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Shooting a car with a prime lens

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I’m a big proponent of the zoom lens. There are so many factors when shooting a car, why complicate it further by moving your entire set up around because of a prime lens? Because they are sharper, faster and can give you a better image. So, let’s shoot a car using only a prime lens. In this case, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens for my Nikon Z7.

What are some of the pros and cons? Let’s see…

Increased depth of field


A prime lens is usually faster, meaning you can step down to allow more light into the camera with f/stop. That also means amazing bokeh, or the blurring of far off objects. By comparison, my 24-70mm zoom lens only steps down to f/4. Even the best Z zoom lens Nikon makes stops at 2.8.


Shooting at that f/1.8 can be problematic if you’re shooting a car – it’s too big to fit within the lens’s area of focus. The back half of the car won’t be sharp. Always be mindful of this when using a prime lens.

BMW E92 M3
The skyline across the river was more blurred because of the prime lens.
BMW E92 M3
The further away something is from the lens, the more blurred it will become.
BMW E92 M3
Always a good day when I get to shoot an E92.



A zoom lens is a compromise, and because of that, the glass usually ins’t as sharp as a prime option. You might not see a difference at internet resolution, but up close, my 50mm produces a much better image than my 24-70mm.


It isn’t always practical to use a prime lens, especially when you’re shooting a moving object. When doing rollers or motion blur shots, I always use a zoom so it’s easier to frame the vehicle. Again, it’s rare to stop down to 1.8 on a roller shot, as the car would get too blurry.

BMW E92 M3
Prime lens are usually much sharper than their zoom counterparts.
BMW E92 M3
Make sure the back half of the car doesn’t fall out of focus.
BMW E92 M3
Prime lenses result in very sharp images if done correctly.



That increased depth of field will open up new creative possibilities, and allow you to try new things. If you’re unsure, use your zoom lens to get your shot, then switch over to a prime and open your aperture. Chances are, it’ll look like a totally different shot.


A prime lens means your stuck at that focal length. No way to adjust your composition unless you literally move your body. Sometimes that’s fine, but not always possible. Know the terrain and where you’re shooting before you go.

I keep both options with me at all times, so make sure you have room for both in your case.

Tip: Light painting with prime

I’ve shown you how to light paint, and the process is the same when using a prime lens. But here, I opened the aperture to 2.8, much larger than the usual 4 I shoot at. So while I might normally need an exposure of 3 seconds with a zoom lens at f/4, here I needed exposures of just 1 second.

BMW E92 M3
Adjust your exposure if your aperture is more open when doing light painting.

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I use Nikon camera bodies and lenses, a Westcott Ice Light 2, Manfrotto tripod, B + W filters and an iMac Pro to make the art you see here.

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Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post.

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.