#811. Monday Post (21 Jan 2019) – What’s in my bag? The one-and-only lens.

By philberphoto | Monday Post

Jan 21
To the left is Dallas’ struggling body as he gets dumped into the river, weighed down by his Milvus lenses

There are many styles of photography and photographers, so any statement needs to be made in the context of a certain type of shooting and individual Please see: https://www.dearsusan.net/2015/02/03/320-magic-quadrant-personal-photographic-style/ . In my case, stationary objects, cityscapes, landscapes, close-ups, and my style is storytelling..

Is it an arrow, or is it a mouth?

It is now almost a year that I can give DS’ shortest answer to its theme “what’s is my bag?”: one body and prime lens only. First, a 28mm on APS/C, or 42mm equivalent on full frame, then 25mm on APS/C, and now 25mm on full frame (Sony A7R II).

Deep, deep crop

Not only do I have this sole 25mm, but it is far from my favorite “historic” focal length which is more like 50mm. For most people, 25mm is bit off the beaten-track for single-prime-lens everyday use, though the Leica Q (28mm) gets close.

Butterfly in winter

It was never my intent to be a one-prime guy. I bought the 25mm Zeiss Loxia on impulse so that Pascal might have it on his tip to Japan, and because I knew it was a fantastic lens within its specification. Fact is, though, I feel no need to get more lenses, and that is a major surprise.

Going nowhere…

Yes, intellectually, I know I “ought to” fill out my bag. A Zeiss Loxia 85mm beckons. But I feel so little urge that I let the year-end promotional pricing slip away. You might say that my shooting is now cramped by my (lack of) gear, but that is certainly not how it feels. Even more, I have the benefit of shooting with my friend Dallas, who, brave, strong and committed to being a real photographer that he is, goes out with 3 or 4 Zeiss Milvus primes, ranging from 21mm to 135mm.


Our last shoot was a morning walk in a district neither he nor I knew, and we were very successful. I shot 35 frames and he 80 (usual ratio between he -or another shooter- and I, long before I became a single-lens guy). Some of these were multiples, so I had maybe 25 scenes, of which some 20 got post-processed for publication. Talk about yield! Would I have had more shots with a second lens (or even more)? Mebbe, mebbe not, who knows?…. Dallas swapped lenses, but I felt no lust, no desire, no “OMG, if only I had his lenses, there is this perfect shot….”

I find some lessons in this unexpected situation, that may matter to more people than just me.

La Philarmonie de Paris

Lesson 1: it is not the lack of multiple focal lengths that caps my yield, it is my ability -or lack of it-. I am sure that what I am shooting now is not the sum-total of shooting-worthy material

did you say distortion? nah….

Lesson 2: sensors with massive resolution enable deep cropping, yielding more pictures from within shots, in effect giving me access to different magnification ratios while maintaining good image quality. See 2 examples below:

Banal, boring,
no longer so banal and boring, methinks. And I just love the minute sunstars…
full picture. Meh… But within it….
Like a bird in flight…. almost 100% crop

Lesson 3: focal length is over-rated. I had a 28mm of great repute, and chose to buy a 25mm instead of continuing to use the 28 and complementing it with a different FL. I chose rendering and ease of use over focal length, and am more than comfortable with that choice. If I do buy a “next lens”, which is, despite what I write here, likely, it will be for its rendering, not its focal length. For example, the brilliant Zeiss ZM 35 f:1.4 a.k.a. Audrey. It has what my 25mm, Julia, does not, some kind of inner sparkle that even mighty Oti have trouble matching.

Lesson 4: simpler is better (for me). That is why I never “got” zooms. Too many variables. Focal length, aperture, composition, rendering. It was just too hard for me to select the “right” combination of factors… Long live simplicity

Lesson 5: if you go “one-lens”, then, by necessity, you will shoot many different subjects/situations with it. It better be really good in all these situations. The Loxia shines close up, it shines at infinity. It offers deep DOF (it is a 25mm after all), but it also enables bokeh shots (few wide angle lenses do). It adds very little “signature” to the image, leading Pascal to complain that it lacks character.

Lesson 6: going one-lens is more important than which lens (and, in particular, which focal-length) you go to. As it happens, for me right now it is a 25mm, which is wider than the 3-lens kit I had before (28mm-55mm-85mm)

Lesson 7: even when I had my 3-lens bag with me for a multi-hour shoot, in over 75% of the cases, I just didn’t change lenses. Then I put it down to laziness and risk-aversion (changing heavy lenses on the fly in the street). It may have been an instinct that not changing was the better path to follow.

Lesson 8: if I did add another lens, of a very different focal length, say a Loxia 85, I am sure I would use it and get fine shots from it. But would I get more overall? Would the benefits from the wider shooting envelope compensate for what I would lose in terms of focus on just one FL? I am not sure. Which is why I am not (yet) pulling the trigger.

Just a normal dawn on my way to work

I fully expect to hear from you all, whether you are going to donate to a crowdfunding campaign in my favor to donate a couple of lenses and pull me out of my one-lens misery, as reflected by the above shots…:-)


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  • Dan says:

    I have a feeling Dallas is secretly doing his workouts with that bag full of Milvus-es. ๐Ÿ˜€

    I totally agree with getting a simpler life with more focus (pun intended) when one has only one lens. Your brain starts looking for opportunities tailored to that particular focal length and I find that for me, personally, it produces better results.

    I am using a version of the “single lens” paradigm when travelling. I take with me a Sony full frame and three primes on vacation – Loxia 21mm, Sony 35mm f2.8 and Loxia 85mm – but I use only one lens each day. I pick it up in the morning, depending on where will I spend the day – at the beach, hiking, sightseeing a town…

    I found the 85mm a bit difficult as an only lens – I am thinking to replace it with the Loxia 50mm on my next trip, as the draw is the same and the difference in the field coverage not that large…

  • What a cracker of a post, for those of you wondering I didn’t go into the canal as suggested by my good friend.

    Philippe is right, on a recent shoot we spent 2 hours shooting, I had my 3 lens 21, 50, 135. The 21 didn’t leave the camera. I did think about swapping to the 50 and thought better of it. I also find one lens makes me think far more and study the environment around me. Great shots Philippe well done. Mr D

  • immodoc says:

    Hi, I fully agree with your article. I have roughly 80 lenses (30 of which are Leica M mount) but when I go out or travel taking pictures I take
    only one body and one lens with me.

    My favorite combo is the A7R2 with the ZEISS Loxia 2,8/21 (at present). (I have the 2/25 Batis too, but I take it less often, because it is less
    pocketable attached to the A7R2.)

    Of course, I have the ZEISS Distagon 1,4/35 ZM, too. Works beautifully on my Leica M9 and the SONY A7R2.

    I think you will like (or even love) it, too ๐Ÿ˜‰ …

  • Scott Edwards says:

    I totally get your perspective, no pun intended! For about 6 months, I only carried a 35mm lens… the Zeiss/Sony Distagon 35 1.4 which is a brilliant lens in my humble opinion. A zoom can present all kinds of challenges… Still, I opted to widen for landscapes and sometimes for portraits, selecting the Sony Master 16-35 2.8 which is really a magnificent creation. I should add I’m a photographer, primarily do portraits/lifestyle work and have about 7 or 8 “vintage” lens, along with three key primes – 35, 50 and 85. P.S. Love the image you took on your way to work…

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    First off – I don’t see one lens as misery. Misery – to me – is self-inflicted pain (absent some leather clad lady with a whip in one hand). When I finally bought my first “real” SLR – the Zeiss Contarex I loved for half a century – I kitted it out with a w/angle and a tele, as well as the standard prime. And I probably only took less than a hundred photos with the other two – the standard prime was the workhorse, throughout

    Second – there’s a time for primes and a time for zooms. If you use a zoom just because you’re too lazy to walk a couple of metres, you’ll never convince the world that you’re a “photographer”. If you use a zoom to plan a shot, you can use it to “measure” the focal length of the prime you need to actually take the shot. If you are heavily into sports or wildlife or domestic pet or child photography, you may find the only sensible and practical choice is a zoom.

    Price might corral you into buying primes.

    Philippe, if and when it’s time to pull the trigger on the 25mm, you will know. Perhaps not even pull the trigger – instead, find a companion for the 25mm to play with. But don’t worry about Dallas – I think it was Pascal who said we never shoot at home, and France is your home- Dallas is only a temporary resident, and like everyone else in transit passing through France, he will blaze away and cull later. While you look for something more specific. (Sorry Dallas, but it’s a well known failing of tourists).

    In the meantime, where’s the bicycle? ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Vladimir says:

    I could quite easily live with just a 50mm (on FF) or a 75mm โ€“ close call. Having following 15, 28, 50, 75, 90, 24-90 zoom and 135.

  • PaulB says:


    Crowd source?

    I was thinking we should ask you to lead a self-help group, to reduce GAS by using only a single lens.

    After all, constraint does lead to creativity.


  • Tadeusz says:

    Got damned tired lugging around 5-8 kg of Nikon gear on trips. All gone now (well, excepting the FM2 + 8/2.8, 16/3.5 and NOCT…just couldn’t let them go)
    An M10 + 50 APO & 21 Super Elmar or just a ZM 2,8/35; alternatively, an MM v.1 + 28-35-50 Tri-Elmar fits the bill. Travel or strolling along the avenues can be enjoyed.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    “Lesson 4: simpler is better (for me). That is why I never โ€œgotโ€ zooms.”

    For me, a zoom makes it simpler, with *less* parameters to think about … how?
    I see something, I walk around to find my perspective – perhaps hiding unwanted details, then I pull out my zoom and frame – perhaps fine-tuning as details show up (or don’t) at the edges (previsualizing isn’t my strength).

    With one prime I’d have many more things to consider walking around trying to find other perspectives working with the fixed field of view – unless I decide to zoom like you, by cropping.

    ( Zooming by cropping was the way I started in my teens, as my camera for many years was a 75mm 6×6 cm, usually with slow (50 or 100 ASA) b/w film – a high resolution sensor (“Lesson 2”).)

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