Should I buy primes or zooms?

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 2200, ƒ/5.6, 1/500

Primes vs zooms. Well that is not a simple one size fits all.

Don’t be the photographer who says always prime or zoom–you will be just like the guy who uses a hammer to fix everything.

If you know what and how you like to shoot then it is much easier to find the lenses that work best for you.

To get a lot of variety with a prime lens requires you to move a great deal more with a subject to get a variety of images.

If you are looking for just a portrait lens for example then a prime works great. You have more control of the subject. You can have them stay still and then you can shoot wide open and get that silky bokeh. When shooting wide open apertures like ƒ/1.4 and the closer you are to the subject just taking a breath can cause you to move and basically miss your focus.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, ISO 12800, ƒ/1.8, 1/250

However if you are shooting more photojournalistic and you need to capture a story which you cannot stop the people and have them pose as well as needing more variety of photos you might want to consider zooms over primes.

I shoot a lot with 28-300mm lens which lets me move quickly and not worry too much about do I have the right focal length on the lens. In other words I get the shot more often than had I been switching lenses.

Not all primes are better than zooms and with todays lens profiles built into the software like Adobe PhotoShop and Lightroom the software can practically make what was inferior glass due to chromatic aberrations perfect. Lens Profile Corrections is a tool within Lightroom’s Develop Module that allows fixing such lens problems as distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting and perspective correction “non-destructively”, without leaving Lightroom.

My point here is that is not a big of a issue as it was in the days of film.

Here you can see the scores on zoom lenses. While overall the scores are lower than primes as you see below, not all zooms are inferior to primes.
Notice that the Sigma 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 is the sharpest of all these lenses.
Here is my favorite lens the Nikkor 14-24mm ƒ/2.8.  It is extremely sharp.

I think the major issue that most photographers consider is the amount of variety of images they like to shoot. If you are shooting all these photos for example a couple of zooms would make it easier to get the photos than primes

Opener: Sets the scene for the story
Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions–especially in multimedia packages
Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
High overall shot: Gives a good perspective to how the elements all fit together
Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/125

However if you are just shooting headshot then a prime like the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8 would be my choice.

If money is of major concern I personally would go with zooms because then I can have more focal length choices.

Zoom or Prime?

Photo A

Here is the same situation with the other lens

Photo B

Now here is one more that you need to really compare even more

Photo C

These three photos are shot by two lenses the 1) Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-D or 2) AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR.

  • Photo A – Nikon D4, 28-300mm (300), ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/25 – Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.
  • Photo B – Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/50 – Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.
  • Photo C – Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/50 – Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. Flash is -2 EV and the camera is -1 EV.
Summary
Which lens is best? Well that depends on the photographer. Some photographers could make just about any camera and lens look great while others can do just the opposite. However, based on your shooting style and subject matter there are lenses which best fit you.
If you are still confused, then rent these lenses before buying.

By the way I own both.