The first criterion to describe a lens is its focal length. 50mm, or 24-105mm or whatever. Beginners are told that the choice of focal length will determine what picture they get. Compact cameras come with zooms buitt in, and ILC’s are offered with “kit zooms”. In both cases, the zooms are supposed to cover the basic focal lengths one is supposed to need.
For 8 months I have had to make do with just one focal length (28mm prime lens on APS-C, equivalent to 42mm on FF), and I can honestly say that I haven’t missed having more lens choices to hand.
Ah, you will respond, but that is because 42mm is a very good “normal length”, very close to what the human eye sees, a focal length that is “good for pretty much everything”. That is what lead legendary Henri Cartier-Bresson to pursue his whole carreer with “only” a 50mm lens…
Not quite. Because, having decided to invest back into yet another camera system, I plonked down for a Zeiss Loxia 25mm, and it picked up just where the Leica 28mm left off. Just because, again, its focal length is equivalent to 37,5mm, making it a “normal” fl? Nope, because I lent it to Pascal for his Japan trip, and he used it on his FF camera, i.e. at its designed fl of 25mm, and he didn’t feel the need for any other lens for his whole trip, even though he had two of the finest with him.
Now I too have a FF camera, and never before had I used a lens that wide as my only lens, but again I feel no need for something else. There were early warning signs of that, in that, when I had a full bag, 90% of the time I would do a whole shoot with just one prime lens, and later just rotate them from time to time to avoid feeling ridiculous for having three expensive, heavy lenses and to ever use only one…
This leads me to think that there may be two significantly different approaches to taking a picture.
One is: you see “in your mind” what you want your picture to look like, and then you need multiple primes or a zoom to execute on that vision. That is what I call “viewing the world with a lens”.
The other one is: you see the world “through a lens”. Meaning, you see something interesting, but not (yet) a picture. You then look at “it” through your camera and lens, and then decide if indeed “it” is of interest.
Typical examples of that are when the human eye cannot give you the whole story, and you need the lens to do that: macro photography with a macro lens, or bird photography with a long telephoto are fields when you only know “what you’ve got” when looking through a lens.
I will freely admit to “discovering what I’ve got -or not-” through a lens, and I know that others, beginning with Pascal, preview the picture in their minds.
This can be illustrated by two metaphors. I am the fishing type. I cast my net, or bait my line, but I am not sure what fish there might be for me to catch. Pascal is the shooting type. He sees is target before pressing the trigger.
The other metaphor involves Mozart and Beethoven. The multiple autograph scores by Mozart are special in that they are free of corrections or edits of any kind. This proves that he “knew ahead”, before committing ink to paper. Beethoven’s scores are overladen with many edits and corrections, and sometimes he re-did the whole piece, like the overture for Leonore. He needed to see the score to evaluate “what he had”.
This has consequences, gear-wise. Pascal is in direct contact with the world he sees, and his “perfect gear” will let him commit that to electronic print with as little interference as possible. For me, my gear is part and parcel of the world I see. Change the gear, and it changes the world as I see it.
So, are you a Mozart, or a Beethoven?
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