With interchangeable lens cameras, the majority of the time I use a prime lens.
My reasons are myriad –
The simplicity of one focal length.
The generally better and more consistent image quality, and knowing it can be relied upon.
The more often than not faster maximum aperture, giving more options for low light and depth of field.
Their lighter weight and more compact size.
But now and again I’ll find a zoom lens that does something a prime can’t, and which makes it well worth using.
The latest in this very select company is the rather uninspiring sounding SMC Pentax-F 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5.
Its looks don’t exactly send pulses racing either, a plethora of dark grey plastic with green, white and red lettering, which presumably looked all the rage from 1987-1991 when they were made.
But then the reasons it’s caught – and more than held – my attention started to appear.
Being Pentax-F series, it’s compatible with all PASM modes on my Pentax DSLRs, controllable in camera, so no need to adjust aperture on the lens with the rather plasticky aperture ring (or fiddle about with manually stopping down).
It covers 35-70mm (a useful 52.5 – 105mm equivalent field of view in 35mm terms on my Pentax DLSRs).
It’s pretty compact – only slightly larger than most primes, and light enough too, especially compared with something like the monster Pentax-A 35-105mm I used to have, which weighed almost three times as much and felt about threes time as long too.
The minimum focus throughout is disappointing at 0.7m. But it then has a further range when you shift the focal length beyond 70mm into the “macro” range.
Here you can get closer than most primes – within about 0.2m from the front of the lens to the subject – a major plus for me.
And 0.2m at an equivalent field of view of 105mm is pretty intimate.
In fact it’s in this “macro” range I’ve been using the 35-70 almost exclusively.
It still auto focuses, but you can tweak it manually with the focus ring at the end of the lens, without upsetting the AF. Ideal for fine tuning at close distances.
So whilst on paper you might consider a 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens a poor alternative to 35 and 50mm primes (which I would agree it is – I hardly ever use it at these focal lengths), once you commit to just that 70mm focal length, and especially when you make use of that macro range, it starts to become something of a speciality lens, that doesn’t really have a direct prime equivalent – and certainly not in my limited arsenal.
And on my newly acquired K100D, it delivers a very satisfying image indeed.
So sometimes, in fact for me nearly all of the time, the key to getting the most from a zoom lens is to find the way(s) it can provide a unique experience and perspective that perhaps even your favourite primes can’t.
How about you? Which are your favourite zoom lenses, and why?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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