Video Production Tips

What is a prime lens?

Posted May 31, 2021
Written by Clipchamp

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On December 28, 1895, the Lumiere brothers were the first filmmakers to have their movie premiered, and they shot it on their own invention—the Cinematographe. Since that time, the camera has evolved drastically, and now photographers and videographers have numerous options as to what type of camera and lens they want to use for every shot. 

Aspiring video maker or just an enthusiast? Knowing the differences between certain cameras and lenses to take advantage of their benefits and create better videos. An interesting place to start is by learning about the prime lens. Even though the zoom lens is more well-known, you will find that the prime one contains functions that its counterpart does not. Let's learn more about them.

Prime lens

What is a prime lens?

A prime lens is a fixed focal lens. This means you cannot zoom in on your subject when filming. You must physically move closer or further away to frame the shot the way you'd like. 

What are the benefits of using a prime lens? 

While you might think that a fixed lens defeats the purpose of modern camera technology, it actually forces you to experiment with different angles and perspectives because you are limited to one focal length. But not only will this lens challenge your creativity and thus improve your skills, but your video quality will be stellar.  

It's a wonderful lens to use when you want to shoot a close-up because it has a shallow depth of field. That term "refers to the part of your image that is in focus." Therefore, a shallow depth of field will focus on the subject and blur the background. 

The reason why you get such sharp images with a prime lens is that it's less likely to distort the contents of your image, making straight lines look curved or the whole photograph looks bent. It is important to note that your prime lens won't be free of distortion, as it can occur in almost every type of lens. It is more common, though, with wide lenses. 

Another one of the biggest perks is that it has a wide aperture, allowing for high amounts of exposure. Therefore, you can shoot in low lighting without the photo turning out too dark. 

They come in multiple sizes but the most common ones that are used are 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses. Therefore, if you only want to shoot videos using the prime lens, you aren't limited to one focal length.  They are lightweight too and, therefore, easy to carry around with you. 

What size lens should you use? 

You might be wondering which prime lens you should purchase first. It comes down to the types of camera shots you're looking to use in your videos.

If you make videos for Youtube, the best option for you is the 50mm (also known as the nifty fifty) or the 35mm. These are classic and popular lenses, as they're great for portrait and landscape shots. Therefore, you can use it to do sit-down videos and to capture the beauty of any of the places you visit and want to film. 

lens sizes

Of course, you can also use these lenses when you want to film close-ups of your characters too. Additionally, they're great for filmmaking because they do well in dark lighting, allowing you to experiment with yours freely without sacrificing the quality of your video. 

If you are looking for a lens you can take long shots or extreme long shots with, consider using a telephoto prime lens. Anything 60mm or longer falls under the telephoto category. The perk of using them is that you can capture the scene from far away without it coming out grainy. 

Why are prime lenses so expensive? 

The truth is not all prime lenses cost a fortune, in the context of the typical camera lens cost. It depends on the camera company and the kind of prime lens you purchase. 

You can purchase a Canon 50mm prime lens for around $120, which is on the cheaper side of the camera lens market. As for the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II USM, it goes for $1,800. The reason why prime lenses can be this expensive is that it has a wider aperture.  

Prime vs zoom lens

Now that you know about the prime lens, let's discuss how it compares to the zoom lens. As a refresher, the zoom lens has multiple focal points, which allows you to automatically close in on a subject while shooting by rotating the barrel. A zoom lens can range from anywhere between 18mm-55m on to 200mm-500m on a lens like Sigma ultra-telephoto zoom lens. 

Prime lens vs zoom lens

When you don't want to carry multiple lenses, use a zoom one. They are a bit heavier, though, because they more parts inside them.

It also saves you a bit of time when setting up a shot. You'll see photographers using zoom lenses at sporting events because they can get a good shot of the athletes from up in the bleachers while they are in motion. 

While they get high-quality photographs because they are shooting with a professional lens, the images aren't as sharp as they would be on a prime lens. The reason for this is because distortion tends to occur at the end of the lens. The depth of field on the zoom lens is larger too, so the subject won't stand out as much against the background. 

As for the aperture, you can purchase zoom lenses with similar f-stop potential. The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM goes for $1,900. If you want to buy one with a narrower aperture, it won't cost as much.  

Use a prime lens when shooting your next movie

While you might not have considered using the prime lens before, it might be the key to enhancing the quality of your future videos! The amount of use you will inevitably get out of it makes the investment worth it. Furthermore, because they are so light, they're easy to take with you when traveling.  

Want to learn about other ways you can upgrade your video know-how? Explore Clipchamp's blog to learn more about video pre and post production. When you're ready, just drag, drop and edit your video in Clipchamp for free.

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