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I often talk about the beneficial effect that limitations have on your creativity in photography. A simple limitation that any photographer can do is to limit the number of lenses they put in their camera bag. One of the ways you can do that is to choose just two lenses for any given shoot or project. Two lenses is a good choice because it’s enough to cover you for a variety of situations. It’s also (unless you’re a wildlife or sports photographer with a super telephoto lens) easy to carry two lenses around with you for a day and shouldn’t weigh down your camera bag too much.
If you’re brave, you can take this idea a step further and only take one lens. I often do this, and all my lenses are primes, so that restricts focal length choice even further. Yet I’ve never felt that I’ve missed out on anything. So, one lens if I’m feeling confident (i.e. I know what I want to achieve and that I can do it with one lens) or two lenses if I need more options (like a standard or telephoto lens and a wide-angle lens).
Benefits of only owning a few camera lenses
You can extend this idea further by buying few lenses. You don’t need to own every lens under the sun. It’s better (and more productive) to own a few, carefully chosen lenses that you really need. These are some of the reasons why.
You save money
It’s easy to get caught up in gear acquisition syndrome – the desire to buy more gear in the belief that your photography will improve. Yes, it’s important to have the right tools, but the lenses you own should be determined by your needs rather than your desires.
For example, if you take a lot of close-up photos then a macro lens is a good investment. But if you only take close-ups every now and then an extension tube or close-up lens could be a better choice.
You can buy better quality lenses
When it comes to many lenses there’s often an inexpensive, mid-range and high-end model to choose from. If you limit the number of lenses you buy, you have the option of buying more expensive lenses. It’s a simple matter of prioritizing quality over quantity. You can also prioritize quality by buying primes rather than zoom lenses. This is super helpful if you’re on a tight budget as inexpensive primes give you better image quality than inexpensive zooms.
You get to know the lenses you own really well
If all your lenses are primes you will come to a really good understanding of how each lens affects perspective, and how the distance between you and the subject affects the look of the photo. You will learn how much depth of field to expect at wider apertures. You’ll learn to anticipate which lens to use in a given situation, and how close to your subject you would need to be, before you raise the camera to your eye. This is another reason I love prime lenses.
For example, I made the photo below with a 35mm lens (APS-C). I’ve used this lens a lot and understand instinctively what perspective and depth of field to expect from it.
There’s nothing wrong with zoom lenses, but the ability to move between focal lengths means this process takes longer. Some photographers need zooms. For example, landscape photographers often use wide-angle zooms so they can pick the focal length that suits the scene best without changing lenses.
Restrictions inspire creativity
If you have too many options then you may waste time trying to decide which lens to use rather than getting on with taking photos. If you have just two lenses it doesn’t take long to decide which one to use. Then you can concentrate on using it as best as you can. Creativity thrives under restrictions like this.
Which two lenses would you choose?
If you could own just two lenses, which would they be? This is a fun question that’s designed to get you thinking. If you only ever bought two lenses for your photography, which ones would you need? Could you do it, or do you genuinely need more lenses?
If you select a zoom as one of your two don’t make it a superzoom (like an 18-300mm lens). There are too many design compromises and the wide range of focal lengths doesn’t provide any sort of meaningful restriction. Your photography won’t improve with a superzoom – but it will get better with a good quality regular zoom or prime lens.
This is my choice.
Fujinon 35mm f1.4 lens
This lens has become my favorite. There is something about this focal length that works really well for all manner of subject – including candid portraits and general travel photos. It’s small and light and combined with my Fujifilm X-T2 feels very good in the hand. The maximum aperture of f1.4 is very useful in low light or for selective focus techniques.
35mm is considered a standard focal length on APS-C cameras. It has a similar field of view to a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera. It doesn’t compress perspective like a short telephoto lens, nor will it give you the sweeping perspective and dramatic leading lines that you can obtain from a wide-angle lens. It occupies a pleasing sweet spot between the two.
Here are some more photos I’ve made with this lens.
Fujinon 18mm f2 lens
This wide-angle lens complements the 35mm very well. It’s useful for landscape photography, and travel photography where I need to fit more into the frame than I can with the 35mm.
Here are some photos I made with my 18mm lens.
Which camera lenses would you choose?
What do you think? Which two lenses would you choose? Let us know in the comments.
Mastering Lenses ebook
If you’d like to learn more about getting the most out of your lenses, then check out my ebook Mastering Lenses. I wrote this guide for all photographers who want to learn to make the most out of the lenses they already own, as well as those seeking guidance when it comes to buying new lenses. The ebook includes a buying guide that will return the price of the book many times over.
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