Lots of years ago, prime lenses were the way to go. Photographers preferred them because even though zooms could be convenient, the primes were generally much higher quality, which meant they produced better, sharper pictures.
These days, some of that prime lens elitism does still exist. There are photographers who prefer them to zooms, saying that their quality still beats that of a zoom lens. And while this may have some truth to it, the bigger part of the picture is that zoom lens quality has increased so much, they really do produce great images all on their own. Primes do still have their uses, of course, but I think that in most instances, we can safely use zoom lenses to create most of our photographs.
There are lots of reasons why we maybe should use a zoom lens sometimes. One reason to try them is for the depth compression. Of course, you can get this with a long prime, but it’s just more convenient to have a zoom lens that will let you take pictures from mid to long focal ranges. And depth compression is an interesting way to alter perspective to help make photographs more interesting. At longer focal lengths, objects in the background will appear much larger because of depth compression. So if you’re out taking landscape shots in the mountains, and you find yourself dissatisfied with the way the mountains seem small in the background, zoom out to a longer length, keep your subject just where you’d placed it in the foreground, and you’ll be amazed by how much nearer the backdrop mountains seem in the finished photograph.
Another handy thing about zooms is that they let you make people feel more comfortable when you’re taking candid shots. Let’s say that you’re taking the photographs for a wedding. Action tends to move pretty quickly during a wedding, so there’s not necessarily time to be swapping between long and short lenses. A zoom lets you get in close when you need to — shots of the ring, the cake, place settings, and so on. But when it’s time to back away and give the reception goers some space without shoving your camera in their faces, the zoom lens zooms out to let you do just that.
And don’t discount the value of cropping with your lens! It’s tempting when using wider angles to just take a photograph, even knowing that you’ll need to crop large chunks off later to get the composition that you want. But this is limiting because when you do that, you’re chopping off large chunks of megapixels. Ultimately, you may not be able to print the photo as large as you might like. If you’ve got a zoom lens handy and there’s no other way to get closer to your subject, then you can use the zoom to do the cropping before you’ve even taken the photograph. Just adjust the lens until the frame has exactly what you want in it, and when post-processing time comes, you won’t be chopping off all those megapixels. There’s no reason to turn up our noses at zoom lenses anymore! A couple in your gear bag gives you both impressive focal length and all the compositional tools you could desire.