I've just published in the archives my column called "The Case Against Zooms," since it seems apropos to Carl's article from yesterday. To get there, you can either use this direct link or go to Columns & Essays > Columns > The Case Against Zooms.
Featured Comment by Larry Armstrong: "Hello Mike—During the majority of my newspaper career, I really disliked zooms and usually never shot with them. For me, trying to zoom and focus at the same time, resulted in a lot of "soft" shots. The first zoom I owned was an 80–200 ƒ/4, which for a photojournalist was very practical. Normally, I carried two cameras (Nikons) with my two favorites the 105 and the 24 on at all times. If it was a news story then a third camera had a 200 or a 300. For a walk about with a single camera, the 105 was always the choice. How I composed and shot pictures was really shaped early on by my work with the wire service and newspapers. We, of course, had to strive for the "moment," peak action and emotion, etc., but a big consideration was graphic and dynamic composition. You had to stop the reader from flipping those pages. With the wires, success was measured by how many papers and magazines used your pictures and that was determined by which pictures, of the hundreds that moved that day, caught the photo editors attention. The 24 and 105 allowed me to "design" my shots; made me move around to test the composition. My reponse was quicker because I had two choices. The 24 allowed me to enhance my shots with dynamic perspective. The 105 made faces look great and wide open allowed for great bokeh. It had enough flattening properties to build a strong graphic composition, without overly compressing the shot. It was easy to work a strong shot of the same subject with both lenses. Fast forward through 15 years as a photo editor and I'm now shooting again. Ironically I own two "primes," a 300/2.8 and a 50mm macro. I do miss those two favorites, but again my work is shaping what I use. I do a lot of "celebrity" portraiture, on assignment for publications and the work then goes to syndication. For successful syndication, I need variety, the more the better. The big difference between then and now is time. Then, I might have a half hour to an hour with a celebrity. Now I have to work faster and wiser. the scheduled 15 minutes may be cut to 5, as happened recently with a Matt Damon shoot. I'm usually asked to do two different set ups in that 15 minutes. The zooms I use allow me to quickly shoot a variety of compositions. Recently, I've moved to the Canon 24-105 IS to try to get that feeling back, but also, so I don't have to worry about using a tripod. I have to eliminate any break in the shoot that might allow the publicist to say you have enough. Changing a card, or film or moving a tripod around provides the publicist that opportunity for a break. The 24–105 is not quite the same and has some problems I don't like, but it is close. The point of this rambling trip back in time is that I would have to agree with you. Before reading your piece, I had been thinking after a shoot the other day, how Ironic that I had never liked using zooms and that now, that is almost all I use. To get the best shot, I still move around and work a 17–35 as I would have with that 24. But, I really believe using those two primes, for the majority of my work over the years, provided me with a strong foundation in how I compose with any lens and particularly with those zooms I never liked. This is long and you don't have to post it, I just wanted to let you know you brought up an interesting point that I agree with. Cheers, Larry."
Mike replies: Thanks Larry. I know just what you mean—I was happiest in the old days with my 35/2 and 85/1.8, same idea, just not quite as wide or long as you liked. I even had a boss once who wanted me to use zooms, a 28–70 and 80–200 (same as he used). There were occasions when he'd leave the area and I'd switch back to my primes! I can admit there were times I needed the longer reach of the 80–200, but I never cottoned to that darn 28–70. I do use a zoom now too, but I miss the freedom of the primes. It was always easier for me to find a framing that worked with a lens I really knew.