When moving from a compact with a built-in lens to a Mirrorless or even DSLR model with various interchangeable lens options available, it can be tricky understanding the differences between them. With this in mind, we've put together a quick guide that'll have you understanding the difference between a Nikon prime and zoom in no-time.
Firstly, what does interchangeable mean? Well it's just a techy way of saying that lenses can be taken off the camera body. So rather than having to be stuck with set focal lengths, as you are with compacts with built-in lenses, you can swap and change lenses to give you various focal length options.
There are two main groups of interchangeable lenses: Primes and Zooms. Zooms include various focal lengths in one lens body for example, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR gives the user a range of focal lengths from a moderate 70mm to the telephoto length of 200mm. Primes have a fixed focal length which means they only have one focal length. Examples include the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G and AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G. Some Primes are also designed with a specific creative purpose in-mind. These include fish-eye lenses such as the AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED and they produce shots which have a super-wide, 180 degree view of the world. A final point to note about Primes is that some photographers believe they make you think more about the image you are taking. For example, you may be shooting a wide landscape shot but notice something you want to focus more closely on. With a zoom you can just adjust your focal length and snap your image and it can be easy to forget about checking the frame, horizon, etc. With a Prime, when you are out with just one lens, you have to physically adjust your position to get closer. This could mean you find a better angle and also take the time to re-assess the frame before hitting the shutter button.
Benefits Of A Zoom?
An obvious plus point of zooms is that they give you a range of focal lengths in one body. This saves space in your camera bag and also weight, making them great for travel. They're also great for someone just stepping into the interchangeable lens world as they give the user the chance to experiment with various focal lengths without them having to pay for various pieces of equipment. Plus, Standard Zooms tend to be the lenses that come with camera bodies when bought as a kit package meaning that extra money doesn't have to be spent right away. Zooms also tend to be less expensive than Primes, too.
With These Plus Points, Why Should I Buy A Prime?
As well as having smaller, more compact bodies than zooms they also tend to be faster. What this means is that they offer wider apertures such as f/2.8, f/1.8 or even f/1.4. This is important as larger apertures let in more light and this means you can use fast shutter speeds with large apertures to freeze motion, something that's crucial in low light situations. When shooting in low light without a fast lens you'll probably find you need some sort of support to stop shake spoiling your shots. This is because long shutter speeds are needed for the camera to capture an image. With a fast lens you can use a wide aperture, switch to a slightly higher ISO and you should reach a fast enough shutter speed that'll allow you to work hand-held.
Above: Taken with the NIKKOR AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VRII @ 1/320 sec, f/4.0, 300mm.
Another plus point of Primes is the Bokeh effect they produce. Bokeh is the term used to describe the blurry, diffused background photographers want to create when they want their subject to 'pop' from the frame. It's also referred to as creating a shallow-depth-of-field.
To see the full range of NIKKOR lenses available take a look at these links: NIKKOR Lenses & 1 NIKKOR Lenses.