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Now, don’t get it twisted: there is certainly a time and place for zoom lenses.

And because of their range and versatility, it can be tempting to just use zoom lenses all the time…

But if you’re looking to truly advance as a filmmaker, it’s important to get to a place where you feel comfortable leaving the zoom at home and shooting with only primes.

Why? Why is it so important to use primes?

Well, there are two main reasons:

1. Aesthetic beauty.
Background blur, sharpness, contrast… all of these things look much more pleasing to the eye when shot with a prime lens.

2. It will make you a better filmmaker.
Prime lenses require you to pay more attention to what is happening, because if you’re not paying enough attention you could miss a really great moment — you don’t have the ability to zoom when you spot something awesome happening. With prime lenses you’re forced to be more present on the shoot.

When should I be using prime lenses?

We are especially sure to use only prime lenses when we’re really trying to isolate a subject and take full advantage of all of our camera settings to get the most pleasing image. Not surprisingly, this is most of the time!

So in the example Justin gives us above, we were sure to use prime lenses to capture the bride’s gift opening scene so we could really focus in on her and the gift, and get that super shallow depth of field that you can only get with a prime lens.

Because the prime is at a fixed focal length, with a scene like the gift opening (where we don’t know for sure how she’ll react), we had to be really aware of all the sounds and action happening in the room, or we just wouldn’t get the shots.

Ok but… when is it good to pack a zoom?

As we said before, there are plenty of times when zoom lenses are necessary for capturing a full story. Live events like sports, for example, really require you to have that quick ability to change focal length and capture the little moments that make it exciting.

Justin’s 3 tips to start getting comfortable with prime lenses…

So, if you think you’re ready to really dive into a deeper relationship with prime lenses (and sometimes that just means buying one for the first time), we have a few tips for making that transition smoother.

1. Start with cheaper primes.

A lot of times us filmmakers think we’ve got to have THE BEST equipment in order to do something right. but we totally recommend going for a cheaper prime to get started. It doesn’t matter so much that you’re buying a really great brand — find something in your price range, and go from there.

2. Start when the time is right.

Shooting something for the first time with little or no idea what to expect? In that case, experimenting with new prime lenses might *not* be the best idea. When you’re first starting out with primes, use them for a shoot where you know you’ll be filming longer sequences — like the example of the bride getting ready. It always takes forever, and it’s not difficult to anticipate action.

3. Leave the zoom lens at home.

Just force yourself! Don’t give yourself the option of switching back to a zoom lens because it’s easier. We know it can be hard and kind of scary to leave something as versatile as a zoom behind, but this is often the only way to really get better acquainted with a prime.

Remember: you’re becoming a better filmmaker…

If you’re challenged by prime lenses that’s a GOOD thing — it’s only going to make you a better filmmaker to challenge yourself.

And if you’re still shooting with only zoom lenses, today we challenge you to put some of Justin’s tips into motion by getting a prime and leaving the zoom at home.


What’s keeping you from shooting on primes?

Think you can challenge yourself to leave the zoom at home?


About Stillmotion


  • Nick says:

    A great ‘in-between’ alternative would be to pair up a prime lens to a camera which offers selectable crop image sensor modes. This would allow your story telling to utilize all the superior characteristics of a prime but would still enable you to change focal lengths almost as fast as a zoom. You can even add a front lens converter for added versatility while staying lightweight and quick in the field.

  • Dave Patterson says:

    Something to consider if you don’t own any prime lenses would be to force yourself to set your zoom lens at only one (or two) focal lengths, and avoid the temptation to zoom. You won’t have the benefits of a higher quality prime’s optics or speed, but it will put you into the mind set of shooting with a fixed focal length. This is not a substitute for prime lenses, but if you don’t yet own any, this is a way to become a bit more conscious of your focal length choices. Note the focal length(s) that you most commonly use and start saving up for quality prime lenses.

  • Just wrapped a month-long documentary shoot across eight countries in South America shooting only on Canon zoom lenses. We were on a eight person chartered plane flying every other day and weight/luggage size was a huge issue. While I love shooting on primes, there are times where it makes sense to only pack my three zooms (16-35, 24-70, & 70-200) instead of the 4-5+ prime lenses to cover the same range.

  • Brian says:

    I own a 7D and a t2i. I bought the 7D to get a bit more flexibility with the controls and they suit the type of video work that I do. It’s mostly for laptops, tablets and phones.

    I also own two SIGMA lenses, a 17-50 and a 50-150. Both are f:2.8 and have 77mm front threads, so my expensive variable ND fits them both. Also each lens is made for the crop sensor of my cameras.

    I set the focal length before I start a shot and NEVER ZOOM during a shot. I prefer these lenses to primes simply for the convenience factor. I spent weeks going over these lenses, so I know what they look like under the various lighting conditions, f:stop and white balance. I am confident with these lenses and would have a difficult time moving to only primes.

    I’m sure there are others that only shoot primes, but not me. I like these lenses.

  • Eugene says:

    I prefer to use prime lenses all the times except for wedding ceremony, which goes best for me with 70-300 or 70-200mm. When event goes you need to get a lot of neccessary shots. Otherwise, if keep changing your lenses, you can miss a lot of emotions and little details.

  • I’m a big believer in using the right prime for the job. I use a set of Rokinon Cine lenses with my mid-grade DLSR, and for the money, they really do the job well. It’s a great way to get a set of primes for not a lot of cash and learn how to shoot with primes.

    Other than that, isn’t this video several months old? I remember watching it a while ago. I’m all for recycling, but keep the new content coming, Stillmotion!

  • When we shoot commercials we use primes only. For weddings our most used lens is the Tamron 24-70mm with Image Stabilization. That’s a great lens for an great price.
    Photography is primes only also. For weddings (35mm 1.4, 50mm 1.4 and 135mm 2.0) and commercial portraits. Although, a lot of my most popular pictures are made with the rediculously good 70-200mm f4 by Canon.

    Primes made me a better filmer/photographer and it also made me start liking photography again. I started with the Canon 50mm 1.4 just to get a taste of fixed focal-length photography/film without breaking the bank and I just loved it!

    Nowadays, I grab my primes most of the times, but have my zooms on backup. The latest professional zooms (like Canon’s new 24-70mm) are quite awesome and not far behind prime lenses to be honest.

  • Hi Guys, very interesting articles, I agree with it, but there are just some situation, especially if you are shooting alone, when a zoom is indispensable. I also use primes for preparation, details shot, toast etc.., but during the ceremony I always use a zoom. You should try to don’t move too much in order to don’t distract the guest, and also maybe there is not enough space to move, so the zoom gives you more flexibility and safety to don’t miss important moments.