« Choosing a New DSLR | Main | Fuji FinePix F50fd Just Announced »

Friday, 27 July 2007


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The good thing about using prime is that you don't have to worry about choosing the focal length.
And having the capability of choosing focal lens from zoom is remarkably liberating. Especially if I use zoom that has no (or little) distortion like my nikkor 17-35. It's like using prime with ability to choose focal length!

Accidentally I photographed today a portrait assignment exclusively with an 50mm lens.

The result were photos with an astonishing intimacy. And although there was only little distance to my "object," I had no problems with perspective distortion. Not to speak about the optical quality of a prime!

This experience will encourage me to give more attention to this "forgotten" focal length.

This article brought a smile to my face. I used to carry the usual giant gadget bag full of everything I'd need "just in case", but in the past year I've limited myself to a 28/2.8 and 135/2.8 on a Rebel XT. It's been wonderful. I'm carrying less weight, looking far less conspicuous on the street, and focusing more on real composition than on racking a zoom ring back a forth.

"One thing I learned is that, nice as it is, the 31mm is a bit too long for me. My ideal lens for this format would be a digital-specific 24mm f/2 (or faster) lens...."
Carl, what are you talking about? A 24mm lens on a 23.5mm wide sensor is really a wide angle lens, not a "normal" lens at all. You have denied the entire idea behind Mike's proposition.

I am currently working on a book on chamanic tribes and rituals in the Vaupes region of Colombia in the jungle. Due to reasons of mobility and restricted lugagge I have carried only a 50 1.4 and a 24-105 zoom. The zoom almost never got used though I thought it was going to be my primary lens. My 50 is so versatile you really don't need more. It is so beautiful and imperfect at 1.4 and so clean and good over 2.8. It is a true chameleon.

Have never warmed to zooms myself. If on a extended trip I pack 5 primes (about 3 too many) and a 2X. Often very happy with my little VF half frames, three models with a 28mm, 30mm & 32mm equals about 40, 43, 46 on a full frame 35. Got introduced to photography in the early 70's, still in my opinion the golden age for film SLRs. Do you think there is or will be a golden age for DSLRs? No, I can't see it.....too sad.....too bad.

I must have missed something in my photographic education. What are "acceptable" compositions and "easier" focal lengths?

I side with Robert Adams who in "Beauty in Photography" argues that for "many photographers of importance ... their work is usually marked by an economy of means, an apparently everyday sort of relationship with their subject matter". To my eye, a "normal" lens lends a human scale and helps counteract the artifice of photography.

My carry everywhere camera, a Canon 300D , has a a Canon 24mm f2.8 permanently attached. I find I don't need anything else, its all really a mindset.

That's funny.

I've spent so much time where a 50mm (or equivalent) was my *only* lens, I keep having to remind myself to pull out my other lenses.

Most of my people shoots I just leave a normal lens on... one less thing to worry about.

only one lens 35mm (on 5D)agree with Paul A. above, its a mindset

"Carl, what are you talking about? A 24mm lens on a 23.5mm wide sensor is really a wide angle lens, not a "normal" lens at all. You have denied the entire idea behind Mike's proposition."

Not really. What I'm saying is that my chameleon is a slightly wide, not normal, lens. Exactly like the 35 on a Leica, 50 on a Hassy, or 240 on an 8x10. Any lens can be a chameleon, if it fits your vision. I do a lot of work with a 7x17 inch camera, and almost never use anything but a 305mm lens. That's a bit longer than normal if you look at the 7-inch dimension, but extremely wide if you compare to the long dimension or diagonal. Nevertheless it's perfect for what I do in that format.

I started photography in the '50s when interchangeable lenses were a rarity. As time passed I settled on a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) with a fixed normal lens. Of course I moved on and now have an arsenal of zooms for my digital body. When I read this post I went back and reviewed my last 2000 captures. What I discovered was that an overwhelming majority (83%) of my better shots were taken between 35 and 50 mm (adjusted for sensor size factor). My primary client is a local newspaper, so I went back and reviewed what they had published of mine in the last year. Excluding sports action shots and “formal” portraits, 93% of the remaining 218 were shot between 35 and 50mm (adjusted).

I also worked on the 50 1.8 for all of my work so far. As long as I can walk close to the subject and reorient myself, I rarely find any need personally for other focal lengths.

PS I enjoyed the great 50mm lenses discussions by Mike on the old TOP. Great article.

For me, it's a bit of a stretch to make a 35mm lens look like a short tele, and similarly a bit tough to make a 50 look wide. I suppose a 42-43mm lens would be most versatile for my purposes, but I don't have one of those. At any rate, versatility is not my main goal, otherwise I'd take a zoom =). My preferred length to travel with when I take only one, is 28mm, but quite often I take just the 50.

Why would anyone, outside of a few photographic endeavors, restrict themselves to a single prime lens? Street photographers and those pursuing photo-documentary stories may best be served by minimizing gear to keep a low profile, but for the rest of us it seems a bit....arbitrary and restrictive.

For me, properly capturing a compelling scene (or any subject matter) far outweighs any "inconvenience" I may suffer by changing lenses. I'm not saying we all need to have a bag full of a dozen different lenses - I use only 4 - but we shouldn't be hamstringing ourselves to make photography "easier". It's not about effort, or lack of, it's about results.

I realize that some people use a single lens, be it 35 or a 50, or even a 180, because that's how they see the world around them. That's their style, but it's a style chosen subconsciously from some inner creative voice, not purposefully with the intention of simplifying their work.

As for the 50mm lens (or 35mm lens on a 1.6x digital SLR), I will agree it's an under appreciated lens. It does not have the juxtapositioning effects of the extreme wide-angle, nor the spacial flattening of the telephoto. It often requires more thought to use properly. That does not, however, make it THE only lens worth using, as that decision takes subject matter completely out of the equation.

When I was in art school I took a photo class with Larry Sultan. Pretty much for the whole semester he allowed us to only shoot with 50mm and Tri-X (this was in the late 80's). It was a tremendously enlightening experience and to this day I primarily shoot with a single lens, though these days it's a 24mm on a Pentax DSLR, so about 35mm. I have a variety of other lenses, but this is the one that's on there 80%+ of the time.

I went to Paris recently, my first thought was to take a variety of lenses to cover this amazing city, but in the end I decided to travel light (and to appease the wife!)with just a 35 F2 on my DSLR. The experience was liberating and I enjoyed the challenge of shooting the eiffel tower with a lens that would only show part of a leg! Its pretty much stuck on the camera now and saves me the problem of deciding which focal lens to set on my zoom.

I did a model portfolio shoot a while back using a 28-70 f2.8 zoom, a fair way into it, I realised that pretty much every shot was zoomed to 50mm, so I swapped it for my 50mm f1.4

I use a 35mm prime on a 20D 90% of the time. It's slightly longer then the norm on my camera, but I believe Mike was right when he said in his article The Case Against Zooms (which i first read on his SMP column on LL). That you could learn to impose a primes point of view on the world. I have four lenses, all primes. I often wonder if i have three too many

Ahh how interesting to read.
It actually fits how I tend to work with my primes... mostly one at the time, two at the most.
In my opinion this fact is not true for the normal lens only. it is true for almost any lens (prime), they work the best if they are used alone.
On a recent trip to New York and DC I shot a good 1000 captures using only the FA31ltd. it did excellent.
I feel the same especially with the 20mm equiv. it is so wide that it requires a mindset of its own.
But all my lenses are like that to me.

Sure there will be captures that I may not get, but those I do get are in my opinion better.

Thanks for the read.

The potential pitfall of using only one lens is that, too often, the composition is dictated by the focal length available and not that which is best suited to the subject.

Most will agree that working with one lens at a time is a liberating experience. It is a wonderful way to learn about that lens. I must admit to loving standard lenses, and agree that they can be used as short teles and as wides. I shoot predominantly with a 4 x 5... have tried a 135mm, 150mm and 180mm all very close around the normal 150mm lens for this rig. I find the 135 too wide, and the 180mm a bit too long... and have consistently found that my best work has been with a 150mm standard 4 x 5 lens. Yes I do occasionally use a wide angle, and a telephoto, but the standard is my favorite, and I really do find it liberating to just use one lens... Not only do I see more images when working this, I take more, and yes there are always more keepers.

As a photographic teacher I can say that most photographers will improve their work if they complete the assignment as outlined in these replies / posts of just using one normal lens for a set period of time, use it, experiment with it, explore it, and love it. Then see what happens...

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007