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Monday, 11 January 2016


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But, Mike, not all bodies are created equal!

So, while it is a very good advice to carefully select what lens you need - and following that to skip the 'kit zoom' - I don't think I would select the camera family from the lens line. There were times when I found the viewfinder to be the most important factor when looking for 'the right' camera, later I learned to love stabilisation plus the user interface of the camera, i.e. knobs, dials and menus.

With 10+ years of experience with digital cameras I know much better now what to avoid and what to emphasize on, but I guess only hands-on tests can help with that, like renting two similar cameras with the favourite lens (or an approximate) and intensively trying out how they feel. Only then one can learn that the on-paper properties of different bodies manifest themselves in very very different ways. And astonishing enough, some of those properties like the menu system or a missing mirror lockup get carried on over several generations of cameras. That may or may not be a factor that is individually important, but it's good to find out before putting down cash.

So, I would still advise to choose the body wisely, even if you know what your lens preferences are.

I would add that if you (meaning me) bought a body with the kit lens, usually a zoom, then it is a simple matter to go back and look thru Lightroom, or whatever, look at the meta data and see where the focal lengths cluster around. If most of the images you like are in a range, then maybe that is the lens you should be looking to use.

With the recent Canon EF to Sony adapters that work w/ AF, 'body as film' is even more on point. The fact that Sony was promoting those adapters shows they are well aware of their own lens shortcomings. The other side of establishing your lens preferences means that investing in multiple systems is really crazy, as you end up with 2-3 bodies and 2-3 duplicates of your favorite focal lengths. If you have a full-frame 35 1.4 for a full frame body, you don't _need_ a 23 1.4 lens for your crop frame body...but few things in this hobby are about need.

Your suggestions are good, Mike. But I am not at all confident that your first sentence:

"Picking a camera is really a matter of picking a system, and picking a system is really a matter of picking a lens line."

is, or should be, the case any longer. As a guy with drawers full of some of the finest camera systems stuff on Earth I really wonder how productive it truly all is towards the goal of general image-making any more. There are several outstanding fixed-lens-mount cameras with sensors from 1" up to full-frame, that are easily the match for, and very often better than, much more expensive body + lens configurations.

No the first question a newcomer, or even an oldcomer with years of experience, should ask themselves today is what do you really believe you will gain from buying into a camera "system". If I was starting from scratch today I would be strongly tempted to keep the gear to a minimum with just a Sony RX100, RX10, RX1RII, Panasonic LC100, or other similar camera, depending on my need for focal length and/or carryable compactness. Costs aside, I'd make every effort to eliminate the lens-choice distractions between my mind/eye and the image. It's generally not productive. The value of having a camera that you learn deeply and that's easy and comfortable to carry casually far, far outweighs having the "ideal" lens/camera combo for most people.

There are 100 images in the auto-slideshow that runs on the main page of my site. They're a sampling of the type of images I pursue. At least half come from compact/fixed lens cameras.

One of the best pieces of advice I've seen. Where were you when I needed you? (just kidding !)

Kenneth's comment mirrors what I've been thinking lately. Why am I (and almost all others in this pursuit) so obsessed with systems? Do we all need them so badly? I don't know. I don't have an answer. But there's something about a 1" sensor compact that appeals to me right now. But it all depends on what you like (or need) to photograph.

Having said that, lenses are the reason I'll be departing fully from Sony mounts when next I purchase a body. This is partly my fault for not properly evaluating my needs and prioritizing the body (exactly as you mention, Mike), and partly Sony's fault for not getting it together lens-wise. In hindsight, I needed your advice some time ago. But would I have really listened? Or was the a850 just too tempting?

Long before my Nikon era, was given a rather well-beaten Pentax 35mm body. It worked, just barely. In those days it was easy to get a comlete overhaul for less than C$70.00 (about half a month's wages at the time). Overhaul accomplished, it lasted me well into the Nikon era, c/w screw mount lenses. Had a 50mm for just about everything, yearned for a zoom, settled on a 135mm as it was all I could afford, later a used 24mm. Those three lenses served me well for fifteen years plus. The pentax died, went to a used Nikon F for C$75.00 and a well worn 50mm lense. Started all over again.

I remember my first "Big Buy" was a Beseler 23CII enlarger. It cost me $199.00 (a week's salary) and I had to wait to buy the 50mm Componon lens for it.
Today, I can barely buy software for that amount.
Ah, the Times, They are a changin'.
Mi dos pesos.

This is excellent advice. I stopped to write up my thinking as Mike suggested, and I discovered some things I hadn't expected.

Also, Ken Tanaka is quite right for an additional reason: you don't have to restrict yourself to one system. The fixed lens Nikon 28mm-e APS-C camera would be a perfect daily carry for me, and cover 87% of my photography. A consumer APS-C Nikon and a 75-300mm-e zoom would do for the half dozen times a year I need one. (1%) The other 2% could be handled by an older Sony NEX and an adapted lens or two - possibly even a Nikon lens, now that I think about it.*

Not restricting yourself to one system has another advantage: when you rush off to the sports event with the old 75-300, you know that it's correctly set up for that kind of photography, that the card in it is empty, and the battery is fully charged. Just like in the old days, where having two cameras made it easier to make sure you could always grab one that had a fresh roll in it, instead of having to burn the last two shots of your 36 exposures on your cat, so you could fumble through re-loading it as you rushed out the door.

*astonishing, because if ever there was someone disillusioned with Nikon, that's me.

I usually use a wide range zoom. Sometimes I also use a moderately fast macro-capable lens. One time, I went through several years of photos, and tabulated the focal lengths I had used. There really wasn't an obvious concentration on some particular length.

This surprised me, and I had to give up on using the data to select a prime lens. But it may be different for other folks ...

And the logical "win" goes to Kenneth Tanaka for speaking the current truth.

I think the EXIF approach, mentioned by a couple comments, is also best used by an experienced photographer. Say I look at how I used an 18-55 on a trip. I might very well find that I used it a lot at 18mm and a lot at 55mm and a little bit everywhere else. This might suggest that I could use a wide angle prime and a telephoto prime, but if I carry only a single prime, I want something smack dab in the middle (28mm) and EXIF wouldn't show me that.

There are so many use cases to consider and it all comes down to you, what you shoot, how much and when you shoot it and how important the results are from each kind of shooting. Some people insist on a superzoom for their casual stuff when they could easily skip the big camera and use a point & shoot for that. (I actually pretty much stopped using my Nikkor 16-85 because my RX100 does the same job, but I wouldn't give up my DSLR and 85/1.8 or 70-200/2.8 for anything). If you're considering a kit with 3, 4 or 5 lenses in it, are you always going to carry all your lenses or do you want to go out at times with just one or two.

I don't know how a newbie figures this out without trial and error. That's how I did it. (In fact, I got started with the Minolta Maxxum system precisely because I looked for the camera body with the best "bang for the buck" and then threw in a couple cheap Sigma zooms !) Maybe it would help to have a dozen or two photographer "profiles" where people with a variety of styles and tastes explain what they shoot and why.

I question the "need" to buy a new body every 1.5 to five years. It seems to me that progress is starting to slow down and it's going to be more like in the old days when we kept a Camera for 10 years or more.

The comment about starting with the Sony RX series is interesting. I've just downsized from full frame to ILC's to an RX10. It's pretty much everything I need of a very small package.

Of course I'm just an amateur, not a professional. However, I think this article is aimed at amateurs. I think the most professionals have a good idea what they need.

Such a good reminder. I'm not an amateur, but sometimes I act like one!

I've switched back and forth between preferring zooms and primes, and I've finally accepted that I like both. For me, the 4 lens combo that satisfies 99% of my needs is:
- 24-70 & 70-200 f/2.8 zooms
- 35/1.4 and 85/1.2 primes

I've chosen Fuji's excellent lenses. The 16-55/2.8, 50-140/2.8, 23/1.4 and 56/1.2 are all amazing and *relatively* small compared to DSLR equivalents.

I admit that I have held on to a 5th lens, which is the 35/1.4. It's super compact and a great option for when I want the most lightweight and discreet combo possible.

Even experienced photographers will benefit from occasionally re-examining their choice of system(s) with an open mind.

I did so early last year and to my surprise, I ended up with a fixed-lens, compact camera that matches my needs almost perfectly, along with several drawers and shelves full of now-surplus camera gear.

It has been a liberating experience to simply head out the door with a camera in hand and a small pouch on my belt instead of a huge bag over my shoulder.

A further benefit is that I no longer need to worry about whether I've brought with me an optimal handful of lenses and accessory doo-dads. If there's something I really might need, then it's in the pouch; and if it's not in the pouch, then I really don't need it. Q.E.D.

Life is much simpler this way and I like to believe my photos are better because of it.

Kind of a strange thing to think about, I started as a pro photographer in a commercian studio in 1976 and was given an 8x10 Sinar as my camera, five years later we downsized to 4X5 to save money then in my next job I was given a Hasselblad system and used that until I started on my own and bought my first Nikon as every pro I knew had one and we loaned lenses to each other as needed. 20 years later I made the move to Fuji X cameras, my XT1 reminds me of my Nikon F. I am more than happy with the Fuji, it looks like a camera, these days Nikon and Canon look bloated and without an aperture ring and speed ring a pain to operate by touch. BTW I was seduced into buying a Leica in the 90's and like my girlfriend at the time,,,easy to forget. So after 40 years the Fuji is the only camera I chose for me.

Several of the comments allude to something I'm going to name explicitly - many of us have more than one "working style" which each demands a different approach. You may manage this within a single system, or you may need more than one.

For example, I use Panasonic. When I am "photographing seriously" I use the f2.8 12-35mm as main lens, but carry the 35-100 and 100-300mm as well, plus the Olympus 9-18mm as an ultra wide angle. When I am in "social photography" mode I will restrict myself to the tiny 14-42mm and 45-175mm power zooms, at a total weight of well under 800g including body. In my Canon days I did the same, only then I would use my 7D for "serious" work and my xxxD for "lightweight" duty.

For me the ability to meet these two working styles probably trumps any "single use" benefit. YMMV

Would have tested the micro 4/3 waters some time ago, except they have no 20mm equivalent primes native to that format.

[There's the Voigtlander Nokton 10.5mm ƒ/0.95 21mm-e manual focus for $1,099, although I can see how that might not be exactly what you're talking about. --Mike]

I strongly agree with your point on the importance of lens options and choices, and that the bodies are more like the consumables of the digital era. However, unless your needs are really specialized (I think that using a perspective control lens in your example does that), you are going to find that there are several systems that will easily fill your needs. I think that in addition to looking at the lens selections themselves, it is really important to look at the other characteristics of the system. A few years back, I switched from Canon to Olympus Micro 4/3rds. It wasn't because Canon didn't have great lenses - it was because the Canon kit was heavy and bulky enough that I didn't use it on trips, where I do most of my photography. The size and weight of the Micro 4/3rds lenses and cameras was absolutely the deciding factor on which system to choose. It didn't hurt that the equivalent bodies and lenses were also much cheaper than Canon.

I'll throw in one other thought. One of my 5% lenses is currently a 35mm equivalent 1200mm, in the form of a Canon SX50, as suggested by Michael Reichmann. If you have unique, special needs, it may be worth looking outside of your base system to cover them.

Thanks, as always, for some great advice!

Good advice as usual. If I were starting over I'd probably get a full frame system that took Nikon manual focus lenses (adapted) and offered focus peaking. That would let me use the excellent Zeiss lineup of lenses and would allow switching cameras and systems fairly easily. I would try to avoid the lenses with tight coupling to one system (electronic apertures or short flange distances). That would give me an excellent tripod based system for landscape use, that could also be used handheld in most cases. A small point and shoot or kit zoom would suffice most of the time for when I want autofocus.

One of the things I like about the Zeiss ZF lineup is that they offer slower lenses in addition to the fast ones. That and manual aperture.

I think that would leave me with a Sony system and not the D800E I currently use (which I can not reliably manually focus well without resorting to cumbersome live view). I could be quite happy with a 35mm, 100mm, 21mm set for general work. I also do a lot with a 300mm f/4 for closeups of insects, birds and flowers.

Classic TOP: sane, sensible, empirical, insightful.

I would only add that now that fast, economical, reliable rental services are available via Fedex, it probably makes more sense to rent rather than buy any less-than-5%-use lens, or maybe even 10% depending on price of the lens.

As someone who's more or less done multiple OC/OL/OY, I prefer the acronym "YOLOCO". Sure there're grammar and syntax issues, but I think the acronym covers that nicely as well. ;)

I agree with your advice, I think that people should try any given system before buying the lenses.

For years, I've shot a Canon XSi with a 50mm (75mm equiv.).
My one and only focal lenght on film was a 35mm, so when I switched from Canon to m4/3 the 17mm (35mm equiv.) was the obvious choice, right?
Right? No, it wasn't. I never got used to it.
Turns out, my brain 'sees' in 35mm focal lenght while shooting film, but it needs more on digital.

On paper, shooting the same focal lenght both on digital and film was a best case scenario.

Didn't buy a FF Canon because I wanted something small and light, so I bought a EM5 based on the lens line, but I bought the wrong ones.

Now, all my m4/3 wide angles are going away, and I'm waiting for the 45 1.8 to arrive.

I've definitely been through the process you describe Mike. At one stage I ended up using a 16-35mm (e), 24-70mm (e) and 70-200mm (e) set as my main choices but realised that 95% of the photos were taken at one extreme or the other of the zooms. I went back to primes and settled on 24mm <(i>e) (tilt/shift is ideal) and 50mm (e) as my preferred focal lengths but when it came to telephoto I still usually prefer the 75-300mm (e) zoom. Now I use the X-T1 with 14mm (haven't tried the 16mm WR) and 35mm (Fujicron f2 has replaced the Fujilux 1.4) and the 55-200mm for the few times I need telephoto. I'm set.

Then again there are some other nice possibilities on that "roadmap" ...

The system goes beyond lenses. Flashes & triggers, grips, adapters, enclosures etc. etc. For newbies these things most likely don't come into play right away (unless they are entering photography for a very specific purpose), but they often do later on. It is a legitimate reason to recommend CaNikon, barring any specific requirement that they don't fulfill, to someone as a good place to start because their systems are the broadest.

More experienced shooters will usually know whether any of these things are important to them or not.

I think video capability would be another important consideration this day and age for a digital camera.

To me specification is more important than finite performance and as long as the kit more or less meets my requirements I'm not too bothered if it isn't the absolute best on the market.

I like relatively compact and discrete kit so I sold all my DSLR kit and went mirrorless and have MFT and also an A7 (as my luxury kit) but really almost any of the mirrorless systems would suit me, the only one I'd have an issue with is the Sony Nex (whatever it's called now) as I do like 35mm equivalent and their 24mm f1.8 is a big fat thing. The Olympus 17mm f1.8 for MFT and the 35mm f2.8 for the A7 are much better sized packages for me.

Mike replies: Doesn't every zoom lens come with lens-choice distraction built in?

Most recent enthusiast zoom compacts have step zooms settings that reduces the "infinity" of choices down to "a set of primes". Even better some let you select which focal lengths are permitted in the step zoom.

Say you're Don McCullin and you only use 28, 50 and 135mm. You set those up as the only permitted zoom focal lengths. Then you only have to pick from three zoom settings.

If you make the rotary controller around the lens the step zoom controller you'll have the right focal length selected by the time you're ready to frame.

I'd much rather use step zooms than manual zooms. It's more like shooting with a set of primes than a zoom but without the fiddly lens changing business.

So, I'm standing in a B&B room in San Miguel de Allende, about to go out into what is a very pleasant, photographer friendly, cobbled street town, with no fast food restaurants, no chain hotels or outlets, with my two M6 bodies, trying to decide which two of the four lenses I brought will work best, and obsessing about a shot I might miss, if I leave a lens at home. That was about 15 years ago. A few years later, I carried one body and one lens, and had a much more enjoyable visit, not to mention a much more productive time photographically.

I've always felt that I did better with a minimum of gear. For a long time, somewhere in the [misty, lost] late 60s in was a plain prism, Nikon F with a 43-86mm lens that was not too sharp, and which I tended to use only at its extremes. Now, it's the M-Monochrom with a beat up looking 35mm Summicron, and the other gear tends to stay at home, unless I have something specific to shoot. Less gear, less obsessing...Less IS more.

"Doesn't every zoom lens come with lens-choice distraction built in?"

Yes! In 2015 one thing I experienced was how easy and fun it is to use a good quality fixed lens. After that experience I bought a lens with a smaller zoom range than usual for me because I realized that it would cut down my mental overhead while still giving me what I use and like the most.

For me, light weight and an EVF are important considerations as well. Those two things help get me out of the house with a camera, and get me using the camera.

I enjoyed going through Ken Tanaka's excellent images and must agree that an amateur photographer can do just fine with a compact, fixed lens camera.

I could probably sell off much of my gear and boil down my camera/lens combos to, say, four fixed-lens enthusiast compacts if only Panasonic would default to one battery/charger set for all of them. Perhaps Sony is better in this regard.

"Picking a camera is really a matter of picking a system, and picking a system is really a matter of picking a lens line. -MH"

Works great except we're rapidly heading to the point where there's no such thing as a system. In the good old days you bought your Pantax K1000 with a 50mm and later you bought the 85 and the 28 which were also Pentax or if you were poorer, Tamron adaptall.

But things have changed dramatically in the last two years. I can put the Canon 24mm TSE, ZF Zeiss 50mm Otus and a 135mm Leica lens all on the same body, with almost no Penalty. What system is that? Your Fuji takes Leica lenses with an adaptor made by Fuji. As does micro 4/3. We also have Tamron, Sigma, Zeiss and Tokina making some lenses that exceed the native equivalents. A current Sony a7 series body makes you essentially systemless.

It's now possible to choose, with some shrinking limitations, a system that no longer ties you to a brand.

Additionally. What if you like EVF's over OVF's, or the other way around? What if you want/need 4K video as well as stills? It's not like all bodies are the same and it's just the film is different. If you desire to print 60x30's then you'll not be choosing Fuji or Olympus, regardless of the lens range. 4K video? Fuji's not for you, regardless of how much I like the 56mm 1.2. A camera with an EVF. Sorry. No Canon or Nikon DSLR will do that. Cameras do matter and now, more than ever there is enough variety in size, style and performance where they become an important part of choosing a system.

Back when all 35mm cameras were essentially a light tight box to hold film you might choose a lens range with little consideration of the body. I don't think you can do that anymore.


Mike your (in)famous 35/85 reccomendation got me into a very nice manual Zeiss / Nikon D3 kit. Which I still regret selling to this day. Great haptics, great sensor, & awesome micro-contrast / color signature. My best photos. Ever. The problem (or great difficulty) with digital is the near impossible to manage variables and the seduction of something new and better every 2 years or so. I followed that Moore's Law siren call to my own technical (& pocketbook) folly. My own advice: Find a very simple kit that works and never let it go until digital rot or corporeal dementia sets in. BTW still own my analogue Zukio / OM 1n & 2sp kit similar to my first Nikon FF digital kit. Rot nor lust hath not yet brought that kit to ruin or regret. Cheers, Neely Fallon.

Yes, that Voigtlander Nokton 10.5mm ƒ/0.95, along with a couple of other 3rd party lens offerings, really negate the primary advantage of micro 4/3- compact size (not to mention cost). I'm amazed that to date there is only one native 24mm(e) prime (the Olympus that Ctein has declared mediocre at best) and no 20mm(e) prime whatsoever from either Panny or Oly!

Yours is exactly the advice I used to give customers when I was selling cameras, and the advice I follow (or try to follow) myself to this day. However, I make the distinction between avocational shooting and paid shooting outside a studio environment.

For paid work outside a studio (spot news, combat, events, travel, weddings), only the "aristocracy" of pros have the option of relying on single focal length lenses. Parenthetically, in his (excellent, interesting, but too short) Autobiography, Helmut Newton tells the story of shooting Jodie Foster for Vanity Fair. He shows up on the appointed day with no assistant, and sends home her stylist, makeup people, etc. Then, with just the two of them there he does the shoot using the kit he brought: an SLR, a 50mm lens, and four rolls of Tri-X. I related this story to a pro-shooting friend of mine and enjoyed the horrified look on his face. "You'd have to have balls of steel to do that," he said. The idea hadn't occurred to me until he said it, but on reflection you know Newton had those in his kit, too.

For most working pros, and even for amateurs taking the occasional assignment, a couple of zooms (usually 16-35 and 70-200) are pretty much a necessity; the luxury of single focal lengths simply means you risk missing required shots and wasting time.

Very good advice. How wonder how many of us have followed it, or will follow it though? Too many distractions along the way:)

I generally agree that overthinking the system aspect of buying a camera is not necessarily the right move. The more important thing is to learn what you want to do with your pictures and then choose the tool for that purpose.

I mostly use my iPhone and the Olympus 12-40 zoom lens (mostly at 12, 24 and 40). I also tend to carry but hardly ever use some longer telephoto. My general opinion is that the wide to short telephoto zoom, while pedestrian and somewhat boring is what most hobbyists actually want/need to carry and they hardly need anything else, they just don't know it.

I think you can do worse by buying a decent body with the proverbial kit zoom to figure things out. Overthinking the lens line is just as paralyzing as overthinking which body is best. What is actually best is to keep it simple and keep your options limited until you know what you really want to do. This makes for more boring shopping, but better photographs.

At this particular time there is something available at almost every price and for every style, so have faith that you will always be able to find something nice to settle on. It's out there.

Yes, but a given sensor may not sing with all lenses. Fixed lens cameras aside (the extraordinary Ricoh GR, e.g., if you see in 28 mm-e), you may still end up with a camera dedicated to a lens or two. A couple of years ago I bought a NOS Nikon d7000 at a steep discount, and after going through my cupboard of Nikkors, settled on the 45 2.8P and the 105 2.5 (Planar version) as the best matches. And this despite the fact that 70 mm-e and 160 mm-e have never been my cup of tea. It's not that dissimilar from my collapsible Hexanon being glued to my Leica IIIf (almost exclusively Delta 100), or the Rokkor (Tessar) attached to my Autocord (Delta 400.)

Except that the bodies are not all created equal.

The A7R was the wrong camera for me. I have never hated a camera before, but I hate this one.

With the X-Pro2 about to be released I think I can ditch all my Sony/Zeiss gear and get the 16, 35f2, 90. Or maybe just a 23 & 56 - I've become accustomed to stitching my Loxia 35 for my (10%) wide angle shots which very seldom causes me problems for the situations I need to go wider.

My Canon equipment paid for most of my Sony/Zeiss, and now that will pay for most of my Fuji. Of course each time I'm getting fewer lenses, but that is probably a good thing.

On the other hand maybe I should just stick with my current unloved gear and get myself a motorcycle to take me places where I can take some pictures.

It's only on my mind because the X-Pro2 is coming out, and that looks to be pretty much the camera I have always wanted.

Changing bodies every 1.5 year is just as bad as changing lenses all too often: you never get familiar with it. The 1.5 year cycle is also ridiculously expensive. For the professional, fully writing off cameras is possible only every five years (at least in my country). For the amateur, the 1.5 year cycle is way too expensive and not necessary (how many amateurs do wear out a camera’s life expectancy??). Changing bodies every 5 years seems more reasonable; especially since no significant changes in full frame dslr’s took place since 2008.

Cameras keep improving on what was already excellent in 2008 – ISO, resolution and more AF points cramped into the same small space – while very little progression has been made on its shortcomings: dynamic / exposure range, a broader spread of AF points and a viewfinder with live histogram or zebra stripes (excluding mirrorless, of course).

Therefore, I foresee my d700 lasting as much as 10 years :)

“A good lens can inspire you, and reward you, every time you use it. And if you limit yourself well, you'll really get to know each of your lenses, learning their full potential, and you'll get more reward out of them that way too.”

Agreed, although ‘a good lens’ is not necessarily ‘an expensive lens’. The longer I shoot, the more I seem to get out of any lens I get my hands on. The longer I shoot, the more I simplify my equipment, which has shrinked to three go-to lenses. Meanwhile, the output is getting better.

My usage pattern is pretty equally divided in about these proportions: 30% wide, 40% standard, 30% tele. There’s no "main" lens which I shoot with a lot, it really depends on the task at hand.

-> Family and walkabouts: more wide & standard than tele
-> Landscapes: more wide & tele than standard
-> Weddings, events: more standard & tele than wide

QUOTE “having too many is often just as much an impediment to working effectively as owning too few.”

True. Having access to a few lenses is also fun. Too few is boring, too many is tiresome. I’m debating whether to keep the Nikon 20-35mm f2.8 or let go of it since I also have a 24mm. Both lenses are fine, both get the job done. From a financial point, I should let go of the zoom. From a functional point, I should let go of the prime. I’ll let my guts decide; meanwhile I’m playing around with both.

I think the importance of lenses is over rated in this digital age. All most of us need is a 1" sensor with a decent fixed lens on it, if you ask me..... As far as i am concerned, the sensor of the camera you are using is far more imaportant than the lens.

The current sensors in the market allows you today to shoot under certain low light conditions, which would have been impossible even with the best lenses ten years ago.

Hey ho!

I like your "different car every week" analogy. It works in another way too - when I do get to drive a different car, it can be fun, and feel great, and cool, and exciting, etc. Depending on the car, it can feel so much 'better.'

But I suspect this is all delusional, as despite how I feel, I am not necessarily driving better...

Mike replies: Doesn't every zoom lens come with lens-choice distraction built in?

Not at all for me.

(Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I'll leave aside seriously special-purpose lenses like fisheye or tilt/shift. If you need them, you know it, and that will drive everything else.)

Step one in any photograph is composition. This is done with the feet. For any given arrangement of scene element placement and relative size, there is exactly one place in the universe where you can get that composition. Note that this is not focal-length dependent.

When the composition is chosen, most of what is left is cropping*, and that's where zoom lenses come in -- they allow cropping to order with minimal loss of image quality.

So as long as the lens can handle the field size I want, I don't even think about focal length. No distraction at all, though I'll often shoot multiple framings from the same location to get a better chance at the real crop I want in post.

The real distraction comes when the zoom is not short or long enough and I have to change lenses, especially when I have a tightly time-constrained subject. Give me the biggest zoom range I can get with a lens light enough that I'm willing to carry it.

* Other elements such as depth of field, exposure, and shutter speed are largely not germane to this discussion, though they obviously need consideration as well.

I'm sending this to a ton of people—it says what I try to say when asked but does a much better job. Thank you!

PS. You need to change your 2015 copyright notice and I need to change my Lightroom 2015 metadata preset.

A lot of what you say is spot on. However, as an amateur, I would like to add a word in favour of the "kit zoom". As an oldie, I had been a bit of a photographer for over 40 years before I ever owned a zoom lens, or even had more than three lenses for any given camera. It may be, then, that I eventually got over the inability to visualize the focal lengths that I did use.
I drifted away from photography a bit in the days of colour film because of the difficulty and cost of making decent colour prints, but with the advent of digital I got a Canon 10D and a couple of lenses - a tele-zoom that went out to 200mm and a moderate (but not very fast) wide-angle prime. That was over 10 years ago.
As time went by I added several lenses, probably too many, and replaced the 10D with later bodies, but not very often. I got more into several areas of photography, often just to learn something of what they entailed. Now I focus on what I would call "general" photography - family, travel and street, but I also remain keen on wildlife, most often in south Florida.
Two years or so ago I got a Fuji X Pro 1 with the kit zoom 18-55mm, which I have used for 100% of my "general" photography, i.e. about 90% of the total. It is, incidentally, an outstanding lens for a kit zoom. So far, I have not bought a second lens for this system, because I have almost never felt a serious need for one, but I have kept some Canon bodies and longish lenses for wildlife (including some zooms) and some fast primes.
With the forthcoming release of the X Pro 2 and a 100-400mm lens, I am considering going 100% with this system, and selling the rest of my gear. I would probably get a wide zoom and a fast wide-angle also. I might also get the 55-200mm zoom. This decision will depend on being convinced I can get used to the EVF with the longer and wider lenses. This would be a total of five lenses, just inside your suggested limit, but I would not carry them all, all the time. I also have a fast 50mm in M-mount which I can (theoretically) use for portraits on the Fuji.
Just thought I might share my approach to this question.

We have never had more Good options when it comes to cameras and lenses. It's hard to go too far wrong.
While it is certainly a personal choice, if recommendations take the form of advice to others, we have to remember to ask a few questions.
What will be expected of the chosen equipment, a budding generalist professional will have to have a broader range of capabilities than someone who has a narrower focus like documentary or street.

As many of the more experienced photographers here find that they gravitate toward simpler high quality choices, -even fixed lenses- which is completely understandable because their experience has helped them develop a way of seeing the world that works for them.
But I wonder if their current choices would have been "Helpful Advice" to their younger less experienced self.?
Or, is the bumbling around we all do on the way to developing a vision that fits both us and the world a product of the bumbling.
Sometimes learning why you don't like one tool is a constructive requisite for finding tools whith which we do resonate.
Knowing the many has helped us choose the few.

In my own case, I still have a lot of lenses, because I still do a lot of different kinds of work. (Canon 1DsIII's and a dozen lenses)
But for personal work, in the last few years the lens that I use most is not the exotic 1.2 Primes, but the Lowly 17-40 f/4 zoom. (in my case what seems to be a really good specimen)
I use it like 2 lenses, the pictures I see are either wideish normal 40 or the wide 17.
I evolved there. I suspect it would not have been possible to go directly there.
When asked for advice, I tell that story. To the extent a person has some vision of what they want to accomplish, we can help refine a starting point. I usually suggest two primes or a good modern zoom that can be used as two 'primes' I think the either /or of two different angles of view can be instructive, even if that's not where they end up.
But mostly I tell them to let the pictures take them where they need to go. Start small, buy quality, do consider the existing lens line, but in the end, we all figure it out on our own.

This all seems so complicated...
I had a couple of Canon F1N bodies with 35mm, 85mm and 135mm lenses in the film days.

Replaced them with a couple of EOS RT bodies and 35mm, 85mm and 135mm lenses when I went autofocus.

When I went digital with the 20D, the lenses were wrong, but I put up with it until the 5D came out, and they were right again. Now I just replace the 5D bodies with the next model when it comes out.

I did try a few other formats (M43, APSC), even a zoom - but I've seen the error of my ways.

1/ 90mm f2.0 macro. 60%
2/ 135mm F2.0 macro. 20%
3/ 50mm f2.0 macro. 10%
4/ 21mm or 28mm f2.8 10%

Usage: Product/Still Life/Landscape/Documentary (stock and fine art). Job Done!

I'm planning on re-entering the profession in a part-time way, so a timely article. Body wise - OMD EM5 Mk II for 40MP multi-shot is tempting for my given budget. Have remnants of my old OM system and loyalty to the brand. In the words of the song "but I'm open to persuasion".

I'm sorry, but I think I had Zuiko lenses in mind doing this exercise. Fail! And in the words of another song "just can't get you out of my head..".

If you are already a frequent reader of this blog then ... I'm not sure this was very useful? I agree with all of it, but I can't help but think it would be an article that I'd forward to someone beginning out in photography.

I love the last paragraph though (I find it funny in the context of the title). You could have put this as the first sentence right after the title and have the short version right there...


[Don't confuse commenters with readers. The commenters are the elite among the readers. But the readers who don't comment are important to me too. --MJ]

In the days of film one would by lenses and one would buy film. The camera was the least important part, it was just the box to hold the film with a hole in it for the lens. There were a lot of reasons for buying one camera model or another, but image quality was not one of them.

The reason that I have settled on Sony mirrorless cameras is at least somebody at Sony has made it a priority to allow you to use the camera as a dumb box with a hole in it and a really pretty good sensor, that you can attach almost any camera lens ever made, not to mention a lot of other kinds of lenses.

I have to admit that there are more and more very nice lenses made for the Sony A7, but that's not why I bought it.

Hmm. I ended up picking my old camera system by following these rules.

Or there's this:
I paid £2600 for one of the best 35mm lenses there is - a zeiss f2 and it came with a free 42Mp camera body so I didn't need to worry about having to change it.

You know, buying a digital camera gets easier as you get older. Its easy for me:

1. I have lots of Nikon lenses, so its going to be a Nikon (I am of Scottish heritage).

2. I just want to take pictures, usually of animals and landscapes, so I need no fancy lighting systems, etc.

3. I hate using photoshop, etc. I realize how useful they are but I don't like sitting in front of a computer.

So, its any easy decision for me. I just bought a new Nikon 3200 to replace a D40. Since then, I've been using my Nikkormat to shoot film. Yes, I'm a little nuts.

I disagree.
I still shoot with a Pentax *istDS. Not the perfect camera by any means.

To keep up with the "simple but enough point and shoot", you have the phone camera.

In my opinion, cellphones have become de digital equivalent of film.

Camera bodies are still way too expensive to be considered a disposable item. And, with all due respect, should not be considered as such.

And yes, the *ist DS is at the 12th iteration of the shutter actuation count: 120.000+ shots.

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