I got a big chuckle out of What Type of Photographer Are You? by Gordon Lewis (AKA Shutterfinger). He chronicles a few common lens-related pathologies observed among photographers. Which made me realise that I’ve really been enjoying taking pictures recently. The current selection of lenses meets my needs and fits in a pretty small camera-bag; I don’t feel the need for any more. So I thought I’d share my current inventory, with a slide-show highlighting what each can do. Someone might find it useful, and it might provoke some real photographers to tell their stories, which I’d sure find interesting.

I have a total of five lenses; three that I use all the time, one niche performer, and one weirdo. I have a small camera bag that can carry essentially any combination of the camera and three lenses.

I am not making any general claims about this being a Platonically perfect lens repertoire, or that it’s what a good photographer should carry (I’m not one of those) or that it’s what you should carry. I’m just saying that they’ve been making me happy, and it’s terribly clear that when I take lousy pictures, the problem isn’t with the equipment.

40mm f2.8 · This is the teeny little “pancake” prime. At 40mm, it’s a totally general-purpose lens, specialized for nothing, pretty good at anything, a real people-catcher if you can get close. At f2.8, it’s bright enough to use indoors sometimes, particularly if your camera has anti-shake and can take respectable pictures at ISO1600.

Its main virtue, of course, is that it’s tiny and light and suitable for walking around with all day. And that it’s a prime, which I like for reasons provided under the heading No Zoom. Its main flaw is that if you want a picture of something smaller than say a house or a tree, you need to get pretty close to it.

Pentax 40mm Limited Prime at work

Here’s a Pentax 40mm f2.8 Limited slide show (8M PDF), to give a feeling for what it’s good at. Given the wide range of shots here, the summary would be “most things”.

If I’m heading for a garden or a friend’s place or just out for a walk and don’t know what I’ll find, this is what’s on the camera.

21mm f3.2 · Another teeny little pancake, this is my everyday wide-angle. It’s another pancake prime, almost as small as the 40mm, and another totally great walking-around lens. In particular if you’re in the great outdoors and expect to be taking pictures of mountains or skyscrapers or anything else, well, big.

What can’t it do? Take pictures in dim light, or capture anything that’s not really big unless you’re right on top of it. And it doesn’t do bokeh.

Pentax 21mm Limited Prime at work

Here’s a Pentax 21mm f3.2 Limited slide show (5.5M PDF), containing lots of photos of big things. The lady in the Hong Kong is giving me the severe look because of the No Photos! sign which I didn’t see till after I’d taken the picture.

DA* 50-135 f2.8 · Eventually I broke down and got a zoom, and I get quite a bit of use of it.

The “*” in its name means it’s weatherproofed (a big plus in the Pacific Northwest), the 2.8 means it works with not too much light, its focus is spooky-sharp, and its bokeh is delicious. Basically, it’s what you use when you can’t get close.

It’s got one great big huge honking disadvantage, which is that it’s a great big huge honking lens. It slows me down because it’s heavy and awkward and then the zoom thing means there’s more to think about.

Pentax DA* 50-135mm zoom at work

Here’s a Pentax DA* 50-135mm f2.8 slide show (4.8M PDF). You’ll notice that both this and the 21mm slide show have a “North from Keats Island” entry; the difference is instructive.

Sigma 30mm f1.4 · Now we’re getting off the mainstream and into niche territory. I had fun in Tokyo buying this one, and I bought it for a single purpose; to take pictures with less light. Since then, I’ve bought a more sensitive camera with image stabilization, so it’s increasingly a niche player; especially because it’s kind of big and awkward. But still, there are few extra-dim situations where it can take some extra-pretty pictures.

Sigma 30mm f1.4 prime at work

Here’s a Sigma 30mm f1.4 slide show (2.1M PDF).

Big New Stranger · I mean the Tokina SL-400 f5.6 I impulse-bought on eBay last summer for taking distant views from the cottage. Totally haven’t figured it out yet; I’ll get back to you on that when I do.

The Bag · Nifty little National-Geographic-branded number from Bogen called an NG-2343. It looks better since I covered the National Geographic logo with a Maple Leaf flag decal and got some buttons and stains on it.

It can carry the three main lenses (50-135 and the two primes), or the zoom and the Sigma for indoor conference work. I’m happiest when I’m out with just the 21mm and 40mm, because the whole combo is ridiculously light and there’s still room in the bag for a sandwich and hip-flask.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Cowan (Oct 11 2009, at 09:25)

The slide shows are 404. Did we perchance forget the "chmod a+r"?

And now to the meat of this posting: What do the buttons on the bag say? ("Do not omit important details." --Mark Twain's rules for romantic fiction)


From: Janne (Oct 11 2009, at 21:41)

With due respect to Shutterfinger (good blog), there's many ways to enjoy photography and taking pictures is only one of them.

Look at music: you can enjoy music by playing, composing, listening to it, collecting it (with sub-genres for records, players, musical boxes, sheet music, biographies ...), mixing it, making instruments, study its history and so on and so on.

Somebody enjoying photography by collecting lenses, say, or studying the technology is no less "real" than somebody who is mainly interested in the resulting pictures.


From: Ryan Cousineau (Oct 12 2009, at 11:44)

Regarding the Sigma (and to a lesser extent, the 40 mm), do you ever feel that the Pentax 50 f/1.4 would have been a better choice? Aside from the price, it's also smaller than the Sigma. No HSM, but I don't know if that matters much.

Not a "normal" lens on a 1.5x-crop camera, of course, but still.


From: Derek K. Miller (Oct 13 2009, at 00:38)

One thing you didn't mention, which I think is germane: as far as I recall, not all your lenses are autofocus, which (except for Leica users) is pretty unusual for photographers these days. How does that affect your photography?


From: Tim (Oct 13 2009, at 00:52)

Derek: Nope, they're all autofocus except for the big Tokina, which is one of the reasons I'm finding it tough to learn. I'm solidly in the autofocus mainstream.


From: Kevin H (Oct 13 2009, at 09:59)

Something else you failed to mention is the camera you are pairing these lenses with. If there is a crop factor, that should be noted as it factors into how close you need to be or how wide you can capture at the focal lengths you own.


From: Justin Watt (Oct 21 2009, at 13:15)

John, I'm more interested in what's in the hip flask.

Tim, I finally broke down and picked up the K-7 back in August. Paired it with the 35mm macro to start. It's a solid performer---though my point of reference is all point-and-shoot, so I don't really have a point of reference. It's definitely improved my portrait game and is great for macro shots, which for me generally involve food. I think to widen my range, the next on my list is the 15mm, but I'm in no rush. I want to learn to see what the 35mm sees.


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