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Friday, 02 February 2018


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I used to carry the standard 4 lens kit back in my newspaper days. But one thing that made it work was that we always used at least two bodies, and often three.

The ideal was an M series Leica with the shorter lenses and a Nikon with the longer. And back when the M4 was expensive having an M3 and an M2 complicated all these decisions.

I worked for years (6-7) carrying only two--a 35mm & a 105mm, before moving on to "moving pictures."
Nikon land, of course. I liked them so much, I even bought a converter allowing them to go on my Eclair~!

Buy one lens and then another one if the one you already have doesn't do what you need?

There is more wisdom in this post than, I suspect, many of your readers will realize. Hopefully all will and take your words to heart. Thank you for this.

Tripod users (landscape shooters) may want to consider a couple focal lengths of tilt-shift lenses, especially for their use in creating merged photos of various aspect ratios.

I carry Canon's 24, 50, and 90mm TS-E lenses and have found that they have covered almost all of my needs over the last few years. One side benefit is the resulting merged images produce a fairly large file; something like a poor person's medium format. Another side benefit is the ability to create images of a variety of aspect ratios without having to crop a single 2x3 frame to size.

It takes practice and considerable forethought, however.

Mike, as you have famously pointed out in the past, photographers love to solicit advice and love to give advice, but in practice no one ever actually saves themselves money by following it. (But this last few days have been a lot of fun just the same.)

Different topic: Just wanted to let you know that I ordered 'Art Can Help' by Robert Adams, as soon as it got mentioned, and have now finished (slowly) reading it. The illustrations are a little small, but that keeps the cost of the book to bargain basement levels, so it's a bit of a trade. However, it's one of the best books on photography I have read in recent times. So I just wanted to say thanks! And make a hearty recommendation to others.

Lovely succinct instructions. My own maxim is "sell cameras, never lenses." I basically have every lens I have ever purchased since a Nikon 28/2.8 AIS in 1989 and a 50/1.4 D back in 1991 or so. It is a one-way permeable membrane as far as lenses are concerned around here.

Nice compendium, Mike.

I would just add that, for a lot of pros I work with now, rather than buying a large number of lenses for their camera system and selecting a subset of those for a given assignment, they have moved to a fairly small "core kit" of lenses they own and then rent what they need for a specific assignment. The arrival of LensRentals and Borrow Lenses has made this approach fast, easy, painless and profitable.

I've done this with my own kit, and as a result, sold 4 lenses from where it was a couple years ago. When I need something e.g. a wide zoom, fisheye, or longer telephoto, I just rent it. For example, I only use the Fuji 100-400 for two race weekends a year. So rather than plunking down almost 2 grand for a lens I will use only 2x/year, it's much more practical from a financial and operations perspective to rent it. This was the basis for my "flexible toolbox" concept; you just obtain the tools you need for any specific toolbox for an assignment when you need them.

I've been reading your site with pleasure for some time now. The conundrum of what lenses to carry has afflicted me for years, particularly as I've grown older (68 now). Weight is increasingly significant at this point. Still, I travel a fair bit and have not infrequently found a need for a reasonably long zoom (for instance, when visiting Roman mosaics in Sicily, which you cannot otherwise get close to). Having long suffered from extreme GAS, at this point I've paired everything to a Sony A7riii, for which I've got a set of six lenses: Voigtlander 15mm, the rest all Sony FE: 35 f/2.8, 50 f/1.8, 85 f/1.870-300 G, 24-105 G. In an effort to go as lightweight as possible, lately I've been carrying the 15, 35, and 85 in a pretty small Billingham bag. Works nicely, not least because using the crop mode on the camera produces a near 18 mpxl result - which is just fine for my purposes in most cases. I do print, mostly 13x19, but lately have images displayed in a large 4K frame by Memento. This way, including crop mode (c) when necessary, with the three primes I have in effect focal lengths of 15, 23c,35, 54c, 85, 131c, When traveling I've decided so far to take along the three primes but also the 24-105 and 70-300. Some days I'll take those two with the 15mm, other days just the three primes. But the zooms are heavy and large (especially the 70-300), plus I prefer working with primes.

[Your name sounds familiar. Did you write a book about Isaac Newton? --Mike]

n+1 for lenses? I suggest the equation could be better written as c×3 or c×4, where c = number of interchangeable lens camera brands you own. However, the original equation could also be modified into R+1, where R = the number of Rolleiflex camera you own. After all, one can never have too many Rolleiflexes......

"Choose a single small, light, or fast prime in between 35mm and 50mm"
Hey what's wrong with the 28mm lens? Many documentary photographers used this focal length to create classic work. Bruce Davidson and Mary Ellen Mark immediately come to mind. Mary Ellen Mark claimed Robert Frank's Americans was mainly shot with the 28mm.

Okay, I'll change that. --Mike]

"How To Buy Lenses"

From that title, I would expect somethings about how to get good deals, good copies, etc.

Might not "What Lenses to Buy" be a more apt title?

I do know the part about buying through your links, and do so where possible/practical.

Doesn't work for old/weird lenses for my Alt photography. \;~)>

If you are lucky enough to have a partner who shares your passion, there is the possibility of sharing lenses. As Sony shooters, we have one lens each - a 24-105. We share a single 12-24 and a single 100-400. So I guess that puts us in the two lens camp, but with coverage from 12-400.

Never sell a good lens -- that point is so important you could have devoted another post just to that advice.

And the flip side should be mentioned, too: When you buy a new lens and you find it doesn't live up to its reputation or high price, return it for a refund and buy a fresh copy (one good reason to buy from a store with a generous return policy). There's a surprising amount of variation sample to sample.

Also, I've had really good luck picking up used lenses from dealers like Adorama, B&H, and KEH. The reputable dealers are very conservative in grading the condition; I've bought lenses in "bargain" condition that looked brand new to my eye.

Finally, I was looking through my lenses the other day for light alternatives to my big glass (for travel), and stumbled across my old, inexpensive Nikon 85mm f/1.8D, which I kept even after I owned two expensive 85mm f/1.4s in succession.

I took it out for a spin for the day, and damned if the lens isn't fantastic. I don't know if I've got a creampuff or if that lens really is a good alternative to the expensive, faster 85s, but I'll definitely turn to it to save some weight. (I see it can be found used for $300-400.)

I'm glad I never sold it!

All I have to do now is separate the keepers from the keepsakes, and rationalise to myself my lens raionalisation, or is that lens rationing? ;)

Hi Mike, many words of wisdom here, but I'm going to weigh in on the 28mm end. I've photographed weddings on and off for thirty years and 'seriously' for 10 years. I feel constantly guilty that I'm not feeling the love for my Nikon afs 35 1.4, but it just doesn't work for me. Enter the 28mm 2.8ais that I came across in new condition on a popular auction site and it just fits my view. As Roger Hicks said, "Ride what you brung" [sic].

So remind me, why do I have 40 or so lenses between 40mm and 58mm ?

[You're a connoisseur of rare good taste who never does anything halfway? --Mike]

This seems to me to be excellent advice. I kind of think our population here is not, largely, the people who really need this advice, but those who don't need it can still enjoy discussing it.

When I was getting back into "real" photography a year or two after my kit was stolen out of my house, I got a Nikon FM and the 35/1.8 AIS and the 105/2.5 AIS. I somehow didn't know about the 85mm at that point. I never did really bond with that 105, despite its being a classic, and despite my having been in love with the 90mm Summicron. That fits your advice precisely, in that the 105 was a bit too long.

Just sorted through equipment to take to a wake and music session memorial for a college friend (which I'll be going to fairly soon), and I find I've chosen the 7 .5/2, the 17.5/0.95, the 20/1.7, the 45/1.8, and a Nikon 85/1.8 on an adapter (the rest, and the body, are Micro Four Thirds). So nothing slower than f/2, and better than 10:1 range of focal lengths. No zooms tonight. And only one body, which may be the mistake (may rethink that). Zooms, multiple bodies, maybe one needs one or the other?

• Never sell a good lens! Lenses have sample variation, and if you get a sweet one that you really like, there's no guarantee that you will be able to replace it by simply buying another one. The next one might not be as good.

Excellent point!

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take down some ads for lenses and guitars.

Because, you know, I might need 'em.

Oh, Margaret, how you horde.

How to buy lenses on Craigslist - best way to buy cheap.

1. Of course only do local.

2. Arrange a public meeting place and bring the camera(s) you plan to use it with, take test shots and review them on your notebook which you also brought.

3. Bring a flashlight to inspect the interior of the lens for mold or other issues. A used lens with mold could destroy your other lenses if you keep them together.

4. Ask the seller why they are selling and if they have the original box, etc.

5. Test the lens also for focus and zoom if applicable for solid but smooth motion range. A lens that has been dropped and damaged - off round - will have areas of difference in movement.

6. And with any gear look at the over all condition, a good deal should be clear of wear.

7. To perhaps get a idea of price, check out


A website that scans ebay and more to average camera gear used prices.

Cheers Mike!

Best way is to be old, then you will have drawers full of the best and worst.
Yes I did sell a good lens once - 55 f1.2 Canon FD Aspherical. Dumb.
Mark Layne

Actual the 12th Rule of Cycling may be a Universal Law of Physics.
It most Definitely applies to guitars as well.

About professional election I guess the 17-35 was replaced by 24-70 since the digital full frame appeared. I really can't be in assignment without a 50 mm or equivalent. And lot of my colleagues think equal. Those that have nice incomes sometimes can purchase by themselves a 1.2 or 1.4. But this focal distance is like bread and butter include for zoom users in the land of professional journalism.

Us telephoto users don't get to feel the love here at TOP! If I had to have one lens only, it would be my 100-400.

But I am going back to the Serengeti . . !

This is the sort of logic that allows Pentax K-1 or APSc to make sense. Sure it has fewer lenses of ultramodern design, less 3rd party and exotic support - but for four lenses? The DA or FA Limited primes, a couple of zooms whether fast or slow, and kit complete. Some will need specialty items, and that's fine. Ricoh made the K-1 for Pentax users, they know who they are ;^)

While on extended trips I generally carry two FF bodies, a 20mm, a 35mm, and a 105mm. If look back at their respective uses, I find the proportion to be approximately 35mm:20mm:105mm::1000:1000:1.

Tim thinks guitars are hard to hide - try cars! Although some can be in the shop being fixed or restored.
Since converting from Nikon to Oly M4/3 in 2010, I have purchased more than 16 lenses but now only have 6, including a Holga, a macro and the OLY toy fisheye - so 3 "real" lenses. One is ready to sell. Most were purchased used, often at bargain prices. I try them for a while to see if they work for me, if not back on eBay. On average, trying lenses this way is very cheap, often less than what I pay for shipping!

Robert says:
"a good deal should be clear of wear."

I don't know about that. Good lenses go places; bad lenses stay home.

Sort of the opposite of the aphorism “good girls go to heaven; bad girls go everywhere” *

I'd rather get a well-worn lens that had professional use and a recent overhaul. Except that the state of camera and lens servicing currently is suboptimal.

Hey Mike! how about getting a camera and lens repair post going?

*no offense intended. Some of my dearest friends are bad girls. Some bad lenses too come to think of it.

reply to Mike: I did write a book about Newton.
Jed Buchwald

[I think I have it. Up in the barn attic, but that's where almost all my books are presently so don't take that as an insult!

I got interested in reading about atheism and superstition and the nature of belief for a while, and got fascinated by the question of how the great physicist and mathematician could also be a Biblical literalist devoted to alchemy. I think I read partway through your book before deciding that I didn't really comprehend either aspect of Newton...either his scientific side or his mystical/superstitious side. I don't even have a college education, after all. (A BFA in photography is my only degree and that's a studio art degree. As my Vermont girlfriend Tammie used to say, many lifetimes ago, "You ain't so smaht.") But how great that you read TOP! I'm honored.

(Jed's book is called "Newton and the Origin of Civilization," in case others are interested...

http://amzn.to/2DZsFhk )


And a fisheye fits nowhere in there. So never buy a fisheye, but if you already have bought one, sell it even if it is a good one.

My basic kit consists of two Nikon zooms - an 18-35 and a 70-200;neither of these is the fastest available variant. To these I may add a 50/1.8 if I think there may be a need for a fast lens; or a 28/2 AIS if I'm planning to shoot the night sky, or my 200-500/5.6 if I think a long lens will be useful. All three zooms are extremely sharp and are capable of great subtlety of tone. My travel kit is just my D600 (wonderful sensor; smaller and lighter than my D800) and the two multi-purpose zoom; no tripod.

I thought it was well known that you can have as many lenses as you like, as long as you only use one white one at a time....

Zooms are for tourists, eh? And yet, tourists are generally said to be people who can also use their feet. Just like purists.

I can't believe we are still having this conversation. Modern zooms are so much better optically than in the old film days. Each one is a Swiss Army Knife of primes, except for the bigger wide-open aperture. And how often are those needed now with ISO 400,000 cams and 2-second shutter speeds giving sharp results because of IBIS?

And this whole "zooming with your feet thing". Choosing a focal length isn't about framing the shot. It's about how you want to manipulate how the background relates to the subject, and how the subject is distorted by the lens. If you have two primes, that's all you have - two relationships. With a zoom, you have way more.

Nothing wrong with using primes, but if the topic is a minimal kit, all you should need is one zoom. Stop dissin' the zooms!

[I don't care for zooms. I keep explaining that. I linked to a whole article about it just the other day. You're welcome to like them if you like them--you're not required in any way, shape or form to do what I do or like what I like. You can be your own person and be who you are and believe what you believe. It's your hobby and you own it.

But I'm not going to change who I am or change what I believe to suit you, either. Better get used to that...it's called a difference of opinion, and if you are typical, you will encounter an awful lot of it in this world.

And stop dissin' the tourists! --Mike]

"don't sell..." Oy vey.

The short list is long on tears and frustration after the fact but almost every time was due to not having the money to avoid selling.

And that hurts even worse than giving up that near perfect Summitar & IIIf.

Ah well, wish I would have been able to read this article about 5 years ago, over which time I bought, tried out, and sold pretty much all the Nikon 1.8G primes (i.e. 24/28/35/50/85) before finally settling on the 28mm as my wide angle. Not that the 28 is the "best" of this bunch, but it ended up being the focal length most comfortable on my eye. I couldn't keep all of them, and had to sell them for financial reasons. Also, my brain doesn't do well with a bag full of primes and trying to decide which to use, haha. I'm now also approaching my 60's and am semi-retired and the idea of a simple kit has much appeal. Less thinking and decision-making, and hopefully less GAS too. Maybe.

Only as coincidence I have a hybrid kit of what you've presented as options for a 2-lens kit. I have two primes (28/58) and one standard zoom (24-85) and take two of those three out with me, so I am on board for the two-prime and the nested kit options. That's the extent of my decision-making, usually I take the primes. I'm not really a zoom guy, but I do appreciate having the zoom for when I travel, or for some happy snapping at family events or what not.

Thank you Mike for the recent blogs. As others have said it's fun to think about and discuss these topics. I appreciate the sense of community you've cultivated here on TOP, and you provide a place for us to meet and share thoughts and ideas. It's fun reading, and I appreciate it very much.

As an aside, I am suspicious that my preference for 28/58 is somehow related to using my iPhone Plus these past couple years.

"Prime for purists, zoom for tourists". Then Charles Cramer must be a tourist. Not!

[The item was headed "If you want one lens." Charlie Cramer owns just one lens? I'll bet not. --Mike]

I can get by with just a 24mm and a 50mm lens. But then what if I need something longer? So in goes the 90mm. Occasionally that's not long enough, so best bring my 135mm. And in case 24mm isn't wide enough, better put in the 14mm. And the 27mm is really small -- you almost don't notice it in the bag. Now you may have noticed that 35mm is a gap in this lineup. And on APS-C that's my nifty-fifty, so I can't leave it behind. In it goes.

Did you know that you can get double-caps? Why waste a compartment in your bag with one lens when you can stick two in there back to back on a double-sided cap! In my view, that's basically just "one" lens now for purposes of this exercise.

On the "never sell a lens" thing, I respectfully somewhat disagree. If I kept all the lenses I've purchased my closet would runneth over. Selling them gives me some discipline: if I'm not using it, it's for sale. But some are definitely not going on sale. I've owned four (yes, four) Olympus OM 24/2.8 lenses in a quest to find the best copy. Three have been very good (and were sold on), and one (my keeper) is spectacularly good.

Roger Cicala from LensRental, who knows a thing or two about lenses, recently noted in a forum that every single brand he buys has at least a 2% dud rate, with some as high as 4%. These are brand new lenses and those numbers are based on buying tons of lenses.

[Wait--it's not the "never sell a lens thing," it's the "never sell a GOOD lens thing." I certainly don't advocate keeping all the lenses you ever owned, and I sell lenses regularly. I just mean the ones you really get to know well and really like. --Mike]

Mike, glad you're considering the Pentax K-1 and its very helpful in body image stabilization, or shake reduction. Just one option but a good one.

You might not make a break with the modern world of autofocus and travel back to the world of manual focus, Takumars and Carl Zeiss lenses of the 1960s and '70s like I did. But it gives you that option if you decide to go down that path. They're fun, and there's a whole world of different focal lengths to try out, if you get into the prime lens mindset like I do.

Whichever way you go good luck.
Jeff Clevenger

As a person who prefers zooms and can no longer tolerate single FL lenses - quite true, I find them frustrating because they are limiting and often when "framing with my feet" I miss the "moment" of the photo. And I never seem to use fast apertures.
My kits have been a couple of zooms since I sold my Leica M2, Summilux 35 and Elmarit 90 over 40 years ago. I have owned a fisheye for 3 systems but not for long.
WIth today's technology, most limitations of zooms like distortion, aberations and sharpness can be limited by lens design software and corrected by image processing software. IBIS also compensates for the slower speeds.
I am not advocating zooms, only noting that today technology gives us options.
Do what feels best to you!!!

To me the subject of "what lens(s)" just gets bigger and bigger, over these 35 or whatever years I've been doing this. It's always a dance between having a vision that is independent of (but limited or furthered by) the lens, or instead the lens being more primary to that vision, your eyes in tune and seeing the world as that lens sees it. No matter what your photo is going to be as the lens saw it, whether that is a limit or the wings of the vision.. So given that, there can be a lot of lenses. Sometimes I carry a just couple, and sometimes I carry a full backpack and also a side bag as well. Sometimes I mostly keep one prime lens on the camera for hours and hours, or days, and sometimes I change lenses all the time. It depends.

As for" never sell a good lens," the trouble is that it's always a trade-off between how much stuff you want to have, how much money you are willing to tie up, versus the riches of photographic possibility. For me the good lenses I sell are mostly valuable, or big, or both. So for instance the Sony OSS Macro f2.8 90 is by most accounts a very good lens. But it is large and valuable. The large and heavy part means I often won't carry it instead of smaller lenses, and the value means that it's money that could be used on some other lens I might use more. For a third its price I have a quite tiny and lightweight Contax G90 that is very very sharp, with pleasing bokeh, and never a bit of hesitation whether to carry it.

Another valuable excellent lens I sold was the Sony 55 1.8. I would love to keep that lens if it was worth about $200, but at the time I sold it, it was worth about $900 ish. For that, I have a handful of vintage 50-ish lenses that have given me more pleasure, even if they are not technically as optically good as that expensive Sony. For that money I have an inexpensive vintage Olympus OM 50 1.4 (late model), which has made many very lovely photos, a medium priced OM 50/2 Macro (which might get sold because of its value, even though it has also given some very pleasing results), and a medium price vintage OM 50 1.2, which is also very sharp and with its own great character. (I also have several other 50 or 50ish lenses that please me a lot, and I don't miss the Sony 55 even though it was very good).

Don't hesitate to sell a good lens if you can instead by another lens that will please you more or further your photography more.

I tend to use just one lens these days. And I must thank you Mike for putting me onto the idea so many years ago. I slowly keep reducing my lenses, selling off any I don't use.

I go with the nifty fifty equivalents, always. Most of my cameras only have one lens.

I am giving my son my old micro 4/3rds camera and have made a two lens kit of the Panny 20mm f1.7 & the Olympus 45mm f1.8 He has been using them for a few months now. I offered to buy him a zoom, I was thinking something water resistant and with macro (Olympus 12-50mm). He tells me that he doesn't want a zoom as I don't use them, so why should he.

I think he has been listening closely to my camera club presentations.

The 20mm & 45mm is a lovely combination. He is creating some really beautiful work with it... Small and light... Chrisp and with enough character to give the work a bit of a signature. Also outside most others lens choices. A great first set in my humble opinion.

In the last 13 years I have accumulated a shameful large amount of lenses, only to realize than a 28mm equivalent is all I ever needed...

Did anyone mention an APS-C compact as one's prime lens yet? Surely?

When I worked as a commercial photographer, everyone’s 35mm kit—here in South Australia—was generally agreed to cover a graduated range of focal lengths to cover a common variety of shooting situations.

Most kits started at 24mm, then 35mm, 50mm, and 85/105, often 135 (not me!) and finally 200mm (me). These focal lengths increased the filmed area by 100% from lens to lens, with a bit of two-and-fro on foot to finalise the crop. Zooms were a rarity because of quality and speed; my first zoom was a Tamron 70–150 f/3.5 (two-touch) which was quite good.

Medium- and large-format equipment almost always had fewer lenses in their kit, often three (I got by with my Bronica SQ-a and a 50, 80 and 150).

Now? I’m retired but still shooting! My Sony a7 has not one native lens! Canon FD 24mm, 35mm Pentax-M (hangover from my Pentax K-5), 35mm Olympus shift, Minolta 35 f/1.7, 50mm Planar f/1.7, two 37–70 zooms from canon and Minolta, and a Canon 200mm f/2.8 (lusted after even when I was a Nikon user).

Interestingly, my m4/3 lenses are mostly zooms, and good ones!

Renting lenses was an extremely unreliable activity here in Adelaide (small city) and still is. I admire Lens Rentals and read their blog …

The "never sell a good lens" rule also depends on your climate and storage conditions. If you're in the sort of humid climate where lenses not stored carefully are at risk of growing fungus, you may be putting your much-loved lenses at risk. (At least in a frequently-used lens you will detect the problem earlier, which makes it more likely it can be stopped before doing much damage. And if you run out of dry-cabinet storage space and "temporarily" put it elsewhere....)

I've pretty much settled in the "three lens" camp. For my Olympus kit that means the 12-40mm 2.8 PRO for most situations, the 45mm 1.8 for low light and portraits, and a 100-300mm for nature and plane-spotting.

It was a rather expensive journey to find the combo I was most comfortable with. I own a closet full of other lenses that I tried once or twice that are now gathering dust.

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