All-in-One versus Prime Camera Lenses

Over the years, lens technology has improved and lens size has decreased.   Following on our post about buying a DSLR, we’re going to talk about camera lenses – specifically All-in-One versus Prime Lenses.

Way back when, if you wanted to cover the range from 28mm to 200mm when shooting film, you were probably carrying a 28mm lens, a 50mm lens, a 28-70mm and a 70-210mm lens.  Most high-quality zoom lenses were in the 3X range – that is a range of three times their base number.  Examples include 28-70mm and 70-200 or 70-210mm.  Yes, there were “superzooms” out there with 5X and 10X in those days, but they were known to be compromised in their quality – and if you wanted serious quality, you were carrying around prime lenses.

A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length – 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, etc.  Most of the time, they are going to give you better results than a zoom lens or a superzoom lens.  I have 35mm and 50mm prime lenses that I carry on a regular basis – they are fast (f1.8), small, and light.  They are relatively “cheap” – some call them “fantastic plastic”, and can’t be beat for interior or low-light photography.

Today – it’s common to see lenses in the 10X to 15X range, such as 18-200mm and 18-270mm or 18-300mm.  These lenses typically have an optical stabilization or vibration reduction feature as well.  Their quality has improved to the point where they give good to great results throughout their zoom range – and, if you’re not trying to make 30″x40″ prints, they’re great lenses.  In general, the longer the zoom range, the more compromises (vignetting, pin-cushioning, distortion) you’ll need to be aware of to deal with.

Today, many cameras at retail stores are sold as “kits” – you get the body plus an 18-55mm zoom and a 55-200mm or 55-300mm zoom.  Most everyone will find these kits more than adequate for their purposes and needs.  If you go to your local camera shop or one of the big camera retailer website, you might find a choice in kits to the point where you might find it’s the camera plus an 18-200 lens.

  • If you’re going down the all in one path – do your research.  Think about what you want to do.  Check out the manufacturer’s websites to see what’s out there: Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Pentax, Tamron, Tokina,
  • Check out reviews on the manufacturer’s websites and on the web.
  • Talk to your local camera store.
  • Check out reviews on the web: Ken Rockwell, Digital Photography Review, B&H, Adorama
  • And, once you’ve made your choice, enjoy it!

I can’t deny or argue the convenience factor of just carrying a body and one lens.  It’s something that years ago many of us dreamed of, but the quality just wasn’t there.

And now, I enjoy the guilty pleasure of carrying one body and one lens and being able to accomplish most anything.

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