It has been a while since we wrote a gear-related post. For the last few months we have concentrated on seeing, composition, light, emotions and projects etc., the least popular concepts in photography 🙂
It’s time to correct this omission!
I must admit that the endless stream of emails and online inquiries about “which lens/lenses should I buy” prompted me to tackle this issue head on.
First, I have minimal interest, if any, in the technical aspects of gear. If you are looking for charts, technical discussions or pixel-in-depth scrutiny of every lens you could spend your time better elsewhere. This article is aimed at people who are (1) new to the Fujifilm X-series family, (2) are looking to revamp their photography, or (3) are new to photography in general.
My approach to choosing photographic gear is vision-related, rooted in my own seeing and years of shooting with numerous cameras and lenses. As one of the first adopters of the Fujifilm X-series line (shooting with the original X100) and someone who has worked with all X-series Fujinon lenses and cameras, my primary goal is not to overload you with gear choices. I prefer to put you on the right path to creating strong imagery. Most importantly, I want you to avoid the most common mistakes when starting in photography.
Here is the most common faux pas – buying multiple lenses or, even worse, multiple zoom lenses. Please don’t!
I know the prevalent line of thinking. You are excited about your new adventure in photography and are hyped about your new gear. Researching and discussing your purchases makes you feel as high as a kite. I was flying lots of them. You believe that choosing the right camera and lenses will make your photography truly great! No, you don’t want to take half measures! You want the best, all of it and now!
If you really care about imagery and the art of seeing you must calm down and ask yourself the following question: “Am I interested in creating great imagery or I am more interested in gear?” If you answered “gear” that’s okay as long as you are aware of this.
Here is my memo! START WITH ONE FOCAL LENGTH ONLY!
When you purchase your first lens, you should have two objectives in mind:
- To learn how to switch from practical seeing (I don’t want to bump into something while walking) to a new level of observational and creative seeing. In other words, for the first year, your objective should be to learn how to concentrate, observe and eventually craft strong imagery.
- To achieve the level of seeing which allows you to observe and craft your imagery without looking through the viewfinder. Your vision must become your camera and vice-versa. You must fine-tune your seeing to the focal length you are using. The more often you change lenses (focal lengths) the more difficult this task will be.
Why do you think great masters of photography shot most of their work with one focal length? They spent years pairing their seeing with one focal length. It became second nature for them to see imagery everywhere. Most importantly, they could eliminate elements from their frame without using the camera.
“A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.” – Dorothea Lange
Here are two lenses you should consider as your first X-series lenses.
X100F (23mm F2) or 23mm F2 – in full-frame terms these are 35mm lenses, which are slightly wider than your eyesight. One of the reasons I opt for the 23mm focal length for your first lens is that you will be forced to get closer to your subject and work harder to watch the corners of your frame.
The other reason I am advocating the X100F (23mm) is because you get your first lens and excellent, small, super-capable camera in one package. If the price is a concern, get the X100S or T. They are perfectly fine as your first camera. Don’t listen to online forums whining about the camera’s AF speed. If you want to learn photography properly, speed is your worst enemy!
XF 23mm F2 – if you prefer to invest in an interchangeable camera such as the X-T20, X-Pro2, X-E3 or any other brand, start with the 23mm lens (35 in FF).
Courtesy of Jonas Rask
XF 35mm F2 – the other excellent option would be to start with something even easier to learn – the XF 35mm F2 lens (50mm in FF terms). It is inexpensive and has a weather-sealed lens with beautiful rendering – it’s all you need to pair with your new camera. Most importantly, the 50mm focal length is roughly equivalent to human sight so the view is natural.
Courtesy of Jonas Rask
If you really need to start with two lenses get yourself the XF 23mm F2 and 50mm F2 lenses. Why not 56mm F1.2? Because I want you to spend your money on education and books!
Courtesy of Jonas Rask
Here is a proviso – never ever carry two lenses with you during your first year (the only exception would be for long-haul travel). When you leave home take one or the other so you won’t be tempted to keep switching them like a maniac.
Most importantly, don’t fall for the hype about buying a full bag of gear. Sure, it’s exciting and self-fulfilling (initially) to parade with a fancy $500 handmade camera bag full of a brand-new gear but it won’t help you learn to see. With a plethora of lenses at your disposal you will be constantly struggling with the question: “Should I change the lens?” instead of concentrating on seeing, composing and crafting from the elements in front of you.
This early adaptation period between your vision and your new camera and a lens is crucial to your learning. It takes time to synchronize and fine-tune both.
Despite the rush of excitement associated with purchasing new gear, some restraint in the early stages of your photographic adventure is essential. Starting with one camera and one lens will allow you to focus on observation and seeing. You will be forced to scrutinize your frame and perspective and craft your imagery rather than hassling with a bag full of gear.
Final note: When researching and reading about lenses (or cameras) stay away from technical-oriented, chart-obsessed websites and reviewers. Instead, find great photographers who use the lenses in real-life situations and have much more to say about them than just the technical details (rendering, feel, etc.). My friend Jonas Rask, who has worked with all the Fujinon lenses and written great pieces about them, would be one of my first choices. Make sure to check out his website as well as his monthly gear-related articles in the FujiLove Magazine.
Here is our imagery, all taken with the X100F, X-Pro2 and various lenses.
Next time, I will talk about ways to expand your lens selection in terms of your photographic interests.
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