By pascaljappy | Monday Post
Imagine starting over. Suddenly, you’ve got no gear but all the money in the world to buy anything you want. What do you get ?
The sad premise for this through process was co-author Philippe’s gear being stolen. Not that he can spare any amount to rebuild his system, mind you. That imaginary clause is just there to eliminate false obstacles and force me to think deeply about what I’d truly desire from my own gear, given no financial limitations.
My default goto system is the lens we like to call Audrey (Hepburn) for its saucy delicacy, attached to whatever forgettable body will hold her close to a decent sensor.
That’s step one for me : the system starts with lenses. It’s no secret that, over my digital career, camera bodies have been more of an irritation than a source of pleasure. They have added complexity instead of removing it (which is usually what progress does) only for the sake of really crappy marketing. So, glass.
There are other lenses in my setup, namely the stunningly underestimated C-Sonnar 50/1.5 ZM, an absolute gem of a lens in a tiny affordable package, a Distagon 25/2 ZF.2 and an Otus 85/1.4 (a.k.a. Hubert, because it was the first of the über lenses in my lineup). Plus a slew of older Leica lenses such as the superb Elmarit 90/2.8, which I own in R and M mount and some exotica from Nikon, Hasselblad, Fujica … None of these see the light of day very much because Audrey is so captivating to me.
So, if I had to start over from scratch, the choice is pretty obvious : Audrey and a silicon bodyguard. Right ?
Thankfully, my guardian angel Philippe is ever watchful and pointed out to me that this was lazy me talking. Painfully, he’s right. Two lenses are better than one. And maybe I’m becoming too comfortable with Audrey and should seek tension in a widely spaced duo such as the 25/85 combo I occasionally take on holiday. It’s heavy and forces lens changes, dust on sensor, running after a distinctly non-photographic-oriented family unwilling to wait while I shoot … But it’s brilliant spacing with zero overlap, two great lenses and a huge range of situations by either cropping the 85 to a 135 or stitching two 25 frames into a 21. Many angles covered.
And that’s the issue with that combo.
And that’s the issue with how we choose lenses altogether. Who cares about what angles are covered ? FOMO me is just as bad an advisor as lazy me.
Hands up if you can honestly say that you haven’t chosen your lenses to cover all situations (and remember, I read all your comments, even if I take a long time to reply 😉 , so I know) ! That long lens for portraits, that wide lens for architecture, that small 35 for street, that 90 Macro for … erm, I don’t even know the answer to that one, that old Russian lens for crazy bokeh, that low distortion lens for stitching, that 50 for … well, how can you own a camera and not own at least 4 50mm lenses, c’mon, that 10mm for those incredible perspectives, … it goes on.
Just typing that list is exhausting, so imagine lugging it around. Really, it’s laziness, but let me pretend I’m a Zen master for a minute (what is the sound of photons fulfilling their karma by turning into electrons ?)
Are you really going to use all this creatively ?
If so, you’re a far better photographer than me. Juggling lenses is like juggling clients when you’re a consultant it requires you to swap mindsets in an instant. So many things happen in the brain when you do so that you can literally hear the blood rush from one lobe to another as I reach for a new lens in my bag.
Seriously, though, if you were to answer that question at the very top of the page, maybe it would be wise to ask yourself this one beforehand : why do you photograph at all ?
That’s a tough one to answer. And even if you do feel like you’ve found an answer, you might not want to reveal it.
But, with great power comes great responsibility, so let me explain why a lazy French bloke would buy gear, set a blog in motion, constantly nag others into publishing on it and vitriolate relentlessly on clumsy gear.
The fact is that I photograph to become a better artist. Subconsciously, I think the photograph doesn’t really matter to me. Which is probably why I don’t back up, store or bother with any of the security side of our hobby. All that matters to me probably is to make better photographs. Selfish ? Insecure ? Wise ? None of these ? I don’t really know. But Audrey and Hubert most certainly help me with that goal.
But we’re all mostly amateurs writing and reading DS. Pros have an obligation to deliver quality photographs. Amateurs have an obligation to fulfill themselves. It’s in the name. It’s in our biology. For those who believe in higher realms, it’s in our spirituality.
Back to gear.
Reading forums can be as amusing as watching youtube videos of kittens jumping off tables. Realising how much gear choices divide us and destroy creativity can be as sad as realising you’ve lost an afternoon of your life on youtube videos of kittens jumping off tables. Irreversible loss, in both cases.
Not even going into clan wars, or hilariously silly tech specs, I think covering all angles is the lazy way out of actually choosing gear. It is every bit as lazy as using a single lens 90% of the time. It’s letting maths do the job for you, just like others let forum clans or brand ego influence their decision. In all cases, it is an escape from really thinking about why you are doing photography and finding out what your vision is.
That’s actually how most companies run their marketing. Plenty of tools for every situation, zero vision, positioning or usp. In the long run, it rarely works out well for the owner. Whereas tools naturally follow from corporate vision just like lenses naturally follow from personal vision.
Imagine starting over. Suddenly, you’ve got no gear but all the money in the world to buy anything you want. What’s your vision ?
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If cost was really no option you could commission your fantasy kit, and that is potentially both lazy and self-destructive in a ‘careful what you wish for’ way.
Using the logic you present, for amateurs and hobbyists it would have to be the most fun or possibly most satisfying. So then that logic leads you to choose from lenses that fit the most fun camera, or the least un-fun if that’s how you feel.
To be honest if I was to face that situation I would probably do something lazy-ish to avoid getting myself all in knots trying to find the one true system, which of course does not exist.
If forced to say something I may end up saying- “commission Ricoh to re start the GRX system, for quick lens changes without sensor dust issues”, or is that also lazy?
This is a very thought provoking article. I have been taking photographs for 25 years now. I am unrepentantly a geek and I like toys – the newer the better. I did not really agonize at all about upgrading from A7Rii to A7Riii. I churn through a lot of equipment and I am an experienced Kijiji seller. 😀 I share picture galleries on smugmug for family and friends but this is mostly the extent of my sharing.
The article strikes a chord with me because lately I am asking myself more and more – why am I doing this? What is the finality? Does it make any sense? Will anyone care about my archive of hundreds of thousands of pictures after I will be gone? I am still looking for an answer to this. I sold almost all of my equipment lately and I have only a handful of lenses left. Even though the opportunity to purchase some used Loxias over the past month rekindled my enthusiasm for now, the question is still there – why am I doing this?
What lens is Audrey? What are you talking about?
Otus 55 1.4
I thought Audrey is the Zeiss ZM 35/1.4.
If I lost all of my camera gear (as I did one time in Okinawa) I think I would just replace what I already have. I MIGHT replace my Nikon 500mm f/4 G lens (which I bought used in NIB condition) with the new f/4 E in order to save a couple of pounds of weight, but I would definitely keep my Nikon D850. I’m using a Nikon 24-120 f/4 lens for my walk around, and it is more than adequate for street and a bit of landscape. My Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro lens does everything I want it to and I love workings with it. So no need to replace it. From time to time I think about adding a very wide-angle lens, not for a greater angle of view but for emphasizing objects in the foreground for an occasional landscape shot. Haven’t decided between the Nikon or the Tamron for that niche, but I’m leaning more toward the Tamron because of the more useful (for me) focal length range.
You have to realize that most of my work involves a very relaxed approach to photographing birds and wildlife now. I love doing that. I’m no longer trying to develop my style or impress anyone with my “great art”. And, I no longer do weddings and events. I’m 76 years old and retired. I’m windings down, not up. I want my photographs to please ME with their quality, but I only shoot what interests ME.
Only thing is, there are very few things that don’t interest me. :))
Been waiting for some entertaining thought provoking Pascal-osophy for a while. Thanks! Ah, isn’t control of photon karmic sounds why we like “noise reduction” software? Can the shutter sound can be musical?
An interesting question, having basically rebuilt my kit since June following my encounter with Philippe! I would replace the Milvus 21 with the 15, even though I would update my filters one of the reasons I didn’t get it first up! Add the Milvus 25, not replace the Nikon 2.8/24 – 70 I don’t like the way it renders. Keep the Milvus 35, 50 and 135. As for a body the 810 is great. Thanks for getting my thinking about my kit now lets hope the thinking does not cause me to actually want to make the small changes!!
For travel i like zoom flexibility.
If the trip is to some highly urbanized area, like European cities, for example this is my go to combo:
– Sony 16-35mm f2.8 gm – light lens, f2.8, you can take good interior pics and cram buildings in your pics outside. Also 35mm end can be used for environmental portraits.
– Batis 135mm – for portraits and to zoom into landscapes
I like autofocus as i am always on the run with family and friends who do not necessarily accomodate my photography…
If the trip is to a developing world country where i will spend a lot of time outside cities:
Sony 24-70mm f 2.8 gm – best of the breed, heavy and big but worth it. One lems only will allow me to avoid the dust inherent in these places to reach inside my camera during lens changes
The prefered camera woild be Sony A7Riii – great semsor, ibis, toich screen, long battery life, eye focusing
For use at home i woild add:
– Sony 85mm gm for portraits – best lens around in my opinion, no cat eyes!!!
– A set of Loxia lenses for when i want to use a more deliberate style of taking pics – 21mm, 35mm, 50mm. I would like to get a set, as they have matching rendering and usage styles. Also good for when i need something discreet and/or light. I also like the bokeh rendering style, different from the creamy affair that is the 85mm gm.
I wish Audrey could be mounted on a native M mount sensor which has IBIS.
I still like her on my A7RII but wonder what she would behave like on a IBIS M10 (with a good EVF and peaking)
I’m of a certain age these days and I feel I really need the IBIS and EVF focus aid crutch.
Same goes for my M Zeiss f2 Planar.
Other than that, I’m well satisfied with my current gear and would buy it over.
Eventually, as one gets older, the GAS peddle is harder to find and then even harder to put it to the metal.
My other two lenses are Loxia 21 and Batis 85 (for eye AF). A nice kit arrived at after many years of mucking around.
I agree with much of what you say. On my A7II or M43 camera focus zoom with the EVF and peaking are needed for proper focus. Unfortunately that zoom step does slow things down a bit.
I sent my A7II to Kolari for their Ultra-thin filter conversion, which did improve how the camera responds with most of my M and film SLR lenses. Particularly when the distance to your subject is greater that 500x the focal length (i.e. infinity).
On the other hand, this also prevents the Sony wide angle lenses from working well. I have tried a couple and the wider you go the results can be pretty pronounced at the edges and corners.
I wish I could say my GAS has slowed down. But this time of year, it seems to really flair up. Going out to use what I have helps a lot. Though the GAS does come back.
Your question might be condensed to: Which lenses / camera(s) would fulfill the Suffficiency Question? (See Ming & Kirk T)
Having less money, that’s also a very relevant question for Philippe.
My answer on lower money would be D700, ais 28 2.8, 50 1.4 and 105 2.5. Still money left? FM2! Enjoy and wait for the mirrorless full frame Nikon that arrives at the end of the year. It will be a more joyful camera than the Sony’s I suppose. Those ais lenses will still be fine. Then wait for the new lenses to come. The coming years will most probably bring more top glass than cameras. Personally I hope those lenses will not come in Hubert and Audrey sizes.
It is interesting that you pose this question at this time. Are you reading my thoughts from the other side of the globe? I have been going through this very same question recently and feeling quite a bit of angst because of it. You see, while you may suffer from a lazy method of choice, I on the other hand suffer from paralysis by analysis. That, and I was trying to justify taking almost every camera and lens I have and trading them for a lightly used Hasselblad X1D with 45mm lens my favorite dealer had.
So if I was to satisfy my comfort zone and stay with what I am most familiar with from a vision and function stand point I only need to say “M”. I have four lenses that I carry all of the time, and three of these are used most of the time. For me the perfect three-lens kit is a 21mm f2.8 Elmarit ASPH M, 50mm f2 Planar ZM, and a 75mm f2 Summichron M. Of course, lens number four, when you only want to use one is the 35mm f1.4 Distagon ZM (Audrey). Though I might want to try the 50mm f2 APO Summichron and the new 75mm f1.25 Noctilux to see if they are worthy. Because of eyesight and needing a bigger eyepiece, the M10 would be the body of choice; monochrome version if available.
On the other hand, if I want to satisfy my ego and push for the limit, there is no replacement for displacement. So that means high pixel count if not a bigger sensor as well; I have lusted after a high MP sensor ever since the Nikon D800 was announced. But here the choice is not cut as dried for me, the paralysis by analysis thing again.
The first choice would be which focal length lens would I want and what is available for the various options. Back when I was a diehard Nikon user, I had and carried seven lenses, but 95% of my images were made using either a 24mm lens or 85mm f1.4 lens. So these two focal lengths or a 21mm and 85mm would be my first choice. In addition, I find that the fewer lens choices I have the more creative my images are, so these could be my only lenses.
Switching my attention to the camera, a big eyepiece with a large finder is a requirement. So if I could specify what I want and have it made for me. I would want a mirror-less Nikon D5X, with the 45+MP sensor, and an EVF as good as the Leica SL, coupled with the Zeiss 25 f1.4 and 85 f1.4 Milvus lenses.
Since I can’t custom order, the Nikon D850 coupled with the Sigma 24 f1.4 and 85 f1.4 Art lenses would be my first choice; auto-focus may be better than trying to manually focus in the OVF.
I might consider the Fuji GFX with the 23mm (did I say I like wide-angle lenses) and another lens. But it seems a bit big and chunky and I’m not sure the EFV is worthy. Which makes the Fuji the #2 choice.
I have not handled a Sony A7RIII yet. But based on my experience with my A7II, like the eyepiece, how it handles, and functions, the A7RIII with the Loxia 21 or 24, and 85mm f1.4 GM lens is my third choice; guilt by association if you will.
Don’t make up your mind too quickly, Paul. You’ll see from my response that I’ve found out that there’s something in the pipeline (which I am not allowed to divulge at this moment) which will simply blow your socks off, when it is released.
I think I can wait for a short while. Is the new addition worthy of wearing new socks? I think you have my attention about what it could be. Is it bigger that M43, or smaller than a Speed Griphic? 😉
Over the weekend I sucummbed to temptation and relieved a small GAS attack. I traded my Canon 40mm STM and Zeiss 25mm f2 ZE lenses for a Canon 16-35 f2.8L lens.
My initial trial with it showed me that optically it is worthy enough, and the versatility of the zoom is a nice addition. At least for the Honeymoon. We will see how I feel one the new wears off.
Pascal, you present the ultimate temptation … OR?
If I had all that money …
I’d start by bying one of the best B&W (& colour) 17″ or 24″ inkjet printers available and several kinds of matte white & off white & light grey papers, plain and structured.
And when I occasionally returned to a clogged print head – I’d just buy a new one if necessary.
I’m missing a good lens tilt option.
Perhaps a H’blad with their ingenious adapter.
Or a custom made tilt (&shift) adapter for Canon EF lenses on EF-M mount (for my M5),
including the electronic contacts!
( Plus, perhaps, a larger sensor resolution to allow for more perspective correction in post.)
But the problem isn’t really gear.
It’s camera bags.
They are all the wrong size.
Unless I use that money to employ a photo caddie – but I too much prefer to photograph on my own…
So, camera bag size.
If you carry only the few lenses you think you want,
the one you want always turns out to be missing.
And if you carry more, the motif is gone once you found and mounted the “right” lens.
And if you go with the all-round zoom, then it turns out you want extra short DOF!
So, all camera bags are the wrong size…
And what camera, … ?
There is no good answer, as every – at least somewhat – dedicated photographer knows.
As you learn more, and – hopefully – evolve, the (wish for different) gear evolves, and in unexpected directions, and, also hopefully, not too much GAS driven.
And with all that money, if GAS takes your little finger, consider the risk of becoming REALLY spoilt?
Consider a SPOILT ‘tog …
( Consider a spoilt child and draw your conclusions!)
Where would the creativity (if there is any) go? Probably pffft!
So what would I buy whith all that money?
I’d keep my Canon M5 until I grew out of it.
… breathing deeply to keep my GAS down…
But I admit, and not very shamefully, that good IBIS is really attracting me. And tilt.
– – –
Pascal, you are, of course, right, it starts (or should start) with lenses.
No, I’m not raising my hand, I’ve bought a number – there is a good used market for Canon EF mount.
My SLR time is way back, then I used a couple of compact digital zooms, and now this EOS-M. So I’ve kind of forgotten which primes to start with (and probably changed too).
And I find that my preference of lenses changes, at the moment the 55-200mm (90-300 eq.) is often on, or the used 90mm (145 eq.) Voigtl. I stumbled over.
So I don’t very much juggle, although my use varies.
So why do I photograph?
It’s simple enough: It interests me. I like it. Often enough I like what I see on my 12″ screen. And once in a while I wish for a large print.
( There is, of course, a creative urge somewhere, but that’s too hard to frame in words.)
Kristian, as I said in my response, you and I both need a porter to carry all our gear, after we come into all this extra money. He can also stand guard while we photograph, so that nobody attempts to steal this new gear – maybe we both need what the yanks call a “gorilla”!
And rather than a shift tilt, which is still just a rather ingenious compromise, why not a studio camera, like the Linhof 4×5 I had for a couple of years? You’d never be able to understand the point of a tilt shift ever again, after you’ve used one of them for a while!
While you’re at it – treat yourself to a super telephoto lens. There’s one they make on special order, and it’s price on application – but I think it’s strong enough to pick up the footprints Neil Armstrong’s mob left on the moon, or a puffin’s eyeball at 500 metres. Then you could have a second gorilla, just to carry that lens, when you go photographing those footprints, or spying on birds, to see what they’re looking at.
Pete, I do appreciate your advice!
( I used a Linhof Technica 6×9 for some time and found that tilt was what I used most. So I got a Zörkendorfer tilt adapter for my SLR and added an old Tessar 75/3.5 to it and had a lot of fun with large DOF. Shift is, of course, nice for avoiding reflections of the ‘tog, but a wider lens + cropping can also do it – if enough pixels remain.
As for that Tele, I think I’ll wait till I find a suitable gorilla…)
Shift is also useful for architectural stuff – you can avoid having incorrect verticals to start with. Iwas using DxO’s ViewPoint (and still do), for that – but once you start making the corrections during post processing, you face an inevitable loss of part of the picture, and what’s left doesn’t always work. I picked up a couple of them virtually brand new, when a local photographer shut up shop – for a lot less than the price of one of them. I bought the 24 and the 85 – couldn’t see much use for the 50 as well, even though it was available too.
Now that I have them, I find myself using tilt for food photography and shift for the other (architectural). The quality of the optics surprised me, I must admit. I suspect Canon’s are better than Nikon’s, but it’s academic – I can’t change horses now.
I reread the article above, and it seems that we both are Lens Junkies, if not Camera Junkies.
I noticed that you mentioned the Zeiss 25mm f2 ZF.2 is now in your collection. Didn’t you have the Otis 28mm at one time? Concerning the 25mm, what do you think of it on your Sony (A7RII?)? I have the ZE version and I have mixed feelings about it.
Also, only 4-50mm lenses?
I had to count mine. But if we include the Olympus 45mm f1.8 for M43, I currently have 7-50mm lenses. They are fun.
Hmm – interesting. I’ve lost the lot, right? And I have to re-equip, starting from scratch?
Well – if I had the money, I’d go MF – with a smaller cam, for everyday use. But I’d need a porter, too, to carry all the junk – I wonder what a 600mm equivalent for a medium frame cam weighs? Of course I’d need two long tele lenses – one for astro photography & the like, the other for wild life photography. Maybe the smaller version could be a 300-600 zoom or similar, for the smaller cam. The big guy would have to have a w/angle and a standard prime as well – and maybe a medium tele.
And which cams to choose? AHA – that’d be telling – “I know something you don’t know” – and when you find out, you’ll probably all get a terrible attack of GAS !! 🙂
If I had infinite money, I’d continue my quest for the best kit – and hopefully finish it during my life time.