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Sunday, 23 May 2010


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Today I was in the Texas outback shooting at a feed and milling company for my latest project. My two lens system consisted of a 17-35 on my 5D Mk1 and a 20mm on my Olympus E-PL1. These days my 5D is either wearing the 17-35 or an 85mm prime most of the time.

I acquired the E-PL1 to do some shooting on the street during my lunch hour. Downtown San Antonio is a great place to photograph due to the mix of locals and tourists. My strategy is to eat less and shoot more to improve my waistline. For this purpose the Panasonic 20mm is a superior lens. Eventually I'll end up with the 20mm and a 28 or 35mm Zuiko legacy lens for a two lens system for the small camera.

I've got too many lens and I use a 35, a 50 and occasionally a 15 or an 85. My zooms stay at home because I don't want to carru them.


> But still, having two slow, large and not-very-well-built lenses instead of one [...]
They're definitely slow, and not so well built either... but the latter makes them light, and I'd say it plays a part in their success.

Damn, no cars analogy this time?
Good to see someone who likes Zuiko Digital lenses and appreciates its qualities.

Another reason to love my Leica Ms (whether film or digital). Just pick a couple of fast, small and superb lenses at any common focal length, which for me doesn't go beyond 28 to 90mm.

[Wider enthusiasts can now even get 1.4 lenses at 21 or 24. Or, get a 'WATE' for 16-18-21 combined, and/or a 'MATE' for 28-35-50 combined (the latter on the used market).]

Apart from cost, easy peasy.

Most importantly, my camera and small lens(es) are usually with me, unlike my former SLRs, which were too big and heavy to take everywhere. They served a useful but different purpose, but that purpose wasn't served too well when they weren't around.

As a fellow m4/3 user, I would suggest the PanaLeica 14-50/f2.8-3.5 as an alternative to the Olympus 12-60. It's more costly, doesn't go quite as wide or as long, but IMO, it has better IQ at the focal lengths it does cover and it's also slightly smaller and lighter.

I would also suggest that you acquire another Contax 45mm Tessar, as it's a great short portrait lens on a GF-1, although their prices have been rising lately and they're not the bargain they once were.

I'm definitely a prime guy. And yes, I own a 20, a 24, a 28, a 35 and so on. Don't really know why. I just acted on good opportunities and ended up with all those primes. But my favourite prime on APS-C Nikons was the 28. Worked beautifully. Not that small (small enough though, considering Nikon's not so small bodies), not that fast, but quite good and quite cheap.

Back in 1993 I could have been that odd news photographer -- that was about the time I switched to AF and zoom lenses. I got a pair of the original EOS-1 cameras, the 20-35, and the 80-200 f/2.8 zooms. I shot all my work with those, along with an F-1N and a 300/2.8 for sports. (I had been using three T-90 bodies, with the 24/35/50/85/200 primes. Oh, and the 300 and the F1N for sports. Those T-90's were pretty radical for news photographers anyway -- most Canon shooters were still using various F-1 cameras, and the Nikon shooters had F-3's and some F-4's. And FM2's of course.)

Now I am using basically the same kit -- I have a pair of EOS-1 bodies (the digital versions, of course), and I do most of my work with the 16-35 and 70-200 zooms, but nowadays it's considered the standard kit among news photogs. When I want to be radical I grab my 24/1.4 and my 85/1.2 and shoot wide open. That's fun. (I also have the 35 and 50 and I really want the 135/2. So now I have replicated all my old primes and have two complete sets of lenses -- primes and zooms. What does that say? Hmmm.)

This is all very complicated, but basically it comes down to what you do. I've always done documentary stuff (when working) and super resolution wasn't necessary, but speed was always important. So was lens range. The last two times I did PJ stuff, I carried the three big Nikon f2.8 zooms, plus a 105 macro, and I needed them...and I had plenty of speed because I was shooting a D3. One aspect of PJ work is, I think, a willingness to accept "good enough" in image quality, as long as you have the mostest in range and speed and carryability -- and that would probably not be a compromise that an artist would accept.

Some of this is why my main system now is the Panasonic 4/3. It has the range and (barely) enough speed, the carryability is superb, the quality good enough; and I love the pancake. And I still have the Nikon, just in case.

"If I were specifying "dream" or imaginary gear, a perfect pair in my view would be, on an APS-C camera with body-integral IS, a 19–57mm ƒ/2.8..."

How about the next best thing, IS in the lens: Canon's 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM? It's my everyday lens.

As far as a two-lens setup, wouldn't it depend on the particular situation?

I spent four days recently in the East Mojave Preserve, California, hiking light with just two lenses: Canon's 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5, and 60mm f/2.8 macro. My main intention was photographing the tremendous wash of gorgeous flowers at the peak of the blooming season. The wide-angle zoom for the plant and surrounding habitat, the macro for the closeups/macro shots of the flowers.

On another occasion, I photographed an outdoor wedding reception with the 17-55mm and 85mm f/1.8.

Different setups for different tasks, I would think!



I have tried and tried to make a two-prime kit work for me, but it just doesn't.

When I go out with my Leica (*cough* ... M8 ... *cough*) I usually take a 21, a 35, and a 75. My attempts to make do with just the 35 and 75 have usually involved some frustration in situations that required a bit more width. It might only be a few shots in a whole day of shooting, but I hate missing those shots. Of course it's the 35 that does most of the shooting. Fortunately, M-mount lenses are teeny things compared to most other formats, so carrying three lenses is not a huge problem. If you're wearing a light jacket you don't even need a bag.

But that's for fun. When someone's paying me to shoot it's the Nikon D700 (actually two Nikon D700 bodies) and an uninterrupted focal length range from 14 mm through 200 mm, F2.8 all the way: 14-24, 24-70, and 70-200 zooms. All in all a bulky, heavy kit that is no fun to lug around, but can be relied on to "get the shot" in the widest possible range of shooting conditions.

I think I prefer shooting for fun. Easier on the back.

I'm currently operating a three-lens kit on my E-P1: the 14-42mm zoom, and 50/1.4 and 100/2.8 OM Zuikos. The 100/2.8 (200mm-e) doesn't get used nearly as often as the others though, so it's almost a two-lens kit. And it seems that I almost use the zoom as a wide prime: I recently pulled my EXIF data, and found that around two-thirds of my shots with the zoom are at 14mm. So I reckon my perfect two-lens kit would be 14mm & 50mm primes (28/100mm-e), with maybe an 85mm or 100mm in the bag as a long lens when I need it.

I suspect I'm not typical of the modern camera consumer though. The E-P1 is my first "real" camera, and at the moment I'm half considering an OM-2 as a backup body...

I too have been lucky to make my living with a camera for the past 30 years. In that time I've been all over the place, from Nikons, to Leica M's to EOS zooms, to primes, back to zooms, and finally back to primes.

Zooms stay on the shelf unless I'm shooting dance, or sports. They are just too damn heavy to schlep around all day. Plus, the primes make me move more to find the right relationship between subject and background.

My previous set up was a 24 / 50 / 135 L set up with a 300 and a 14 when needed. 99% of my work is photographing people with my approach being documentary and natural light. I work close in and discreetly, so not having a big lens in people's faces is preferable. A body and the 3 lenses all fit in a tiny little bag that doesn't get in the way.

I offset the inconvenience of having to change lenses in fast moving situations like events by having 3 bodies, but carry no bag. Even with a 4th body for the 300 at busy wide ranging events, I'm far less fatigued at the end of the day than when I carried 2 bodies and 2 heavy zooms.

Many times though, the 24 felt just a bit wide and the 135 could be a bit too long in close quarters where I often find myself. I've recently had a hankering to tighten things up a bit and have invested in a Zeiss 28 / 50 / 100 (all f2.0) lenses, a combo that harkens back to my Leica and Nikon days. It's good to be home with these 3 extremely versatile focal lengths. Seems the older I get, the more traditional my approach becomes.

For the past 20+ years I have provided photographic coverage for Riverfront Recapture (Riverfront.org). In the 1990s I started off with using a Pentax 645 and 5 Pentax lenses from 35mm to 200mm for B&W and a Nikon with 3-5 Nikkors for color slides… way too much equipment to carry but for each coverage assignment 99% of the time all the lenses were used on a regular basis. Add a 35mm Noblex for panoramics. Then 35mm color slides only, then Digital APS system with a slew of lenses from 10mm to 400mm, all zooms, finally to the present. Now using full frame Digital exclusively. For last 2 or 3 years have finally been able to carry a minimum of lenses: 14-24mm Nikkor (superb optic), 24-120mm Nikkor (10 year old optic, first AF version. Have tested it next to current 24-120mm VR Nikkors, the newer VR optics always are less sharp at ALL focal lengths), an 80-400mm VR Nikkor (not all that fast to auto focus, for sports events an 80-200mm f/2.8 AF Nikkor is far, far superior). The 80-400mm at longer focal lengths isn’t tack sharp but its zoom range is awesome for event coverage. 98% of the time these three optics are all I need, and having all my gear being able to fit into a small backpack (which in case of downpour a plastic garbage bag protects all) makes an 8 hour day of constantly being on my feet doable even on a 90+ degree summer day. For the other 2% of the time I’ll just bring whatever lenses are needed for that event’s coverage wether it be a full frame fisheye or an 800mm telephoto. With Photoshop’s merge feature, the Noblex was gladly sold. When you’re handholding your camera 99% of the time, using Zeiss or similar optics I really don’t think would give me better images. Zooms are essential for quick event shooting. Now all that said, for my personal photography I enjoy most going out with a circa 1910 11x14 Improved Empire State view with either a 12 or 14 inch optic. If shooting full frame digital, two optics are my favorites: 35mm f/1.4 and a 85mm f/1.4, both manual focus by choice.

Thoughtful, well written, and seriously whets my appetite for a small camera, with a small prime, at the 30-40mm range ..., though I'm perfectly happy with my primary cameras IQ, a Canon G9 with it's 35-210 covers all zoom.

In fact, I think my appetite for a small prime on a small camera is just me pining for a gloriously misspent youth, when I lugged around one of those clanking Nikons with 50mm 1.4, and I did do some of that closet stuff, though I could usually find a darkroom, or bag.

My personal set is

Full frame: Nikon 24-85 AF-S for "do everything". Nikon 35/2 that I actually use more often than not. For long work, sub in the 70-300, or the Nikon 180 if I owned it.

APS-C: Nikon 18-70 for general purpose. Never found a prime I liked to use in this format. Can't say why.

I could probably get by with just a 24 and 85 or 105. Or just a 35 or 85/105. I never seem to need the focal lengths in the middle.

"Now all that said, for my personal photography I enjoy most going out with a circa 1910 11x14 Improved Empire State view with either a 12 or 14 inch optic."



Very interesting, apparently great minds think alike! :-)

After having spent a few years shlepping 40 pounds of Canon L glass, several bodies, and a tripod during my nature-boy days, I am now much more minimalist. Frankly, my aging body just can't tolerate the weight, and who wants to bother? My present kit is an Oly e620, the 14-54 mm f2.8-3.5 II zoom, and the 50/2.0 macro. I see no advantage to the e30 over the e620. I chose the 14-54 over the 12-60 because it is in my opinion optically equal, just as fast, costs half as much, weighs 25% less, is more compact, and covers all of the focal lengths I ever need. The camera and lens together weigh 2 pounds, are image stabilized and I can carry it around all day. The 50/2.0 has the lineage of the legendary OM Zuiko 50/2.0 macro and I use it for portraits when I need the bokeh. I own the 25mm pancake lens, but it is nothing special optically and is not as good as the zoom at the same focal length. I use it when compactness is the main concern. Most of the rest of the gear in my camera cabinet is being parceled out on Ebay.

I think that I could be very happy with a light, compact body and compact equivalent focal FOV versions of 28, 40, and 90 primes like I have for my Minolta CLE film camera. I would use the 40 probably 90% of the time. Unfortunately, no one is selling such a camera with an integrated optical (not evf) viewfinder, short of mortgaging the house to buy an M9.

I've recently moved to a 3 lens kit :)

I'm on a d300s so 1.5x crop.

I use a 16-85 f/3.5-5.6 and 24mm f2.8 Ai-s as my two main lenses and a 70-300mm f4-5.6 as my occasional long end.

I also have a 50 f1.8 but I find that focal length either too long or not long enough.

I'm also about to grab a couple of other Ai-s lenses 85 f2 and 105 f2.5

I've found the move to manual focus has greatly improved my photography as it forces me to slow down a bit and think about what I'm shooting.

While all is said and true concerning weight, convenience and IQ, the thing about not using primes is that you never really get to know what each focal length is capable of achieving in a given situation. Religious use of primes force you to become intimately aware of every quirk, limitation and strength inherent in a given focal length and how they can be used to maximum advantage.

Mike said: I admit that it's possible that there is simply a natural bifurcation between zoom users and prime users, and that people might generally tend to fall into one or the other of the two camps and don't actually much like to switch off between them.

Call me a dichotomy-straddler.

For simplicity's sake, I brought only a 16-50 zoom (on a Pentax K7, 24-75 mme) on a recent journey, so I had to assuage my lingering old-school anti-zoom prejudice by making sure the zoom barrel was set exactly at one of the painted numbers before shooting.

It was as if I had five primes!

Well..... I have the Olympus e620 with the 12-60 and the little 25. I tried the panasonic 25 1.4 and just didn't like it. I use the olympus for color as I love their handling of color. I also like the body design and occasionally playing with (hushed tones) the art filters.

But by an odd fortune I also have a pentax k20D which I like to use for black and white with their limited primes 21, 35, 70 and some legacy manual lenses. I most enjoy shooting black and white with the primes and the pentax. It just seems right for my more serious and thoughtful work.

The APS-C thing definitely complicates issues. Most of the advice I hear these days is to use a wide zoom, a long zoom, and a fast normal prime in between. With the cropped Nikon sensor I use (I don't know Canon at all) that would end up being the slow 10-24, 35 f/1.8, and the slow 55-200. If you want to use faster zooms, you end up with the 17-35 2.8, which is an odd widish to normal, 35 f/1.8, 50 f/1.4, and very long 70-200 f/2.8. If three lenses is a lot to carry, four is just unreasonable.

As a result I ended up with a wideish zoom I rarely use, a super long zoom I rarely use, and my 35 f/2 and 50 f/1.8. It strikes me as ironic that using a high tech digital camera has driven me to using prime lenses, but since there isn't a really good zoom range to work with I almost exclusively shoot primes.

I'm going to be picking up a wider prime to fill out my 35 and 50mm set, which recently led me to the surprising realization that I'll be shooting with the equivalents of the 90mm, 150mm, and 210mm lenses I have always used with my 4x5 view camera. Zooms are nice and all, but in the end moderately wide, normal, and moderately long get the job done.

The more things change, right?

Some time ago I bought a K20D with the kit lens and since been buying some new and old Pentax lenses.
A month ago I got an MX for very cheap, and got it for lens compatibility. Using it at night with a 50/1.7 I found I LOVED the thing. Tiny camera, tiny lens, I'd love a 35/2 too. Working with film again is a pain. But I noticed there are quite a few very strong appeals I'm not getting from almost any new camera/lens combo. I don't know what it is, the control simplicity, the gorgeous viewfinder, the camera you can grab without worying about were you put your fingers, not too many buttons to push accidentally or screens to smudge. No noises, lights, gizmos, I'm not sure. Also, I can tell I need SLRS. It's my way of seeing things. And that makes finding something like a digital MX far more difficult.
I jus shoot for pleasure and fun, and I don't know what it is, but something fell out on the way.
ADDENDUM: the pentax 18-55 kit lens image quality is amazingly goo for such a thing, it could just work. But, I guess in line with what you said, zooms seem to fog my mind rather than clearing it.

Ah, the lens arsenal fun. My GF1 is a 20+14-45. I got the zoom later on because of 14mm. The 14/28 pancake wasn't here, and I couldn't wait (and figured it'd cost more than the zoom).

But I rarely use it. 14 is pretty close to 20 for me as I like a larger separation. So I will likely sell the zoom, and hope someone makes a 12 pancake (oly, I'm looking at you since I doubt panasonic will do it).

On my 5D, I shoot mostly with a 50/135 combo. I will be getting a 17-40 eventually to cover the wide end, as I'm not too keen on the 24/2.8 (and can't justify the 24L). I've considered pairing it with a 24-70/70-200 for events, but I'm getting more comfortable with primes for those (the fast paced events have been a struggle with me).

When crop was my main setup, I similarly had a 30/85 combo, and a 17-50/50-135 combo. non-event/event sets essentially.

Actually, I still have my 85/1.8 since it's a wonderful lens I can't bear to sell unless I REALLY have to. But the 50/135 is my go to kit.

I seem to be the odd one here. For work I carry primes - 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, and sometimes an 85mm. All used on a full frame Nikon. When it comes to fun I tend to carry more gear. Usually a 4x5 and all the trimmings. 90mm, 150mm, 210mm lenses, pinhole turret, 120 and Polaroid backs, film tent, huge tripod, and honestly just an amazing amount of crap that I could probably do without. But don't mind because it's all about the best quality I can muster (that's what I tell myself anyway). But then what do I know? I just bought a tintype kit from Bostick & Sullivan. It's a disease I tell ya.

I'm a prime guy as well. These days I use all my old Nikkor glass on a D700. Works like a charm as I am not in that much of a rush that I need AF etc. The fav's in order of usage are 35, 28, 16 and then going the other way 85 and 200.

I've tried to become one with zooms but have always been left wanting. Maybe the newer ones are better than they were in the 70's and 80's. I wouldn't know.

Thanks, Mike, for a fascinating take on lens choice.

For me at least it always comes down to how much I'm willing or able to lug with me, and my fear of missing a wonderful shot for lack of a specific lens. The "covering all the focal lengths" fetish actually makes at least a tiny bit of sense if you're shooting landscapes. I'm always trying to use every square millimeter of the sensor to maximize enlargement potential. For a lot of landscape work, there really is one best spot to plant your tripod for the exact image you're trying to get; and a few millimeters more (or less) focal length can mean the difference between a really striking composition and...meh.

I can get about 95% of the photographs I want using two lenses: Canon's 24-70 f:2.8 L and 70-200 f:2.8 L zooms. They're heavy like bricks, but sharp enough that the lens is rarely the weak link in the chain from subject to print. I've found that the f:2.8 aperture is a huge help for focusing in fading light compared to the much lighter f:4 to f:5.6 zooms. If I need to go wider than 24 mm, I usually end up stitching frames together, rather than resorting to one of Canon's wider lenses, which really aren't up to the job. Yes, optically some of the very nice "L" prime lenses are better than the zooms; but I always find myself needing a few millimeters more (or less) focal length to get the shot I want, and the quality differences tend to be submerged when shooting most things at f:8 to f:14.

Of course, if I'm photographing friends and family out to dinner, the zooms go back in the closet and I bring along Canon's cheap but wonderful 85 mm f:1.8 lens. I've tried fast 50 mm lenses, and currently own Sigma's lovely 50 mm f:1.7; but try as I might, I just can't use them. The angle of view is just a bit too wide for the way I see; I'm always inadvertently including someone else's elbow, or half of a hideous painting on the wall behind my subject's shoulder.

The comments have reminded me that the only thing I miss now that I've moved from Nikon film to Pentax digital is that AF Nikkor 35/2. Still my favorite lens I've ever owned.

I carry all primes; I prefer them for size and quality, and I've taken advantage of the Pentax used market. I have the DA 21mm/3.2, the A 50mm/2, and the K 135mm/3.5. The 21mm is what I use when I don't carry the camera bag. It's a brilliant lens, but if it was F/2, I'd consider my kit complete.

I don't think I've had the 17-55 f2.8 off my Canon APS-C camera more than a handful of times over the last 2 years. I just plain like that lens and the shots I get from it.

Oddly, I've ended up splitting my kit between primes & zooms. For primes, I have a 28 & 85 (on APS-C), for zooms, 16-80 & 70-300. Also a couple others ... a 50/1.4 that I bought for $25 that sees increasing use, a 400 that I use rarely, and a 3rd party 70-200/2.8 that's specifically for indoor sports & gym events.

I enjoy shooting more with the primes. When I shoot scenics, I like the zoom for framing, though. I'm stopped down for DOF; they're sharp enough, and I've always thought about where to shoot from first, then choose FL for framing. A zoom keeps me from cropping too much. Otherwise, I tend to use zooms at "dual lenses", I flip back & forth between the short end & the long end for the most part.

Michael Reichmans review of the Canon S90 describes one possible setting for the dial that surrounds the lens - he uses it to zoom the lens between 3 or 4 preset FLs. I'm not sure why, but that "feature" (which really takes away functionality) sounds very appealing.

BTW, I found your comments in Part 1 on the early days of zooms very enlightening Mike. Thanks for all the digressions along the way.

Terrific article. Chance and lack of funds leave me with a setup similar to your early two-lens recommendation. I very rarely get the 28-105mm (equiv) zoom out to use in place of the f/1.8 43mm prime but when I do, I'm glad it's there, even though I'm mostly at 28 or 105. I really wish I'd read a piece like this years ago or at least thought the whole thing through a bit more carefully—the idea of leaving no focal length uncovered seems completely rational till you give it some time.

For sports or PJ zooms would be a requirement.
But for art and fun, primes are my choice. When I have a zoom I just go to one end of the range or another, seldom in between, so why not use two faster smaller primes anyway. Give me a 28 and a 90. The 28 will be 90% of the shots. The 90 for portraits and times when I really need a 200 but refuse to carry one.

Amazed you haven't had 699 comments yet.

Consider this: when I was shooting film, I liked a zoom lens because I could compose the shot in-camera. Being a casual photographer, I didn't have the ability to do any post-processing.

Now that I'm shooting digital, I prefer prime lenses for the obvious reasons: faster, better quality. The ability to use Photoshop has opened a whole new world of possibilities.

That's just one reason I cannot understand why anyone would shoot film in the year 2010.

As I indicated in my comment to Part 1, I'm a manual-focus prime maven these days. I don't try to cover all the possible focal lengths, though. The real question is what focal lengths actually correspond to how you see the world around you, what size frames you tend to sense as possible pictures. And there's not much need to have lenses less than about a factor of 1.5 apart in focal length, because you can zoom with your feet or crop the image a little to fill in the gaps. The idea of "covering all the focal lengths" suggests to me someone who hasn't yet grown enough as a photographer to know what focal lengths correspond to his own way of seeing. It's like saying you want to be able to play every instrument in the orchestra because you haven't yet decided which one to specialize in.

The lenses that spend the most time on my full-frame cameras these days are 28mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4, and 85mm f/2. Typically I carry around the 28mm and either of the others with me when I'm just out and about. If I were to add a third lens to my walkabout kit, it would probably be my 200mm f/4 (the 300mm f/4.5 being uncomfortably heavy for toting around all day).

I could say that my favourite primes are my 28 f2, my 35 f2.5 and my 50 f3.2, and they are very compact because I access them all by rotating the stepped zoom ring on my Canon S90. I do find the ability to set a focal length, knowing what it is, then shoot as if it were a prime quite good.

I am a bit surprised how many people are talking about an 85 type lens. I spent a year travelling with 28, 50 and 400 primes and I can't remember worrying about the gap above 50 too much. That said, I do prefer zooms now.

Yes, different modes require different setups. Believe or not I shot for a small daily newpaper for a year with just two lenses - a 40mm on a Leica CL at around f/8-11 for maximum depth of field and a 50mm Summicron on a Leicflex SL at around f/2-2.8 for portraits or when I needed a "longer" lens. And I made that work, needing to "zoom with my feet" quite a bit. Yes, the editor complained about not having some more dramatic perspectives, but since I was paid a pittance and had to supply my own equipment, he knew better than to complain too loudly.

For my architectural photography work on 4x5 or 120 shot on a view camera, I've got every length imaginable, because for architecture you have to place the camera in a specific spot, then frame in a particular way. So quite a bit of closely spaced primes.

My current everyday shooting is that old 40mm Summicron on an E-PL1, making it an 80mm f/2 equivalent. And I'm absolutely loving that experience.

I used to have a D300, Sigma 30/1.4, Sigma 10-20/4-5.6, Tamron 17-15/2.8, Nikon 85/18, Tamron 90/2.8 Macro, Sigma 50-150/2.8. Honestly, it just stressed me out - I started out photography for the image making and got caught up in covering all the MM ranges.

Then I sold it all. Now I have a E-P1 and 20/1.7. I also have the 14-42 that came with the camera but it just sits gathering dust, maybe I'll take it on our vacations but ... probably not. Photography is more fun now. =)

I own a lot of lenses for many different formats, none of them zooms for some time now. If I were doing a lot of event photography, I'd probably get something like a fast constant-aperture 35-105 again, but I came to see that as a specialized lens best for that use--not to have all the focal lengths covered so much as to be able to react quickly and photograph people spontaneously in groups or single portraits when it isn't always possible to be standing in the right place and there isn't time to change lenses.

On my 5DmkII the lenses I use most are the Zeiss Distagon 35/2, 45/2.8 TS-E, and the Tamron Adaptall-II SP 90/2.5 that I bought new in the mid-1980s. Did I say I don't care for autofocus? I don't care for autofocus. That 90/2.5 is due for a cleaning (I last sent it for a factory cleaning the summer of 1989), but after 20-odd years I might just replace it with something like the 100/2 Makro-Planar, if I can justify the expense.

I decided some years ago that I'd rather shoot wideangle on medium or large format than on 35mm or smaller, on the principle that a larger neg is better at rendering all the detail a wide lens can take in, so I haven't been in a rush to go wider with the 5DmkII, though I have a little-used Tamron Adaptall-II SP 17mm/3.5 in the bag. If the subject isn't moving and I've got a tripod and don't have a bigger camera handy, I can use the 45/2.8 TS-E to get a wider perspective, taking one shot shifted left and one shifted right, stitching in Photoshop.

I believe these craze about getting-all-focal-lengths-covered was dated back to the days when 35mm became the de facto format (from MF or LF). 1. photographers had to get the most out of the real estate of the "small" piece of film, 2. amateurs didn't do post-processing (I for one had given that up with color), so they want to have the pictures done during the picture taking process, including the best cropping.
Then came digital. In the days of the Canon 30D and 60D, again, we have to make the most out of the 3M or 6m pixels, and thus in situations of limited mobility, we have to use the exact focal length to save having to crop any pixels out.
I believe with full frame digital and the abundance of pixels from the D2X or A900, there would be a resurgence of primes again. That's exactly what I had embarked on -- I just got a A850, and I started with a Sony 20mm, a Minolta F1.4 50mm, and then a Minolta F2.8 100mm, and I'm fine. I can easily crop away 1/3 from the edge and still get a 12M file to work on -- perfect!! So the 100mm is actually a zoom from 100-150mm. (If you can bear with a 8M file, that would be 100-200mm)


I enjoyed this two-part article.

Here is another (off-the-wall?) approach to add to your lens-selection argument - using a Pocket Digicam to complement your lens selection.

I have an APS-C DSLR, some 35mm film cameras and a decent selection of lenses that will fit both my DSLR and film bodies.

However, no matter which lens/body combo I select, I never go out the door without my pocket digicam.

It is a decent, relatively inexpensive camera with a 25-300e, stabilized zoom. It is quite good in the macro range and I can easily get it into places (and get good, hand-held shots) where the larger cameras won't even fit.

Often I will go out with only one 35mm-format lens and the digicam.

The digicam certainly has its limits, but, if you work at it, it is capable of producing fine images, for smallish prints and web use, in many situations.

Since I don't make images for publication in magazines, one of the sports nets, or, for pasting on giant billboards, I think the digicam makes a fine companion for my larger camera/lens combo: it fits in my shirt pocket, I won't jump on my sword if I drop it in the lake...and...it doubles as a visual notebook and an HD video camera to boot!

Cheers! Jay

My father was a master toolmaker, and worried about things that nobody else on earth ever worried about: in this case, he wanted to minimize physical wear on the lens mount (and the risk of dirt on the mirror, smudge on the rear elements, etc.) - so he carried one body with a 35mm lens, and a second body with an 85mm lens - and then only rarely would he switch lenses. His theory was that the pair together would take care of 90-99% of your photographic needs.

I inherited his taste for the 35/80 pair - and so, for a couple of decades I used a Minolta Freedom Tele (38mm/80mm) or its Leica AF-C1 twin (officially, "40" / 80 - to distinguish it, I suppose) as my 'walking-around' snapshooter.

On my SLRs, my standard pair became either the 35/1.4 or the 50/2 Nikkor, paired with the classic 105/2.5.

My father's related theory on this question was that the theoretical capabilities of zoom lenses were typically wasted: that 40-49% of the time, you'd be using it at the "full wide" end, and the other 40-49% of the time, you'd be shooting it at "full tele".

So for the 2-20% of the time that you'd actually be using the mid-range of your zoom, you might as well just use the two primes that match the extremes of the zoom range you're thinking about - they're probably lighter and sharper, at the cost of only minimal inconvenience. (Or with essentially NO inconvenience, if you used his "two bodies" system.)

He was a smart guy.

I have an e620 purchased with the twin lens kit which is quite good covering most opportunities however i hankered for something faster. After looking around a few months ago i bought my very first prime lens ever, the 50mm f2 macro. I decided on this as the length is great for taking shots of people (mainly the kids)without having to be in their face and shallow DOF is fantastic. It is used more than the two zooms put together now and i expect it will stay that way for quite some time. Not only is it fantastic for portraits but the close up ability has me looking and seeing in an all new way.
Now i'd like something really wide for landscapes and would love another prime but it doesn't appear to exist in the 4/3rds line up and those fast wide zooms are a bit more expensive than the household cost-controller will permit. The 12-60 Zuiko ($1400 here in Australia) would be perfect but reality says i'll probably get the much slower 9-18 ($800). It will usually be on a tripod anyway........ oh well.

Personally I think 2 lens kit's are so "early" 21st century. I personally would use 4 Pentax KX's. One in Blue, Black, White, and Red. 4 Primes, 15mm Limited(on the blue body), 21mm Limited (On the white body), 40mm Limited(on the black body), 77mm Limited(on the red body). The four bodies cost less then 1 D700 and weigh only slightly more then 1 D700 with grip. The 4 lenses weigh less then the 24-70 AFS. Need a wide shot, grab the blue one, want to walk around, grab the white or black. Portraits, grab the red body. Going for a job, well all 4 fit perfectly in a Think Tank Urban Disguise 40.


"And since you brought up the automotive analogy - not many people complain about the lack of kickstarters on modern motorcycles, manual ignition retard/advance, front engine hand cranks or squeezing the oil pump in total loss engine lubrication... although I'm sure there is some vintage vehicle nut out there who will claim that mastering all these levers and contraptions will make you a more complete and satisfied driver."

Here I am, vintage vehicle (and camera sometimes) nut in person.

When I bought my Velocette Thruxton 30 years or so ago the dealer, his mechanic and a few others turned up at delivery time to teach me just those procedures. Your post was nostalgic for me.

And, yes, I do turn my nose up at "motorcyclists" pressing a start button, it's just not right. Now girls can start and ride motorcycles, how distressing, next thing they'll be using cameras.

With tongue almost in cheek - Ross

Given the sartorial hate-crimes that are the photographer's vest/rucksack (there's more to life than photography, lads: astounding the ladies is important also), I rarely if ever carry a second lens, which leaves a choice between the courage of one's convictions (a fast, 42mm equivalent lens on my K-7) or coward's cover (24-120mm zoom, mounted irrevocably upon a now-medieval Sony R1). Either way, leaving the house is an experience akin to that of a rabbit trapped between two pieces of lettuce.

Speaking of lettuce, Mike: can we have a quiet word about your diet?

I have just recently run into this conundrum myself. Most of my photography, until recently, has been just hobby work and primes are definitely my go-to lens. However, last weekend, I just did my first real commercial job. Mostly architectural and landscape, but it did get annoying switching between my 20/2.8, 85/1.4 frequently. It struck me that I might've been much happier had I just had a 24-70 or 28-75 zoom with me, especially when daylight is running out quickly.

While I still love my primes and plan on keeping most of them, I think I might need to pick up a fast zoom for commercial work.

For the longest time I used to carry a Sigma 18-50/2.8 as my standard lens and kept an adapted manual focus CV Topcor 58/1.4 in my bag just because I didn't have a good case or anything for it. The latter was pretty awkward to use in that situation and didn't get much use.

These days I carry a CZ 16-80/3.5-4.5 and when I feel like a 2nd lens, a Minolta 28/2. Although the zoom still spends, by far, more time mounted on the camera, this combo are much more usable as a whole...

Oddly, although I'll shoot rangefinders all day and all night with just a single lens, lately I'm starting to realize that I find I don't like doing that with an SLR as much. Although, if I am sticking to a single focal length, the one I'll use the most is still that 28/2.

I've spent the last 20 days in Europe shooting with a friend and we were carrying (both of us combined): 5D MKII, 17-40/4, 24 TS/E and 50/1.4; Hasselblad 503cw, 50/4, 80/2.8, 180/4, Leica M6 and 50/2, cable releases, film, cards, tripods, filters, etc... You know what? I'd mostly leave the hotels with either the M6/50mm, the 503/80mm or the 5D/50mm. Sometimes I wish I had 35mm instead of 50mm lenses for the 35mm cameras because I was used to framing a whole body within the same shooting distance when shooting with the 503/80mm (then I would either go vertical, walk back or simply walk away). My point is: nevermind a bag full of lenses. The more options you have, the more you think about your options and the less you think about light and composition. If I could only have two lenses I'd go with a 35/75 Summicron combo but - as awkward as it may seem - I guess I'd choose a 50mm instead.
PS. ten years ago I was shooting 28-70 + 80-200 f/2.8 zooms.

One reason why us birdwatchers don't want to carry too many lenses - with all the other gear you have to carry you can end up looking like this bloke< (scroll down to the second pic).

I'm mainly using a 28/35 and a 50 for portraits or low light shots. The 35 mm I'm using most of the time.

If Panasonic is going to release a 14/2.8 lens I will probably buy into their m4/3 system. The current 20/1.7 and a 14mm would be a great compact kit for me.

To answer Adrian's comment: the Rolleiflex doesn't have a two lens kit but the 75 mm focal length is very close to being just right for me, the square format is somewhat different, so in the end I don't really need another lens.

Like Jack Foley, for my day to day newspaper work, I use the Nikkor 17-35mm and Nikkor 80-200mm and a Nikkor 300mm f4. For my personal work, I use a 4 x 5 view camera, which I have been shooting with for the past 23 years, I use a 120mm lens ( medium wide ) and a 270mm lens ( medium telephoto ), the 120mm lens gets used the most though.

12-60 on an E-620 for digital. It's extraordinarily good, and its sweet spot is 35mm-e. I'd love to get the second lens for that kit: the almost unbelievably good Zuiko 150/2.

For film (black and white only) I use a two lens (actually, two camera) kit: an M6 (0.85) with a 50 Summicron, and a Ricoh GR-1 point-and-shoot. In point of fact, the 28mm lens on that little Ricoh is excellent from f/4, and superlative at f/8.

I have tried nearly every lens-length under the face of the sun. From ultra-wideangles to lengthy telelenses, and this over a 25 year time line. I always come back to the simple old 50mm lens with which I feel most comfortable and, in my opinion at least, take the nicest images.
For film I still use a Leica M4 with a 50mm summilux, I have owned a 35mm and a 90mm too but never ever used them.
Currently, digitally I use a Nikon D90 with a 35mm 2.0 for 95% of my images. I also have the 24-70 and the 105, which again are nice lenses producing nice results, but barely used.
I love photo stuff and gear and would like to own everything, I would even be able to afford it, financially that is, but it just wouldn't make sense. I tried the 24-70 on a 5 week vacation but just couldn't get used to it although it covers the 50mm, it was a wrong lens for me....

I must say I'm not really a zoom guy... I honestly tried, bought some, and then gave them to my children (grown up)!
It's a relief to see in those numerous replies that I'm more in normality then I thought... I use almost exclusively a 35/2 and a 85/1.8 with the latter being almost welded to my full frame camera !

I'll digress a bit, too, as I discovered that my sight, or my likings, has shifted on the longer side through years and age. I started when young with the 35mm as a main lens, then in ripe age to 50mm, and now at 85mm... As I'm looking forward to a 105 macro VR, would that mean I'm near retirement ?

Of course I could have bought a Velocette as Ross (nasty kick back) but have always dreamt of a Vincent 1000cc... However I'm still perfectly happy with a clunky Diversion after years of flat twins engines :-)

In my work I'm shooting 30mm on APS-C and 35mm/85mm on FF. All F/1.4. It basically covers all I need.

For snapshots, street shots and personal work I only use Olympus XA2 with a Sensia slide cross processed. Long time lover :)

Here is my current preferred two-lens kit: a Olympus E-P1 with Panasonic 20/1.7 on one hand, and Pentax K-7 with SMC-Takumar 50/1.4 on the other.

Carrying around both cameras and both lenses is actually still less of a burden than one 5D or D700 with massive F2.8 lens attached, and helps solve the prime-using photographer's perennial insecurity of missing the shot due to having the wrong focal length attached.

"Speaking of lettuce, Mike: can we have a quiet word about your diet?"

Just lettuce, James, as well as water from the metal tube with the ball-bearing at the end of it. When I'm not on the circular treadmill running frantically.


I'm just an amateur (I like to take pictures, but I'm too bad at it to think about doing it for a living) so my favorite setup is just a 50mm/1.4D for everyday use, and a cheap 24-200 AFD for my children and for casual shooting. Sometimes I like to carry a 24mm/2.8D for city/landscape shooting. I never carry all three lenses at the same time, just one of them (as I said before, the 50mm is the one I use more)

I do have more lenses, but it's very unusual for me to use any of them, except for "special" cases. Most of these lenses are from the days I still used to think I needed many kind of lenses for every situation... time has taught me I was wrong... for the kind of photography I do, my current setup is more than enough.

I have a Alpha 900 and I think 13 lenses, meaning I can pretty much cover all bases bar long telephoto and fisheye. I teach a lot of photography workshops and get asked all the time, What do you use, or recommend".

Funny thing is looking through my images over the last 12 months about 80% are taken with a 35-70 f4 Minolta. It is a bit rough on the edges at 35 mm and has a fair bit of barrel distortion at that setting but from 40 mm to 70 mm its perfect. Furthermore most of the shots are taken between 40-60 mm. Very few are taken wide open, f6.3-f7.1 being the most commonly used aperture.

I guess the thing I like is that images just look natural, there is no exaggerated perspective effects or overly flattened depth effects.
Of course I am probably a bit of an old bore on all this but its how I like things.

Really I use this little zoom as a standard 50 with some crop and step back ability.

All my lenses get used at some time on a job, but really If I was not shooting stuff for a living I probably wouldn't bother with them.

Speaking to students it is amazing how often I come across folks with very wide angle zooms or tele zooms who basically just leave them in the camera bag.

The two things a lot of students comment on is how poor their kit lenses are for macro and that they are slow at the tele end.

When I lend them a 50mm std to try they are usually utterly amazed at how bright the screen on their camera is and how nice they are to shoot with.

It is also interesting how many want to replace their std kit zoom with something better, some feel the lens they have is just rubbish (typically Canon DSLR owners with 18-55mm kit lenses) but many feel the kit lenses are badly built and probably just suspect as a result.

It seems to make sense to me that a really really good 2 times (35-70) zoom of say f2.4-2.8 would maybe be the perfect lens, yet there is no such beast on the market as far as I know. I imagine marketing such an obviously "limited" lens would be very difficult so we are unlikely to see such an animal.

I guess lenses are a bit like megapixels, many consumers simply assume more is better.

I too have been baffled by photographers who worry about focal length "gaps" in their lens kits. Next week I'll be off to the Blue Ridge Mountains for the Grandfather Mountain Nature Photography Weekend. When I'm backpacking out on the trails I carry a two-lens kit consisting of a 16-50/2.8 zoom and a 180/3.5 prime (1:1 macro). Despite the huge gap between 50mm and 180mm this kit (somewhat to my own surprise at first, I admit) covers the overwhelming majority of my needs perfectly.

After purchasing a Pentax ME super in the early 80s and an initial flurry of lenses, 28, 50, 135 and Tamron 35-70, I found little joy in 35mm, so purchased a second hand Seagull TLR with fixed 80mm and with a later upgrade to a Rollieflex 80mm 3.5t, that was that for a number of years until college, when I had to resurrect my 35mm but still preferred medium format.

My Rollieflex was eventually replaced with a Mamiya RB67 and two lenses, a 65mm and a 90mm which supplemented with a Metz CL45, supported the vast bulk of all my work for the last 16 years. That is for my own personal landscape exhibition projects, commercial work and wedding photography. I’ve stopped doing the latter but still love the RB for landscape work.

I did eventually replace my two dead Pentax Super A cameras with a Pentax MZ5n, as I could continue to use the older manual focus lenses but despite having several, found I was neglecting them in favour of a PKAF 35mm f2 and then later, the 43mm ltd; the latter lens now being permanently fixed to this body.

The MZ5n is not the strongest of cameras, so this was supplemented with a Pentax MZs, which was mainly used with the 35mm f2 and when more flexibility was required, a Sigma 28-70 f2.8.

I rarely shoot 35mm these days but still use my RB kit however my digital kit follows the same pattern as above, a Pentax K20 with the 21mm f3.2 attached most of the time and a Pentax DA 16-50 f2.8 when I need more flexibility. So very much the nested pattern as described by Mike.

I use whatever it takes to get the picture I want. I used a 17 (on film) this saturday fishing to shoot on the small boat and a 100-400 (digital) to shoot little league baseball on sunday. If I'm just walking around, I'll take a 35 or 50 (film).

Zooms have gotten tremedously better, I'm thinking of getting an E30 and zoom like you suggest.

Don Parsons

"Herbert Keppler of Popular Photography fame": That should be Modern Photography.


"'Herbert Keppler of Popular Photography fame': That should be Modern Photography."

As you probably know, Burt worked for Modern for 37 years and after the two magazines merged, the title that was kept was Pop even though most of the remaining staffers were from Modern. So he worked for Pop for the last 20 years of his career. I think it's likely that more readers today will know him from Pop than from Modern.


Drat, others have beaten me to it, but the first thing I was thinking on reading this was "what format are all these numbers for?".

In dSLR-land I've been a 2-lens-kit headcase for a while now:
Nikon D70, kit 18-70 plus cheapo 70-300.
Oly E-500: kit with 14-45, 45-200 or whatever it was
Nikon D200: Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 plus Nikkor 70-300VR
[detour: Canon G9: not a lot of choice in the matter]
Canon 550D: Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 plus Canon 55-250 IS

Every time it's been the most cost-effective way to cover the range. (Yes, I said that too... but at least I've wandered *away* from manufacturers' kit-lenses.) That's cost-effective as in "spent a whole weekend with one OpenOffice spreadsheet open, checking permutations". I checked all the questions with the D200: "split at 55 or 70?" and "hole in the middle?", you name it. The bonus seems to be I can afford constant-aperture in the normal-range zoom lens.

The only real disappointment in lenses was the Sigma 24-70 (rather soft); the only real disappointment in cameras was the E-500 (8MPel was immature technology, too noisy).

With LF, I have 3 primes (210, 150, 90). Spot the landscapie. Off-the-shelf, although I've evolved my way there, buying one every 18 months or so.

With the Hasselblad, I have one prime (80 T* planar) because I can't afford the heart-attack from looking at prices for anything else on ebay.

I want to second Jay Frew's "off the wall" approach of carrying a pocket digicam with an extreme zoom. I recently bought a 7.7 ounce Panasonic DMC-Z7S as my bicycle camera with a 25mm to 300mm (equivalent) optical zoom and a digital extention (at 3 mp) to an incredible 1500mm equivalent. The following shot was taken hand held at 1500mm (equivalent). I could not even tell that the young baby Blue Herons were in the nest until after the picture was taken. The image stabilization system on this camera is outstanding.


In addition to "covering all the focal lengths" we camera shoppers often get hung up about "covering all the shooting situations". This causes people to buy and carry (say) the slow *and* fast lens of a given focal length, since you never know when you need the faster lens in the dark, but the slow lens might be easier to carry the rest of the day.

The most extreme version of this that I witnessed had to be the guy in Paris with a Pentax 6x7 and a wheeled case that his life partner was pulling for him full of all kinds of equipment he "needed" ... to take a bad shot of the Arc de Triumph at high noon.

Don't let this happen to you.

I started with the cheap kit zoom stuff. At the time, with limited means, it was a lot of camera for little money. I added a 70-300 not so much to cover the focal lengths as get a cheap 300.

Now I rarely carry more than 2 lenses except I have a trunk full to choose from each time.

I really dig the micro 4/3 idea, though. With a 40mm-e and say a 70-200mm-e I'd be covered for all but specialist stuff.


Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6
Sigma 18-50 f2.8
Nikon 55-200 vr

Sigma 30mm f1.4
Nikon 50mm f1.8
Nikon 105mm f2.5 AIS

All essential, I'd say, though I try not to carry them around at once! The 105 is great for portrait work and for shooting gigs in poor light, the 30 and 50 also great in poor light (and the angle of view is significantly different). I wouldn't want to be without either the long end of the 55-200 or the short end of the 10-20, because both are great in their very different ways for buildings and streetscapes. And if I'm walking around just shooting what I see, then you can't beat the 18-50.

After several years into semi-pro photography weighed down by numerous lenses, I am down to a 1-lens system. I figured I can take all the shots I needed with a 14mm f2.8 on a Pentax K-7, including videos. And might even change that 14mm to a 15mm f4 limited to reduce more weight!

This article could have been a lot shorter. But then we would have missed out on donut stories! The two game-changing technological events were: 1) the availability of zooms that have just the same IQ (give or take) as primes, though with the disadvantage of larger mass and slower speed, and 2) digital cameras with extended ISO ranges. Together these developments meant one could sacrifice two stops of light in the lens and make up for it in the camera. The two-zoom kit becamse a commonplace for those working photographers who had no idea what to expect on a given day of shooting.

As an art photographer and someone who rarely makes money from a shoot, I prefer a small kit I can carry anywhere but which has the highest possible IQ. My compromise is a Pentax with an APS-C sensor and from one to three primes, f/2 lenses at 24, 43 and 77mm. This is similar to a compact range-finder setup (at 35, 60, 120) but with all the versatility of an SLR. The only zoom I use is a 12-24mm, since it would take an awful lot of prime switching to cover the same field of view range. But I only usually take that with me on special trips or holidays.

I carry this approach over to when I am paid, since this is the gear I know. And that's the most important factor.


Used Zeiss CF (not CFi) lenses are kinda cheap nowadays. Try the KEH used store! Or maybe nevermind, because you´ll end up using the 80/2.8 most of the time anyway :)


My only two autofocus lenses for my E-P1 are the 20 mm pancake and the Oly 14-42 kit zoom, so that comprised a de facto two-lens kit for me for a while. I've since added a lot of manual-focus glass on adapaters, and a recent business trip (with some time in the morning and evening to wander around town with my camera) has made me think that my two-lens kit should be the 20 mm and an old OM 50 mm f/1.8 on an adapter. I don't think I got one single good shot from the zoom, but I got several good ones from each of those two lenses.

I do have the upcoming Oly 14-150 mm superzoom on pre-order, though.

Craig said:
"The idea of "covering all the focal lengths" suggests to me someone who hasn't yet grown enough as a photographer to know what focal lengths correspond to his own way of seeing. It's like saying you want to be able to play every instrument in the orchestra because you haven't yet decided which one to specialize in."

Or, it's because the kind of work he/she does means that at times, he can't move, or he's shooting his camera without being able to look through the viewfinder (over his head), or he's afraid to get close because he'll be shot or beat up, or because he needs at one moment to take a photo of somebody getting off an airplane fifty yards away, and at the next moment, take a group shot of fifteen people inside a building where he can't stand back...

There are all kinds of reasons for all kinds of lens set-ups that don't have anything to do with maturity or ways of seeing -- sometimes what you can see is what you're allowed to see, or the only thing you can see, or that a creative director wants you to see, and has nothing to do with your preferences. Mike Johnston has been trying a one-camera one-lens experiment for a year or so, but that's not something a working PJ would do, or an advertising photographer for that matter. Sometimes there is a reason for shooting a photo at 67.5mm.


I have been using Canon EOS system cameras for several years now, and gradually have accumulated several lenses - about 12 or so now. However, I rarely take more than two or three with me at any one time. It's just that I need longish lenses for wildlife, fast primes for low light, macro for macro, very wide for arquitecture and interiors, and so it goes on ... and on ... and on ...

I was surprised to see the Olympus 12-60mm lens as one of your top two current recs. I love that lens and fully concur with your recommendation for it! Only problem is, I rarely use the E30 anymore. I primarily use compact cameras, like the Olympus E-P2 or Ricohs. I'm waiting for the m4/3 12-60mm!!! Though I'm not confident we'll ever see it.

If you're placed in a press box, you need a lens that gives you the right framing from where you are -- you can't make medium-size movements (you can shift a few inches easily enough, or you can leave the press box and sometimes shoot from far away, but you can't make those "a few feet or yards" movements).

You also will be expected to come up with a wider range of images than people usually shoot when they're doing art on their own hook.

I do feel the draw of "covering all the focal lengths". For a while I had a gap from 55 to 70mm (the 17-55/2.8 and then the 70-200/2.8). Really, I'd like some OVERLAP on the zoom ranges; it'd make for fewer lens changes.

I feel the same way about zooms... I only got into photography 3 years ago, and within a year I was using only primes. Zooms feel weird to me, fun for a few minutes but then I want to go back to a prime. Zooming in and out is tedious, I prefer to just frame in my head and go where I need to be. This is why the "zoom + nested prime" strategy doesn't prove so practical. Better to have a couple of primes that cover sufficiently different ranges.

If you want to see a grown man cry, hand him an OM-3Ti or OM-4Ti with 2-series screen and a 50mm F1.4 lens...

My "death-grip" lenses are a pair of old Zuiko 35mm F2.8 and 100 F2.8 lenses. As much as I use zooms for wedding/event/portrait work, there is something about that combination which is "me".

My "standard" focal-length has always been closer to 35mm than 50mm and if I had to choose only one lens or focal-length for the rest of my life, that's the one.

In the world of zooms, I have the Zuiko 35-80/2.8 which is simply glorious and reaches both ends of the practical 95% rule. When I do my next backpacking trip, I'm tempted to take that lens only.

To me, a two-zoom kit that makes the most sense is a normal-to-wide which centers on the 35mm focal length, but covers +/- 20mm either way and is at least a constant-aperture F2.8. The second zoom would pick up in that 80mm region and would go out to about 300mm. Personally, I find that gap between 50mm and 80mm to be a waste as nothing seems to really look quite right. That "wrongness" seems to also apply around 135-150mm.

I have collected many lenses (15 or so) over the years(20+) . Non of them really high dollar due to limited funds so I really cannot answer to the concept of having one or two really high dollar lenses and have focused on mid priced lenses and hidden gems. That being said starting this year, I've redesigned my kits to be less about focal length coverage as an absolute and more about use. I Just picked up a sigma 18-250 that covers all of the FL a person could want. That is the carry one lens and fill the frame an cover my tail lens. I intend to use it mostly outdoors and when i don't want to think about lenses, but its heavy and big. so I have the Pentax 18-55 kit lens for lighter situations and when i'm mostly indoors and the long reach isn't necessary. Both are limited in their speed to say the least so I also have primes. Old Pentax 50's 1.4,1.7,2.0 that I have collected over the years. Those go on in specifically low light conditions when I want to do hand held and no flash. I have a older manual sigma 24 2.8 I picked up used for a wider view, but i find i'm not a fan of the middle/normal ranges. I like the wides and super wides so I can get close and get still surroundings and actions. I'm getting a sigma 30 1.4 for the AF capability and light capabilities. I get where I like to hang the camera out at arms reach with a WA try to get the camera into the correct position and doing this with a manual focus Wide open doesn't work so well the kit 18-55 has the wide end and AF but doesn't have the aperture. I'm hoping the 30 will be wide enough (fingers crossed). So it will be the 18-250 for full coverage with the 18-55 for indoor zoom and the 30 for low light. The rest 10+ lenses will stay at home and be pulled out for special occasions .... but this will all change next week I'm sure it part of the LBA addiction.

I've recently gone to a Canon full-frame, and have been shooting almost everything with my 24-70mm f2.8 "one lens kit." Portraits,
animals, outlaw motorcycle rallies, christenings...

Great post, but don't forget that there is a lack of focusing aids and glass prisms on most consumer DSLR's. For these features, you'll have to step up the pro-level cameras that seem to justify their pricing with additional weight.

Fast primes have also become luxury items. The expensive Pentax limited lenses are very nice, but given their price, I find it ironic people are quick to compare build quality to M lenses and Takumars that run under $100.

Now... ask me again why my digital kit (with 2 DA* zooms) collects dust and my MX and M3 continue to burn through film.

I own four lenses for my D700, but use only two: a Nikon 24-85 AF-S zoom and a Zeiss 35 f/2. That said, the Zeiss lives on the camera.

I once took a workshop with National Geographic photographer Sam Abell. He said for most of his professional career he mostly shoots with an Olympus OM-1 or OM 2 and a 28mm lens.
Personally I like to just work with a M6 and a 35mm when I shoot for my self. On assignment 80% of the time I use a pair of 5 D MKII's and a 17-35mm on one body and a 70-200mm on the other. Less is more. Depending upon the assignment I would add a 200mm f1.8
or a 100 macro, 45mm t/s, or 85mm f1.2.

When I've traveled over the last couple of years, I've taken the majority of my shots with Canon's 24-70mm F/2.8 and Sigma's 3omm F/1.4 and a 30D. I've also the 10-22mm, too, since the 24-70mm isn't quite wide enough.

However, I did buy a GF1 with the 20mm lens at the end of February and I love it. I'm not going to get rid of the Canon, but I am rethinking what I do with it.

Because I favor a lens with a field of view that approximates what I see, I wish Canon had a compact, high-quality 45mm f2.0 EF lens for my 5D. I once had a Canon Pellix-QL 35mm SLR with a Canon 38mm f/2.8 FL-P pancake lens. That was a nice kit for walking around and I am now looking for a digital equivalent. Like so many photographers, I've gotten tired of the inconvenience of changing prime lenses and bought a do-it-all zoom, only to tire of its bulk, weight, and slow maximum aperture. My favorite kit was a trio of Canon FD lenses: 24mm f/2, 50mm f/1.2 L, and 85mm f/1.8. With a Canon F-1n and the 50mm f/1.2 L, I was content...for a while.

Great article! My Zeiss 24-70 2.8 is a smashing good zoom lens, but I find that I prefer shooting a 50mm prime on the A900, with the occasional 20mm and 85mm usage. I may even sell that zoom!

If you're seriously contemplating a two lens kit today, should you rule out a two system kit? Or a system/non-system kit? Especially if what you're after is versatility with the option of portability (or vice versa).

This need not cost much more than your ~$2,000 example (if cost is a factor). It's somewhat traditional, too. Elliott Erwitt, for one, often shot commissions with an SLR and for himself with a rangefinder (and perhaps still does), and to my knowledge some variation of this was, and is, a not uncommon solution for working photographers.

If your two lens kit doesn't have to share one body or one lens mount or even one format, the options multiply dramatically.

I moved from film SLRs to a digital SLR and still use the equivalent range of focal lengths. Mostly in the 12-50mm, 18 -75mm equivalent range. I do so miss the depth of field scales that were on my film camera lenses.

I recall, deep in the Leica literature around 1977, they recommended combinations like 21, 50 and 180 lenses to carry around. Other combos too. And I found, that I shot mostly with the 21 and 180.
Cameras used to come with the 50 mm which everyone just stuck
in the bag somewhere or forgot about. You needed a real difference in lens choices instead of 35 to just 70.

Mark wrote:
"I too have been baffled by photographers who worry about focal length "gaps" in their lens kits."

That reminds me: some years back, I spent a week in Yellowstone NP photographing with friends. While shooting a coyote with my 400, my backpack got run over by a car and some of my gear got crunched. My Tamron 90 looked fine through the VF but had some mechanical quirk so I opted to not use it. My 400 was in hand at the time, and the only other lens I felt comfortable using the rest of the trip was a 21-35 zoom (which suffered no damage that I could ever tell). That 2-lens combo of extremes worked perfectly for that trip. There were probably a handful of things I couldn't photograph well, but I didn't lack for subject matter at any point in time.

I have had Canon bodies including a 5D (original) and several L zooms and non-L primes. I got sick of carrying all that stuff around, so nowI have a Panasonic GH1 and the 14-140 (28-280equiv) zoom with which it comes.

However, since I've bought the 20mmf1.7 (40mm equiv) it seems like that's all I use. I often carry nothing else.

It's like the old days with my Canon AE-1 and 50mmf1.8.

If it doesn't work with the 'normal' prime then I don't take the picture.

This is actually really refresing.

After dozens of lenses (may of them oldies, or adapted), my favorite 2-lens setups are: Nikon SLR film (remember?): 55 micro aand 105 AiS; Nikon APS-C: 35mm f/2 (AiS) and a Viv Series 1 105mm that I sold and kick myself in the butt every day for doing so. These 2 lenses were just awesome, especially the 35mm.

On the Pentax K20D I normally shoot, the 31mm FA is basically glued, I don't remember a lens quite that good, its the first lens that captures textures the way I actually experience them, plus my adapted (Leitax) Macro Elmarit R 60mm - I still am quite surprised by the way I get the focus vs out of focus areas, and by its very luminous color rendition. I could add the Contax 85mm f/2.8 for portraits (of people and animals), or my old Zeiss Jena 135mm f/3.5 (tremendous infinity sharpness) - but the 31mm + 60mm work so well for me that that is what I carry. Plus, I am lazy and not that strong, so small primes work pretty well.

Mike mentioned the Leica collapsible 50mm. Well, I used to use my dad's Contax IIa, it had a 50mm lens which was better (I don't mean sharper, just more satisfying, and don't ask me to explain) - if I could go back in time, and carry ONE lens, that would be it.

"If it doesn't work with the 'normal' prime then I don't take the picture. This is actually really refreshing."

That's what I keep trying to tell people. [g]


The availability of lenses in a chosen format influences psychology. When I'm using my Mamiya 7, the 43, 65, and 150 suit me fine with (nearly) no longing. (And the 65 sees 95% of the action.) But I couldn't imagine constraining myself to 24, 35, and 75 primes with a DSLR.

"I could add the Contax 85mm f/2.8 for portraits (of people and animals)"

Which one? The C/Y? That was one of my favorites. I have a number of portraits taken with that lens hanging in my house today.

"I used to use my dad's Contax IIa, it had a 50mm lens which was better (I don't mean sharper, just more satisfying, and don't ask me to explain) - if I could go back in time, and carry ONE lens, that would be it."

You probably mean the famous f/1.5 Sonnar, no?


The new ZM version is not an exact copy, but a modern lens "in the spirit of." Have you tried that?


The restriction to 28mme to 90mme in the proposed kit is insanely limiting. The 17-35 and 70-200 solution is far better.

I'm a prime lens lover so there is no 2-lens kit that meets my needs as a general purpose photographer.

Of course if you have a specific job to do then the blog topic has no relevance and the job dictates whether to take 1,2,3,4, or more lenses. I assume the blog is about being a general purpose photographer and only owning 2 lenses.

The more freedom you enjoy, the fewer lenses you have to use.


Nikon D70s with a Voigtlander 20/35 and a 58/14 and sneaking in the Pancake 40/2, all chipped ready to roll.

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