The lens market is a minefield, especially for newcomers to the game, and it can be pretty scary; This need not be. So calm down, take a breath, and follow this guide to see which direction to head when shopping for your first prime lenses.
As a new photographer, you may be wondering about the hype around prime lenses. At first glance, primes don’t seem to perform as well as zoom lenses because they seem to lose versatility. Sure, zooms are great and can help make creating shots easier. However, prime lenses will challenge you and make you become a better photographer quickly, as they make you move and inspect a scene more than a zoom.
Fixed focal length lenses have many other advantages over zooms. Because prime lenses are simpler in optical design, prime lenses are often much sharper than zoom lenses. Prime lenses are also quicker at focusing as there isn’t an obscene amount of glass for the focus motors to push and pull around. Primes often have much faster apertures than zooms, and for the most part, primes are just easier to handle because of their size and weight.
So below we’ll talk about why one should buy primes in the most popular focal lengths (24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm) and we’ll link to the lens options we highly recommend for most of the popular brands of mirrorless cameras .
24mm prime lenses – Ideal for wide scenes
If you like using your kit lens (the lens that came with your camera) on the wide angle, you’ll enjoy 24mm prime lenses. These fixed focal length lenses are small and light. They also have incredibly sharp optics, making them ideal for genres like documentary photography, architecture, landscapes, cityscapes, environmental portraits and more. Thanks to the fast apertures of these lenses, you can even use them for astrophotography. They are a handy lens to have on hand.
- Sony E mount — Tamron 24mm f/2.8 Di III OSD: Small, light, weatherproof and with great optics or under $200! Read our full review.
- M/43 — Olympus 12mm f/2 (24mm equivalent): Small (just 2.2 inches), all metal, snappy and quick to focus. It’s perfect for micro four thirds shooters.
- Nikon Z — VILTROX 24mm f/1.8 Z. Full autofocus compatibility, bright f/1.8 aperture, well designed and under $450.
- L bracket — Sigma 24mm f/3.5 DG DN: All metal, one aperture wheel, incredibly sharp optics, some weather protection (also available for E-mount). Check out our full review.
- Fujifilm X – Fujifilm 16mm f/2.8 R WR (24mm equivalent): Weatherproof, vintage style with aperture wheel, fast and quiet autofocus, under $400! It’s a bargain!
35mm Prime – Perfect for everyday photography
Do you want a lens that lets you do everything? Then a 35mm Prime is a good choice for you. 35mm prime lenses are incredibly versatile and can be used for landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, events, weddings, documentary photography and more.
They are also the perfect lens for everyday photography. With a 35mm prime lens, you can shoot just about anything. These lenses tend to be small and light and offer a bright maximum aperture, making them ideal for low-light photography or when you want to play with a shallow depth of field. The following options are razor-sharp, well-made, and focus quickly.
- Sony E mount — Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD: It’s fully weatherproof, has great optics and is a fast focuser! Read our full review.
- M4/3 — Olympus 17mm f/1.8 (34mm equivalent): This lens is a beauty. It’s tiny, a fast focuser; It’s insanely sharp and can focus out to 9.8 inches.
- Nikon Z — Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S: This lens is more expensive, but hard to beat. It is well made, weatherproof and offers extreme sharpness. Read our full review.
- Canon RF — Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro: This lens is a gem. It’s sharp, has macro capabilities, fast/quiet focusing, and is under $400! Read our review.
- L bracket — Sigma 35mm f/2 DG DN: The 35mm f/2 DG DN offers some weatherproofing, has brilliant optics and is fun to use. Read our full review.
- Fujifilm X — 23mm f/2 R WR (35mm equivalent): The lens is weatherproof, has gorgeous Fujifilm retro styling, has fast autofocus motors and produces beautiful bokeh.
50mm Primes – A nice natural field of view
A good fifty should be in every photographer’s arsenal because they offer a natural field of view. What we see with a 50mm prime is roughly what we see with our own eyes. So they’re great for street photography, portraits, and more. Like the other primes listed, these lenses are extremely sharp, offer a bright maximum aperture and you can create beautiful bokeh with them due to the extra compression. Additionally, 50mm primes are among the cheapest lenses available.
- Sony E mount — Rokinon 50mm f/1.4: This lens is a stunner. It has fast autofocus motors and great optics. Colors and bokeh rendered with this $450 lens will amaze.
- M4/3 — Panasonic Lumix 25mm, f/1.7: Small (2 inches long), light (0.31 lbs), has a bright aperture and fast illumination when focusing. It’s under $150!
- Nikon Z — Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S: I love this lens. It’s everything a fancy fifties should be and then some. Read all about it in our full review. Oh it’s under $650!
- Canon RF — RF 50mm f/1.8 STM: This banger of a lens costs under $200. It’s one of my favorite mirrorless fifties. So much fun! Read our full review.
- L bracket — Panasonic 50mm f/1.8 S: This lens is sharp, light, fast, well made and affordable (under $450)! What more could you need? Read our review.
- Fujifilm X — XF35mm f/2 R WR (50mm equivalent): This lens looks stunning, produces beautiful images, and costs under $400.
85mm Prime Lenses – Take portraits to the next level
Do you want to take your portrait photography to the next level? If so, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the 85mm prime lenses below. 85mm primes are perfect for portraits, creating just enough compression to give your subjects flattering facial features. You can easily create beautiful head and shoulder shots with tons of subject separation (bokeh).
- Sony E mount — Sony 85mm f/1.8: One of the best portrait lenses on the market with the best value for money! Can’t ask for more at this price point (under $600)
- M4/3 — Panasonic 42.5mm, f/1.7: This Panasonic lens is sharp, high contrast, produces beautiful bokeh and costs less than $400!
- Nikon Z — Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S: This 85mm prime is brilliant. It’s one of the best budget portrait lenses on all mirrorless platforms. Read our full review.
- Canon RF — Canon RF 85mm f/2: This affordable portrait option doubles as a macro lens, is sharp, has high contrast and produces beautiful bokeh.
- L bracket — Panasonic Lumix 85mm f/1.8 S: This lens is razor sharp, renders beautiful colors, is fast autofocus, and costs less than $600. Read our full review here.
- Fujifilm X — Viltrox 56mm F1.4 f XF (84mm equivalent): This lens has great autofocus performance, great optics, a bright f/1.4 aperture and is under $350!