The zoom lens was patented in 1902, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that zoom lenses became increasingly popular on the 35 mm cameras of that era. The zooms of the ’70s were expensive and often lacked the sharpness and contrast of fixed focal length, or prime, lenses.
Today, thanks to advancements in optical design, zoom lenses are common and often inexpensive. Indeed, the “kit lens” that comes with a typical digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera includes a zoom. And the images from a high-quality zoom can stack up against photos taken with a prime lens any day.