I was at a blessed place. My gear was stolen, so I could start afresh. Oh, the bliss of being in a position to toy with endless possibilities, owning each and all of them in my mind. It is so cosmically great that I recommend each of us get his/her gear stolen on a regular basis. Not. Aw hell…
The one-lens system. I had never used a one-lens sytem. Actually, a typo made me write “a lone-lens sytem”, which is so meaningful in many people’s eyes. A one-lens system cannot be complete, cannot be a choice, only a place of refuge, right? Well….. As it happens, I have been on my way to rebuilding a system, and have shot with one prime lens only for a year…
A one-lens system has many advantages. It is light (except if you go for the many-lenses-into-one called the zoom lens, which would be defeating the purpose). It is cheaper than multiple lenses of the same calibre (what else is new?). You get to know this lens intimately. You don’t have to change lenses in the field and drop one, or get dust all over your images.
There is a simplicity, an immediacy, a carefree attitude to carrying a light bag with a camera and lens. Open the bag, whip out the camera, turn it on, and, bang! take the shot. With many pixels on tap, one can crop brutally before running out of resolution, so a wide focal length doesn’t (completely) rule out detail photography.
Logic would have it that a one-lens system be limiting in terms of shooting opportunities, because that cannot cater to the wide variety of subjects “out there”. Yet it is with a one-lens setup that I take the most pictures. Why? Because lightness and ease-of-use trump gear performance. When it is simple, light, quick, I just try more things more often. Freedom of mind and lightness of gear. Man over machine kind of thing. Yeah!
That said, not all prime lenses lend themselves to being good for one-lens sytems. Thet need to have a wide shooting envelope. Which means few things “they can’t do”, or “aren’t good at”. So the shooting envelope must include good performance close up and at infinity, good wide open and stopped down, good for colour and for B&W. Good for sharpness and for bokeh.
For focal length, one can go two ways. Either start wide, and, when appropriate, crop in. You lose pixels, but keep depth-of-field at the expense of bokeh. Or start standard, and go panorama. That is the high-pixel road, but depth-of-field can be lacking, and panos aren’t always quick-and-easy. So why go for the simplicity of one-lens and then make it complicated again with a pano?
In my time as a multi-lens chap, 50mm was “my thing”. While I did enjoy 35mm, 50mm always felt like home. Then I got to use a 28mm for one-lens shoots, and did get good results, but not what I would call “home”. But my one-lens sytem is a 25mm (Zeiss Loxia 25mm f:2.4, a superlative lens and a must-buy IMHO), and I have never felt it to be “too wide”. That is when the one-lens system feels right and comes into its own. When the worry stops and freedom sets in.
Though it is hard to put into words, when I had a mutli-lens system, I tried to make the most of the subject. How best to “do” the subject. When I have a single-lens sytem, and the subject is not perfectly suited to the focal length I have (which happens most of the time, of course), then the burden of “doing” the subject perfectly is off the table, because it just can’t be done. So what remains is how far I can raise my game to make the most of what I have at hand. Different space, different energy. To me, much more liberating than frustrating.
It is almost as though, when fitted out with an array of überlenses, that I “have to” make a great image, or else I am just a jackass, which is sort of a “heads I lose, tails I don’t win” proposition. Whereas, with a single-lens that is not optimal for the subject, it becomes more a “heads I don’t lose, tails I win” situation. If you can’t make a great image with the wrong gear, that is hardly a failure, right? But if you can, kudos!
Some will say (Pascal would, of course), that you can have a full complement of lenses and go out with just one. Well, that is true and not true. Fair enough, you “can” do it. But the very fact that you have a choice defeats the one-lens purpose. You lose the discipline, the minimalism that comes from being forced to make do with you have. You lose the intimacy that comes from seeing your subjects through only one eye.
The somewhat counter-intuitive lesson a single-lens system teaches is that it is the very opposite of a smartphone, though that, too, has a single fixed-focal-length lens. The smartphone does not require -actually does not offer- any form of in-depth partnership between lens and shooter. No discipline or learning curve required. Point and shoot, at anything and everything, and some will be better than others. Single lens systems are the opposite, and, as such, require a bit of non-financial investment, meaning time and dedication, but can be so gratifying, in that their use is so unencumbered, and the results so satisfying. HCB anyone?
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