When I read the pros and cons of these two type of lenses, the lists looks like this:

Pros of prime:

  1. Sharper images
  2. Lightweight
  3. Cheaper
  4. Bigger aperture (shallow dof, better in low light)
  5. Even cheaper if bought from a third party manufacturer

Pros of zoom lens:

  1. Can zoom

And for this one feature (which I personally never use on my 18-55mm lens) the price more than doubles.

As a photographer, is it worth the tradeoff? Ever?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You never change the focal length? At what length do you use the 18-55? \$\endgroup\$
    – his
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 12:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ One zoom is probably much lighter and cheaper than carrying a bag full of primes that cover the same range. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ at 18mm. I like to see a lot of field \$\endgroup\$
    – kBisla
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 1:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ samyang 14mm might be to your liking. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 12, 2014 at 7:32
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ For those that use this zoom lens at 18,24,35,40,50,55 the alternative would be to buy lenses at 18,24,35,40,50,55 ... which does not only double the price... \$\endgroup\$
    – PlasmaHH
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 10:56

4 Answers 4


Does anything justify it? Maybe. But increased complexity requires it, and consumer demand allows it.

It is obviously not true that all zooms are more expensive than all primes — those cheap kit zooms can be had for less than any new prime (with only a few 50mm f/1.8 options being in the ballpark). Those lenses are optimized for price, though, not image quality. If you want a zoom lens with better image quality, especially one rivaling that of a prime in the same focal range, you need more complexity. And that means more materials, maybe more exotic materials, more complicated engineering, more points of failure, and so on.

That costs the manufacturers more. The economic choices are: a) make them anyway and eat the cost, b) don't bother making them because they won't sell, or c) pass that cost on to the consumer.

Choice "a" probably actually comes into play at for the kit lenses, where zoom is an important enough consumer feature for entry-level kit buyers that those lenses are priced below the normal markup. And "b" is probably one of the reasons you don't see too many competitors to the Sigma 200-500mm, although size and weight probably also factor in. Mostly, though, it's "c": many, many people buy zoom lenses at current prices.

If you don't find the advantages compelling, lucky you! You can buy prime lenses instead.


The flexibility that a zoom adds is certainly worth something. As for how much, that depends entirely on you and your photographing habits.

If you always use the same focal length, obviously a zoom is worthless to you. But that sounds extremely limiting to me. "zooming with your legs" doesn't allow you to change the subject size without also changing the perspective, which can make a huge difference.

If you always have enough time to switch lenses (and an environment that doesn't make it dangerous to your equipment), then a zoom adds just a little convenience, which is probably not worth the tradeoffs.

But I'd say that the above is not true for most photographers. Most of us like to shoot with varying perspective and often we're time-constrained. Sometimes you only have a few seconds to get the best possible shot, and without a zoom one of your most important choice in composition is lacking.


Any question that includes the phrase "is it worth it?" needs to also define for whom it is worth.

In the case of zoom lenses versus prime lenses the answer depends on the needs of each individual user. There are many types of users and situations where zoom lenses have a distinct advantage over prime lenses. Here are just a few of them.

  • Simplicity & convenience. Sometimes it is worth a little more expense to be able to leave the same lens on your camera most of the time. Maybe you are traveling light for an extended period of time and want multiple focal lengths in the only lens you take with you.

  • Fast shooting environments. When shooting events or action/sports there are many occasions when there is no time to change either lenses or the photographer's position when you need to alter the framing. Many photographers in such situations will use two or more bodies, each with a zoom lens. I often shoot with a FF body + 24-105mm lens and an APS-C body with a 70-200mm lens. The field of view of the FF camera at 105mm is slightly shorter than the field of view produced at 70mm on the APS-C camera (112mm FF equivalent).

  • Harsh environments. Anywhere that has a lot of sand, dust, or even high humidity in the air is not somewhere you want to be changing lenses on a camera body. It is often impossible, or at the very least highly impractical, to find a safe haven to swap lenses in such an environment. Even if such a space is available, you may miss what it was you were wanting to shoot while you were inside swapping lenses.

Yes, it is worth it if speed is of the essence. Covering events, particularly weddings, is just about impossible without a fast zoom. There is simply too much going on too quickly to be able to position yourself exactly where you need to be for a shot.

For price, the zooms are cheaper third party too, so that isn't really relevant.

As for sharpness, the effective sharpness of a good high end zoom is astounding. For example, Canon's 24-70 f/2.8 II is right around the same sharpness as their 1.4 lens and only their f/1.2 beats it hands down. You aren't going to be able to digitally zoom without a loss of quality compared to a lens like that.

It is certainly a high price to pay for speed and convenience, but when you need that speed and have jobs that pay for the lens, it's really a no brainer to get the high end zooms. You don't get the lightness or the bigger aperture, but you still get the sharpness (at a much higher price) of a normal prime.

They certainly aren't for everyone and primes are a far more affordable option for getting high quality optics without breaking the bank, but there are situations they simply can't handle.

  • \$\begingroup\$ when I rented that one, I did compare to my primes and found that it was on par with most of them, except my 85mm 1.8. But ofc that one is outside its zoom range anyway. It was pretty impressive. but it is also a crazy price tag which is hard to come by unless yo earn money on it. The not L zooms are much less impressive. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 12, 2014 at 7:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelNielsen - yeah, short of the top end zooms, I'd be much more inclined to recommend primes and unless you have actual NEED of the flexibility and/or are making money off it, it really isn't worth the cost difference. I wouldn't recommend either of the f/2.8 zooms to someone not doing commercial work unless they are independently wealthy. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 13:30

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