For most of the DSLR cameras I’ve owned, I’ve had at least two lenses, typically a mid-range zoom and a telephoto zoom. Since upgrading my DSLR to a Canon 5d Mark ii last fall, though, I’ve had only one lens – the utterly fantastic Canon 24-105L. All of my work since then has been done with that one lens, and that one lens only, so I thought I might share a few thoughts about working with only one lens.
First, the downside. There definitely have been times I’ve missed having the more telephoto end of the range past 105mm. I love, and in the past had gotten used to, picking details out of a grand scene, be it a tree on the distant horizon or an architectural detail on the top of a building. Telephoto lenses also tend to have the effect of compressing the foreground and background in images, which makes them great for juxtaposing elements in a scene, such as a towering mountain in the background over a tree or building in the foreground. They also are great for isolating patterns, textures, or other elements in an otherwise crowded scene. My eye tends to gravitate towards these kinds of things naturally, and with the 24-105 I’ve encountered many subjects I couldn’t capture simply because I didn’t have the telephoto reach.
Now, the good. Working with one lens definitely is a liberating, simplifying experience. Your gear is lighter. You never have to devote any thought to what lens you will use. There’s no risk of getting dust or dirt inside your camera during a lens switch. Being ready to photograph often means simply grabbing your camera and turning it on. You’re incredibly familiar with the settings and controls.
You get more creative with your compositions. Working with a more limited range of focal lengths forces you to move yourself closer or farther away from your subjects. In the process, you see angles and views you didn’t see before.
You work outside of your comfort zone a bit. For me, this meant working more at the wide-angle end of the range than I had in the past. I found myself getting closer to my subjects than I had before, sometimes maybe only a foot or two away, and often shooting from low angles. Once or twice, I even found myself wishing I had a focal length wider than 24mm to work with.
You learn new things. I began using hyperfocal distancing to a degree I never had before, to take advantage of the greater depth of field available at shorter focal lengths. This required me to seek out and find much new information that I might not have gone looking for otherwise.
Your images take on a consistent look, in a good way. The image in this post is called “Black Trees No. 5.” As the name suggests, there are Black Trees Nos. 1-4 already, and there probably are more Black Trees images in the works. All of the Black Trees images were taken with the 24-105L, which I believe adds to the unifying, thematic look that binds these images together.
On balance, I would say that working with just one lens has been a very positive experience. I definitely recommend it for other photographers out there, if only for a little while …
…. because, yes, I recently took the plunge and purchased a Canon 100-400L. I did miss doing those things I liked to do at the telephoto end of the range, after all. Still, I think my experience with owning only one lens has made me a better photographer, and I hope that experience will carry over with the new lens!