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Friday, 26 January 2018


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Well, the 20 - 40 works out to about 28mm, not 50mm; your calculator must have a bug! [I was using the equivalent focal lengths. —Mike] Interesting concept though...and I guess I use it all the time as most of my lenses--and I do have a 50mm (but don't use it much)--are zooms. I use my 70-200 (~118mm) most of the time to shoot volleyball; I'm occasionally at 70mm, but mostly mid-range unless I shoot real tight. I use a 24-7 to shoot player introductions, for shooting at mid-court, and any post-match player/fan portraits (OK, snapshots)...so, not many pictures per match.

I've long since noticed that a disproportionate chunk of the photos taken with my favorite lens for my 5D (the 24-105 f/4 IS) are either at 24mm or at 105mm. Once I noticed that, it started to inform how I use the lens. I became much more likely to look at something and consciously decide if I wanted to "go long" or "go short".

I can't really decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Just a thing which I had noticed over the years.

I guess old dogs won't learn new tricks. I cannot work with zooms, have had quite a few of them, find them annoying.

It was called "smc Pentax-M Flexi 1:2.8 35mm", and it flexed between 32 and 39mm.
This one: http://kmp.pentaxians.eu/lenses/_prototype-2/m32-39f2-8-flexi/

I own the other less-common focal-length Pentax-M Zoom, the M40-80/2.8-4, and it is quite interesting - I use it on the MX, it is as big as the camera, so I'm not using it very often, and consequentially, haven't wrapped my mind around it yet.

Got a deal on the Pentax 20-40mm when another user was dumping his because "the zoom range is too short."

Guess what? I shot a pile of photos at 20mm and 40mm, then realized the sweet spot for me is ~30mm... so now it's one of my most-used lenses (and also a "real honey," as some might say). Sold my 31mm Limited shortly thereafter.

Yes, the 20-40mm is the first Pentax Limited zoom, but as you describe, it's really a 45mm-e with "room to breathe."

I always got along quite well with the 1970s lens everyone hated but secretly owned - the Nikkor 43-86. That's exactly how I used mine, as a framing zoom for when your back was against the wall or your gut was pressed into the barrier; it was very useful in that capacity.

I think you pretty much nailed it with the 27-84 mm focal length range by the Fuji 18-55 OIS. I use that for about 60-65% of my photography. With respect to a two lens kit, which I didn't comment on in the earlier posts, I've found the Fab Fuji 14 and 18-55 covers about 85% of my needs when shooting with my Fuji XT-2. I still find the Fuji 14 very versatile and use it for about 35-40% of my photography; it's just SO good. When a I need a prime in the 35-40mm focal length, which like you, I find to be my most versatile "single" focal length, I just whip out the killer little Fuji X100F, which is the best camera I've ever used for what it was designed to do.

Mike, you’re not shooting Pentax these days but the DA 16-85mm zoom for APS-C is exactly the kind of lens you’re talking about. Only a middling f/3.5-5.6 aperture but excellent optically and featuring a focal length that’s short enough to avoid the compromises that usually plague superzooms. And still a very useful 24-127.5mm equivalent.

Mike wrote "Long ago, Pentax prototyped a zoom with an even narrower range, but numbers typically don't stick in my memory. It was something like a 32–39mm, and was meant to be an adjustable 35mm."

I don't know about that one, but a somewhat wider range (but less than 2x) is the Pentax smc-M 24~35mm f/3.5. Appears to be almost as small and fast as a comparable prime in that range.

The same idea that you elucidate applies to a zoom macro lens (e.g., Vivitar series 1 90~180 mm), as it allows fine tuning the magnification without the need to move the subject or camera after the initial placement.

And of course the Pentax zoom fisheye lenses (FF and now APSC). Pentax and Vivitar make/made/designed some interesting lenses.

The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 is my personal favourite example of a "slightly variable prime."

Your pentax ideal flexi 35 was the M 32-39 2.8, and indeed, was supposed to be a flexible 35 [a 35 that allowed for adjustments]



Choose your side.
But that is precisely the reason I keep usually the 43 AND 50 together when going out.

They are my adjustable zoom.

[For others: the FA 43 1.9 Ltd and the FA 50 1.4 Spherical -yep, spherical-].

Funny, you just posted this hours after I posted the fact that Pentax does not have a "normal zoom" which can deliver a good resolving power.

Until today I'd never heard the term "Pentaxian." Then a quick Bing took me to ...

M 32-39/2.8 Flexi
This lens was shown in an 1979 issue of Pentax Life along with several others (M120/2.8, M35-70/2.8-3.5, K2000/13.5) as the next lenses to be introduced by Pentax. Unfortunately this lens did not make it into production.


It seems to me that the Pentax Limited zoom is ideal Pentaxian zoom. You get 31 mm and 43 mm EFL which gives you two out of three "olden" Limited lenses. If you're slightly less orthodox, you get 35, 50 and if so you have to - 55 or 58 mm EFL, which are more common.

In my opinion, a zoom lens needs to be as long a range as the resulting IQ is acceptable by the beholder of the said zoom lens. So, my Oly 12-40/2.8 suits me just fine...

I've been following these past few posts with a certain bemused interest. Like many here, I have a certain distrust of zoom lenses since when I started you got a nifty-fifty with the body and zooms were really not all that good. Some weren't bad and if you used them properly, well so much the better. But in the end they were all really slow and were the lenses Mom bought for her Canon AE-1 because she couldn't afford a handful of fast primes and she could do what she wanted to with that pair of zooms. And boy could she make that nifty fifty (50/1.8 FD in this case) sing.

Moving on to today, I can look at the Olympus 12-40/2.8 and say "Dang, that's actually a really nice piece of glass and it's something I could do something more with than the little kit zooms I have even though I also have a handful of decent primes." But then I look at the price tag and get reminded that you get what you pay for and I will not be getting that huge hunk of beautiful glass anytime soon.

So I'll keep on going walk about with my 25/1.7 glued to the front of my E-P3 with, depending on my mood, either the 17/2.8 or the kit 14-42/3.5-5.6 zoom (first & worst version, yeah!)which is kinda like what you suggest... nah, not really. Just what I can do and that just has to be, in the end, enough.

My exif data echoes your observation that with my Fuji 18-55mm, most shots are at 18mm or at 55mm. And with my 10-24mm, most shots are at the extremes. And with my 55-200mm, same thing. I bought the 55-200 for the 200mm length, and that's what I generally use it for, with the ability to, as you state, make adjustments. If you are considering a long lens for your Fuji, I can recommend the 55-200.

Having cameras with only fixed lenses, I don't have a fixation on zoom lenses.

And, building on the use of "flexible" primes: they are a very good idea for product shots, where moving the camera is such a hussle! And macro photo, at that.

This is very interesting and brings up all sorts of issues and ideas; probably too many to fit into one comment but nevertheless...

First off, the latest lens I have acquired for my main camera (Oly E-M1) is a 4/3 (not micro-4/3) Oly 12-60 and if you do the flexible-framed prime calculation, it works out to ~28mm. That's interesting because for some years now, I've used the Panaleica 25mm as my main lightweight carry-around lens and so, maybe that's true that the 12-60 is a flexible prime?

However, a 5x zoom gives a *lot* of flexibility and when I use a "normal" zoom, I spend a lot more time at the wide end than anywhere else. In fact, the 12-60 is replacing an older Oly 4/3 (again, not micro 4/3) 14-54 which I really really like a lot but since I was so often at the wide end, I figured the 12-60 might be a good choice. So, scratch the "flexible normal" theory. I'm undoubtedly one of those guys who uses zooms at the end of their range. In fact, I have a 7-14, too, but let's not go there right now.

One aside about the 12-60. I was counting my pennies to buy a m-4/3 12-100 when I spotted an old 12-60 on the used shelf of my local shop and how much do you think they wanted for it? $199CAD! So, yes, at one-eighth the price I think I can live with this for a while!

One of my favourite cameras is the Fujifilm GA645Zi, which takes 120 roll film and provides 16 shots per roll in 6*4.5 format. It has a zoom lens with a very short range: the 35mm equivalent focal length is 34-56mm. The focal length is not continously vairiable, but has four fixed positions. If you think of it as a conventional zoom, it may seem limiting. But I think of it is giving a choice between 35mm and 50mm options, without having to carry two lenses.

I never thought of a zoom in quite this way but it really makes sense to me when I think about it.
My early experience with one of the Nikon 43-86mm crimes against lightwaves kind of poisoned me on zooms until I went digital. In fairness a later version of this lens is OK but by the time it came out Nikon had excreted so many of the originals that the damage had been done, at least for me.
In 2005 I jumped into digital with a D70 with the 18-70 kit lens. It was my first zoom in decades. It is still my main lens. It has some shortcomings but they are all easily corrected in software and the lens, at least mine, is wicked sharp.
Much of what I shoot is at about 35mm so the idea of an adjustable prime has merit for me. A few years back I came across a like new 70-210 constant f4 AF Nikkor for $80 and grabbed it. Great lens, very sharp and focuses to three feet but I rarely use it. My son shoots it more than I do, go figure.
So Mike unless you are experiencing a burning need for more reach a long zoom may not be all that useful to you. Or it may change how you see and take you down a different road for a while. Nothing wrong with that.

I tend to be more in the 'Zoom as 2 lenses camp.
I also tend to shoot more wide than Telephoto.
I've had a Canon 17-40 for a long time, and I got a good one.
My camera stays at my side with a hand strap, and when I see a picture I'll know if I want wide or normal and spin it to one extreme or the other as I'm raising it to my eye. I of course use other focal lengths but well over 80% are at 17 or 40. I love the lens and that way of shooting.
I liked it better than my 24-70 V1. But I added the 24-70 v2 and it is truly a knock your sox off lens. It is good everywhere.
I could see using it at it's median with room to breathe. But for me at least , I lean the other way.
The way you choose to use a lens, is just a preference, but learning to visualize the extremes means you know the range you have available. That seems important -especially if working quickly.

Starting out with my FF Pentax K-1, I favored the Pentax-F-series 24-50/4 lens. It's small as a fast 50, and the camera easily crops to a 16mp APS-C frame, giving me a handy 75mm capacity. That should have been enough. It was as close as I could get to my old Minolta standby, the Maxxum 24-85/4.

But this older Pentax lens wasn't weather-sealed, and it's a bit hazy wide open, so I got the new 28-105 Pentax DFA. It's optically excellent- if sharper photos are possible, I don't really care to see them. Just heavy, so I'll be keeping my Pentax-F 35-70/3.5-4.5, which is impeccable at every aperture and truly small, the size of a slow 50. So I'm quite well-covered with midrange zooms for every occasion. Add a good tele, a macro or an ultrawide and you're done.

Yes, Pentax doesn't have as many lenses as the big boys. That's a feature, not a bug!

Prime lens zealots might be ignoring the one thing only zooms can do: alter and control the spatial relationship between foreground, subject and background. If I did a portrait at 100mm, that sets and freezes the amount of bokeh and the size relationships with the background. I can "zoom with my feet" to manage the size of the main subject, but only zooms (or a lens change) allows me to alter the background, bringing it closer or farther in apparent size. And then there are those times when you can't zoom with your feet.

The other question I ask prime zealots is whether they work with one camera or two. It's a lot easier to enjoy the discipline & focus of a single FL when you have a different one hanging off your other shoulder. With modern cropping capabilities, I could do a lot with a 24 and an 85, each croppable to 1.5x.

The key question here is, are you out to get a variety of photos of an event or subject, or to get those few photos that fit into your artistic preconception? Either answer is correct, but they lead to different tactics.

I remember well the SMC Pentax-M Flexi 35mm prototype being featured in the annual “Photokina Roundup” article of either Modern Photography or Popular Photography. The close-up photograph of the lens the magazine included is the one reproduced in that Photo Life item (linked to by others here). The magazine text said that Pentax had it on display as a means of “gauging reaction” as to whether or not to put it into production.

In an earlier life (pre '75) I always had a problem getting the framing I wanted. Mostly, it was not being able to get as close as I wanted, and I found massive cropping in the darkroom most unsatisfactory. In '76 I bought a Viviitar 70-210 macro zoom. What a difference!! I could do much better framing with much less effort, and the optical quality was quite good. THen, forr kicks, I got a Soligor tripler. Surprise, I didn't lose a lot of quality with it, and I now could go out to over 600mm. Now I have a two zoom lens set which does 95% of my needs. One is a Nikon 15-79mm and when my Nikon long zoom died (and Nikon said they couldn't fit it!) I dug out the old Vivitar. It still works well and I haven't replaced the dead Nikon lens. Yes, I have several other lenses up to 500mm, but they don't see much use. ANd I rarely have framing problems of any degree. Two lenses are the way to go for me.

When I had scraped together enough to buy my first DSLR (Rebel XSI) I used the awful kit zoom as a prime because it was at its best around 35mm. I got some nice shots with that little toy lens.

Leica (remember them?) for their CL has a quite nice, tiny, 18-56 (which is 28 to 85 mm-e) APS-C zoom which is available at a slight discount with new purchases of the CL. I think you can get both camera and lens in a special single box and make an event out of the opening, but those are so rare that dealers in the US sell camera and lens (the lens has been out for several yers now) at the same discount without the lovely box. All that silliness aside, the zooms available for small format seem to make possible very sharp, lightweight, medium speed designs. I have a CL and am getting good use out of these. I tend to set them at focal lengths that I am familiar with, but not only at the extremes.

"—that most photographers actually use zoom lenses by slamming them to either the short end or the long end, seldom landing in the middle anywhere. That is, they used them like two primes."

But did they have any data? Might they have been prejudiced in favor of primes and against zooms?

Herewith data on one photographer, July, 2012 through Jan. 22, 2018 and seven zooms.

Lens Min. FL Max. FL The Rest
PLeica 100-400 11% 45% 44%
Olympus 75-300 11% 45% 44%
Long Zooms 11% 45% 44%

PLeica 12-60 14% 37% 50%
Olympus Pro 12-100 14% 20% 66%
Panasonic 14-140 4% 30% 66%
Olympus 14-150 6% 30% 64%
Olympus 12-50 8% 12% 80%
Normal Zooms 8% 21% 70%

Total 10% 34% 56%

Pretty wide scattering between the ends, except for the 12-50, with a large clump @ 43 mm, the FL of its Macro Mode.

So, am I that odd a zoom user, or might the wild guess work have been a teeny bit inaccurate?

Not many surprises to me:

1. The longest lenses are often too short to properly frame distant subjects, and will be cropped.

2. Leaving the long ones out, 70% of my shots have not been at the ends of the zoom range, nor are there hidden clumps just above or below the ends.

3. I'm not much frustrated by wide end limitations. This is affected in early years by a wider zoom often at hand and later mostly by my common use of stitched panoramas for real WA.

"So if you're buying an all-purpose zoom to use as your main normal lens, just ask yourself, if the short end were a prime, would it be short enough? And, if the long end were a prime, would it be long enough?"

The data suggests that:

1. My imagined Oly Pro 200-800 zoom would be a good fit.

2. 10 mm would be a better bottom end for mid range zooms for me.

3. Long zoom range, casual zooms starting at 14 mm work pretty well for me at the short end, not too bad at the long end.

4. 12-100 is a better range for me than 12-60.


I have the Pentax 20- 40 and I use it as my adjustable prime. It is far and away my favorite lens. My three lens kit for my Pentax K-5 iis consists of the Pentax 18-135mm zoom, the 20-40mm "prime" and the Pentax 15mm 4.0 for when I need a little more of a wide angle.

Timely post; it got me thinking about how I use Zooms.

I don't have any zooms in my Nikon film quiver. Never have: 20, 24, 35, 50, 85, 105.

The D7000 has some monster of a vacation Zoom (18-300) on it and a variable aperture. Chromatic aberrations, fall-off abound, distortions abound; all fixable with a click in Lightroom.

My Intro to Digital students generally have the Canon 18-55 hanging withe the school's Rebels (T 4 through 6). Next week we work on Zooming, specifically. In past classes our focus was on so many other things I discovered that the students weren't making use of the range. So the exercise will be using my method:

Go stand where you see what you want to see then frame with the zoom. It goes to previsualizing; understanding what your mind wants and having the machine accommodate the shot.

That said, being that aware of how you see, and considering perspective and position at the same time, are pretty advanced skills. Just because we do it without thinking doesn't mean it is easy. In any case, we will build from here.

I have always lusted after a pair of short range zooms with the super rare f2 maximum aperture, that are not rediculously over priced or sized (especially for m43). As a venerable old "tried most things, stuck with what works" shooter, I personally use a short range, but like/need fast lenses, so I carry 2-3 bodies (EM5 mk1- still great!, with 17/25/45 or 75 f1.8) rather than change "on the go". A 14-20 and 30-60 f2 pairing, each about the size of a standard zoom would be perfect!
I feel that another feature added is perspective. A 17mm, 20mm and 25mm show not only slightly different framing magnifications, but different perspectives also. Very important.
The downsides of zooms for me have almost always stemmed from too much focal range choice, with too much size and often too hard an optical task for the designers compared to stable, fast and predictable primes. Maybe it is time for a more balanced solution, less about giving you the world (18-300 anyone!?) and more about giving you creative flexibility AFTER you have made the basic choice of what it is you intend.

I happen to know exactly what you mean! I like primes and don't (didn't) have any zooms. But I also like the 35mm focal length on my APS-C setup (Fuji X-T2). Fuji of course makes a couple lovely 35mm XF lenses. But I needed a 35mm Olympus OM as part of my shift kit. The OM 35/2.8 didn't shift well at all, the 35/2 has serious distortion issues, and the copy of the OM 35/28 Shift lens I tried wasn't great. A photography blogger named Tom Leonard put me onto the rare and unloved Olympus OM 28-48/4. It's basically a 35mm lens, with the option of being a bit wider or a bit longer, and that's exactly how I use it. Happily, it's at its best at 35mm -- exactly where I need the image quality.

My dream is to wake up one day, have a cup of coffee, get on a computer and find out that Nikon has just announced a 24-35/2.8 or even better 24-35/4 zoom that weighs, say, 300 grams. Sigma does have a 24-35/2 but, as everything else coming from them, it's a kilo per pixel. Incredibly good pixels, surely, but no, thank you.

Regarding my Olympus 12-100
Lightroom tells me, out of ~6500 shots so far.
- 16% at 24mm
- not a lot more until 35mm
- 10% around 70mm
- 30% at max zoom.

I was surprised by the general distrubution. I thought I'd have a much greater percentage at each end.

I can't really calculate, from Lightroom, my most common focal lengths. There's a lot of use as 'wide' as I can go, as 'long' as I can go, and distinct bumps for each prime I have.

Back in the film days, I bought a Fujica AZ-1 which came with a "standard" FUJINON-Z 1:3.5-4.5 f=43-75mm (aka kit lens for that body). The push-pull zoom has focal plane markings for 43, 50, 60 and 75mm. Beautiful lens, last used in 2003 in New Zealand on my Fujica ST-801.

My current low mm count zoom is the Pentax DA* 1:2.8 18-50mm. Used it today on my K-3II. My budget will not allow for another lens for the foreseeable future, so other Pentax lenses that cover the 30-80mm zoom range are just not in the cards.

one of the best feeling zoom lenses I've ever had was the older Pentax 20-35/F4 AF.
If I ever went back to Pentax, the 20-40/2.8-4 Limited would be the first on the list.

I found this post, and the prior one on zooms and primes, an interesting benchmark to compare with my actual practice. Re the earlier post, I find that when I'm out and about with no particular goal in mind, the 20mm f1.7 suits me just fine, and if in a busy city, then the Olympus body cap (my mind wants me to say bottle cap) 15mm f8 works better, since focus is fixed. I want a zoom when I'm out doing purposeful shooting.

The zoom tends to be one where, following the formula, the center point is about that of a 50mm prime. And I generally zoom for framing, almost never starting at its extremes.

So, unconsciously, MINDLESSly, it looks like my practice has followed these rules. Fascinating, Jim ... er ... Mike.

I think Pentax makes some brilliant products that march to a slightly different tune than the mass of digital photographers. Therefore, sadly, I understand why Pentax sales are slow. Different just does not work well in a mass market consumer society. But I am thrilled they are still in the game. At home, I still occasionally use a Spotmatic with some of the terrific Takumar lenses. Many people still think the 55 mm f/1.8 Takumar was one of the best 50s ever.

Hi Mike,
Always interested to read about different perspectives, and the “adjustable prime” piques my curiosity. Having said that - Roger Cicala’s Law of Wide Zoom Relativity is another interesting, and different, view. Mind you, his blogs were written before they augmented their testing bench to cater for m4/3 lenses, so I won’t pre-empt testing results on that format.
+1 For the Tokina 11-16/2.8 as another excellent example of an adjustable prime - and a useful zoom range.

A lens I long wanted for my Nikon film cameras was the 35-70/2.8 AF zoom lens, which, it seemed to me, given its reputation for optical excellent and relatively small size, was a perfect three lens replacement. I'm always switching between a 35mm prime and a 50mm ( 24mm & 35mm now that I have an aps-c camera).

beuler's rule applies to that lens to; it was perhaps intended as a flexible framing alternative to Nikon 50mm standard "normal" prime, the first lens everyone used to acquire in the old film camera days.

Too bad no almost no one has a compact 24-50mm/f2.8 aps-c zoom lens offering. It would be very useful for a certain old-timey style of shooting, which relied on what are now moderate wides, normal lenses and very short telephotos.

Maybe this is a different thing, and maybe kinda dumb, but this discussion reminded me for some reason of the Leica M2+40mm combo I shot with for a while.

The M2 doesn't have frame lines for 40mm, but I did ok with the 50 frame that the lens brought up, and when I needed to frame more carefully I'd toggle between the 50 and 35 frames to get a better idea.

And it didn't feel near as awkward as it sounds. Of course rangefinder framing is imprecise anyway, but it turns out that beuler's square root formula for the 35 - 50mm range gives 41 mm. Funny! So perhaps the same principle in reverse made it seem natural to use the 40 as an "inflexible" 35-50 "zoom"?

Of course I was also primed for that approach by an article I'd read years earlier about the magically versatile 40mm focal length, written by you-know-who.

Well I think recent lens designers know that people just use either the extreme ends of a zoom or only the wide end. Lens rentals wrote this up


      Seems the wide zooms are good at the wide end and the tele zooms can be good at the wide or tele end. Not designed for the middle.

Wow, that's a great idea! Last week I took my PEN-F with 17mm, 20mm and 25mm lenses to an event. Respectively for scenery, group portraits and headshots. A short zoom like this could replace them all (if it had at least an f/1.8 aperture).

As interesting as this discussions about three prime focal lengths or pancakes plus zooms are... even in my smallest bag I easily store a Micro Four Thirds body and six lenses. So why this self-imposed restrictions?

Back in the 80's I had a couple of zooms. One was a 28-70 Vivitar and the other was an 80-300 Soligor. Both were pretty slow and could only be used outdoors. I was using a Pentax K1000 at the time and Tri-X. I sold them off at some point. Traded them, actually at the old Olden Photo in NYC, back when there were multiple camera shops with racks of chemicals and paper . . . (sigh).

And then for the next 35 years, I really only used prime lenses. Moved to Nikon. Added a Leica. . and so on. As luck would have it, I have recently bought three zooms. Partly this is because older zooms have gotten so cheap that they are practically worthless. I think the Tokina 28-70 I just picked up from KEH in a Pentax mount was $36 or something like that. It was like picking up a set of cheap watercolors in one of those plastic trays. I am not a water color painter, but for $2.99 I might play around with it, and would certainly keep it for when my nephews are visiting on a rainy day and need an indoor activity.

I also used an Amazon giftcard to purchase a part of a new Pentax D FA 24-70mm F2.8ED SDM WR Lens. First brand new zoom that I have purchased since 1985. The thing is huge. The thing is sharp and contrasty. And the thing has sat in my bag for four weeks while I try to figure out how to use it. ;( My "comfort zone" is 28-50mm, with a bias towards 35mm these days. So the zoom hits the sweet spot for me. I may take it on a trip to NYC in a couple of weeks and see how it does as my primary lens. Honkin' large though. Still adjusting mentally.

Today's cameras have such good high ISO performance that a speed race for maximum aperture is more about a certain "look" wide open than about being able to actually make a technically acceptable picture.

In light of that I went BACK to KEH and purchased a 200/f:4 SMC lens for my Pentax. I think that one cost $69 plus shipping.

Whadda development.

With Nikon in the 80's, I started using primes less and added a few Nikkor zooms. Most people used fixed focal length lenses at the time but I found zooms were convenient and good enough for most of my purposes. In the 90's I bought Canon due to their AF and the first lenses I chose were three Canon zooms. With digital, I stuck with Canon, eventually using mostly their excellent L-series zooms, but I also adding Olympus's now discontinued E-series 4/3 system. With Olympus, I shot with some of the best zooms I've ever owned. I still regret that the Olympus 4/3 system failed and Olympus abandoned it in favor of Micro 4/3 although it was obviously a good decision for the company. I'm still using those Olympus zooms (though a lot less these days), adapted to the OMD EM1. The AF is a little slow but the lenses are still sharp. When I need a really long lens, I can reach for the 50-200/2.8-3.5 zoom (100-400mm equivalent). It's tack sharp, even with a 1.4X extender. And where ya gonna find a lens that long and fast that you can shoot hand held all day long?

Having shot mostly with zooms for over 30 years, I rediscovered prime lenses with Fuji. While I have two great Fuji zooms (18-55 and 55-200) I seldom use them, preferring the simplicity of fixed focal lengths on various Fuji bodies.

Since zooms are mechanically and optically more complex than primes, even zoom of a small range are bigger, more expensive and usually slower than equivalent primes. For this reason I'm not really interested in zooms with a range smaller than 2x: there are too many drawbacks considering the benefits. But I'm first and foremost a prime shooter and with primes I often accept that I'm using a single focal length, so I need to match my subjects to it.

On the other hand, a range of 2x to 3x is in my mind the best compromise: one gets enough separation between the focal lengths to cover 2 or 3 three distinct angles of view and compromises in speed and optical quality aren't too big if the zoom is well made.

Interesting to look at actual numbers.

In 2012 (first random year I picked had at least one big cache of another person's photos in the database, so I moved back a few years and ended up at 2012), I show 18956 photos, 2849 taken with the Nikkor 24-70/2.8 lens, and something of a spread on focal length (with definite spikes at both ends; that just proves that an "all-in-one" lens doesn't actually cover "all"):

24mm 252
26mm 51
27mm 48
28mm 46
29mm 84
31mm 41
32mm 196
34mm 81
35mm 90
36mm 58
38mm 155
40mm 78
42mm 72
44mm 105
45mm 82
48mm 179
50mm 66
52mm 77
55mm 93
56mm 64
58mm 86
60mm 66
62mm 122
66mm 41
70mm 616

I'm a bit curious about the gaps, especially at the long end; not sure the lens interface digitizes to the precise millimeter throughout the range.

And if I'm going to do much more of this (I'd thought of displaying it as a graph rather than a chart) I need to find a better, that is, less manual, way!

By the way, 19k photos (and that's just the ones that survived through to now; I often delete half or more when I transfer from the memory cards to the computer) is more than 550 rolls of film (36 exp.), and while I shot heavily for an amateur I rarely went over 100 rolls in a year in the bad old days. And 550 rolls of film could cost you over $10,000 with commercial color processing and prints (I shot nearly all B&W in the bad old days and processed it myself, for more like a penny a frame).

My 70-200/2.8 the same year was responsible for 5505 photos, at only 39 focal lengths. 344 were at 70mm, then it drops to 50 at 75mm. 1641 were at 200mm. And nothing as high as 200 in between. So that's a bit more strictly bimodal, especially at the high end.

Now, I knew that 200mm wasn't long enough on this lens; when I first went digital, with what's now called an APS-C sensor body, I found this lens, with an effective angle of view matching 300mm, very useful, and so did everybody else I talked to. I'm very pleased that the Olympus M43 equivalent, the 40-150/2.8 PRO, goes out to that point on its own.

How about 35-35 zoom ?

Sigma are making a pair of short range zooms now with the 24-35 being the best known. And not only are they a short range zoom they're also fast. Prime fast. f2 and 1.8.

Leica does the same thing for the M, with the wide angle tri-elmar, which is a true zoom lens with click stops for the 16,18 and 21mm focal lengths ( I wish all zooms had that. A little click stop so I could "know" where my zoom lens was). The older and more expensive than new "MATE" (original tri-elmar) is actually a bag of primes. It isn't a zoom and can only be focused at the three provided focal lengths. But it's also short. Less than 2x.

For a longer "slamming" zoom I've found I like a 24-110ish lens. I chose the optically inferior Canon 24-105 (mk1) over the 24-70. I carry the Pana-Leica 12-60 and prefer it over the Olympus 12-40 2.8. And going back to the previous article I'll match the 12-60 with an Olympus mZuiko 25mm 1.2 as a walk around kit all the time.


This reminds me that the Tamron 20-40 was one of my favourite lenses on film and I should consider getting another to repurpose on my X-E1 as an adjustable normal.

The Sony 𝜶7R 𝛪𝛪𝛪 (A7RIII, in case the preceding correct fonts come out as gibberish) is the first 135-frame camera to make me think about spending that much on a camera. And it was announced with the 24-105/4 G OSS lens. And like you say, Mike, the question sprung to mind, "is this enough?". Because 24mm is fine, but sometimes I feel like 105mm doesn't quite do it for me.

But I take solace in this thought. With that 42 MP sensor at 105mm, I could crop in post to get a 150mm frame on a 20 MP image, or a 200mm frame on a 12 MP image.

You wouldn't want to do it every second photo, but for an occasional need, that's a lot of 'imaginary lens'.

With the exception of lenses I use for waterfowl/wildlife photography, this is a practice that I have followed and found to be most practical. (For waterfowl/wildlife, I generally use toward the longest range of 300-500mm. of 70-300 and a 200-500mm. I cannot afford 500mm prime).

For most of my photography with m4/3, found myself going to a lens that I initially was a bit cold toward, the Panasonic 12-35. I don't mess with figuring out square roots and such, but I know that my favorite lens length is 50mm, so I set the lens at about 25mm (50-e), or sometimes at 14mm (28-e) and adjust somewhat if necessary. I may occasionally use the wide end, but 70mm-e long end is a bit short for me too, so I sometimes carry the Olympus 45mm or an adapter and an Olympus 50mm 1.4 for those relatively rare shots.

All this is more convenient, faster and simpler than switching primes. No, the image quality is not necessarily always as good, but neither is it poorer to the extent that it causes me to lose a masterpiece. That has other causes.

I guess I should have added above that even with the 12-35mm, most photos are taken between 25-28mm or around 14-18. So I could do just fine with a 14-28mm.

Wow. I am delighted to have helped move the discussion along. It's quite amusing how equipment choice can be so nuanced.

I am currently struggling to come up with the best choice of next lens for a Panasonic GX7. It will be the 20mm f/1.7 to "nest" with the 14-42mm zoom or the 42.5mm f/1.7 King of Bokeh* to use as a portrait lens, at the long end of the zoom. In either case it will be my "walk around" lens that will always be mounted on the camera.

* - http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2016/05/open-mike-new-king-of-bokeh.html

The idea of a zoom as a flexible prime might be a philosophy that works for some, but not me. I typically either want range (and want to put the range to good use) or I'm perfectly fine enjoying a nice, sharp, fast, compact prime without the flexibility.
Part of the difficulty I have with midrange zooms is I want them to do well for scenic shots (so I like a 24mm equivalent with good sharpness out to the edges) and I like them to creep into portrait range (at least 85mm equivalent, but preferably 105mm or longer) and, ideally, at a faster-than-f/5.6 max aperture. The Sony 16-70/4 is appealing for e-mount, but its not a great landscape lens at the wide end. (I had the older Sony Zeiss 16-80 for A mount and really liked that lens).
I think full frame users have better choices in this regard (24-xxx/4 zooms where f/4 on full frame provides shallower DOF than an f/4 zoom on APS-C). The Nikon 16-80 is about perfect and might be the solution if Nikon rolls out an interesting mirrorless solution.
I actually bought the Sony 10-18 just to get a good 24mm equivalent (too bad the Sigma 16/1.4 wasn't out at the time) but basically use it as an expensive WA prime because I also find little use in anything wider than 24mm equivalent.

If I had to use a zoom for everything, I'd need a 24-300 mm (full-frame focal length) zoom and either an f/2.8 or 4 maximum aperture. Sure, digital cameras have high ISO settings, but the focus systems like "enough" light in, for example, a jazz bar with dim lighting on the musicians. (Plus, I have to be able to see generally what's happening in the frame.) And in the daylight, a 24 mm focal length is ideal for car shows.

Such a fast zoom would cost plenty and be quite heavy, so I use primes.

It depends. Around town I use primes. However, when I go for safaris in Africa I usually take my Nikkor 24-70/2.8, Nikkor 70-200/2.8 and Nikkor 200-500/5.6. The Nikkor 70-200/2.8 usually stay in the camera bag.

Flexing a prime? Last I knew, that is what you do taking a step or half a step forward or backward...

Two primes are the ticket for me: 28mm Elmarit and 50mm Summicron is my favorite couple (two bodies, as switching lenses is never fun).
Lately, I'm trying to go even wider: 21mm Elmarit and 35mm Summicron, but the 21 is so wide it hurts and the 35 is neither-here-nor-there...

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