A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal-length, unlike the zoom lenses that have variable focal-lengths.
A prime lens typically has a maximum aperture of f/4 or larger. Historically, they are called so because they yield sharper images and are of superior quality due to their simpler construction.
Prime lenses exist in all lens categories like ultra wide-angle or wide angle, normal, telephoto and super telephoto lenses. Some categories tend to be only prime lenses, like the following:
- Tilt shift lenses are generally prime lenses. Example: Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D PC-E ED
- Ultra telephoto lenses. Example: Nikon 600mm f/4
- Dedicated macro lenses. Example: Canon 100mm IS
Very large aperture lenses also tend to be prime lenses. Example: 24mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.2 and 200mm f/2.
Prime lenses typically work better with extenders/tele converters on account of their larger aperture and faster autofocus, except some large aperture telephoto zooms.
Prime lenses are perhaps less convenient because you cannot change the composition without changing your physical position, but they are the epitome of simplicity because of their consistent Angle of View.
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