Both camps will argue their points and you’ll find kinds both primes and zoom lenses in our gear bag, but the primes stay attached to our cameras more than the zooms do. Below I’ve laid out some points for each, but for us, it revolves around two key points. Image quality and reliability.
Ignoring the fact that primes have larger apertures, they almost always have quicker AF performance. The few exceptions to this rule are maybe the 85mm and 50mm 1.2s. Otherwise, your primes will get you focused quicker and more precise.
What sparked me to finally publish this post was having to package up the 24-70mm for the second time in less than a year for a trip to the Canon Service Department. Both times it has been dropped on a hard surface, but so have the 35mm and the 45mm TS-E. Having zoom functionality significantly increases the amount of moving parts and ability to break.
I will always give up flexibility for image quality. Having access to 2 or 3 more stops of light and razor sharp f/2.8 images is paramount to our style of photography. Some think it’s hard to cover an event with one focal length, which is why I usually have two bodies strapped to me at all times. However, even with a one camera setup, its rather painless swapping from prime to prime.
I’ve often heard other photographers say they use primes because they can zoom with their feet. This really doesn’t apply though. If you have a 24mm prime mounted, walk to within a few feet of your subject and snap a headshot, your photo is going to look vastly different than a similarly framed shot with the 85mm. So, zooming with your feet doesn’t mirror zooming with a zoom lens. The perspective is going to be different.
If you place image quality and reliability at the top of your list of lens qualifications, you’ll end up with a collection of primes. You might spend a minute or two more each wedding swapping your lenses, but you’ll send far less time sending off lenses for repair or sharpening your subjects in Photoshop. For us, the image quality a prime lens delivers over a negligible sharp 2.8 zoom makes all the difference. If you want images that impress your clients on a technical level (sharpness & contrast), pick up a 24, 35, 50, 85 or 135mm prime lens. It has the ability to set you apart from others.