Photography Bluff – How many lenses do you really need?

Leica Wedding Photographer, Leica Street Photographer, Jimmy Cheng, UK Leica Wedding Photographer, International Leica Wedding Photographer

Now my main workhorse camera, the Leica M!

Welcome to the latest Photography Bluff.

Here I am, writing yet another demotivating blog about ‘not buying camera equipment’. I know I know. For all those G.A.S. photographers out there, and that includes me, it’s always disappointing or rather frustrated for not getting the latest and the best (fast enough). Rare few richer guys or fortunate professional reviewers are the only bunch on this planet who can play or even own (or given) some of these newest releases.

Leica Wedding Photographer, Leica Street Photographer, Jimmy Cheng, UK Leica Wedding Photographer, International Leica Wedding Photographer

My cutest collection of actual working cameras, Pentax 110.

I remembered the days when I was playing with my first SLR, I only had my kit lens attached. But then I bought a cheap longer zoom three weeks later. Yet it was a lens that I didn’t use at all for the three years and I eventually sold it on evil bay. Though my first kit lens stayed attached to my camera for the best part of my first 4 years until I got a better lens, the pretty good Canon EF 28-135mm IS USM. So, my G.A.S. didn’t affect me just yet. I blamed solely on my limited finance at the time, just after university and my first didn’t-paid-so-well job and no where I was a pro-tog yet.

Leica Wedding Photographer, Leica Street Photographer, Jimmy Cheng, UK Leica Wedding Photographer, International Leica Wedding Photographer

One of my most trusted cameras in recent years, yet it’s gone and making way for Mark II.

Even when I turned pro in 2005, I still used the 28-135mm lens on my Canon EOS 1V for my first wedding job. Later I did buy the Bigma 50-500mm zoom and thought that it should covered all my needs. It did and didn’t. Because I was a self-taught photographer, I learnt everything from experience. So soon, I realised that I needed better and faster glass, not for showing off, but for necessity in my line of work, wedding photojournalism.

As a Canon shooter, I know that ‘L’ series lenses are the best in business. So I saved up money from each wedding job and eventually got my first ‘L’ lens, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, then the next and next. My G.A.S. started.

Leica Wedding Photographer, Leica Street Photographer, Jimmy Cheng, UK Leica Wedding Photographer, International Leica Wedding Photographer

A few Canon’s.

This was the stage when I thought “I need this lens for this type of shots and I need this for another type of situation…” Umm.. So I ended up with a bunch of lenses, a few primes, a few pro zooms, some macro lenses… I haven’t started talking about other cameras and then other lenses to go with them too!

Yes, I use different cameras and I do use different lenses to achieve different type of photography but as I got more experience and older (or wiser), I started to realise that my G.A.S. stage was totally unnecessary. Yes, it was an experience and both made me feel cool and hurt at the same time. I felt cool because I got to play and own the latest and the best at the time and that feeling of showing that brand spanking new lens or camera in front of my friends and customers was wonderful. Then it hurt me because my wallet was never filled enough (didn’t quite make business sense).

Leica Wedding Photographer, Leica Street Photographer, Jimmy Cheng, UK Leica Wedding Photographer, International Leica Wedding Photographer

My normal wedding outfit these days.

Now as an experienced wedding and street photographer, I have come to realise that I only need a few lenses instead of tens, only for those photos that I wanted to take. These days, I mainly use my 35mm and 50mm primes, almost 95% of the time, for the remaining 5%, I either use my 85mm prime or 70-200mm zoom for portraits. I haven’t even touched my 24-70 zoom lens for almost 2 years. This has become even more apparent after I converted to become a Leica photograher.

Here’s the deal, I guess that every avid photographers will go through some sort of G.A.S. syndrome at some stage. Partly not because they want to own the best that they could afford but also to experience different types of lenses to decide what type of photography they wish to pursuit! Every new lens or camera is always better than its predecessor, well, in theory at least. But in real life, the difference is negligible. I bet 99% of people would not be able to tell the difference if two print are presented in front of them that are taken from a new and an old camera or lens. So is it necessary? No, in most cases. Some professionals will get the latest simply because it helps and speeds up their work. I did that when I upgraded from M240 to M-P only because of the bigger buffer (Leica couldn’t upgrade my M240 buffer). Similarly when I got the 1.4 or 1.2 lenses instead of the 2.0 or 2.8 lenses. It was a need in my work. But for the rest, you may not really need to folk out so much money to get ‘that’ lens or ‘that’ camera. So many semi-professionals or enthusiasts out there only use the basic entry level cameras yet still achieve brilliant photographs. The end question to ask yourself is that will the lens or camera you have in front of you do the job for you?

Leica Wedding Photographer, Leica Street Photographer, Jimmy Cheng, UK Leica Wedding Photographer, International Leica Wedding Photographer

Me directing a shoot!

Anyhow there’s no rules or guidelines on how many lenses you should have throughout your photographic life. You will probably know best if you are a professional after a few years of heavy shooting. An enthusiast may take a lot longer to realise since they simply don’t shoot enough to know exactly what they want. Or your wallet has such a bulge that needs some ‘deflating’ 🙂

Leica Wedding Photographer, Leica Street Photographer, Jimmy Cheng, UK Leica Wedding Photographer, International Leica Wedding Photographer

Here’s the result!

The choice is yours but for me, my G.A.S. is gone (or is it???) and now I am concentrating on image making with the ‘tools’ I have but the occasional ‘Googling’ could easily reignite my G.A.S. syndrome, I guess, once you have contracted with this horrible disease, you will never be able to recover 100% 😀 (At time of writing, I just ordered the new OM-D E-M5 II to replace the trusty mark I! A full review will come when I receive the camera and conducted a thorough user test!)

Thank you for reading my blog and please support my work and this site by buying stuff from Amazon via the link at the bottom (only if you need to buy stuff of course). 

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2 responses to “Photography Bluff – How many lenses do you really need?

  1. I hear you! I have always been someone to amass a ton of gear. I have probably owned 100 lenses in total and I don’t hang on to them for very long. When I first started, I was reading Ren Kockwell and he makes every lens sound like it is absolutely amazing. I learned that I needed to shoot with the lenses in order to decide for myself whether they are good or not. I have only had a few zooms, but I have had just about every Nikkor manual focus prime + plenty of AF-G. I started to slim down and decided that i only need a Zeiss 85 1.4, Zeiss 35 f2, Nikkor 20 2.8, and a Tokina 17 3.5 as part of my main kit. And then I carried this heavy stack of gear for a couple of weeks! When I got home from vacation I started selling everything and now have a Sony A7 with a Zeiss ZM 35 f2, Japanese Summilux and a Tele Elmarit 90. I would really like to maybe swap out the 35 for a 28, but there are issues with WA rangefinder lenses on the A7. I think a 3 lens kit is ideal, with a super wide for fun. I tried the mirrorless thing before with a Leica M8, but now I think I am here to stay!

    • A 100 Joel? Wow! I thought I had lots and you have me beaten down and hands down 😛 Anyway, yes, I wrote this just to share my views and experience all the way from when I was a starter in photography and now a professional. I don’t do commercial stuff so obviously my kits would be different. Yet, I love my Leica and it really suits my style of photography and they do have some of the coolest lenses around. But I virtually had to sell all my DSLR kit just to get a Summilux 😀

      Now I have the M-P, I only mainly use my 35 Nokton and 50 Summilux. I do have the Summicron 90 but really restricted to certain situation. I tend to use my Canon 85 1.2 with my 5D for these type of portrait shots. Still sliming down my gear yet I take the Olympus OM-D for travel assignments since they are so tiny (and less valuable compare to Leica in case my bag gets stolen abroad!)

      A7 is very cool indeed. I was very tempted but since I already shoot three separate systems for different purposes and I didn’t need to add another. I did envy those who own it (a few of my friends do and their files look pretty amazing!)

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