One camera, one lens

Repeat after me: I do NOT need more than one camera; I do NOT need more than one lens. Again. Again. Again. Well, you get the point…

I am not here to argue that having a handful of lenses is useless. Mind you, I have lusted over lenses and paid more than my fair share of dues. Bought, sold, all in a quest for more options. Options are good, no? Well, yes and no. Options, in terms of cameras and lenses, can be a good thing and they can also be a curse. 

Back in the day, I was training with the Greek squash champion who was oh about 1000 levels above me in terms of performance and occasionally he came into the court with an old, small wooden racquet and to top it off, there were two or three strings that were broken. Now, there was an athlete with access to his sponsor’s latest and greatest equipment and yet he showed up with this old and broken racquet. When I asked him why, he told me that it is a lot harder to play with this (especially with broken strings), to get power and control out of it, so training with this made him try a bit more, go the extra inch, stretch a little more, think a little faster, in general it made him a better athlete. Then of course he would go back to his competition equipment and beat up on everyone:)

While this also answers the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) question discussed in another article, it also makes a clear pojnt about restrain. Force yourself to work in less than ideal circumstances and soon enough you realize that you have gotten so much better without even noticing. It is the same with runners training barefoot in the sand or at high altitudes. Same principle.

So, how does one camera and, more importantly, one lens, make you a better photographer?

For one, there is a practical issue that eventually applies to the vast majority of people and that is weight. Trying lugging around 2 bodies, 4-5 lenses (some of them hefty pro-zooms), flash, tripod and soon enough you realize that this photography hobby you picked up is borderline extreme sport and heavy lifting. Not to mention that even when you do have the “right” lens to use for a specific occasion, you may find yourself (as I often did) passing on the opportunity because the thought of taking your backpack off and changing lenses in the wild (dust on the sensor…) is not exactly easy. So, you end up owing and carrying the equipment, but actually using it is another story.

Let’s assume though for argument’s sake that you are one of those few hardcore individuals that will actually use them. That’s all fine, assuming also that the object of your photographic interest is stationary, still, dead, well… that sort of thing. If it’s not, you may find that by the time you are all ready with your preferred weapon of choice, the object has fled. There goes the picture…

Again, if you are a professional, obviously you have great use for all the right equipment and you obviously know exactly how and when to use it, so this whole argument does not pertain to pros, but rather to what is referred to as “enthusiasts”.

So far we have dealt with why having more equipment is not necessarily good, but we have not touched upon why having less is actually good.

First of all, if you take the time to look at the body of work of many masters of photography, you will realize that some of them shot specifically with one particular lens, say a 28, a 35 or a 50. They turned out masterpieces without worrying that they don’t have the right equipment. 

Why this happened is because they took the time to really understand the particular field of view that was better suited to their photography and the actual lens. Mastering these skills inevitably led to better images and coupled with their obvious talent and hard work, to incredible images. For example, it is well known fact that Henri Cartier Bresson was shooting with a 50 mm lens on his Leica and I am pretty sure that he wasn’t feeling somehow limited by the fact that he only had that lens to capture the decisive moment with.

Using a prime lens for a long period of time makes you better at it; you learn to see what the lens sees without even lifting the camera to your eye. You get a sense of the perspective and it becomes second nature to you, so when you actually lift the camera to shoot, it is done and over in a jiffy.

To make matters even better, there are two more tech issues that help with the one camera – one lens argument. First, today’s sensors are extremely powerful and they give you the ability to crop almost as aggressively as you want without significant loss of image quality. Of course you still have to move around and “zoom with your feet” and it is understood that the perspective and depth of field of a 28 mm lens will always be different than that of a 90 mm lens, but allowing for that, you can always “grab” the image and worry about the rest later, in post processing. Second, if you take the one camera-one lens to the extreme, i.e. opting for a camera with a lens fixed on it without the possibility of changing lenses, you do get the benefit of sensor – lens “mating”, i.e. the fact that they are optimised for each other which gives image quality a significant boost, since the sensor only has to cater to that one lens.

Now, if you have many cameras and lenses already, don’t just go out and sell everything yet. Try using one camera and that one lens that lends itself best to your type of shooting. Do this for a month or two and see how it feels. See… it wasn’t that hard after all. Now go free up all this cash and spend it on your kids or something!