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Zoom Lenses Aren't So Good
Old 02-11-2017   #1
willie_901
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Zoom Lenses Aren't So Good

I don't make the news, I just report it.

This recent article is a data-driven exploration of how well current zoom lenses compare to current primes.

The first 1/3 or so of the article describes how the lens' performance were evaluated.

The rest clearly shows zoom lenses do not compare well with primes.

Obviously the summary of the article is a generalization.

Clearly there are some primes that don't perform as well as some zoom lenses.

Of course zoom lenses are convenient. In 2017 many photographers are interested in convenience.

Additionally, many photographs won't significantly benefit from the differences between primes and zooms.

However the topic of zoom vs primes resurfaces from time to time and here's an objective comparison.
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Old 02-11-2017   #2
Richard G
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I enjoyed that. What is the number 1.61803398? (I know what the two irrationals are. And 42.)
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Old 02-11-2017   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
........
...........many photographs won't significantly benefit from the differences between primes and zooms.

Yep

(...8...9...10)
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Old 02-11-2017   #4
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You can crunch the numbers all you want, but it really boils down to the intended output. If your output is print and you're only enlarging to 11x14" the differences aren't going to be visible with a well designed zoom. Only those printing very large or requiring perspective correction really reap the gains of prime lenses.
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Old 02-11-2017   #5
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I think I read this same article in Amateur Photographer magazine about 40 years ago.
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Old 02-11-2017   #6
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I like Roger's articles. But this is not news to any OT (old timer). The zoom vs prime, convenience over quality debate was raging in the 70's. There have been advances in lens design and construction ongoing for decades, But zooms, complex multi element, floating element zooms, have seen the largest benefit. Primes have improved too, but not as much or as quickly. He makes the point himself that the numbers mean little to the photographer who gets just what he wants out of his lens selection.
For a non artist like myself, who only dinks around with photography, and like old mechanical, metal, manual cameras because they are pretty and make nice sounds, well......if ya got em, shoot em. I have one old zoom in a half frame kit, a 50~90 f3.5 Zuiko for the Pen F (the real Pen F, Olympus should be shot for naming a digital 'Pen F'). I use it when I just cannot stand in the right spot and need a focal length between 38mm and 100mm. Otherwise it stays at home not because of image quality, but because it is so big and heavy. Stopped to f8 it is not bad for a mid 60's design.
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Old 02-11-2017   #7
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Back at the newspaper where I worked during the 70's into the 90's, I was probably the first photographer to start using zooms on a regular basis. They weren't as good as primes but they were good enough for daily newspaper reproduction and making darkroom prints of a reasonably large size. They were also convenient. Making my work life easier was important. I wasn't interested in making great art and image quality was way far less important than just getting the picture. Today, high quality zooms are more than adequate for most of us. Even so, I've regressed and I've gone back to using primes for everything. They are definitely better and I'm more concerned with quality. Just getting the picture is not my primary concern today.
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Old 02-11-2017   #8
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I took many good pictures with consumer grade zoom lenses, some of them were in use for local election campaign. My wife took excellent family portraits with zooms. Our daughter takes portraits of some known people with zoom lenses. And using zooms for paid job.

So, aren't so good for what? Charts? Or most of technical people aren't good on photography, so, they have to compensate it with charts?
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Old 02-11-2017   #9
David Hughes
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G View Post
I enjoyed that. What is the number 1.61803398? (I know what the two irrationals are. And 42.)
Hi,

Generally known as the classic answer (over the centuries) to the most natural aspect ratio; meaning 1:1.61803398

Look here:- http://www.creativebloq.com/design/d...ratio-12121546

I have called it the golden sector for years...

Regards, David
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Old 02-11-2017   #10
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Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
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Old 02-11-2017   #11
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This article reminds me of the time I got into a fight with another photographer. He hit me over the head with a telezoom. When he saw that I was bleeding, he apologized profusely, saying "I didn't mean to hurt you! That's why I zoomed out and hit you with the soft end!"

Ba-dum-ching.

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Old 02-11-2017   #12
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Killed it Jon!
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Old 02-11-2017   #13
Richard G
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radi(c)al_cam View Post
Thanks radi(c)al cam. And David. Now I just have to see how the square root of 5 can be a component of the definition.

OT (ON topic). I understood modern zooms were plenty good enough. Amazing the number of interviews I've read with very successful professionals who use two zooms as their main lenses.
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Old 02-11-2017   #14
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Planning a trip to Cuba soon, I thought to take my Pentax K-3, and simplify things with a zoom. Convenient, able to respond quickly to changing and unexpected opportunities... Ordinarily I don't have much liking for zooms... slow, heavy, large, compromised IQ.

So I bought a new Pentax 20-40 (f/2.8-4) zoom. Well, I'm disappointed all over again! It is not large or particularly heavy, and its modest zoom range is adequate... but it's slow particularly at the long end and the image quality is noticeably not up to my Limited primes. The center sharpness goes "off" slightly at longer FL. Slight acceptable barrel distortion even at the long end, moderate and mostly acceptable at the middle, and way too much to ignore at the wide end, ugh. I would be shooting some old Cuban architecture...

Out of curiosity I dug out an old 90's kit zoom, Pentax 28-80 f/3.5-5.6 and tried it on my Pentax K-1 full-frame camera. Mostly shooting in the hour or so before sunset the lens was mostly wide (not so wide!) open and the results were pretty bad optically. Closed down not so bad, but the camera increases ISO only as a last resort, ha ha.

I will stick to primes, thanks, and will take to Cuba a Leica M with 50 and 28mm.
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Old 02-11-2017   #15
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Interesting article, and it doesn't surprise me. I have a Nikon 75-300 consumer zoom bought new 25 years ago and I did get some nice snaps of the new babies and toddlers. But even then, judging 4"x6" colour prints (film of course), it was not at all good at the long end. Today, I would take such a lens back. Now the decision of what to do with it. I wouldn't sell it to someone unsuspecting, and I don't want to use it, and I can't bear to drop it in the bin.
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Old 02-11-2017   #16
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Hi,

I guess it depends what you want to photograph and how carefully you chose the lens. I've had one or two that were so-so, being my usual polite self, but also more than one or two that are brilliant* and make me wonder why I bother with primes.

Of course, I'm not planning to do posters with them but almost 12" x 8" (meaning A4) suits me nicely.

Regards, David

* Konica, Minolta, Olympus, Pentax and Tokina (edit; and all 1980's to 199's vintage).
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Old 02-11-2017   #17
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This thread is kinda funny. A year or so ago there was a thread defending the Nikon 43-86 zoom, which is one of the worst lenses Nikon made. And now we have a thread that is essentially the complete opposite, all zooms suck! (even the high end ones)

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Old 02-11-2017   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug View Post
Planning a trip to Cuba soon, I thought to take my Pentax K-3, and simplify things with a zoom. Convenient, able to respond quickly to changing and unexpected opportunities... Ordinarily I don't have much liking for zooms... slow, heavy, large, compromised IQ.

So I bought a new Pentax 20-40 (f/2.8-4) zoom. Well, I'm disappointed all over again! It is not large or particularly heavy, and its modest zoom range is adequate... but it's slow particularly at the long end and the image quality is noticeably not up to my Limited primes. The center sharpness goes "off" slightly at longer FL. Slight acceptable barrel distortion even at the long end, moderate and mostly acceptable at the middle, and way too much to ignore at the wide end, ugh. I would be shooting some old Cuban architecture...

Out of curiosity I dug out an old 90's kit zoom, Pentax 28-80 f/3.5-5.6 and tried it on my Pentax K-1 full-frame camera. Mostly shooting in the hour or so before sunset the lens was mostly wide (not so wide!) open and the results were pretty bad optically. Closed down not so bad, but the camera increases ISO only as a last resort, ha ha.

I will stick to primes, thanks, and will take to Cuba a Leica M with 50 and 28mm.
I'm thrifty and learned on primes, plus my m43 has a single prime being the cheap option. So zooms are something of a "novelty" to me., and quite convenient as a fact. If I have one, I'm used to work as if it was a set of primes instead of a continuous choice (newbies not moving).

I used a 28-80 that came with my classifieds Nikon F80 to shoot carelessly in summer. Convenient but well, distortion and not-so-sharp. Some $70 later, a 50mm 1.8 replaced the zoom. Still, the 8x12" from the zoom look perfectly fine.

The advantage of digital here is that distortion and vignetting can be corrected easily and ISO capabilities compensate slower lenses.

Whenever I get another digital camera in the future, it very probably will have a normal 24-80 ranged zoom. Just to hedge convenience as I often prefer to shoot (Medium Format) film. I like the approach of Fuji and their kit 18-55 2.8-4; seems a nice quality option.

OT, but I use phone a lot to do snapping. I believe phone cameras may have reacquainted the laypeople to use primes... Until I see them "zoom" by digitally cropping.

Pro-level zooms, without variable aperture, f2.8 behemoths may be as good as a cheap prime in some ways; plus, there's stopping down that equals.
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Old 02-11-2017   #19
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My Pentax 55-100mm and 90-180mm lenses on my Pentax 67 are at least as sharp as the primes, including the legendary updated 55mm and 200mm lenses.

My 14-24mm f/2.8 and 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S lenses on my Nikon D800E are at least as sharp at moderate apertures as equivalent primes.

IMO zooms are convenient but are bulkier/heavier and sacrifice speed compared to primes, and that's it. Performance differences when shot normally are practically nil, with perhaps the biggest differences appearing when the zoom is shot wide-open compared to a prime at the same stop, which is 1-3 stops down for the prime usually.

Also any test that uses flat scientific test charts is slightly flawed due to potential issues with field curvature, which admittedly may be more of an issue in a zoom.
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Old 02-11-2017   #20
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Ya know--the title of this thread is misleading. Roger goes out of his way to say that today's modern zooms are perfectly capable of making great pix---but that for ultra critical stuff--a prime maybe better. Never did he say zooms aren't so good. Please read the entire article. Roger is a straight shooter in a land of fan boys...
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Old 02-11-2017   #21
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Yes, the big Pentax-67 55-100 is a great zoom. I've used it also on Leica S and it performs impressively well. Constant f/4.5, 95mm filter size, weighs 1210g / 43oz / ~2.7lb so this weight and bulk discourages casual carry-around use! And, B&H price in 2007 was $1600...
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Old 02-11-2017   #22
Ronald M
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Zooms meet or exceed quality required for many many photographers myself included depending on end use.

I still keep the primes and use them regularly.
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Old 02-11-2017   #23
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If you don't want to read the article, here is the key point:

So What Does It Mean?

For practical photography not much really
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Old 02-11-2017   #24
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In a nutshell I've generally found, when comparing Prime to Zoom in the same price bracket, primes are generally :
- Faster
- Lighter
- Smaller
- Sharper
Than their equivalently priced zooms.

The zooms make more sense to me if I need :
- to mount/carry only one lens (or two) without limiting my focal length options (but limits my aperture options)
- do not have the option to move my physical position for re-framing (ie: if I need to change my FoV quickly)
- or want a focal length that's not covered in between certain primes.
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Old 02-11-2017   #25
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And just when I thought my 28-105 and 70-180 Nikkors were pretty good compared to my primes.
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Old 02-11-2017   #26
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I've had some zooms that were just junk, and others that I think highly of. And as for the 43-86 Nikon, it's the early version (lens data inside the filter ring) everyone hates, not the second one (lens data outside the filter ring). I've had the first one (but not the second one), and I didn't like it one bit.

I could see a big improvement when I started using Tamron SP AF zooms way back when. Event photography kind of demands the flexibility a zoom will give you for framing your subject in a hurry.

But I will usually go with a prime when I can take my time.

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Old 02-11-2017   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by farlymac View Post
I've had some zooms that were just junk, and others that I think highly of. And as for the 43-86 Nikon, it's the early version (lens data inside the filter ring) everyone hates, not the second one (lens data outside the filter ring). I've had the first one (but not the second one), and I didn't like it one bit.

I could see a big improvement when I started using Tamron SP AF zooms way back when. Event photography kind of demands the flexibility a zoom will give you for framing your subject in a hurry.

But I will usually go with a prime when I can take my time.

PF
I do event from time to time, and my solution for the most part has been to wear two bodies with two different lens.

I've considered getting a zoom for my mirrorless, but all the ones I could justify the price of were no less than f/3.5 ~ f/4 on the wide side which to me is just a stop too slow. And remember, image stabalization only stabilizes your handling, not the subject's movement. (meaning I would rather f/2.8, over f/4 Stabilized).

On the film side, primes all the way for me, especially as I have nothing new enough that would actually benefit from the likes of a zoom (it would actually slow me down quite a bit).
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Old 02-12-2017   #28
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Hi,

When you don't know what to expect a zoom is the ideal or, better still, two bodies and two zooms: ideal for air shows, f'instance.

OTOH, if you are doing something very specific then a prime would be ideal.

And, BTW, some of my zooms are better than some of my primes and vice versa but then this is a very vague topic at present, just vague zooms versus vague primes...

Regards, David
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Old 02-12-2017   #29
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This is just a Nikon perspective - and - the term measurable.

If I could go back in time via a red phone booth - which was 1980 for me - one selling point for primes was to gain a couple of stops of aperture. Plus there was the fact that whatever focal length prime would undoubtedly out perform a consumer grade zoom at f/4 to f/5.6, (I'm referring to fall off in image quality towards the corners).

Now with regards to measurable goofiness using a test chart. - You'll find some on more than a couple of my AF Nikon primes that I'm now using. - My 28 and 35 focal length definitely need to be stopped down a bit to clean up the corners - especially the 28. Barrel distortion - it's there on the 28 D, not so much on the 35 f/2 D or a 50/1.4 D - but I'm sure the brick wall test show some.

Here's my point - with regards to measurable fall off and distortion - I know it's there from pixel peeping on a computer, but I don't really notice much in an 8x12 print, while standing at a normal view distance.
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Old 02-12-2017   #30
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I used mainly two zoom lenses for about 10-15 years during my travels. I used them each on cameras with cable release and placed on a solid tripod. If needed, a sandbag was used to anchor the tripod during windy days. Large sized lens hoods were used too. I picked my zoom lenses very carefully to be the best that I could afford to buy. Angeneuix 70-210 and Canon FD 28-50; one zoom on each camera, and I was set. There would be in a side bag a fast 50mm lens for dark scenes without a tripod, and a 24mm lens for "extreme wide angle" views.

The resulting slides with ISO 50 were good enough for good looking 16x24 enlargements. I did not want larger prints.
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