Lenses come in a lot of shapes and sizes. From telephoto to fisheye, there’s an intimidating number of lenses to choose from. Seriously, just check out Lumoid’s lenses to get a sense of the astounding stockpile available. One of the options that divides photographers most is whether to purchase a zoom lens or a fixed focal length lens. Frugal photographers will tell you that a zoom lens is a bit more expensive upfront, but will be more versatile in the long run. Other photographers will tell you that a fixed focal length gives you a lighter, simpler lens with superior image quality, even though you’ll need to invest in more lenses for more focal lengths. Personally? I have both, but I’ve lately really fallen in love with shooting with a fixed focal length. Here are the three reasons I’ve become infatuated:
I know exactly what I want to shoot
I’m not all that interested in messing around with a ton of different photography styles. I know exactly what I want to shoot: landscapes and cityscapes. I’ve done my fair share of experimentation like every photographer, but I’ve settled on those. While a zoom lens may be more useful in a bunch of situations, I know I want a wide angle lens to help me capture as much of the scene as possible. When looking at lenses, I look right past the more expensive zoom lenses and focus my dollar, instead, on the best glass for the right focal length that compliments my subject.
Listen, I don’t mean to suggest that zooming is somehow “cheating” when you’re trying to get your perfect shot. Zooming is perfectly useful and totally fine to use. It’s just that I like being forced to move around, explore and get to weird places for the best shot. It makes photography so much more fun for me. There have been so many times I’ve had to climb on top of boulders to get something in the foreground out of frame, or had to get dangerously close to crashing waves. For me, any time I have to get off the beaten trail is a good time, and I appreciate my fixed focal length for pushing me to do so.
There’s something very special about knowing what your favorite focal length is and how to shoot with it best. Portrait photographers become masters with 35mm or 120mm. Landscape photographers know how to wield lenses at 16mm. Action photographers are especially gifted in using fisheye lenses. By forcing yourself to use only one focal length, you ultimately teach yourself how to take advantage of each focal length’s strengths while overcoming its limitations. There are so many intricacies to each that using only one will greatly improve your understanding of it in a way using a zoom lens won’t.
There’s no perfect lens for everyone – and there’s certainly no focal length to fit every situation – but learning to appreciate using a fixed focal length can bring you a new perspective on photography. At the very least, I recommend leaving your zoom lens at home for a shoot or two. You might find you like the adventure and challenge.