For the longest time, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the cost of camera lenses. It seemed as though the prices were completely arbitrary and made no sense. As I got better at photography though and as I actually used a wider variety of lenses, I began to learn exactly what the seemingly strange pricing structure was all about.
If you go into a camera shop today or if you look around online for lenses, you’d likely think that prime lenses cost a heck of a lot less than their zoom lens counterparts. What you find though is eye-popping. Some of the prime lenses available today are astronomically priced. The question is, why is this? There are fewer moving parts in a prime lens and they seem so much less complicated. Why do some prime lenses cost so much? And I’m not talking just a little bit more in some cases. Oftentimes, these lenses cost a lot more.
It seems as though apertures are able to open up wider in prime lenses than in zoom lenses. With these ultra-wide apertures comes some serious price increases. Some prime lenses are actually quite affordable, such as the Canon 24mm, 40mm and the 50mm. These are priced between $125 and $175. They are bare bones lenses though. When you get down to the f/.9 levels and very high quality glass, the price shoots right up.
My theory is that, sure, these higher quality lenses with huge apertures cost more to make and include more technology and that’s why the prices are so high, but you have to think about supply and demand here as well. If Canon is making one million 50mm f1/8 lenses per year and people are scooping them up because they’re less involved to make with a price reflecting that, the demand is pretty big. If only 1,000 of their higher quality lenses are selling, Canon has got to charge a lot more per lens because of economies of scale. The quality is higher on these lenses, but the demand is also a lot less because of price, which, in turn, jacks the price up even more.
The trick is to find used high quality lenses that are in excellent condition. Also consider giving a less pricey lenses a try. I can tell you that some of the lesser quality ones offer outstanding photography. You can even rent some of the more expensive lenses if you aren’t planning on using it too much. Another idea is to purchase one with a friend and then share it among one another. Call it a “share.” Remember, many older style lenses fit on newer cameras, so if you don’t mind manually adjusting the aperture and focus, you might want to give one of these a try. You can save tons of money this way.
So, the answer to the question in the title is yes, prime camera lenses can certainly cost more than zoom lenses, especially when you get up there in the aperture size and the quality. But, some zoom lenses can cost a fortune as well, especially when you get into those huge telephoto zoom ranges. My advice with prime lenses would be to look for value, meaning, find the in between really popular lens and get that. The reason they’re so popular is because of the price, which in turn allows the company making the lens to keep that price down. Conversely, because of their simplicity, the company is able to keep the price down, which makes the lens more popular. It’s sort of a weird loop.
What do you think about prime lenses? Do you prefer them over zoom lenses? What’s your favorite lens? Which do you find yourself keeping on your camera most of the time?