How To Improve Your Photography Using Two Camera Lenses

How To Improve Your Photography Using Two Camera Lenses


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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.

Photo of artist's spray cans taken with Fujinon 35mm lens

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.

Man making noodles at night in market in Muslim quarter of Xi'an China

Photo of a girl on a swing taken with 35mm lens

Photo of woman making a hat from reeds taken with a Fujinon 35mm lens

Portrait of two girls dressed as cosplay characters taken in Hangzhou China

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.

Landscape photo taken with Fujinon 18mm lens in Island Bay New Zealand

Photo of Forbidden City at dusk taken with Fujinon 18mm lens in Beijing China

Black and white photo of ruined building

Photo of boat sailing in Milford Sound New Zealand taken with Fujinon 18mm lens

Photo of circus performer using Future Hoop to paint with light at Massey Memorial in Wellington New Zealand

Which camera lenses would you choose?

What do you think? Which two lenses would you choose? Let us know in the comments.


Mastering Lenses ebookMastering 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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Lenses in photography

About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer with a camera. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He lives in south Devon in the UK and is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.

Comments

  1. Author

    Hi Grimes, I always use lens hoods. You need them to prevent lens flare and they are also handy for protecting the front element of the lens from accidental damage.

  2. I have a Nikon D5500 camera and I luv my Nikon 35mm f1.8G AF-S DX. It never fails. I also have a number of zooms but my 16-80mm always performs. But, as I like landscapes – my Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Lens is my 2nd lens.

  3. Hi!

    I traveled on a 60 day trip, half European cruise, one fourth land in The Netherlands and the other one fourth land in NYC and DC. I took only my 55mm lens Sony 1.8 Leica . When I wanted wide angle shots I took up to 30 photos to achieve it and then stitched in PS/LR. It was so great to have one quality lens and I felt I did not lose any opportunities (well macro, but I was traveling and not as much need for that!). In fact I think I got higher quality images as a result.

  4. Hi Andrew

    Canon 6D with EF 35mm f2 IS USM – Perfect combination.
    Otherwise EF 24-105L f4 IS USM.

    If I know I’ll need something wider then EF17-40 f4L – OK so that’s 3!

    Keep up the great work.

  5. My go to lens is a nifty fifty. The Sigma 50 mm f1.4 and I add the Canon 100 mm f2 for a day out. An alternative would be a Sigma 24 mm f1.4.

  6. Many thanks as ever Andrew for your challenging thoughts. When I decided I no longer wanted to lug around my Canon 7D and three lenses I bought a Fuji XT-10 and the kit zoom lens (18-55mm). That was to be my entire kit and in many ways it’s fine for travel and most other things.

    But of course I soon added a 35mm prime and a telephoto (grandson at football etc) and then a macro Samyang. I now have more lenses than before!

    If it was just one lens it would be a toss up between the superior quality of the prime 35mm and the versatile short zoom.

  7. I shoot a lot of events, and the combination of standard and telephoto f/2.8 zooms can pretty much handle it all. However, I was recently invited to cover a nighttime outdoor event lit by nothing but patio string lights. So, I went with 28 f/1.4 and 105 f/1.4. Oh my, what fun! The big gap in focal lengths wasn’t really a problem, and the 4x light available plus the dreamy look under the string lights was pretty cool. I might just try this combo even when the light is bright.

  8. Hi Andrew

    I just upgraded my aps-c camera from Sony A6000 to the newly released Sony A6700 version. 90 percent of the time my camera is mounted with my Sony 24mm f1.8 Zeiss (aps-c) lens. Beside that I also carry either my Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f4 or Sony 24-105mm F4 (both are fullframe) lens as I mainly shoot landscape/nature and some family portraits.

  9. I think the 33mm f1.4 paired with the 18mm f1.4 or maybe the 16mm f1.4 if you want a tad wider, sure a bit heavier but WR and autofocus is brilliant in comparison to the 35mm f1.4 and 18mm f 2

  10. My fave lens is the 1.4 50mm Canon. So versatile & really makes me think about the shot I want. I love the fact that I can use it in such low light & still get great shots.

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