They main benefit of zoom lenses can is their versatility, as they give you access to a range of focal lengths without having to change the lens. However, this convenience comes at a price. Zoom lenses are complex systems with multiple glass elements, aranged into moving groups. As a result, the image quality suffers - especially sharpness, with visible distortions at wide-angle and telephoto range, as well as chromatic aberrations.
Those undesirable effects are much less likely to occurr in high-quality prime lenses, which tend to deliver much sharper images as well. They also tend to have a larger maximum aperture, which allows faster shutter speeds. This is great for potraits to isolate your subject and create beautiful out-of-focus backgrounds. It also helps to prevent camera shake when taking photos in low-light conditions without using a tripod.
The price difference between prime lenses in the same range can be often very steep. As a rule of thumb, expensive models will give your higher quality images, and they will be built to last many years. However, due to metal bodies and thicker glass, they tend to be heavier than the cheaper plastic lenses.
There are three main types here: wide-angle, normal and telephoto lenses.
Wide-angle lenses are great if you want to take a photo of the subject with their surroundings (environmental portraits). They are not so good for close-ups as they tend to produce edge distortions.
Normal lenses, with a focal length of around 50mm, give a similar perspective to those experienced by us humans.
Short telephoto lenses of around 85mm are perhaps most used prime lenses portrait photography. They provide an excellent flexibility of taking close-up photos as well as photographing the whole person.
If you have a APS-C camera body, a 50mm prime lens will also fall into a short telephoto range.
Telephoto lenses allow even more ability to isolate the model from the background. However, they tend to be heavier and much more expensive.
In the list below you will find some of the most popular prime lenses available today:
This super-fast wide-angle prime lens is one of the most respected Nikon has ever produced. The f/1.4 maximum aperture permits handheld shooting in low light and delivers a striking separation between subject and an out-of-focus background.
It's been optimized for edge to edge sharpness and includes the latest advances in optics, such as aspherical lens elements to reduce aberrations or nano coating to eliminate ghosting and flare.
Nikon f/1.8D is a high-speed prime lens with a focal length of 50 mm. It's small and versatile, with superb low-light capability which makes it great for portrait photography.
The minimum focus distance is 1.5 ft.( 45 cm
Nikon f/1.4D is an ultra-fast prime lens, which allows shooting in almost all light conditions. The focal range of 50mm makes is especially suitable for full-length portrait photography, for example at weddings. Nevertheless, it is also popular among travel photographers as well thanks to its crisp images and color integrity.
This prime lens from Nikon has a 105mm focal range and has been designed with close-up and potrait photographers in mind. It features image stabilization (VR II) and can focus from as near as 1ft away. (ca. 30cm).
The lens body employs extra-low dispersion (ED) elements as well as nano crystal coating to help reduce chromatic aberrations and flare. It weighs 27.9 oz. (790g)
This prime lens from Nikon offers a wide perspective at 20mm with a superb low-light performance thanks to f/1.8 maximum aperture. It comes with a number of aspherical and extra-low dispersion elements, which result in sharp images from edge to edge. It can focus from as close as 20cm (7.8 inches) and does so very quietly thanks to the silent wave motor (SWM).
The Nikon 200mm f/2G is professional telephoto lens that offers the latest in optical design. It comes with built-in image stabilization (VR II) which compensates for camera shakes (4 stops) to deliver blur-free images. This lens contains three extra-low dispersion (ED) elements and features Nikon's nano crystal coat to minimize internal lens reflections. Fast aperture (f/2) and nine rounded diaphragm blades allow beautiful ouf-of-focus background effects (bokeh).
The lens is moisture and dust resistant, whil its barrel is made of die-cast magnesium to make it as light as possible without sacrificing its strength.
Nikon 24mm f/1.4G is a wide-angle lens that has been designed for demanding work of professional photographers. Aspherical elements of this prime lens virtually get rid of chromatic aberrations and the images are very sharp even at the widest aperture available. (ultra-fast f/1.4)
Nikon's nano crystal coating offers extra help in reducing ghosting and flare effects. Rear focus is smooth and accurate.
This Nikon is a mid-range (85mm) telephoto lens with ultra-fast f/1.4 aperture. It delivers brilliantly sharp images and beautifuly out-of-focus backgrounds, which makes it great for portrait and wedding photography.
Thanks to its aperture of f/1.4 it is superb in low-light conditions, and Nikon's nano crystal coating prevents any flare or ghosting to affect image quality.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D is a compact prime telephoto lens designed for travel, wildlife and sports photography. It comes equipped with silent autofocus motor and ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements for enhanced image clarity and color balance. In this lens Nikon utilizes a special multilayer coating that minimize flare and ghosting effects through limiting internal reflections.
This lens weighs approx. 1.3kg (2.7 lbs).