Prime lens

Filmmaker's Dictionary Jan 29, 2021

What is a prime lens?

A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length. This means that a set angle of view can only be changed if the camera is physically moved around. All lenses can be categorized as either primes or zoom lenses.

Prime lenses have a less complex lens formula, consisting of fewer elements. They are often produced at focal lengths between 20-120mm (wide lens to telephoto), although there are some outliers.

Why choose a prime lens?

Professional prime lenses became almost synonymous with superior optical quality. Due to having fewer moving parts and optical elements optimized for one particular focal length, they create a sharper, crisp image that zoom lenses often can’t compete with.

While zooms often struggle with things like distortion, color fraying, flare, or vignetting, prime lenses provide the best quality images at their determined focal length.

The simpler prime lens also has the benefit of being a lot smaller and lighter than its counterpart. This allows for a lot more freedom when you’re out chasing the perfect shot or picture! The lack of neck or back pain is an added bonus.

Prime lenses versus zoom lenses

Many modern prime lenses are cheaper than their zoom counterparts. You also must consider that even at the same price point, a zoom lens allows you to take shots at any focal range, and long term you might want to own many primes to cover the same range.

Prime lenses are a lot faster than zooms, due to their larger maximum aperture. They offer a shallow depth of field, which can result in the cinematic blurry background, known as bokeh.

This enables the filmmaker to isolate the subject from the background, which is particularly useful for directing the viewers’ attention and minimizing distractions. Primes also operate better in low light environments without introducing blur. They let in up to three times as much light as professional zoom lenses.


Are prime lenses the right choice for you? If you prefer quality over versatility and convenience, the answer is likely yes.

The big trade-off with primes – the lack of zoom – might even push you to be more involved in your composition, explore your angles, and unleash your creativity. Still not convinced? Read these 5 reasons to use prime lenses on


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