There are two definitions. An original "correct" one, and a misuse of the original "correct" one that has become so commonly used that it is now a definition in and of itself.
Originally Posted by bobwysiwyg
The original definition (from the motion picture industry) is a fixed focal length lens, to which accessory wides and telephotos are attached. You might call it a "base" lens in other words. An example with a still camera would be the Yashica Electro 35. It has a fixed-length, permanently-affixed normal lens – the "prime" lens – and accessory wide or long converters can be placed in front of the prime lens to achieve different angles of view. This is the technically correct definition, but it is outdated given it's almost complete lack of use in commonly-used present-day photo technology.
In very common usage (which does count as a definition, however incorrect it's original usage may have been), a prime lens is a fixed-focal length lens, as opposed to a zoom lens.
The usage of the word "prime" to describe a non-zoom lens grates on me, but that does not mean that this meaning is completely incorrect, when you consider what a "definition" means in the world of etymology. Common use is enough to qualify something as a definition.
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sure you don't want a 28? here's what happened to me--i was saying "i hate 28" for twenty years; since i switched the 28/2.8 for a 28/2 i've been taking about half my pictures with it. looks like i hated it being slow ok, the 28/2 has much more character as well...
the 24 i sold almost as fast as i got it--every picture was yelling, "hi, i'm a 24!" with the 28, i'm not sure sometimes the picture is not from a 50--just the subject, no formal distractions
I have and use the lenses in the range you mention.
I like the 28mm focal length, and I often use the 24mm focal length. When I get to the 20mm focal length, at that point I start to really notice the "wide angle lens" effects, and I must start to really be careful in watching where the lines go with that lens. It only gets worse as I go shorter than 20mm, even with the well known "rectilinear 4.0/17mm" lens.
For me, 28mm is fine, and the 24mm focal length is where I at least check to see that everything is still where it should be, or do I need to move up or down to get an errant line into the proper relationship with the rest of the scene.
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just tell them; "I use activated silver bromide crystals tor my image storage media."
I'm weighted to the wide angle end of things. The 28 is my real favorite, and I'm comfortable with the jump to 20mm if the subject "asks" for it. TV and PJs shoot with really short focal lengths these days and the young, it seems, have adjusted to this. My son lives on the 24 but it's a netherland to me. In the mid-70s a man who shot for the local paper told me something like 'The 50mm is the most boring lens. But if you can't make a good shot with it you have some homework to do'. My take is: 20, 28, 35, 105. Otherwise, it's the 28, every time.
This may be a perfect reason to use zoom.... having dozens of people agree on focal length mean nothing IF op doesn't like it. I'd suggest getting an inexpensive (relatively speaking...) zoom, try it out, and see what you like. Then get a prime. You can always sell your un-needed lens right here on APUG classified.
Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?
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I just traded my Nikon 24-120G for a 1.8/50 and a 2.8/28 because I found the zoom far too big and heavy. It felt like I was holding a brick. I will be using them on the D200/700 as well as the F100. The 28 is not a D, unfortunately. I kept my 70-300G just on case.
Get the 24mm f/2.8 D, it's a gem of an optic. Want wider? Get the 20mm f/2.8 D in case you use loads of flash, if you don't, forget the D's.
I prefer the 28mm over the 35mm - but that's just my taste. I'm a little confused why the OP wants a wider prime other than 'to see differently' from a 50mm. If that's the case, shooting any other fixed focal length will teach that. It took me a while to get comfortable shooting with a 28mm when I first got it.
As a very loose rule, a 28mm (or, some will say, a 24mm) is about as wide as you can get without being obviously wide angle. A 20mm or wider becomes more challenging to get a shot without it being obviously wide angle. (I shoot my 20mm with a grid screen, just to help keep things lined up.)
If your limitation with the 50mm is that you find yourself 'running out of room,' then I would suggest either the 24mm or 28mm. If you want more of a wide angle look, the go for the 20mm or wider.
Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Some days 35mm feels normal, other days 85mm feels more normal. Some days 24mm is too wide, other days 14mm isn't wide enough. One can never have too many primes...
2F/2F, thanks for the explanation.