How to choose equipment

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How do you spontaneously prepare for situations like this? Or compose around your limitations?

This is a question that all of us have to address at some point or other – and one whose answer is not exactly straightforward. Having fielded this many times from students, random persons and more often than not, myself, I feel fairly qualified to answer it in a way that I feel yields the best compromise…

Limitation is always a compromise, be it in equipment or composition or travel. You cannot have everything, put everything into an image, or carry everything. Limitation can create frustration if the compromises aren’t fully thought out or understood beforehand; but it can also be minimally impactful or even beneficial in certain cases. I like to think that a lot of the angst experienced when packing a photographic bag can be reduced in two ways:

1. Don’t have so much equipment that a choice is necessary to begin with (in which case you can stop reading here, but for most, impossible);
2. Be very clear about your objectives.

It’s the second item that’s really going to help you. The trouble is, most photographers aren’t actually sure about their objectives when photographing for themselves. It can be because there’s a lack of clarity, or it can be because we see too much, and experience frustration when we can’t capture it all at the same time. I fall into the latter camp: if I’m wandering through a city, I’d like to be able to correct perspectives for those interesting buildings; have a longer focal length for abstraction, and something fast and cinematic if I happen to see some interesting human action. I’m sure it’s pretty clear that these are three very different objectives requiring three very different sets of hardware. It also doesn’t help that modern cameras tend to be configurable but heavily modal, which means rapid resets are not easy (mechanical dials, quickly visible but not presettable) or are easy but not easy to remember how things have been set (buttons and menus, not quickly visible) especially if you’ve got a draconian menu system or multiple cameras.

Having a clear objective, on the other hand, simplifies things greatly: if I’m only shooting architecture for a client, then my bag consists of tilt shifts, ND filters and a tripod. If I’m shooting product in a studio, then it’s a mid-tele, speedlights and modifiers – there’s no thinking required. Every choice is driven by knowledge of the desired outcome: you want to have control over light, you must have flashes and batteries and softboxes and snoots. If my objective is stealthy documentary or street, then I’ll go with the best compromise between size/stealth and responsiveness/image quality (the latter are not necessarily related, but bigger cameras do tend to be faster and have larger sensors).

As an enthusiast, hobbyist or amateur, you are the client. It’s not so easy to have a fixed goal; you photograph what appeals to you personally. All subjects are equal opportunity. Even if you are fairly focused on say, landscapes, for example, I doubt you’d let an interesting urban opportunity pass by, or not attempt to photograph some docile animals you may happen to encounter. And here the anxiety begins: let’s just say there’s a reason 18-350mm zooms exist, and are sold in large numbers. Heaven forbid one is caught without 64mm coverage.

There are, however, reasons to have a zoom or two: in situations where changing lenses would be a bad idea for environmental reasons (e.g. water, sand, helicopters), or where the action is moving very fast (e.g. documentary). I have the Nikon 24-120/4 VR and 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR for precisely these reasons – but on the other hand, they would not be my go-to lenses when I have the luxury of time and am chasing ultimate image quality. You may well always fall into the latter camp, in which case, save your money!

Pros and amateurs may diverge slightly at this point, however. I find that when I have my working clothes on, I’m always thinking about having a slightly larger shooting envelope than I need plus allowances for redundancies in case something happens in the field – which means usually a second body, and a set of fast primes and the zooms. If I’m shooting for myself, one body and one lens is usually enough – if something stops working, or I feel like shooting only with the 135mm and find a scene that could use the 21mm – so be it; it isn’t the end of the world. Ironically, that fear of missing out is something that amateurs have difficulty in getting over to achieve some modicum of creative liberation, but it’s also what often saves a pro’s skin.

This kind of single-lens single-body choice is a good example of compromises made for my own biases. I’d rather not have to carry more hardware than necessary, but at the same time, I don’t want to compromise on image quality in case I want to make an Ultraprint of it later. I’d rather have one or two really excellent images where everything comes together, rather than a dozen with compromised image quality or a sore back – because that isn’t fun, and if it isn’t fun, it rather defeats the point of doing something for yourself. If you’re not sure of what your objective is, a good way to find out is to look through previous work and see if there’s a common theme in the images you like – be it subject, focal length, light level (low light needs faster lenses or larger sensors, you may be able to get away with less if you prefer images in tropical sun). It’s a question of both style and execution.

I’ve had extensive discussions with some of my students in the past over the role restrictions play in nurturing creativity: in short, a big one. By introducing limitations – for example, having only a very wide or very telephoto lens to work with – you force yourself to find a way around them in order to achieve the desired outcome (i.e. in this case, an interesting image, perhaps in the form of some serious abstraction or a focus only for the details). Of course, it’s important to also recognise there are situations in which this approach simply doesn’t work for your objective, or more likely, the creative experiments don’t immediately yield satisfying results. It’s even more important not to be discouraged by this.

Personally, limitations have twice yielded very positive results for me – firstly, when shooting in low light with cameras that didn’t have the same capabilities of today, I took inspiration from Alex Majoli’s work and looked for highly contrasting subjects that would be conducive to spot metering for the highlights to let them define shape and form through creation of negative space; secondly, attempting to use fast lenses but escape the typical ‘wall of bokeh’ lead me to the cinematic style. Of course, neither is appropriate all the time, but they’re two more useful tools to have in the arsenal to expand one’s overall versatility.

I’m going to leave you with some examples of setups I find sufficiently versatile in the manner previously described – hopefully this will provide a useful starting point when packing your bags. Notice I haven’t listed specific cameras – this is because I’m sure the list will change over time, and land up changing as the tools themselves evolve.

General urban
A long and a wide perspective. Zooms can be useful if you’re intending to shoot in the rain.

Still life and studio
A medium telephoto, perhaps with perspective control. Off-camera lighting, modifiers and a tripod. No reason not to control everything if you can…optimum image quality is achievable with some care.

Reportage and documentary
Small, light, responsive; go wider rather than longer because you can always compose in additional context, but the same is not true of a tighter frame, or get closer. Choose low light capability and speed over resolution; the conditions under which these kinds of images are typically shot are not conducive to obtaining optimum image quality anyway.

Sport and wildlife
There is no replacement for speed and reach here. Often you simply can’t get closer.

I prefer moderate wides (extreme wides can be difficult to use and filter) and mid to long telephotos. Perspective control is helpful, both for additional depth of field with longer lenses, as well as perspective control for wider ones. Don’t forget the ND and polarising filters; you can’t replicate the effect of these afterwards.

Family and portrait
Here, you want responsiveness and a flattering rendering: lenses that are perhaps a little more forgiving of age. One or two fast primes tend to be the way to go.

Professional work
Take everything you think you’re going to need and then double it just in case – Murphy’s law can and does happen.

Remember, cameras and lenses are tools. The tool’s capabilities are important, selecting the right tool for the job is important, but ultimately, the one wielding it should be in control – not the other way around. MT


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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  1. I’d love to see an interchangeable lens version of the Leica Q. I don’t have a crystal ball, but were I to guess, the Q, if successful, may portend a new branch in Leica’s direction: the consideration of an ILC variant.

    Four or five ‘Q Series’ lenses would really be all they’d need with such a camera. The technical challenge would be keeping the lens sizes small while offering autofocus. Obviously it would need to add a focal plane shutter.

    And before anyone says, “They won’t do it because it would eat into the M’s market share,” I would respectfully reply with, “If the Q is a big hit, then perhaps Leica needs to listen to the message its customers are sending.”

    I suspect the M would continue to sell just fine—it’s already a niche instrument for a specific type of buyer; that’s not likely to change too much.

    • It may well come down to simple economics and a case of survival: the M might not be profitable enough alone anyway.

      • Agreed. I have a feeling that with the entire photography market contracting, that the 1-percenters alone aren’t going to be enough for Leica to remain profitable long-term.

        The Q is a fine example of Leica and Panasonic DNA seamlessly fused together to create something that truly showcases the best of both company’s know-how. I think it takes Leica back to it’s roots, when they were about ultimate quality for the sake of excellence in photography, not about luxury for the sake of avarice.

        • The ‘special editions’ – fake brassing, anybody? – definitely point to the latter…

          • Well, if Leica starts making “aged” Qs and selling them for twice the price, then I’ll agree, their rapacity knows no bounds. I can only hope that these “special edition” M cameras make Leica enough money to invest R&D into something more innovative and contemporary … and useful.

            “DIGLLOYD: …My advice to Leica is to abandon all the goofy collector kits (living off past glory IMO), dump the S line, and move all resources into a bad-ass new M-compatible platform while also extending the Q lineup.”

            My hunch is that while the ‘S’ series is a great idea in theory, in practice it’s too operationally slow and far too expensive to gain much traction among serious, practical shooters (certainly it holds no collector interest like the ‘M’).

            • Actually, the main problem with the S is the price. The lenses are superb, and reliability is less of an issue if you can afford two. But for what the camera offers – it is priced at the same level as the Hassy/Phase offerings and has 40% less resolution on a smaller sensor. It isn’t even competitive with the D810 or 5DSR, both of which cost a fifth of the price or less. You could buy a whole system with two bodies for the price of the S body alone – and get better image quality!

              • Yeah, I was just gonna say: You could get a D810 with Otus lenses and I’m guessing your quality wouldn’t be far off the Leica; perhaps near enough as makes no difference to the eyes of a client. And you end up with a far more versatile setup with a far faster and more well-rounded camera.

                The ‘S’ tries to bridge the gap between medium format camera and pro DSLR and ends up doing neither optimally.

                • Actually, the D800E and PCEs held up to the S2. Given the 810 and Otuses are visibly better than that…I think it’s game over. Even if the Leica is marginally better in less obvious ways, it’s not going to resolve more nor solve the price being that much higher.

                  • Clear choice for most, then. Which leads us back to the “it’s time for Leica to retire the ‘S’ lineup and focus on further modernizing the ‘M’ while fleshing out the ‘Q’. I suspect they’ll quietly put the ‘T’ out to pasture anyway. That thing’s been an abject failure.

    • Patric Gordon says:
  2. I often just have my X100 and only have to think about composition. It can be liberating but I have just picked up a cheap D7000 and 18-55 and it is a neat little walk around package. Not as nice and compact as the X100 but it is light and some zoom is helpful and I am often shooting at the ‘long’ end’. I always chimp. Why not? The 5D and the big lenses stay at home waiting for an assignment. Must say Ming you are making that Leica Q look good!

  3. Long time reader, first time comment. Love your site, your writing, your knowledge. The new Sony a7r ii specs is so alluring, I am contemplating getting the camera and the two new Batis 25mm f/2 and 85mm f/1.8. I trust your judgement, so here comes the question: any thought about reviewing these items in the future? If the answer is yes, I will hold off on my purchase.

    • Thanks. I’ve said this many times in the past…because I now have to pay sales tax and import GST on any US-sourced loaners and the local principals will not loan me cameras, I am out of pocket if I review something. I will only do this if the camera is interesting, and so long as Sony cripples its hardware with compressed files and abysmal local support, I’m not interested. I’ve already tried three of their compromised toys in the past and frankly been left disappointed each time. Short answer: no, no interest to review it or pay for the privilege. That should probably tell you enough about whether you should buy one. Sorry.

      • Indeed! Thanks Ming.

        • Francesco says:

          Consider diglloyd reviews if you are interested in A7rII and Batises.
          Notwithstanding current limitations, A7rII has the best sensor on the market and is one of the best compromises if you don’t want a DSLR (for weigth, EVF or other reasons).
          The cons Ming is underlining are obviously true and are serious issues…. also if the lack of local support IMHO is not a big problem if you are not a pro.
          Cheers, francesco

  4. It’s easy if I’m going around somewhere I’ve been before, but my problem is that I like to travel and I’m never sure what I will see. But I found life got easier once I started thinking “I will take a primary lens on one camera, and a secondary lens on another”, and then it got even easier once I decided that micro four thirds would be my “secondary” lens and camera. (I’d already decided on Samsung NX for my primary.) So now in good light I tend to take a wide-normal zoom on the samsung and a normal-long MFT zoom, or a MFT medium-long prime. Or else two primes, long and wide, one Samsung, one MFT. I find this way I minimise lens changing, but also avoid missing out on too many opportunities. I noticed in your videos you seem to do the same with a 28mm equivalent and an 85mm.
    The only drawback is that even for my systems fast primes are either expensive, heavy, or both, but whenever I feel my equipment isn’t good enough, all I have to do is handle a full frame camera or one of the 500g+ lenses and I lose all desire to switch!

    • I’m assuming you’re not using the NX1? That thing is surprisingly large and heavy…

      • Yep, NX30 user (and NX20 backup). I’m waiting for the NX50 to come out with the 28mp sensor but a lighter smaller body (probably next year). I would still gain on the lenses even with the NX1, mind you, the 12-24 is good, and relatively small and light, the 30 is tiny and really excellent, the 16 is tiny and good enough for my needs. There’s a light and small 45 too, and even the 60mm is not that heavy compared to FF equivalents. (None of those lenses are particularly fast, unfortunately.)
        Samsung (like most manufacturers) still seems to think better cameras must be heavier – that’s why I value the Panasonic GM5 so much as a second camera – a genuinely full featured small camera. Perhaps in another couple of sensor generations MFT performance will be good enough that I just use those…..

  5. Ming,

    Speaking of ‘lenses that are perhaps a little more forgiving of age’, which Nikon FF lenses does this category include?


    • The ones with less microcontrast and resolving power – basically, pretty much anything pre-AFS…

    • Yep, AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF is a good choice here, particularly shot wide open. Just have to take extra care with one’s focusing.

      The 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor AI-S manual focus is also a good choice, though probably too soft wide open. f/1.4 – f/2, however, can yield images with a very slightly soft, almost “untouchable” quality to them, depending on how you light your subject.

  6. Thank you. You have helped end an ongoing discussion about necessary -v- unnecessary gear that a friend and I have had for months now. Neither of us would give an inch. We are both hobbyists and now agree that one size does not to fit all and planning for the desired outcome solves one heap of issues. Liked your bad back comment too, been there done that.

  7. You definitely touched a nerve by discussing “gear” and making the decision about what to carry much simpler and easier. One can agonize a bit over what to take on a trip that would include say urban, land and seascapes, as well as some bird watching and wildlife shooting. One can only carry so much and still enjoy the experience and get what one wants. More and more, changing lenses does not appeal to me at all. Enter the GR. What a great option “eliminator.” A killer of other gear in a small package. In short, no matter what else you want to do (objectives) “the Ricoh GR always gets to go along for the ride.” Why not? You hardly notice you’re carrying it and for me it covers 28-50mm, color and B&W, because I don’t mind cropping it for people shots that I know don’t need to printed/sized any larger than 8×10, or 7×5 inches, or full sensor size, at the 12×18 max on my printer. So, no decision at all; no reason not to take it. But alas, I just ordered the Leica Q too, for all the reasons that have emerged, and the fact that the GR will drive you crazy in bright outside sunlight. But . . . When the Olympus M1 comes out at the other end, with the new 40-150mm f2.8 zoom, and the 25mm f1.4 (50mm) and 75mm (150mm) lens, it will still be the GR that gets to come along for the wide angle, out of the pocket camera with lens attached. Cannot see the Leica Q as a second camera to carry around when chasing birds, or even next week, taking wedding pictures for a friend in Jamaica. Gotta be the Q by itself alone, or perhaps with a light, m4/3 with the 50mm f1.4 lens. Two cameras with lenses can easily fit into one medium sized camera bag, and you still have a pocket for the GR. And alas, no lens changing, or to put it better, no decisions about what and how many lenses to carry. So, yes, a very timely and ever-nagging topic that never seems to go away, especially when companies like Leica keep surprising us all.

  8. Kristian Wannebo says:

    For the amateur photographer trying to make a photo of whatever turns him/her on, finding the right carry-always equipment takes a long learning curve.
    Not so much about differences in the shooting envelopes,
    but rather about which aspects of photography you are willing to do without (and also about how much you *really* feel like carrying)!

    And, as Ming says, a smaller number of photo items in your bag/pockets can very well mean bringing a larger crop home to judge!

    Personallly I’m hoping for a good T(/S)-adapter for some mirrorless.
    ( German Mirex say they *may* consider the Fuji X or Canon EF-M in addition to their T/S for Sony E to Canon EF.)

    • Be careful with the T/S adaptors: most of them aren’t geared and are very difficult to set precisely because of this.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Yes, thanks, you have warned me before!

        Maybe though Mirex being german may make one of better quality, one can only hope…

  9. Timely article, once again. I decided to ditch a m43 system for D750, 35/1.8G and 85/1.8G. That combination should keep me happy for a long while. I hesitated a little about the 35 because its versatility is almost a problem, and I tend to use it poorly as a portrait or a landscape lens (though it can also be used well as either). However, the combination of price, weight and quality was hard to beat in the “normal” category, and a 50mm would call for adding a wide option right away.

    Now I will have to learn to use the camera in various situations (it’s not as straightforward as an OM-D, but seems to broaden the envelope quite a bit), and take the opportunity to reassess what I want to with my hobby. It may sound like a silly goal *after* buying new stuff, but I know what I can do technically and compositionally. Now I feel that the main limitation is a lack of purpose that would drive my development to a specific direction. Previously it has been as simple as “travel documentary” but that is very generic, getting old for me, and the opportunities will be limited in the near future. Perhaps it’s time to look at some books and watch that Salgado document or something.

    • I don’t think it’s silly at all. I’ve been through several phases of my own photography where I’ve had drastic reductions to reassess direction (a very comprehensive Nikon DX setup to just a D4, 24-70 and 70-300 for instance; then all of that for an M8 and two lenses). I tend to find it’s not a bad thing from time to time…

  10. Since the announcement of the A7RII I have been playing with the tought of combining it with a Canon TS-E 24 and a Pentax 45-85 on a Mirex T/S adapter. The Pentax is probably not up to Otus standards, but it has a good reputation, it’s cheap (at least the manual focus one) and one would have the benefit of perspective control. I think it would make an awesome landscape/architecture setup.
    Unfortunately, I’m heavily invested in Fuji X and the depreciation of the photo gear is too high to justify switching systems easily… At least that’s what I try to tell me to prevent me from switching 😀

    • The Pentax isn’t going to hold up at that pixel pitch. It wasn’t acceptable on the 645Z til f11, by which you’ve long hit diffraction limits on the A7RII.

  11. I ve been eyeing the Gr for a while, I seem to gravitate more and more towards black and white photos and I love the look you get from it, Ming. Like Mikko said they are starting to be at a very nice price and as the new version is not too differerent it makes it even more tempting to me. I am walking around all the time with a d70+35mm and it has forced a lot more creativity on how to compose/live with the small shooting envelope.

  12. “Unfortunately” I am finding my Olympus OM-D E-M10 images so satisfying on an enthusiast level that my Nikon D750 is being left behind way more that it deserved. Not going to the “100% RAW in Lightroom” way, I wish my Nikon’s images were much better for me, but the Oly’s JPEGs are the “damn, I like this one more!” winners… Yes, old Ming’s times with his beloved E-M5… <:ˆ)

  13. I carry a Nikon FF with a 24-70, 70-300 vr zoom and have most events and occasional sports covered. However, I find that for leisure I shoot almost exclusive with a wide from my 20/28/35 collection and pair it with my 50/58/85. I tend to carry either a single zoom lens or 2 primes at most, carry more lens if the occasion required. For my style of shooting (Events/Docu and Portrait), I find I can get most things covered even with one prime lens set up of either 28, 35 or 55. I have own and sold enough cameras to know it is better to invest in lenses than camera bodies. BUT recently I feel the want to have a spare body, but instead of sticking to same system, I broke the rule and gone back to Sony FE system, I still keep the FE 55, pre-ordered the A7RII with a pair of Batis simply because I can’t resist the lure of FF Zeiss with AF!

    • Ahh, if only the Otuses were AF – they’d probably be the ultimate lenses, ever. However, you also run into the problems with anything electronic eventually having issues of compatibility or longevity – I suppose at least this way my grandchildren can still use them…

  14. Hi Ming Thein, I`m most of the time a silent reader on your side. Thanks to take your time teaching us your knowledge.
    My simple question today is about the word “perspective”. In simple words, could you kindly tell me what exactly means the perspective in the photography? Like this word in your above text…”Perspective control is helpful…”

    Many thanks Ming Thein

    Hoan Luong

    • Normally, perspective is the spatial relationship between physical camera position, subject, foreground and background. In the context of that sentence it specifically refers to tilt/shift lenses, which can give you a higher virtual perspective by using shift.

  15. John Nicholson says:

    Very clarifying article, thanks. I like going to new places or spaces and just walking around trying to see what I’m seeing. For this I’m in the process of staging a contest between my Fuji X100S with 50mm teleconverter and my Leica X Vario. As everyone knows, there’s an awful lot to like about the Fuji and much to be said for working only with one focal length, but the Leica is winning for me, because its lens is so good it’s like having four primes. And since the Fuji has to be stopped down to get maximum crispness, while the Leica has a superb combination of optic and sensor, the difference in light gathering is much less significant than it looks on paper. And they seem to me level-pegging on black and white ooc jpegs. So my travel kit is tending towards the X Vario for IQ and haptics (with an extra home-made thumb-pad above the rear wheel) + the Leica C for occasional zooming (amazingly small and light and punches above its class IQ-wise). And then, as you say, working round limitations with what you’ve got rather than wishing for what you haven’t got.

    • I think the XV got a lot of stick because of the slow lens – there is software correction involved, but the results are pretty good. I just think it needs proper OIS and a built in EVF…Q Vario, anybody?

  16. liramusic says:

    Time limitations is what gets to me the most. The following is very abstract (and what can I really add anyway), but I have days when I am “ahead of the curve.” I feel like there’s this curve of grace & energy as I head out. There is really not an exact formula but some days feel much better than others. I can’t exactly predict which is which ahead of time. I love fx. I can’t afford a small, fx set up so I try to be in love with what I have. The walk-around is one fx body and the nikkor 24-70mm g lens; for casual days wandering around that’s it.
    I get some interesting pictures but I am still getting a “snapshot look.” Only occasionally can I get a more pro look. I take people pictures far more than non-people ones. I’d say only one in a thousand times can I get a photo that is so clear that it looks a little like yours, Ming. Anyway, rather than think about my equipment I think of clarity of my ideas and the emotional simplicity of a moment. Maybe 80% of the time that I am there have the camera down and off my shoulder but with no lens cap on. I give people a chance to accept that I’m going to take a picture of something before we say goodbye…
    When I first get the camera out and turn it on, I check iso and set the mode I want. Then I leave the camera on. When I do take a few photos I try to not look at what I have. Is that chimping? I try to not chimp! I mean yikks, I am standing right with the person. How awkward would that be to look at my pictures on the screen as they stare at me?
    I’m not under that much performance pressure. So I try to have a fluid way of being in the situation rather than being outside of it. The camera is left on; lens cap is off and in my back pocket. I try to be a smooth and seamless as a dancer about taking a few pictures. I dislike that hyper-paparazzi like of style where the photographer has nothing to do with the scene. I try to not provoke posed reactions.
    Then on a deeper level what I am wondering to myself is about random things like imperfections within a picture. I am not opposed to shooting without even looking in the viewfinder. Life is a bit out of control anyway– real life I mean. I ask myself, how can I depict 1% chaos in a photo. Maybe I think of that as the 1% chaos that’s part of life. I am a little bit older so life starts to be thought if as the stuff that is unexpected rather than what was perfectly planned.
    This was a little vague so I hope it added.

    • I always have a camera in hand, I chimp, and yes, sometimes having too many choices of focal length isn’t helpful – either because there are too many compositional options, or because it’s easy to frame with the zoom instead of picking the perspective first.

      • liramusic says:

        I am honored to read your replies. I “try” to not chimp. :)))) I try. I just got the 24-70mm. I read all your replies, Ming. Thanks for taking the time. I am sort in awe of the clarity of your photos! “I try to not be a chimp.” :))))

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        but a zoom also gives the freedom to frame precisely
        *after* you have let your feet – and usually quite a few joints in your body – choose the direction of view and the perspective.

  17. I am traveling throughout France for 12 days this Fall including Paris, Normandy, and a few other stops. I was planning on bringing my Em1 with the 12-40mm f2.8 (for the water resistance and the lack of need to change lenses) and the Ricoh GR (for back up or for times when I want to travel light and prefer to leave the rest locked in the hotel safe). Would also probably bring the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 for when I need speed as the 12-40 and GR are both 2.8 (and the 20 is so small and light and takes little space in the bag). Your article has started to make me reconsider. The GR (28mm equivalent), EM1 with the Panasonic 25mm f1.4 (50mm equivalent) and the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (90mm equivalent) thrown in the bag might be a better choice. Would require minimal lens chances as I usually shoot between 28-50 mm equivalent.

    • I’d go with the second combination, personally. Lots of night opportunities under which the extra stops will be helpful…

      • Another vote for the second combination. With the 25mm f/1.4 you have 2 stops more light to work with. The 45mm f/1.8 fits in jacket pocket, so it’s not much trouble to carry around.

  18. You mention for landscape photography, a moderate wide lens… is that the 20mm-35mm focal range?

  19. Alex Carnes says:

    I’m stuck in limbo at the moment w.r.t. gear. The problem is, I want a very high quality 28mm (or equivalent) for landscape and architecture, but it seems to be a traumatic focal length for the manufacturers for some reason! I’m lucky in that a high quality 28 and 50 would pretty much do for me, but Sony’s new 28/2 is nothing amazing, nor is Canon’s 28/2.8 or 28/1.8, and nor is Nikon’s 28/1.8G. So I tend to use a Ricoh GR and a Sony A7R with the 55/1.8, but it’s not ideal. The new Leica Q interests me, but from what I’ve seen, the quality isn’t really better than a Sony A7/R with the 28/2, mostly due to the effects of electronic distortion correction (they’re both about as bad in that regard, as far as I can tell). I like the GR but I miss the Sony’s detail and dynamic range… I’d really like to settle on just one ILC with 28,50,85 primes, and maybe get an X-T1 and that new weatherproof 18-55/2.8 for use in foul conditions. But the dearth of decent 28s is a serious rub for a high quality system. I’ll probably just settle for the new A7Rii, get the Batis lenses, and be done. And hope they fix that godawful ‘RAW’ format of theirs!

  20. As you write, assignments need proper tools. Then there’s the “fun factor” and the “creativity training”: as another reader wrote, it’s funny to use unusual focal lenses for some kind of photography, like going long and narrow on the streets, or use a long tele for landscaping, or a wide lens for portraits or close up shots.

    Personally I’ve come to accept a missed opportunity of a photo: if I could not take it, then it was not meant to be. A good way to avoid some frustration. Of course I’m not going to feel the same if I realize I missed a good shot on an assignment.

    • That’s my problem: I’m increasingly finding myself shooting on assignment these days, so there are no opportunities for missed shots. If I’m flying solo, one camera and one lens is enough.

  21. Usually I’m going out with the 6D with 85mm and Ricoh GR in my pocket.

    • Which of the 85mms do you use? Looking for something light/small (not necessarily fast) for the 5DSR, but so far there’s the 1.8 which isn’t great, and the 1.2 which isn’t great AND weighs a ton.

      • Does it have to be exactly 85mm? What about 5mm longer, i.e. the TS-E 90mm f/2.8? Granted, it’s not as light as the 85/1.8, but compared to the 1.2 as well as your Otus, I’ll say it’s still small and light enough.

        • Doesn’t have to be, but AF would be preferable since I already have the 85PCE, 90 APO-Lanthar and Otus…

          • Ah, I see. Unfortunately, there’s not much choice in AF-capable native EF mount 85mm then — the 85/1.8 with purple fringing, 85L which is heavy, slow and also has tons of purple fringing, and the Sigma 85/1.4 which is a compromise between the two, as long as you get a copy that focuses properly. A lot of people praise the 85/1.8 despite its flaws… I suppose it’s still the best among the three, though you have to deal with the PF and LOCA in post.

            • That’s the same conclusion I came to – no matter, there’s the 85/1.8G on the D810 for that role…

              • Ming, I am a bit surprised by your criticism of the two EOS 85mm lenses.

                Are you critical of their corner performance when shot wide open for planar subjects? Or their general quality?

                I think generally they are two excellent lenses, the L lens being big, heavy and slow focusing ( due to all the glass it has to move ). I don’t think I would shoot either lens wide open unless shooting a close portrait ( “broken smudge” as I call it, would hide any purple fringing ). And if I any digress for a moment, the purple fringe thing is another reason why an electronic viewfinder is better to work with than an optical one; you can see the fringing BEFORE making the capture, and can stop down a third or two thirds of a stop and shift angle ever so slightly and you’ll see the purple disappear without significant impact on your motif and saving you time faffing around in post production ( for readers who don’t know where I am coming from on this, , I have cams with both types of viewfinder ).

                And which 85L are you being critical of, the current Mark II variant or the previous model?

                • I’m critical of their cross-frame performance, microcontrast, and CA in all directions. There’s no point in buying a fast 85 if I have to use it at f5.6 to do a decent job on the 5DSR; even less point if one of those lenses is an f1.2 model (yes, even the Mark II) with the price and weight to match. That was already showing CA on the 1DIV. If I’m going to carry an 85mm boat anchor – it’ll be the Otus, which I already own. The 24-70/4 IS L might actually be a better way to go.

      • It’s 1.8.
        Sometimes I use canon 200mm 2.8 and I was thinking to sell both the 85 and the 200, for an 70-200 zoom, but I like too much the fixed 200mm 2.8, light and quite sharp.

      • You can try our mutual Vancouverite friend’s favorite, the Tamron 90/2.8 macro. I think he likes the later version that has OIS. The earlier one doesn’t.

  22. Teoh KB says:

    What about astro-photography (e.g., milkyway & star trail, sort of), what might be the minimum equipment / specs you think required to achieve the results easier ?

    • I can’t say for sure because I’ve done very little of that – not being anywhere that has clear skies most of the time is a bit of a problem – but you’d want to collect as much light as possible to avoid star trails, and have a camera with good long exposure characteristics to make trails. The 1/300 rule applies – your minimum shutter speed before seeing trails is in seconds 1/(300 divided by FL in 35mm) – plus minus a bit. Fast and wide is therefore the best – something like a Sigma 24/1.4 Art…

    • Teoh KB: try visiting various astrophotography fora and sites: Cloudy Nights, dpreview fora, for astro-weather (clarity of sky; degree of light pollution),, (great beginner info), David Kingham, and many more.
      Another vote for the Samyang/Bower/Rokinon/ProOptic 14mm f/2.8, a great bargain manual focus lens with minimal coma wide open. This is the one you want for FF wide-wide Milky Way photos made in one frame. Copies vary, some aren’t very good. I am also fond of my Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 and Sigma Art 35 f/1.4 for landscape astrophotography – those lenses I use a lot for daytime work too. I could have bought the much cheaper MF Samyang 24 or 35 if I didn’t plan on using the Zeiss or Sigma for day work. Recently there’s been a lot of buzz about the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 for landscape astrophotography, coma is low wide open. I have seen nice work with the Sigma Art 50 mm f/1.4 and even longer lenses, in panorama captures of 5 to 20 images or so. Any recent full frame or even APS-C camera can be used. Any decent tripod and head, any remote release.

  23. I carry a 28mm, a 50mm and a 135mm alongside my Canon AE-1. The 135 works great for getting up close on the street, but it´s a bit heavy to handle. Maybe 85mm would be a more sensible choice to walk around with.

    • Some of the slower mid teles aren’t too bad – the Nikon 105/2.5 AI and 135/2.8 AI were pretty small; I’d imagine the manual focus FD lens to be similar. Even the Voigt 180/4 APO-Lanthar is teeny.

      • The 135/2.5 is 105 mm long, but it weighs 650 grams(its the old breechlock model) It feels rather massive in the hand. Looking at some specs online, the 85/1.8 weighs 300 grams less. This is the nFD version though, so the body is plastic.

        However I am looking forward to using the 135/2.5 on a tripod for landscape shots. Gonna try making some dramatic mountain shots this summer.

  24. Normally I’ll get by with just the PanaLeica 25mm/1.4 on one body. Or if I carry two, then the 14mm/2.5 on one, and the 45mm/1.8 on the other.

    • A sensible choice!

    • I usually have the E-M1 with the 40-150mm f/2.8 or a telephoto prime (45mm, 60mm, 75mm). Just recently purchased the Ricoh GR to cover wide angle. I used to carry the E-M10 + 17mm f/1.8, but I wanted something truly pocket-size. I’m finding that the Ricoh GR easily beats my previous wide angle setup in IQ and exposure latitude. Another huge bonus is that I can charge it in the boat or car using an inexpensive 12V USB adapter. Overall it’s almost perfect. If only it had some sort of stabilizer, it’s not uncommon for me to be shooting from a boat. Oh well, can’t have it all I guess.

      • Short of the Q, the GR still remains the best all-round wide solution – even including the FF lens options, especially if you include price and bulk into the consideration.

        • As far as I can tell, there’s _nothing_ out there that can match the GR in both size and IQ. The Leica Q will definitely beat it in IQ by a wide margin, but it’s three times as thick and over twice as heavy. The RX100 is very portable, but can’t touch the GR in IQ and usability. At the moment used GR’s are popping up for sale at very reasonable prices, so anyone looking for a low cost, truly portable, high IQ wide angle solution should look no further.

          • Don’t forget also about eight times the price! I will say that the shooting experience is very different…this from somebody mostly on the fence about Leica’s other recent offerings.

        • Peter Bowyer says:

          I’ve seen the Ricoh GR mentioned a lot on this site, yet reading your review Ming ( I got the impression you were lukewarm about the camera (save for IQ). Did your assessment and enjoyment evolve after writing that article?

          • Very much so. Initial color interpretation by ACR was the main thing holding me back, which subsequently got fixed. I’ve since shot 12,000 images with mine including several assignments, and it’s only recently been superseded by the Leica Q.

            • Peter Bowyer says:

              Thanks Ming, that’s really helpful. With the price the GR now is, I am considering it as a camera to tide me over until I can answer the mojo question (“what do I want to communicate? And why is photography – vs video, writing, painting etc – the right way to do this, when the world is saturated with images?”).

              I’d like the Leica Q and its effect on my mojo, but there are more necessary family things to spend the money on. I did consider a cheap m4/3 kit as it’s small and light, but on long reflection the edgy, contrasty rendition of OOF areas isn’t me. If I was shooting landscapes at f16+ I’d love it, but I’m not.

      • My set up is exactly the same as yours. I use this set-up for hiking, so a mixture of wildlife, macro and landscape. Looking at getting the wide-angle converter for the GR though. Mikko or Ming, have either of you tried the wide angle adapter on the gr?

        • Sorry, no experience with the wide angle converter. Personally I have no interest in it, 21mm is too wide for land scapes IMO, unless it’s a T/S lens that I can use for stitching.

        • Yes, I use it quite a lot – I find it’s a little softer at f2.8, but excellent again by f4. Makes for a very handy wide setup – the converter and lens’ optics are well matched.

        • I like the 21mm adapter, too, though I wish the holster had a cutout, so you can still carry the thing with the adapter on it. The GR is surprisingly versatile. I’ve used it for street, events, landscape, and even astrophotography, though the 21 does tend to flare a bit at long exposures.

          Also, if you look on the DPR Ricoh forums a couple of months back, someone modified his GR to take the Fuji 50mm converter. It is a pretty drastic modification, but the results look really good.

          • Yes! The holster needs a cutout like the Leica one to accommodate that lens. I land up using it only when I have a picket that will accommodate it.

            Ricoh used to make a 40mm converter for the original GR – the GT1 – sadly it doesn’t work. I don’t see why trying a few threaded 46mm converters might not yield results though…

  25. Speaking of self-imposed limitations, sometimes its fun to go against the norm as a creative exercise to see just how far one can make do with it, like taking only a 35mm to the zoo instead of the expected telephoto zoom.

    • Indeed. And that’s the jist of this article…

      • scott devitte says:

        I just reread this article on travel w/one lens and then reread your 5dsr part 1 . When I first read it I didn’t look at which lens was used per shot, this time I did, I was struck by how many were the 40mm 2.8. Damn! I love 40mm on full frame. 5dsr/40,2.8 is not all that big and sure makes an arresting combo. For the price of Otus 55mm you get a hell of a walk around. itchy credit card.

  26. I normally carry 18-55 and 55-300 VR lenses, but find that having just one body means I have to decide beforehand what I’m going to shoot. So, I miss out some shots that I would have liked to take, but till I get another body I don’t have much of a choice.

    This is why I find your suggestions on working around limitations quite useful. One needs to learn to make the most of what one has. Thanks for the post!


  1. […] wrote an article on selecting equipment about a month ago; ironic that I’m now having to revisit the process myself. The problem is […]

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