I had an email from a reader asking why there are different size prime lenses. “Can’t I just walk further back if I want to get more in the picture?” she asked. And you know, I used to wonder the exact same thing. But I’ve bought, tried and sold so many different prime lenses that I can tell you from my first hand experience about the differences in these lenses. They are…
Focal length – the most obvious thing you’ll notice in different lenses is the focal length. Some are 50mm, some 24mm, some 85mm. A 24mm lens will show a much wider view than an 85mm lens and it will physically be shorter to look at and lighter to hold. What you see when looking through your lens is called ‘focal range’. This is what changes when looking through different length lenses.
Quality – different lenses are made to different specifications. And if the saying “you get what you pay for” is ever true, it’s never moreso than when talking about lenses. For example, the price difference between an 50mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.2 is about a grand. You’re not paying a grand for an extra f/stop, you’re paying for a better quality, better build, better model lens. You’ll get more clarity, more sharpness, more more more.
Sharpness and Clarity – Yes, different lenses will give you different levels of image quality, sharpness, clarity. You’ll want to check out forums to see what people feel about different lenses in comparison. As far as I can remember, the 85mm was far sharper and clearer than any of the other primes I had at the time.
Distortion – the wider lenses are made for landscapes. You would never want to take a portrait with a 24mm lens unless you wanted it to look like this —> Longer lenses (like to 85mm or longer) are ideal for portraits because you won’t get distortion like you see here. You’ll get a nice, flat, compressed image.
So, yes, there are many different factors that make different lenses more or less ideal for your particular subject matter or style of photography. To try before you buy or just for the fun of it, you can hire different lenses from a rental company. I get mine here in the UK from hireacamera.com.