Over the last eight years or so, I’ve had in excess of 100 lenses, perhaps nearer 200 now.
Whilst I love these old lenses, and there have been very few I’ve disliked entirely, I’ve purchased far more than I’ve needed.
These are most likely the biggest two traps I’ve fallen into.
1. Thinking I needed a lens in every possible focal length.
I started out with an SLR and a nifty fifty, like most people. In my case, a Praktica BMS Electronic with a Pentacon 50/1.8.
Which suited me just fine – there was so much else I needed to control on the camera, having another variable in the lens I chose (or using a zoom lens) would have been too intimidating at that stage of my photography evolution.
After a while I started exploring other cameras, and lenses of other focal lengths.
Sometimes by choice I’d seek out a particular lens, and sometimes it was just the one that came with a camera I’d bought.
I seemed to have picked up a couple of notions along the way (probably from reading forums about vintage lenses).
First, that primes were far superior to zooms, something I still believe to an extent.
Second, that to have the versatility and range of a zoom, you needed a prime for each of the common focal lengths it covered.
So, if your zoom was 35-70mm say, you’d need 35mm, 50/55mm, and 70/75mm prime lenses.
For a 28-85mm zoom, you’d need a 28mm, 35mm, 50/55mm, and 80/85mm.
But then to have the option to go wider, you might want a 24mm, or even a 20 or 21mm. And to go longer, perhaps 135mm. Or even longer, 200mm.
Then in between these, there are further steps where a prime lens could step up.
And so there was a point where I think had lenses at 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 55mm, 58mm, 105mm, 120mm, 135mm, 150mm and 200mm.
Now really does anyone need a lens for each of 11 different focal lengths?
Probably not, unless you’re a very diverse professional photographer who can photograph anything from macro to portraits to street to landscapes and back again.
This is why most amateur photographs back in the film days had a wide, normal and tele lens, typically 35mm, 50mm and 135mm.
For anything in between you just used the lens that fitted best and physically moved into position.
Letting go of the need to fill every conceivable rung on that focal length ladder meant I could have a far smaller arsenal that I knew – and enjoyed – far better.
2. Thinking I needed to try every 50/55/135mm lenses ever made.
The second major pitfall was that even if I didn’t have a lens in 11 different focal lengths, I couldn’t possibly settle on the first lens I tried in any particular focal length, in case it was the worst model ever made. Or even mediocre.
Or that it might not offer the greatest sharpness, the smoothest bokeh, the most vibrant colours, the smoothest focusing action, the fastest maximum aperture, the closest minimum focusing distance, or a host of other variables.
Which led to me owning at a guess at least 50 lenses at 50, 55 or 58mm over the years.
And ultimately realising that the good old Prakticar Pentacon 50/1.8 on my first SLR was about 95% as good as anything I’d try subsequently, and certain wouldn’t limit the photographs I wanted to make.
Each of these traps in isolation would be bad enough, but combine them and their power multiplies exponentially!
I needed a prime lens at at least 10 different focal lengths, and each one needed to a very good example so multiple models and versions would need to be explored.
Just do the maths, 10 focal lengths, and trying even five lenses at each and already you’ve totalled 50 lenses.
In some focal lengths there’s a much wider range – it’s very easy to suddenly realise you own 25 50/55mm lenses and a dozen at 135mm, and that all are very good in their own way.
So what’s the point of this post?
Am I saying you shouldn’t buy more than three different focal lengths (or just get a zoom that covers the range), or that you should only buy one lens at any one focal length?
Of course not, it’s your photography, it’s completely up to you.
But from my own experience, I now know that I didn’t need so many focal lengths, and I know that whilst there are some pretty poor lenses, at the key focal lengths like 35, 50/55 and 135mm, there are plenty of excellent options, I don’t need to own all of them.
How about you? What traps have you fallen into with your photography in the past, and what did it teach you?
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).
Thanks for looking.
Share this post with someone you think will enjoy it using the buttons below.
See what I’m up to About Now.