Zoom lenses - how much 'worse'?
Although I own zoom lenses I've always preferred primes for their bright apertures and lighter weight. However the convenience factor of carrying one lens, say a 28 - 85 is appealing.
How much 'worse' optically is a zoom than a prime lens? I appreciate the question is somewhat subjective but is it a case of a minimal differences two stops down or are primes far superior all the way through, in a way that will register on a 10 x 8 print?
Which camera body are you using?
EDIT: Which lenses and body are you using. I'm asking because some companies and lens makers do better than others.
I have Nikon and Canon primes and zooms (AF and manual) and various independent zooms, mostly Sigma AF Nikon.
I personally don't like using zooms. Their convenience is often their downside I feel. You might not be in the best location, but because you have a zoom you can frame the subject. I like being forced to move and get in the right place, plus the large aperture & small size are appealing. But that's my opinion.
Objectively, lower end zooms will have noticable defects. For instance, I've noticed specific examples of curvature of field. Imagine this picture; a marching band on a field, lined up front to back, creating a line of musicians that recedes into the background and you're focused on the front trumpeter. Well, I have this picture (I wish I had the scan handy at this CPU) taken with a Vivitar zoom and the folks seated in the bleachers behind the band are very strangely curved. It's as though they are seated behind a giant meniscus lens or something.
So I think that there are noticable faults, but I'm sure that quality zooms will be much better. It's all up to your preferences and needs.
If you are the big tree, we are the small axe
They have some "fast zooms" but they're often a tad pricey. You can find them as fast as f/2.8 for the Vivitar Series 1 (at least, on FD mount, you can -- should have a comparable mount on your Nikkon)
EDIT: The upside is that because these faster ones are the better lenses, they often have better image quality and less distortion than the knockoff brands. Avoid the fast Sigma 28-90mm range. I've read some bad things about the quality, even though they cost half the price of a Vivitar.
Canon AE-1P 35mm | 50mm/f1.8 FDn | 28mm/2.8 FD | 70-200mm/f4-5 FD | 35-70mm/F2.8-3.5 Sigma FD
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I have to say, MODERN zoom lenses are quite good. I have Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 and other than visible distortion at 24mm end and it's massive size and weight, I have no complaints. Sharpness, even at wide open, is incredible. I also have 35-135 f/3.5 - 4.5. It's a good lens although not as bright as the former. Comparing both of them to 50mm AFD f/1.8 (that was factory re-calibrated) I'd say both are very comparable under everyday use conditions.
The only difference is the price, size, and weight. (oh, yeah, distortion and f stop) Unless I need ultra low light capability and lightweight, I'd pick zoom every time.
Before the computer age, zoom lens suffered a lot due to its complex design and competing design limitations and parameters. Lately, it's not so anymore especially when you are comparing old design prime and new design zoom. Nikkor 50mm (and most primes) hasn't changed much for decades while zoom lens made steady revisions and improvements.
Frankly, I don't think modern zooms are the way to go except for special applications.
Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?
Though not a zoom fan myself, there are (apparently) zooms in the 28 - 85 range which nearly as good as "good" fixed/prime focal lengths, though that often involves expensive items from Zeiss and Leica.
Which zooms do you use at the moment and how much worse are they than your primes?
More modern lenses (even cheap zooms) should be able to handle an 8x10 print decently as far as sharpness goes (at least stopped down a bit), but distortion and other parameters probably won't be as good as a "good" prime.
M6, SL, SL2, R5, P6x7, SL3003, SL35-E, F, F2, FM, FE-2, Varex IIa
For Nikon, I like the 28-70/3.5-4.5AFD as a walk-around lens. Cheap but arguably the sharpest of Nikon's plastic zooms in this range. Used on a late AF body with/without flash, it makes a great high-end p&s rig. Celeb photographer Patrick McMullan used one all the time in his film days on an N90s with a SB-26 flash. Check the lens reviews at www.nikonlinks.com.
If you've never read any of Tony Spadaro's rants, now might be a good opporunity. If nothing else, he is mildly entertaining, but in this case he does point out flip side of some of the dogma behind the "zoom with your feet" philosopy. (the links on Tony's site appear and disappear sporadically, but it seems to be up this week)
Tom, on Point Pelee, Canada
Ansel Adams had the Zone System... I'm working on the points
system. First I points it here, and then I points it there...
I wasn't a fan until I bought a new ULF 105:210 zoom for Mamiya 645 for $100.00. It's a fantastic lens.
I use a tripod all the time with the lens and camera.
Everytime I find a film or paper that I like, they discontinue it. - Paul Strand - Aperture monograph on Strand