This Pro Says Zoom Lenses Have an Edge Over Primes for Nature & Wildlife Photography

by John Stapel

Conventional wisdom has always been that zoom lenses can’t compete with fixed focal length glass for most forms of photography. So when a respected pro asks, “Are zoom lenses just better than primes,” we stop and pay attention.

What prompts this discussion are the ever-increasing advancements in optical technology—especially the greatly improved performance of high-quality zoom lenses. Wildlife photographer Jan Wegener admits that “In the past I always recommended expensive and heavy primes lenses.”

In the episode below, Wegener questions whether the advantages of big, heavy primes still holds true today. Keep in mind that Wegener specializes in bird photography, where the longest lens in his arsenal is often the best choice. So his comments pertain specifically to powerful telephoto zooms vs. their fixed focal length counterparts.

Wegener grants that, all things being equal, primes lenses do outperform zooms in terms of image quality. But he’s convinced that the performance gap is narrowing, and there are other criteria to consider—flexibility, weight and convenience being near the top of his list.

This interesting discussion begins with Wegener’s impression of how the new generation of zoom lenses compare to those from the past. He also enumerates several advantages zooms offer, and how mirrorless cameras help make this possible.

Wegener agrees that prime lenses have their own advantages, and he discusses what these are. He also explains how teleconverters factor into the equation. So before dismissing his premise, watch the video and look closely at his sample images.

You can find more great nature photography tips on Wegener’s YouTube channel and in the tutorial we posted recently, explaining why another pro says, “Don’t use Crop Mode when shooting with full-frame cameras.”