Photography Tip: One Camera, One Lens

I still prefer film. This reality prompts many questions about why I would prefer something considered outdated by many in my former profession. I prefer film for a variety of reasons. The lifestyle is fantastic because film doesn’t require computer time. I also love the old cameras I get to use, like my 47-year-old Leica M4, but what I truly love the most about film are the limitations that come with it.

Film makes me think. I don’t have an endless amount. I can’t over shoot every single moment. And I have to pay for each and every frame. Most people consider these to be limitations of film, a valid opinion, but I see them as the beauty and strength of the system.

Sicily photo black and white

I feel the same way about my camera gear. At this moment I own at least seven different camera systems, many of them strange and outdated, but there are TWO that I would call my primary systems. Leica and Hasselblad. I own two lenses for my Leica and two for my Hasselblad, but 99% of what I do with these systems is done with ONE lens. The 50mm on the Leica and the 80mm on the Hasselblad.

I can’t over shoot every single moment. And I have to pay for each and every frame.

Limiting yourself to one camera and one lens isn’t a bad thing, quite the contrary. Limiting yourself when it comes to equipment can truly set you free because you suddenly no longer have to think about your equipment. All you need to concentrate on is light, timing and composition. Moments. The real ingredients of what makes a great photograph.

I used to teach photography workshops. Students would often show up with far too much equipment. New cameras, lenses, tripods, strobes and even new computers and software were the norm. I realized the first half of their workshop was spent attempting to navigate around and beyond all of their equipment. Too much time was spent staring at screens and not at what was actually happening around them.

sicily image black and white

So try this. One camera, one lens. That’s it. That’s all you get for the next six months or a year. You might fight this at first, claim it’s irresponsible even, but I can promise you that if you give it enough time this way of working will open your eyes to how little you actually need. Working this way is liberating. Gone are the days of back pain and shoulder bags, and in are the days of intense focus and learning what your camera/lens combo is really capable of.

All you need to concentrate on is light, timing and composition. Moments. The real ingredients of what makes a great photograph.

Looking through history at my favorite photographers reveals that many of them were one or two lens shooters. Most worked with fixed lenses, which have historically been smaller and sharper than zooms. There is consistency and depth in their work, a depth comes from having the vision but also from not being distracted by things like too much equipment.

So next time you find yourself gearing up for a shoot, try gearing down and see how the world changes.




  • Euan says:
    Aug 9 at 03:54

    Very interesting article. I’ve been shooting for the last 18 months with a 35mm lens and love it. I often contemplate changing but part of me enjoys the restrictiveness of a single focal length. It makes me think differently when I approach a scene and I feel as though my sight is improving in that I am more able (and quicker) to determine if there is a composition.

  • Chris Fuller says:
    Aug 10 at 07:22

    When I had the Fuji X100 it helped me appreciate the 35mm field of view. Have since come back to Nikon with a D700, and, despite a number of other lenses (love that I can use classic Nikon MF lenses), the 35 f/2 AF-D is on it 99% of the time. I now actually see the world with this POV even when my camera is not with me.

  • Victor Reynolds says:
    Aug 12 at 10:00

    I have a real challenge: use an instant camera. You have less film than roll. It’s not as “versatile” as digital. Yet, it can really make you slow down even more. My two cents.

  • Keith Towers says:
    Aug 17 at 12:46

    In 2013 I moved away from a Canon 5d MKII and joined the Fuji brigade with the X100 Limited Edition fixed 23 mm lens (35 mm equivalent). It did the job well, slowing me down and improving my street images 100%. In 2014 I purchased the XPro1 with 35mm and 18mm lenses and work entirely with that gear. I spent 20 odd years with film and later found that I was digitising my stuff anyway. I work with one lens, changing up halfway through a shoot if I want the wider of the two, but only look for stuff that suits whichever is on the camera at the time. It’s great! It’s refreshing! And above all it is stress free shooting when you are not hankering after other focal distances. Good luck with your challenge.

  • Jørgen Udvang says:
    Aug 23 at 08:31

    This theme has ben done to death and beyond of course, but it’s still interesting. 6 months ago, I (kind of) downgraded from a D810 with a bunch of cool lenses to an E-M1 with three zoom lenses. Now I’ve shelved the Olympus as well, at least for the time being, and use a Panasonic GM5 with the cheap but excellent Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 shooting RAW + b&w jpeg, aperture priority and auto-ISO. The whole package is tiny, weighs 300g plus battery and the simplicity of it all enables me to focus on the motive only, not on dials and switches. It’s very satisfying.

  • Eric Wi says:
    Feb 23 at 12:49

    I’ve had a bit of lens acquisition syndrome. In the past I tried only a prime 35mm and then fell in LOVE with VR. I hate noise so even dropping 1 stop is a huge benefit. Recently I picked up a Tamron SP 35mm (on DX). This is an extremely well made prime that has built in VR. I think I’ll try it again. Technically two lenses because I’ll keep my 70-300.

  • ionita marin says:
    May 7 at 02:14

    Blurb continua sa fie pe prima treapta in fotografie pe primatreapta in a fi prezent in viata a noastra a tuturor este un specialist in finante este ceea cenoi numim in cesintele si nevoile noastre de zi cu zi si se nu meste blurb blog

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