I've been on a "thinking about gear" kick recently. You might have noticed.
Yesterday, Thomas Rink wrote a nice comment:
I find that too much product researching and testing is just confusing. Therefore, I tend to keep my "gear footprint" low—for the last two years, I used a single camera body and two prime lenses. I don't care that the camera isn't a current model, or that the lenses might be 'bad.' On almost every outing, this gear yields me one or two pictures I'm pleased with, and that's what counts.
This is another interesting gear topic. Some people feel the appeal of having a big selection of gear and switching around, or mix-and-matching for anything from specific moods to specific jobs; other people are the opposite, and feel the appeal in paring down to essentials.
So let me ask you a question: if you could have only two lenses, which would they be? Extra credit if you name specific lenses. Extra-extra credit if they're lenses you actually own now.
If you're the type of person who couldn't get by with only two lenses and who thinks the question is stupid, one word: understood. You're excused.
Me, I see the appeal, but I'm having trouble with the question.
P.S. And if you aren't in a gear mood and would rather think about something else, seen any good movies recently? Seriously, I'm looking for a few good movies to watch in the evenings, and I find myself rewatching old movies I liked years ago, which is making me feel stuck in the mud.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Kev Ford: "For me it's the 35mm-e of the Fuji X100 plus the XF 56mm on my X-Pro1. Is it odd to have an ILC and only one lens? It feels a little odd."
Mike replies: Not at all. Early on, interchangeable lenses were to customize cameras with, as often as they were meant to interchange. Photojournalists in particular would stick with one lens / one camera, but would have multiple cameras—they felt changing lenses on the fly would slow them down too much. Do a Google image search for people like George Rodger, W. Eugene Smith, and David Douglas Duncan, and any others of that era you can think of, and you'll see what I mean. If you can find portraits of them you'll see they carried two or three camera bodies, each with its own lens. Often not the same camera body, even.
Frank Figlozzi: "I'd start with a Fuji X-E2 (a rangefinder-style APS-C camera); follow it with the Fuji 35mm ƒ/2 lens and the Fuji 18–55mm zoom; and—if you turned your back and looked in the other direction—I'd sneak in a third lens, the outstanding Fuji 14mm ƒ/2.8. All of which I own. Taking pictures is fun again!"
Kalli (partial comment): "Is your 'thinking about gear' kick caused by you not photographing? I find that it usually happens for me at least once a year, usually in winter, that I, for some reason, don't photograph and then I furiously research gear instead as a substitute. That period was cut short at the end of last year after venturing out a couple of times and coming home with some photos I was happy with."
David Anderson (partial comment): "I must admit two prime lenses would be one too few to be ideal for me; either just one or three would be my choice."
Dale Greer: "For Nikon FX, it would have to be the PJ workhorse zooms—a 17–35mm ƒ/2.8 and a 70–200 ƒ/2.8. I need the range and speed to get the job done. For personal enjoyment, I shoot Micro 4/3 and prefer fast primes (lighter than zooms, and they regain some of the depth-of-field isolation lost to the smaller sensor). The Panasonic Leica 42.5mm ƒ/1.2 Nocticron renders beautifully and is perhaps my all-time favorite short tele for any mount. On the other end, it's a toss-up between the Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm ƒ/2.0 and the Panasonic 20mm ƒ/1.7. Both lovely lenses."
RubyT: "This post describes the long-time war between my inner magpie and my inner ascetic (at the moment, the magpie is winning). If I could only have two lenses they would be the Pentax FA 77 Limited (my all-time favorite lens), and the Pentax DA 16–85mm, which covers pretty much any shooting situation I'm likely to find myself in. It doesn't render as beautifully as the 77mm, but it's weather-sealed and practical. I do own both of them right now. I took a fall onto the 16–85mm while hiking recently, and I shattered the hood, but the lens is fine (as is the camera). It's a great lens for hiking."
James Dyrek: "I have recently adopted the Fujifilm system and I picked their 23mm ƒ/1.4 and the 56mm ƒ/1.2. And the 23mm is the one I keep on my camera."
Mike replies: That's what I would have, except I can't tear the money for the 56mm out of my wallet. I bought the 14mm two years ago and the poor wallet is still recovering. :-)
Ed Donnelly: "If I had to pick only two, my Canon 100–400mm II for wildlife and trains, and my Fuji 18–55mm for everything else. I use more of course, but these two are by far the most versatile and both provide excellent image quality on their respective bodies."
Michael Poster: "I don't need two. One 35mm (or equivalent to that) will do. It's not that the 35mm focal length is ideal, necessarily, it's that I can always make it work."
Mike replies: Well said. That's a very good way to sum up the main benefit of a lens with a 35mm or equivalent angle of view.
Timo Virojärvi: "Nikon PC-E 24mm ƒ/3.5 and Sigma 50mm ƒ/1.4 Art. I have them both (and 35 other lenses)."
Stephanie Luke: "You probably want to hear about a movie you can watch at home, but all I can come up with is something we recently saw at the local cinema: 'Passengers.' It got poor reviews, so I wasn't expecting much, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I admit, I'm a sci-fi fan, and good ones are pretty few and far between. There was some great CGI and just plain beautiful scenery. It's a rather 'slow' film but I like slow. Maybe most of all I liked that it didn't have a villain, which is quite rare these days. It was plain, old-fashioned sci-fi, with a basic philosophical conundrum."
Alan Wieder: "I walk the streets and shoot. Have fallen in love with the Leica Q—no issues about lens choice anymore."
Rube: "If I had to pick two, I would only pick one: the lens on the Ricoh GR. Of course I would leave it on the body! GRIN."
Shaun: "The 28mm equiv. on the Ricoh GRII—what an excellent walk-around lens/camera. I'm continually impressed with this camera and lens, and it fits in a pocket. I do wish Ricoh would do a 35mm version of this camera/lens. The other would the Sony Sonnar FE 55mm ƒ/1.8 on an A7rII. Own and use both."
Dogman: "I like a body dedicated to a lens so there's not a lot of changing out lenses. If I had to pick two lenses only, the choice would be pretty easy. Fuji 23mm ƒ/1.4 and 35mm ƒ/1.4, each mounted on a Fuji body. Both are great lenses, nearly magical in their look. I have to add that I could also happily live with a Fuji X100 series camera with its 23mm ƒ/2 fixed lens and a Ricoh GRII with its 18.3mm ƒ/2.8 fixed lens. The Fuji X100 cameras, in use, are almost transcendental. The Ricoh has one of the sharpest lenses I've ever used."
Marcelo Guarini: "I shoot Micro 4/3. My favorites by some margin are the Voigtlander 17.5mm ƒ/0.95 and the new Olympus 25mm ƒ/1.2. Both are absolutely fantastic lenses—large, but optically really beautiful."
Stuart (partial comment): "Aggghh—get behind me Satan! I’ll try to keep this short…."
[Ed note: He doesn't! As always, you can read the full text of "partial comments" in the full Comments section.]
Wesley Liebenberg-Walker: "I have an OM-D E-M5 Mark II and use the Oly 12-40mm and the Panasonic 35-100mm. I have other lenses, but if they all disappeared tonight I'd still be happy with those two for nearly everything that I shoot. (I wouldn't be happy that the others disappeared though...)."
Doug Thacker: "One, two, or three lenses, and which one(s)? This has always been my favorite exercise, because it requires so much thinking and self-reflection, and paring down, and reveals so much about one's development.
"For years I shot with only a 50mm. It was always a bit too long, but 35mm was too wide. I'd have preferred a 40mm, or a 45mm, maybe, but I made do with 50mm and prided myself on being able to shoot anything with it, and get any shot I really wanted. And where I couldn't get the shot, I told myself I really didn't want it. Nowadays 50mm or the equivalent isn't right at all, neither wide enough nor long enough.
"When I started with the X-T1 I settled on the 14mm ƒ/2.8 and the 27mm ƒ/2.8 as my everyday walking-around lenses. But over time I find that I almost never use the 14mm. The 27mm is the one I use constantly, but it's too slow, both in terms of focus and aperture, despite being pleasingly small.
"I skipped the 18mm ƒ/2 because I also have the Ricoh GR and figured it could serve as my 28mm. And in fact I now realize this is the focal length I most enjoy using.
"So, when I upgrade to the X-T2, my new walk-around lenses are going to be the 18mm ƒ/2 and the 56mm ƒ/1.2, neither of which I yet own. Upgrade day is going to be expensive, then, but I have a feeling it will result in a more satisfying shooting experience, and more shooting."
FKT: "I've been shooting more film than digital for personal projects in recent years. My favorite 35mm body is the contemporary Cosina/Voigtlaender R2C, which has the old Zeiss Ikon Contax rangefinder mount. I've got four lenses for the body (and an original Zeiss Ikon Contax IIa body), but my two favorites are the Zeiss 35mm ƒ/2.8 Biogon and Zeiss 50mm ƒ/1.5 Sonnar. Both are post-World War II models, and all four lenses were overhauled by Henry Scherer at Zeisscamera.com. Servicing is necessary as the four lenses are between 60 and 65 years old."
Ben Rosengart: "Nowadays, I use the Fuji 23mm ƒ/1.4. The FOV fits the way I see—it could be a few degrees wider—and if there's a picture which demands a longer lens, well, I let someone else take it. In theory, I want a portrait lens too; in practice, I can happily shoot with one focal length for years at a time."
Rod Thompson (partial comment): "As to lots of gear, I find the less I have the easier the process is."
Steve Smith: "The only two lenses I need are the taking and viewing lenses on my Rolleicord."
Mike replies: Yes, it's one of the great advantages of a TLR—no lens choice to worry about. Really teaches you how to see like the camera sees. Something photographers didn't really recover in digital until smartphones came along. Note Carey Rose's article at DPReview—he accomplished the same thing by only bringing one lens to Thailand.
Another advantage of the old days was that view cameras and rangefinders enforced our knowledge of prime lenses—you couldn't put a zoom lens on a Leica or an 8x10 Deardorff.