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Tuesday, 25 May 2010


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Although I own a half-dozen lenses for my five m4/3 bodies (I'm going to sell a few of them soon, I swear!), I only ever take more than one with me if I'm going to be shooting out of my car. Otherwise, I grab the lens I believe will be either the most suitable lens for my expected subject matter or the one that will be the easiest to carry around.

So you're not the only person who employs the "own many lenses, carry very few" approach to photography.

I would suggest to add an extension ring (Kenko for my Nikon and now Pentax Helicord extension plus a reverse ring). I can work a bit to adjust to the subject but macro is macro. You cannot get it unless you have something to help you.

Hence 1.5 lens is my minimum, even if I do not carry my tripod which is not ideal for macro taking to say the least.

Mike, I thhink your recommendation is sound, although you might say - own as many lenses as you like, but never take more than one out the door. As for a three lens kit, well that's overkill.


Follow up to earlier post, I fully agree with you on the 35/85 lenses, I have lots of lenses but mostly carry the heavy 24 to 70 and 70 to 200 and mostly use them mostly at 35 and 85 mm. I rationalize this as just in case but i rarely stray from the familiar perspectives. I see all in 35 mm and isolate with the 85 mm. i think i will try to only use the primes next week.(maybe a 2x extender or am i caving in already)

When I'm out and about hoping shots will find me, I'll take the sweet 20 on my GF1. When I know a tele may be needed the 45-200 also comes along mainly for shooting music stages adn wildlife.
The sweet 20 is there to take me back to my habits of 50 years ago and I don't think I've had to zoom more than 10 feet by foot.

As you're taking up my approach on 2 lenses, I'll chip in my 3rd lens approach: a different camera!
Only happens for extended trips. There's usually a primary pupose for the trip, and thus photography. having something different picks up the odd scenarios, incidentals etc.
e.g. if I'm going LF, I might have an SLR and single multi-purpose. If I'm travelling then a pocket camera. Wildlife shoot I took a rangefinder for social stuff.
On the occassions I've taken a bunch of gear for a single system, I've never needed more than 2 lenses but missed having an alternative.

You said "I think I've formulated a new standard recommendation: own as many lenses as you want at home, but take as few as you can with you for each shoot or trip."

I couldn't agree more. I've been able to buy as many MF lenses as I want thanks to the depressed prices as the world converted to digital. I have so much stuff, that loading the car is a major task. Has my photography improved? No. I was better off with an Pentax LX and a 20mm, 50mm macro and an 80-200mm zoom (well, the 300mm was handy too). Still, a very small collection, easy to carry and use. I think I'll sell it all and get a 5D with a 24-105mm along with a 70-200mm. And maybe a 300mm f4 with a 1.4 extender and ...

Thank you kindly for the mention, Mike.

My use of Leica M lenses has always followed the approach you're considering. Silly me, I thought everyone (except professionals) did this! Especially users of heavier (D)SLRs.

Unless I'm traveling, I pick one, or maximum two, lenses for the day. The second one goes in a pocket or pouch, never in a bag, so it's easy to access if needed. Otherwise, it's camera and lens over shoulder...done. And, even if traveling, it's max 4 lenses, since they all fit in a small travel bag. After reaching my destination, it's back to the same process.

The exception is if I'm working out of a car for the day rather than on foot. Then I might put the travel bag in the car with 3 or 4 lenses, and even a small tripod. But, if I park and decide to wander, it's back to one or two lenses based on the subject matter.

Remember your training recommendation to use one lens (on a Leica, albeit film )? The process works long after the training is done. For me, the last 35 years or so (with 35 mm film and digital, that is).

Forget lenses, I'm impressed that you're still typing after writing two longish articles and fielding 200+ comments about lenses (many of them longish) in a couple of days. You are a master blogger, Mike. (And that wasn't meant as a double-entendre, either.)

One probably needs at least three lenses for photography -- one for each eye and one or more for the camera!

When I was in college and bought a Leica M4, all I could afford was a 35mm Summicron. After about the 20th roll of film, I realized that was all I needed for most work. I had a Nikon F3 and the 85mm for portraits. 2 cameras, 2 lenses. Had a full complement of Nikkor lenses, but mostly used those 2.

Fast forward 20 years, I recently got a D700, and despite having the full range of f/2.8 zooms, I use the 35mm f/2 most of the time--fast, light and small. The zooms are just too big and heavy.

What's the best lens to shoot _____? The one attached to your camera. I firmly believe in that. I've owned a number of different lenses over the years, and I've also shot with cameras (TLR for example) that have one fixed focal length lens. I've found that with 35mm for example one can create almost any effect by changing lenses, whereas shooting with a TLR with a 6x6 cm image and one lens forced me to be more creative in my approach.

I'd like to see a return to say a 50mm f/1.4 lens as a standard (or maybe 35mm for cropped format sensors), especially for new photographers as it does challenge how you see what's in the viewfinder and what you have to do to make it look the way you want.


I think a multiple-lens kit should be judged, not by the number of lenses in it, but by the total weight of the glass. I think my four-lens kit weighs less than many two-lens kits. It's for my E-P2.

Olympus 9-18mm f4-5.6 zoom
Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7
Minolta Rokkor-X 45mm f2 pancake
Minolta MD 135mm f3.5

The total weight of the lenses, including front and rear caps and the adapter for the two Minolta primes, is 785 g (1 lb 12 oz).

Adding a Minolta 2-element achromatic No. 2 close-up lens the 49mm filter threads on either of the two longer primes allows superb macro, at a magnification exceeding 1:1 (or 2X if you consider the crop factor of micro four thirds) when on the 135mm.

I was contemplating the two lens kit after reading the posts and looked over to the shelves where all my camera gear sits. It was then that I realized that I actually have more cameras than I do lenses! I wonder what oddball group that puts me in?

These days I seem to be going out with just the 28mm f/2 manual Nikkor (effective ~37mm) on a d300 body. Few months ago I was taking along the 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor as well, but I hardly used that in the past year. I do keep a 35mm cron on an M6 in the bag, in case the d300 fails. But more and more it is just that one lens on one body. Wish I could afford an M9--d300/28mm is such a big and ugly contraption, a pain to carry!

I've used all manner of combinations of lenses and cameras when shooting for myself, including:

- multiple compacts covering a range of focal lengths and ISO abilities (Fuji F30 + Sigma DP1)

- DSLR + zoom + fast prime

- DSLR + zoom + compact cam with zoom (G7/G10)

- film rangefinder + 35/1.4 + zoom compact like G7 or G10

I've gone from carrying lots of little cameras to one big camera + lenses, and back again. Now I usually carry the M9, the ZM 25/2.8, either the CV35/1.4 or Summicron 50/2 depending on whether I'll be shooting the day or night, and the Canon S90 for things like macro, video, and grabshots. I leave all my other gear at home!

I've discovered that what I really want is the best balance of the smallest gear, the best image quality, and the ability to capture natural scenes in varying light conditions.

I think we all eventually find the combination of gear that allows us to do what we want. I have little personal need for sports-oriented zooms or birding zooms, but for some, it is essential. I often want the widest natural perspective I can get, which for me is the 21-28mm range, but for others that is just too wide.

Any zoom lens IS a two-lens kit, since statistics have shown that most people use zooms around 90% of the time at their extremities, focal-length-wise.

You'll recall that when Leica released the CL, they released a small 40mm and a small 90mm to go with it. You could use almost all the other M lenses, but the CL/40/90 was their idea of a complete travel kit.

"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail" (Mark Twain, via Reader's Digest)

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing" (Isaiah -- or was it Irving? --Berlin)

Some lenticular food for thought, Mike...

Ha! And here I was watching "Apocalypse Now" last night and spend a few minutes pausing the movie to size up the cameras Dennis Hopper's photojournalist character was using.

Chris S

I've come late to the lens combo debate. Last year I acquired a 70-200 F4 IS which is my first and only zoom. This is going to sound funny to many but I kinda don't know or forget where I am in relation to my subject when I'm using a zoom. That's of course the exact opposite of how I feel when I'm using primes.

I've been thinking about getting rid of my 50 along with the zoom. I use my 35mm much
more and it would leave me with a 35 85 135.
The 135 still might be one lens too many

How about this for travelling light. I left all my gear at home last weekend and just took a 4gb card to a friends barbecue and stuck it in his 40D with his 17-85 2.8.

Funny, in film days, I could not shoot colour and B&W during the same outing. Is that a similar thing to not using different lenses on the same outing?

I tried a few times, loading different films in two bodies that shared lenses (K-mount), and all I produced was crap. More crap than usual, I mean. So I gave up.

Since going digital, I know I can turn the photos into B&W at home later, but I never do. It's a mental block, obviously. If I didn't take the pic with B&W in mind, converting later doesn't appeal to me. I wonder what else I stop myself from doing for no good reason.

Right now I'm a one-camera-one-lens-one-film kinda' guy, and I gotta say I'm liking it. Much less to obsess about before heading out the door. Zeiss Ikon, 35mm Biogon, T-Max 400. Much fun.

Well the original post has a massive number of comments, so I'll add my thoughts here instead: I love the 2-lens concept. Over the last year I've settled on the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 and the ultrawide 14-24mm f/2.8.

I ended up loving that combination when I decided that's what I'd take to Italy last summer -- the ultrawide is terrific in both cities and countryside, and the 85 serves many purposes: shallow DOF, portraits, mild telephoto, and low light. (Though on that trip it was the 17-35mm f/2.8)

What's also important is to end up with lenses that all take the same filter size -- or at least add step-up or step-down rings where necessary.

I should have said in my comment to 'The Two-Lens Kit: The Mike Version (Part II)', that I carry three or four lenses, or I carry one. Seldom do I carry two. The one lens will be a standard zoom or a 35mm or equivalent.

Just to add another data point on the subject — when I got into photography not quite six years ago now, I was more fascinated by lenses than anything else, equipment-wise, and within a year or so had a whole drawerful of them: fast primes, zooms image-stabilizing and not, teleconverters, tilt-shifts, even a pin-holed body cover. Gradually, over the next few years, more and more of them stayed in the drawer longer and longer, and then I sold most of them. Today the kit is a 28-90 zoom (this is the one that stays on the camera the most), an 80-200 zoom (the next most frequently used), a 2X teleconverter (just for fun), and a 50mm f/2 prime (for the occasional pleasure of the discipline it imposes). I also dropped back from having several cameras to having just one (5D Mark II), though the Olympus PEN2 could get me to change my mind about that.

What happened was I got less interested in equipment and more interested in taking pictures . . . .

A few years ago I went on a week-long bicycling tour of the Loire Valley in France (yeah, it's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it...) Though I probably have 20 lenses I just took 5 on this trip (20mm, 24mm, 31mm, 43mm and 200mm primes). And each day I selected just 2 to carry with me, picking a different combination pretty much at random.

This has since become pretty much SOP for me: Choose a handful of lenses for any given trip (the number depending on how photography-oriented the trip is going to be) and then selecting two or three for any given outing during the trip.

Thoroughly agree with the 'own many, select two (primes) for any outing' rule of thumb. It's what I realise I've been doing for some time. It has meant I've missed a few opportunities, but being realistic even if I had the 'big guns' with me they would have been in the car not in my shoulderbag so I'd have needed to go back for them and missed the shot anyway. I weaned myself off the 'cover all focal lengths' zoom mentality and now only have 2 modest zooms for a strictly "travelling light, not on a mission" mode.

Incidentally, love the 'Dennis Hopper/Apocalypse Now' idea. Doubtless he would only be using Tri-X anyway but one reason for multiple bodies then was to switch between different film stock not just lenses. I had a silver OM1 and a black OM1, for BW and colour film.

This sounds like how I work. 90 percent of my work the last 25 years has been with 16" and 21" lenses, on #10 Cirkut. But I have a shelf full of lenses to bring if I think I will need something else. Now I have a digital for back-up with 50mm and 70mm.
In my news days, yes I carried two cameras, though never side by side as in the Dennis Hopper picture. Two different perspectives can allow you to sell more pictures to your editor.

It is acknowledged in the movie by the Dennis Hopper character after taking many shots with his arsenal of cameras hanging around his neck that he didn't have any film.....he just liked shooting. think I'll take the card out of my D700, walk the dog and enjoy the day and take some shots.

My wife tells me that I can have that Leica M9 with the new Summilux 35mm F1.4 ASPH lens, but due to the cost, that will be my ONLY camera and lens.

...I'm thinking...

Hi Mike
Whilst numbers are a problem it is also size and weight.
All systems have advantages but for us Pentax afficianados the beauty is
Body K7
All three lenses can be bunged in your coat pocket at a pinch ... very nice

Not so well supplied for Telephoto work but it makes for light work.

I must say I quite like just going out with say the DA35 Macro and then spending the day seeing the world through that lens. Its rather like the pleasure you get from avoiding freezers and just eating fruit in season


all I have is a 21mm and a 43mm... if someone would donate more lenses I'd gladly only take 2 out at a time, then I could be part of the cool crowd!

Alas, I seem to be in the middle of everything... I own three cameras, each with one lens, of which I only ever take one with me: most of the time a 35mm Leica, if I expect more difficult conditions a 28-105 zoom Nikon DSLR with a remote flash and when I have to or want to travel light a 24-60 zoom Panasonic compact. That's it. Covers all my bases.

I guess that puts me in a virtual 1-2-3 lens kit camp, as I only use 35mm with the Leica, 28 and 105mm with the Nikon (the extremes) and 24, 35 and 60mm with the Panny.

Which now is my ideal kit? The one-lens Leica, no doubt. That's the one for my 'personal work' (I don't really differentiate). The Nikon earns the money. And the Panny is for when I need something really small and sometimes it serves as a backup.


I read somewhere that Leica suggest a 35mm plus an 85mm as an ideal two lens kit, so you're in good company Mike. I often carry a 24mm and a 50 macro, both Sigma manual focus lenses, to use on my Pentax K7. These give me the 35mm equivalence of a 36mm and a 75mm which is pretty close to the suggested 'ideal' and suits me well enough.

Those are Nikons draped round his neck, right ?

... but who makes the invisible LF rig he's using ?

"Look at me---wrong!"

To paraphrase Senator Phil Grahm of Texas "I have more lenses than I need (for any given shoot) but fewer than I want".

I think that the people who are using one or two fixed lenses have figured out that they are intending to shoot a certain kind of subject matter in their particular style and are equipping themselves for that purpose alone. They do not feel that they need to be equipped for anything at any time. There is, IMO, an uncertainty that beginners feel which in conjunction with the pressure of sales and marketing departments lead them to believe that a wider range of focal lengths gives them flexibility. It can but until they learn their craft, subject choice and style only hinders the quality of their images.

Give a photographer a camera with a fixed lens of any length and their ability to make interesting photos quickly becomes apparent. The photographers’ vision is the ultimate photographic tool while the camera becomes merely a vehicle to that vision. Thus some great photographers, like David Allan Harvey, can produce the bulk of their life’s work with one body and one focal length.

For me, I choose the lens or lenses that I use based on the subject matter and conditions that I will be in. Sometimes the best lens for the job is my 400mm f/2.8, my 14mm or maybe my 105mm Micro. I prefer to have my gear as simple and transparent in my working method as possible. Given that I am often working with people at a conversational distance who are not used to being photographed I have long since adopted a basic kit of one body with a 24mm f/2.8 or 28mm f/1.4 on one body and an 85mm f/1.4 on a second body so that I can quickly switch between the two for either environmental/wide shots or tight details in any light. I typically do 85% of my news/documentary work this way.

The "Apocalypse now" thing remembers me that Sebastião Salgado, a fellow brazilian, travelled with four camera/lens conbinations: Three M's, with 28, 35, 50mm, and a R6.2, with a 70-180mm Vario-Elmarit, "only for emergencies". He hates to exchange lenses. Of course, his projects took around 8 months in the same area, so that was his "closet collection"
Personally, I'm absolutely against the "full of lenses closet" approach, even, or perhaps, exactly because I have a closet with 9 of them.(taking measures about it).
I have used most time my 35mm and 100mm f2.8 Zuiko in a OM1 or OM2 bodies.
To develop real intimacy with a lens, to really know it's strengths and weakness, and to use this knowledge to do a really meaningful work, takes time.
Which leaded me to think that we should really choose the lenses, then the camera.
I tried it with the Panny 20mm and G1. The lens is excellent, but the camera didn't convince me. It hasn't the OM's simplicity or my ex D300 resources. I'm still not confortable with my digital choices.
A good lens would be a partner for life...(I'm 62)
Now, that 31mm Pentax Limited...
It's fantastic how a extraordinary full frame lens behaves in a AP-C body...I tried myself in a friend's K-7.
And even a three lens Pentax kit (21,31,70) would still be lighter than the Canon 17-55.
The fact that the 31mm is out-of stock everywhere is a blessing, so I can avoid temptation and think more about it... By the way, Mike, it would be a very interesting theme to explore is a comparison between the advantages of the full frame cameras and lenses versus the advantage of the full frame lenses in AP-C cameras, specially in this brave the new 15mp and up world...
Thank you for this great site.
Eudoro Jr.
Rio de janeiro, Brazil

The best THREE lens kit? The two in your head and one on the camera... nothing better than that! :-)

"... but who makes the invisible LF rig he's using ?"

I don't know, but maybe the maker's initials are "L.S.D."--?


"all I have is a 21mm and a 43mm... if someone would donate more lenses I'd gladly only take 2 out at a time, then I could be part of the cool crowd!"

Nah, just tell 'em you have 12 more lenses at home but those are the only two you need. Who'll know?


"I read somewhere that Leica suggest a 35mm plus an 85mm as an ideal two lens kit, so you're in good company Mike."

It's more likely that Leica said a 35mm and a 90mm. Most of Leica's short teles are 90mm; I don't believe they've made many (or any) 85mms. You could also carry a 35/80 in the SLR line and a 35/75 in the M line.


"My wife tells me that I can have that Leica M9 with the new Summilux 35mm F1.4 ASPH lens, but due to the cost, that will be my ONLY camera and lens. ...I'm thinking..."

You have to think?

Just put in an "I can sell it if I hate it and use the proceeds to get something else, right?" clause, and then jump. Suck it up. Go for it. Both feet. (But don't close your eyes, because that seldom helps where photography is concerned.)


"Just put in an 'I can sell it if I hate it and use the proceeds to get something else, right?' clause, and then jump."

That's exactly why she doesn't like me hanging around with you guys.

@David Zivic

"It is acknowledged in the movie by the Dennis Hopper character after taking many shots with his arsenal of cameras hanging around his neck that he didn't have any film.....he just liked shooting."

Brilliant! This is exactly how I feel about fishing: I love to go fishing, but hate catching fish.

Sorry, way off topic. Perhaps we should talk about cars ...

OK, lenses. I'll add to a previous post of mine in which I claimed I usually take three primes out with my Leica by saying that yes, one lens is fine if it's just a casual camera walkabout. I do that quite often. But if I'm going to make an effort to actually go somewhere to take photographs then I'm going to need that 21 (or 24), 35, and 75.

Don't know if I could make it on two lenses. Three is my choice: 14-24 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8, and 70-300. Since I don't shoot much at the longer lengths (I love being in really close) the variable aperture long zoom does just fine.

There are already lots of comments here. So here's mine, as well:

There is a "great big pentax lens survey" (as if we needed any more indication that photographers do occasionally think about lenses), to which I responded. But that was for a trip where photography was not the prime purpose (for the other participants).

For my trips, I find that 31mm (on APS-C) is pretty much ideal, and the addition of a macro lens facilitates making the bulk of my preferred style of photograph. That all presupposes the inclusion of a small tripod, a torch and/or hot shoe flash (my handbag is very convenient). And most importantly: a modicum of time to perform some "zooming with feet".

"My wife tells me that I can have that Leica M9 with the new Summilux 35mm F1.4 ASPH lens, but due to the cost, that will be my ONLY camera and lens. ...I'm thinking..."

The only things you might want as supplements to that kit are a high-end research microscope, and the Hubble Space Telescope. But the M9 with the 35 'lux will cover nearly everything else.

For me, the only serious argument against a kit like that is that if I had one, I might worry too much about breaking it in one way or another, and that would probably be an inhibition against using it the way it really should be used. When I bought an M6 and 35 Lux ASPH was that I promised myself that I would always take it anywhere that my old Nikons would have gone. And it has, and it has the scars to prove it.

Absolutely agree with the 35/85 perspective.

35 for general work; it's wide enough to get everything without proclaiming "Look! I'm a wide lens."

85 for portraiture and such things.

That's what I use, approximately (24mm and 50mm on a 1.5x body). It's a pity that today's camera makers think prime=premium (superfast, amazing motors, etc.) 35mm equivalent f/2.8 is plenty fast.

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