The Delights And Dangers Of Using Just One Camera System

A few years back I was using 35mm film lenses in half a dozen different mounts.

Sometimes on the film cameras they were made for, and sometimes on a Sony NEX mirrorless digital camera, with one of many adapters.

In no particular order, these are the lens mounts I recall trying – 

M39

M42

Pentax K

Canon FD

Contax/Yashica (C/Y)

Konica AR

Minolta SR (aka MC/MD)

Olympus OM

After much experimentation with the NEX, and perhaps a hundred 50/55/58mm lenses (my favourite focal length), it dawned on me that there wasn’t actually very much between them. 

And eventually, I grew tired of the shortfalls of the NEX (rubbish handling, exacerbated by needing an adapter for vintage lenses, disappointing cool colours, overly clinical CMOS sensor, the aloof experience of shooting with a Live View screen not a viewfinder) and sold it on anyway.

What I also learned through this period though, was that my favourite lenses were M42 mount.

And if/when I wanted more automation, the Pentax K range were a close second.

Which is a preference that has endured. In recent months I’ve returned to shooting DSLRs, and the Pentax K lenses again came to the fore.

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Using just one lens mount has many benefits. But it also has a few downsides.

Here are my experiences of each.

The Delights

Familiarity.

When you use the same few lenses, you get used to them focusing the same way and amount, and the aperture ring moving in the same direction, not to mention knowing what kind of image you can create with them, before you even attach them to your camera.

It’s the same with the camera. Sticking to one mount, the cameras you use will largely be very similar in operation.

Put another way, more familiarity leads to fewer obstacles, and there’s far greater fluidity in the whole experience, something I greatly value in making photography an immersive and rewarding pursuit.

Compatibility.

Kind of obvious, but you know when you only have cameras and lenses in one mount that any lens you pick up can be used on any camera you have.

Again I appreciate this consistency and simplicity, and just not having to mess about with adapters that always have some kind of compromise.

It’s more economical.

Regular readers will not be surprised to see a financial angle included in my pros argument!

But when you only shoot one mount, you don’t need five lens in each of 28, 35, 50, and 135mm, just so you have every one of those focal lengths covered in each mount.

Of course you need fewer camera bodies too.

One mount means you can have just one body. Or even a couple, so you have a back up, or one to set up slightly differently.

You can’t do that when shooting five different mounts – even just one plus a backup in each system means ten overall straight away.

Better quality equipment.

Again, I’m no stranger to a photography bargain, but I rarely buy cameras that are cheap and poor quality.

Only needing kit in one mount means you can invest more in the unique equipment you do buy, because you’re not buying three, five, ten different lenses and bodies that do the same thing, and needing to dilute your budget across them.

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As you can see, the delights are plentiful.

But what about the dangers of using just one lens mount? Are there any?

Here’s what I’ve found.

Dangers

It’s easier and more tempting to get another similar camera in the same mount, as you already have the lens(es) for it.

Buying a camera in a whole other mount, you might pause and consider what else you’d need (lenses, filters etc) to make it work, and the greater outlay (as well as the commitment to learning a new camera/system) might mean you don’t take that route, just sticking with the familiarity of what you have.

But when you already have all the lenses you need, it’s all too easy to pick up another body – even if it’s only incrementally different to one already have – because it’s cheap and there’s no additional investment in lenses required.

It’s easier and more tempting to get another lens in the same mount as you already have the camera(s) for it.

This is of course the flip side of the above, its equally seductive twin.

But again, buying a new lens becomes alluring because you start to wonder what it might be capable of with each those bodies you already own, and again there’s no hidden extra investment needed for a new body.

Overall, for me the delights of using just one mount far outweigh the dangers.

But you do have to be more disciplined in some ways to not get carried away with buying too many camera bodies or lenses, just because you can they can slip in so easily amongst your existing gear.

How about you? Do you mostly use just one camera system? What have you found are the pros and cons of doing so (or not doing so)?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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8 thoughts on “The Delights And Dangers Of Using Just One Camera System”

  1. By putting aside camera systems that didn’t work for me regarding things like size, weight, ease of focus, digital complication, support for bulk loading, etc., I back my way into using just one camera system – LTM Leica. An advantage, as you point out, is that all of my lenses and accessories work with all of my camera bodies. A potential disadvantage, as you also point out, is the plethora of tempting additions to the kit out there.

    1. Doug, I wonder too if it makes one consider a wider range of options and accessories in that mount (filters, cases, finders?), items you wouldn’t consider if you had to fund just the core items (camera and lens!) across multiple systems?

  2. I tend to only use one system and just a couple of lenses. This has the disadvantage of being limited but I don’t have to waste time thinking if something happens when I’m out with the camera.

    1. I’m not sure I see it as limited, because in my experience it’s often when we limit our creativity, it flourishes most. When we have to make do with what we have, it forces us to find different approaches and angles.

  3. Here’s an odd perspective for you (from an odd photographer, me): Of all the lens mounts I’ve ever used I like the Exacta internal bayonet the most. In terms of being a method of mounting a lens, it’s the best. Of course it has no automatic anything or camera coupling (aside from the later stop-down/shutter release levers). The lenses are great too, with few exceptions.
    Yes, lenses are lenses are lenses. If the quality is there in the glass and construction, it’s there no matter what brand is on it. Not much difference between 50 and 60 mm either (fun fact; the differences ‘per mm’ as it were increase towards wide-angle and decrease towards telephoto). Good coating, internal reflection control, decent diaphragm … you’re set.
    I bought the Canon to use the Pentax lenses I already had, and don’t see any reason to buy additional old lenses now. I’ve settled on which work best for what, which is mainly the 28mm for ‘normal’ view and the 35mm with #1 extension tube for close-up work. The others don’t add much to the repertoire.
    In terms of using different systems … well I’ve been using the Kodak, Nikon, and Canon and found it’s REALLY easy to get confused because unlike film cameras the controls are not generally all in the same place, and there are more controls. I think the Kodak is going to be retired, interesting though it is to use, because the other two handle 90% of my shooting needs and the W100 (which is kind of low quality) Nikon makes up the remainder. At least for now. Looking at new equipment is fun, but you really always have to ask yourself “would I use it enough?”
    I passed up buying some off-brand 28mm M42 yesterday for $10 because I already have a top-quality 28mm M42, so why bother with another one? If I want less quality from it that is simple to achieve: you can blur a lens easily, but you can’t sharpen one beyond what the manufacturer put in.

    1. Marc, why would you say the Exacta internal bayonet mount is the “best”?

      Regarding lens focal length, yes I have been surprised in the past when some lenses with identical focal lengths marked on the body don’t give identical fields of view. I guess most manufacturers had/have a tolerance that was/is acceptable, and in practice, 48 or 52mm isn’t radically different if you’re expecting a 50mm lens. And as you mention, as the focal length increases the gap is even less, so perhaps the difference between even 130 and 140mm say is so little that most wouldn’t even notice, and would happily use either lens as a 135mm without ever questioning it.

      The question “would I use it enough?” is a great one. Most of the time when considering new kit the answer is “no” for me too. That said, I’ve definitely had phases where I’ve had a perfectly excellent lens in a certain focal length but just wanted to try out something cheap, for the challenge of getting decent images out of inferior gear. I seem to have a perennial “cheap camera challenge” motivation and mission within me.

      Regarding blurring a lens, I remember reading about someone on Pentax Forums who was using a DSLR and kit zoom, and just finding the images too perfect (he had a long background shooting film). So he decided to literally take some sandpaper (albeit very fine grain) to the lens to rough it up a little, then preferred the more characterful (and of course less perfect) images it gave him. A slightly more radical approach to my post the other day on making digital more dumbed down and dirty.

      I’ve also fallen into the trap of lens/body variations. For example finding a lens I love (like a Super-Takumar 55/1.8), then seeking out other variations (I also have an earlier Auto-Takumar 55/1.8, with more aperture blades and a quite different design and body). Most Takumars have three or four versions (Auto, Super, Super-Multi-Coated, SMC) and even variations within each of these, so it’s easy to gather up the variations… This concept is probably worth a new post!

      1. Dan, I like the Exacta mount because it is small, sturdy, and very easy to put on/off. Some bayonet mounts are cumbersome or fiddly and can take up almost as much time as a screw thread to change. But the Exacta mount is just a mount with no other lens-camera connection so it wouldn’t work for everything. I should have saved all those lenses I had an come up with an adapter for the Canon.
        I can’t imagine sandpapering a lens! There’s easier and less damaging ways of softening an image, such as a cheap UV filter or even some plastic wrap in front. I always go for top quality, because it’s easy to “dial down” resolution or MP or whatever, but when you’ve got the cheap lens mounted and you see that great pic that needs higher quality treatment – you’re stuck. It’s a pain having to switch lenses or even adjust settings sometimes. I failed to get a great bird flock image the other day because the lens was wrong and I hadn’t turned the camera on yet. They fly fast!

      2. Yes I haven’t sanded a lens myself either. A bit radical! Yes I would also go the route of a cheap filter than “damage” that.

        I do have a Pentax K Tokina zoom that has a fair bit of fungus inside that I planned to play with sometime soon. I expect the images to be a bit “soft focus” shall we say.

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