all primes are better than all zooms: there are excellent zooms and horrible primes. Technological development over the years, especially as concerns lens coatings, also needs to be factored in when comparing lenses of different vintages. FWIW, I can't hazard an even remotely educated guess which is which here, at least not in terms of contrast.
    – Kahovius
    Jun 19, 2020 at 22:53
  • Rather than editing the answer into the question, please write that as an answer to the question. That seems to make more logical sense, otherwise it's literally a question that answers itself.
    – scottbb
    Jun 22, 2020 at 17:37

2 Answers 2


Here is a side by side comparison of detail (A is on the left and B is on the right):

enter image description here

Image A certainly seems to have greater contrast and dynamic range compared to B, which appears to be more washed out and have less detail. In B the difference between the brighter areas and darker areas is less than in A.

So, based on that, I would guess A is the prime.

Note that the insignia in B is sharper, but that appears to be due to motion/vibration or maybe a slightly different focus. The insignia in A looks doubled, so it might be because the camera moved slightly during the exposure.

It is hard to judge vignetting in an image like this. If you take a picture of consistent field, like a blue sky, it will be more obvious if there is vignetting.

  • 1
    They're focussed at different lengths, A is closer than B. You can't compare the same point on each; you have to take a wild guess from disparate sharpest points...
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 22, 2020 at 9:20
  • actually B is the prime. I dont know if I would have guessed different than you. There are differences but its hard to determine which is which.
    – Arjihad
    Jun 22, 2020 at 10:15
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    @Arjihad If you go to DXOMark or other similar lens measuring sites, they show the results of exact tests that measure precisely the difference in vignetting, sharpness, contrast, etc between different lenses. There is no need to rely on an anecdote of one image. Also, comparing a 30-year-old lens to a modern lens with image stabilization is a completely unfair comparison. Yeah, you get less contrast if you take a telephoto image and blur the image obviously. Jun 22, 2020 at 12:06

I'd say that regarding contrast/saturation and sharpness, the first image appears to be in front, but of course slight differences in cloudiness and autofocus can also cause different results. And also, of course, lens quality differences have a lot more possible causes than zoom/prime.

  • This doesn't answer the question. The OP is asking for an opinion on which lens took which image: "(Im not looking for a comparison in sharpness or which lens is better). Of course there is a noticeable difference, but can you tell which is which?"
    – scottbb
    Jun 20, 2020 at 17:27
  • "Can you tell a difference in rendition, color saturation, contrast or micro contrast?". Sometimes one really has to wonder about the downvotes here.
    – user92577
    Jun 20, 2020 at 17:47
  • I'm sorry to have left it possibly unclear: That's my downvote, because you didn't answer the question being asked: which lens took which photo? You can be pedantic and say that you answered one of the "questions" that ended with a question mark, but let's be clear: the OP was asking about identifying which lens took which photo.
    – scottbb
    Jun 20, 2020 at 20:36
  • The OP wanted to figure out whether there is a noticeable difference between prime lenses and zoom lenses. To that effect, he posted two images for comparison, not labelling them with the respective information, in order to correlate people's judgment with the actually used lenses. What can be judged objectively is the inherent quality of the images. Whether this identifies reliably a prime or zoom lens is a matter of speculation, which is out of the scope of StackExchange.
    – user92577
    Jun 20, 2020 at 20:56
  • 1
    And I told the difference in the images. Nothing else is there to see. Seriously. The poster already knows which is the prime and the zoom lens.
    – user92577
    Jun 20, 2020 at 21:47

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