Lenses, Lenses everywhere, and nary a shot to take.

OK, weak joke, I know. But it is true that I feel like that: I sit here tonight surrounded by lenses instead of being out shooting. And not just me: lenses tend to take up a lot of a photographer’s time. What lens? Prime or zoom? Wide range or narrow range, more specialized?

Most photojournalists would like roughly the same list of lenses in order to be able to handle everything. I think I am pretty close. Here are my lenses as they sit here in front of me:

On the left, my zoom lenses. You use a zoom when you need convenience, when you have little time for lens changes, when you need various focal lengths, when you aren’t sure what you will be needing: in short, zooms are for flexibility. Professional zooms are f/2.8 lenses, for the most, meaning they will go down to an f-number of 2.8 whether you zoom in or out (ass opposed to consumer lenses, which generally go down to f/3.5 when zoomed out, and f/5.6 when zoomed in).

My zooms are:

You will see:

  • 16-35 f/2.8
  • 24-70 f/2.8
  • 70-200 f/2.8

A nice wide range: because of my two cameras, one of which is a crop, the range is effectively from 16 to 320mm (200mm on the crop camera works like 320mm). None of these are “one lens does it all” lenses: these are a compromise. For quality, choose whether your lens is a wide angle or a telephoto. It cannot be both, if it is to be good.

Then my prime lenses:

I have four primes:

  • 35mm f/1.4 (on the camera)
  • 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift (left)
  • 85mm f/1.2 (second from right)
  • 100mm f/2.8 macro (right).

You use primes when you do not need the flexibility of a zoom, or when you need specialist lenses like a tilt-shift or a macro. In return for that, you get other benefits. A major one for many prime lenses is larger apertures: f/1.4 gives you both blurry backgrounds and faster shutter speeds. Another benefit is quality: fewer lens elements means sharper pictures. And, last but not least: consistency. The look and feel and composition of each shoot is the same.

Do we all need all of those lenses? Of course not. But now you know where you start saving. And especially: you learn to use the tools you have to what they were designed for. An f/5.6 lens is just fine-€”but don’t try to use it to shoot a dark event without flash, or to get a super blurry background. As long as you stay within the range of situations a particular lens was designed for, you’re just fine. After all, remember this: an SLR with a cheap kit lens is approximately a godzillion times better than an iPhone.

And the photos above? I took those with my Fujicolor x100 small camera. A point-and-shoot with a fixed 24mm lens (equivalent to 35mm). Just goes to show.



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