Data mining

Photography is not about gear. It is about art, expressions, emotion, colour. About the end product, not about what you use to get there.

Right. But it does start with gear. I thought, therefore, that you might be interested in what lenses I used for what shoots. I get asked this rather a lot. So I did some data mining of my shoots of the last few years.

Michael Willems's Lenses

Michael's Lenses


First I picked some recent event shoots: “grip and grins”. The lenses I uses were, out of a total of thousands of images:

Canon 1D Mark IV (1.3 crop factor):

  1. 42% – 24-70 f/2.8 (equiv. 30-90) (by shoots, this is number 2)
  2. 39% – 70-200 f/2.8 (equiv. 90-260) (by shoots, this is number 1)
  3. 17% – 16-35 f/2.8 (equiv. 20-45)
  4. 1% – 35mm f/1.4 (equiv. 45)
  5. 1% –  50mm f/1.4 (equiv. 65)

Canon 1Ds Mark III (full frame)

  1. 51% – 16-35 f/2.8
  2. 33% – 24-70 f/2.8
  3. 12% – 35mm f/1.4
  4. 2% – 70-200 f/2.8
  5. 1% –  50mm f/1.4

That is interesting. On the 1Ds, I use the 35mm f/1.4 lens in too few shoots (a lovely lens!).


Now the total, all types of shoots, out of a total of tens of thousands of images::

Canon 1D Mark IV (1.3 crop factor):

  1. 49% – 24-70 f/2.8 (equiv. 30-90)
  2. 25% – 16-35 f/2.8 (equiv. 20-45)
  3. 19% – 70-200 f/2.8 (equiv. 90-260)
  4. 3% – 35mm f/1.4 (equiv. 45)
  5. 2% –  50mm f/1.4 (equiv. 65)
  6. 2% – 100mm macro

Canon 1Ds Mark III (full frame)

  1. 33% – 24-70 f/2.8
  2. 27% – 16-35 f/2.8
  3. 19% – 70-200 f/2.8
  4. 13% – 35mm f/1.4
  5. 5% –  50mm f/1.4
  6. 3% – 100mm macro

One surprise here is how often I use a specialty lens like the macro. The real surprising thing is how often I use the 24-70, on both cameras.

Here is another breakdown: What focal length do I use in event shoots. More data mining from Lightroom gives me this (out of aroud 2,000 shots in a number of event shoots):

Michael's event shoot focal lengths

Michael's event focal lengths

As you see, peaks at 35mm for the full frame and at 70-200mm for the 1.3 crop camera.

So for an event, here are a few suggested combos.

Large room: A good safe “vanilla” combo, for larger rooms:

  • 1Ds with 24-70
  • 1D with 70-200

Smaller Room: Another safe combo, good for wider shots, e.g. in smaller rooms:

  • 1Ds with 16-35
  • 1D with 24-70

Creative: A slightly riskier combo, great for both wide effects and long shots (and covering a super-wide range, but maybe a bit riskier because the range between “real” 35-90 is missing):

  • 1Ds with 16-35
  • 1D with 70-200

Dark: Finally, a combo for darker rooms:

  • 1Ds with 35 f/1.4 prime
  • 1D with 70-200 – or with 50mm f/1.4!

Of course you can also just pick what you have. I mentioned a friend and student who recently showed me a wedding he had shot entirely with a 35mm (equivalent) lens. You do not need to obsess too much.

That said, it is fun to use the tools in the best possible way. And I strongly recommend that you also make checklists.

What camera?

Or more importantly, why do I use these big, heavy, costly 1-series cameras? Like my 1D Mark IV?

Even in tonight’s course, a student asked me that (yes, you know who you are). Good question.

Canon 1D Mark IV camera

Michael's Canon 1D Mark IV camera

So do they give me better pictures?

Of course not. Unlike the lens, the camera makes little or no difference to the image. Sensors are pretty much sensors, now, and when the image is being taken, the sensor and the lens are really the only two thing sin play. The camera is ust a box.

Nevertheless, I invest in these heavy things. I’ll give you some clues as to why.

  • I can write to two memory cards at once. This is important when the event is important, like a wedding: memory cards can, and occasionally do, fail.
  • They can get wet – on last Sunday’s Creative Urban Photography shoot, my 1D bodies were dripping with water, literally.
  • They are fast (the 1D Mark IV, a sports camera, takes 10 shots a second!)
  • They are more customizable. The less you spend, the more functions are removed by Canon and Nikon et al.
  • They last. The 1-series bodies can take 300,000 shots before the shutter needs replacing. A consumer camera can take a fraction of that.
  • Support. I can sign up to Canon CPS and pay extra money to get support: but only if I have “professional” cameras.

That’s why I spend money, and if you do not need these benefits, that’s why you do not have to. Spend your money on lenses and flashes, in that case!

Canon updates

Canon has released several updates: new firmware for the Canon EOS 7D, version 1.2.2 (download it from here), and new firmware for the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV., version 1.0.8 (download it from here).

I recommend that when able, you do these updates. Full battery, newly formatted-in-camera memory card, no lens or a good Canon lens on the camera, and then do the update. Features and fixes could be useful, and there may be undocumented fixes also, I suspect.