Geoff Guthro Photography | I bought a prime lens and it was not very good.

I bought a prime lens and it was not very good.

June 20, 2017  •  2 Comments

I have a mirrorless camera. I bought a prime lens and it was not very good. So I took it back. 

This is what I was told in a recent friendly conversation with a gentlemen about his equipment. I was intrigued for sure as to why it was deemed in his view, as not very good. After all, this brand is a reputable brand and you don't make a product that isn't very good and expect to sell it.  A lens or ( glass) as some would say is a prescision instrument. It requires a vast amount of technology and precision to build it also.  After a bit of inquiry I started to get a picture of what he might be meaning. This gentlemen takes photos on family travel trips and such. He has a zoom lens that came with the camera with a range of about 18 to 140mm. Awesome! So I asked him what the prime lens was aperture wise. He replied f/1.8.  I started to get a sense that this might be the problem. You see at those aperture's you get that beautiful blur background (Bokeh) to bring focus on a subject but... you also have a low or narrow depth of field (DOF). Meaning the parts in focus and parts not. It can also shoot in lower light as the aperture hole is bigger  So was this lens not very good?  Or, not used properly for what it is intended for. So, if you bought a nice expensive mirrorless camera and are not shooting in manual? Then you bought a nice expensive point and shoot and don't really know what to buy next, let alone know the equipment you have already. Which is fine but, my journey includes the art of photography and I love every aspect of it. The lens is awesome believe me but, if you don't know how to use it, then you can't get the maximum potential out of it. There is not one piece of camera equipment that I have bought that I didn't have to learn how to use after I bought it. I only buy what I need and even then sparingly. I also look at reviews online about a product. They tell the tale. You Tube is excellent for real world reviews.

Today I talk briefly of what he might be meaning by, (not very good). In the two photo's below are a pair of water shoes. The first photo has a focal point just past the toe of the shoe towards the middle. The background and foreground of the shoe are out of focus as the rest of the photo.

The photo below has the focal point at the toe and everything else is out of focus. So if your using AF (Auto Focus) mode it will choose where to focus on, hence the two different looks of both photo's.

Both above photos were shot at F2.8 and not even down to F1.8, which would create more bokeh but have even less depth of field (DOF) as demonstrated in the photo below. Not much in focus but it does draw you to the subject with a blur background and foreground. Otherwise the subject would get lost in the photo.

So maybe you would use these aperture's for a portrait and not get much in focus. Especially in AF (Auto Focus) as it again would pick the focus points. To combat this choose manual focus and select your focal point. But remember if your down to a low aperture not much is in focus. Therefore you would need to select the proper aperture for the subject. 

In the photo below, I wanted to show the can of cola but in a way the shows focus on the can, not the park in the background . You can still tell its a park but your drawn to the pop can first. The can is a certain width so the DOF had to be a consideration. I chose F3.5 for this photo. Notice the DOF? You can really see it just at the bottom of the pop can as a thin focus point across the bench. Remember though, the closer the subject is to the camera, the more shallow your depth of field becomes, along with a more narrow (FOV) field of view.  A couple of things to keep in mind when doing portraits, as people are not flat, like the can is not flat, so that coupled with a low aperture would greatly affect the outcome. If shot at F1.8 the DOF would make most of the can out of focus.

So if you didn't know why this was, then you might think the lens is not very good. When really how it was applied was the cause. If you were in full auto then you would be all over the map so to speak.


In the photo below the aperture was at F3.5. The subject is eating at the table with most of his face in focus but the arm, cup and background of the photo is blur. Enough to draw your eyes to his face. Notice the knob of the chair in front? The DOF is greater in this photo but I was close to the subject so the natural lens focus distance came into play. So this is something to keep in mind when composing your shot.  

So why a prime lens? I would use it for portraits/weddings etc. They create a great blurry backgrounds, can generally be sharper, have a shallow depth of field and can shoot in low light and more.  The 85mm F1.8 allows me to create the mood of the photo and create a lovely bokeh and focus on a certain subject.  Visualize the bride getting ready in front of the mirror,  or during the wedding with the camera looking over the shoulder of the groom during vows toward the bride focusing on only the brides eyes. You could create intimate looks at those aperture's. You would need to be in manual though and know how the DOF works with the lens. 

The below photo shows the subject shot in natural light. I had some sun so I turned the subject to help reduce harsh highlights on the face. I set the aperture to F4.5 to create a bokeh to blur the background enough to separate her and to minimize the distraction of the leaves in the background. 

I love my prime lenses and basically only use them now. I have 35mm prime and 85mm med telephoto prime Nikons and they are sharp and perform to a great degree of accuracy. I bought them though after careful consideration of what I'm using them for. I feel that people go buy the nicest stuff out there to show others they know that they are doing or for show. Really you could tell right away if they do or not. I believe that its ok to go cheaper and figure out what you really need as you grow and advance your photography. You'll spend less enjoy more and use your equipment more. Then you know what you want and how to use it. There is a lot more to photography than pointing and shooting.

The photos in the blog were taken with Nikon prime lenses 

For more information about bokeh, depth of field and prime lenses check out  Bokeh,  Depth of Field, Understand distance and depth of field or  Prime Lens Buying Guide  





Geoff Guthro(non-registered)
Thank you Larry
Way to technical for me , but I can appreciate the variation ! As always stellar talent !
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