When photographers look up upgrade lenses for their Canon digital SLR, they are often confronted with the choice between purchasing a Canon zoom lens or a Canon fixed focal length (prime) lens. The answer to this dilemma is not simple. Both zoom and prime lenses offer specific advantages over one another. Ultimately, the type of lens you need depends upon your photographic tastes, style and budget. There are excellent reasons for purchasing both Canon zoom lenses and Canon fixed focal length lenses.
The first rule of thumb is that prime lenses are generally better than zoom lenses. First, prime lenses are often faster, offering a wide maximum aperture which allows for blur free shooting and faster shutter speeds in low light conditions. Additionally, a good prime lens requires fewer optical elements making them smaller, lighter, and less expensive than their zoom counterparts. Foremost, prime lenses have exceptional image quality. The sharpness and contrast of even consumer grade Canon prime lens images can be as good if not better than images from “L series” Canon zoom lenses.
Zoom lenses have a higher price, weight and size. They are usually slower (a narrower maximum aperture) and image quality often suffers. Nevertheless, Canon zoom lenses are often the first choice of photographers. The reason for this is their versatility. Having a range of useful focal lengths rather than a single focal length in invaluable to most photographers.
Additionally, “L series” zoom lenses can produce images close to the quality of prime lenses. While a Canon “L series” zoom may be much more expensive than a prime lens, it can cover with a single lens the range of three or four prime lenses. Therefore, to get the focal length coverage of a zoom lens, it may be necessary to purchase several prime lenses. Any cost savings are immediately gone.
It is necessary to carefully weigh the differences between Canon zoom lenses and Canon fixed lenses. If you are a photographer who only needs one or two focal lengths in all of your work, you may be able to just purchase one or two prime lenses that will deliver top quality and cost effective results. If you want the ultimate in versatility, you may want to look into zoom lenses. If you are uncompromising (like most photographers) you might need both.