Create: Going Solo with the 50mm

I post this with mixed emotions. The photographic gear crowd and their incessant babble in regard to equipment are not only tiring they continue to reduce the photographic industry to a gear-obsessed, geeky organization that the rest of the creative world has a hard time taking seriously.

So with this in mind, I bring you the idea of going solo with a 50mm. In short, you don’t need anything else, so stop thinking about gear, stop talking about gear and just buy another battery. The key with equipment is to actually use it. Make pictures, edit pictures, sequence pictures, print pictures. It’s actually quite simple.

My most recent project was two-weeks in Albania, which you know because I’ve posted about it at least four times. I used the Fuji 35mm (50mm equivalent) the entire trip. That’s it. That’s all I used. What I ended up with is 92-pages of content and a Blurb Premium Magazine. And I have to say, it looks and feels damn good.

More than a few intelligent people I know claim the only thing keeping photography alive is the absolute deluge of gear being sold, that the industry itself died long ago, and perhaps there is some truth to this. One visit to most modern “photography” events and you realize these things are designed for the “widget hounds,” who want to obsess over the latest and greatest. But I don’t want to know or hang with those folks.

My interest in photography is in images, context, process, and story. And one of the best ways I’ve found to focus on these things is to reduce my gear as much as humanly possible.

27 Comments on “Create: Going Solo with the 50mm”

  1. well said. In the past few months I had the opportunity to photograph daily for 10 days in Naples, Italy. While I brought a 35mm lens with me and even a 28mm, all of my photographs were made with the 50mm. Never saw a need to use anything else. In fact, in recent years, other than pure travel photos, i rarely have moved away from a 50mm — nifty 50.

    1. David,
      I think we get used to a view and the familiarity of the lens allows us to concentrate on what’s in front

  2. Decades ago I went through my photo gear phase, and then I finally saw the light. My finances were a bit tight, and I was not making a living with photography, so I settled on the Yashica FX-3 series of 35mm cameras with a Zeiss 50mm f 1.4 lens. I had, by that time other lenses, but basically never used them. I think that set up served me rather well.
    I must add that I am getting more and more irritated by the endless photography gear discussions. It’s the photo stupid!
    Can you imagine painters going on endlessly about what paint they use, who makes the best brushes, etc…??

    1. Christian,
      I’m sure artists have a bit of geek but I’ve never been privy to that conversation. I forgot about my Nikon F3 with Zeiss…..50mm. I have that too!

  3. Amen to that. I moved to a one camera, one les sent up about 4 years ago. I now sold every other piece of equipment I had but the 50mm and the 2 bodies. I tried to shoot again with the 35, but ever since I got used to the 50, the 35 no longer felt right to me. I do enjoy the simplicity very much.

    1. Martin,
      I always THINK I’m going to use the 35, and I do from time to time. Yesterday I hiked Santa Fe Baldy and took the 35. I loaned the second body and 50 to the person I was hiking with. Will post this trip soon. I love my Leica 50 and my Nikon/Zeiss 50 as well.

  4. I started with the 50mm and then went to 35mm where I am now. One camera, one lens. Next: delete all Youtube channels and blogs which talk about gear. Thanks for the reminders to shoot more and print your work. Added bonus: more time to read,

    1. Alan,
      35 is a good choice too. I have a few friends who are die-hard 28mm fans. Whatever works. And yes, reading is one of the keys to life. Free education.

  5. My true love in the 50mm on a crop sensor, but I’ve been working with the 35mm (50mm equivalent, roughly) lately and am starting to feel the love, a little.

    A little long though, man, that’s a nice place to be.

    But anyways, when I am going somewhere, I always strap on one lens only. Occasionally it’s the 300mm on the APS-C sensor, which is a trip. Also, heavy as hell and a pain in the ass. But, a trip.

    1. Molitor,
      That’s me. 35mm, 50 equivalent on the Fuji XT2, so cropped. I do love a good full-frame 50 however. My film images with Leica or Nikon/Zeiss with 50mm are probably the best images I’ve ever made.

  6. One camera, one lens… the manufacturers are going to put a contract out on you, mostly because you’re right and that’s bad economics for them, but positive in every way for photographers!

    In 2010 I took a commissioned book assignment and decided to sell my complete kit of Nikon lenses and digital bodies and return to a one body one lens approach like I had as a cash strapped photojournalism student. It was the best decision I could have made. It got me back to making better photographs because I was forced to engage my mind and my feet to make good photographs in less than ideal conditions, and to see different image possibilities in those situations.

    Making the best work we can, and investing in printing and / or bookmaking is the best way to use our hard earned funds… and just maybe we can sell enough of the prints and books to keep funding our creative growth rather than the retirement plans of CEOs.

    1. Q,
      Believe me, if there was a 1% chance of sponsorship left it was completely eradicated after this post. No wonder camera brands want nothing to do with me, but here’s my thought. The benefit of less equipment is better photographs. Better photographs mean happier photographers. Happier photographers mean healthier industry. Healthier industry means healthier brands. Less is more.

  7. So my current journey involves using fixed focal length point and shoots. I like tiny cameras. I also find they are more than good enough picture quality and thereby helps with the keep a camera on me at all times thing. I’m currently grooving on Provoke era Japanese photography so I’m rediscovering the grainy Tri-X look. I find digital to be too perfect…almost hyper real.

  8. Wow. I am totally on board with this. I’m 70 and I just returned to photography after not making images for 25 years. I bought a Fuji X100F which was based on the specific decision to shoot with only a single lens. I needed to get back my eye and this was a perfect focal length for me to start with.

    Glad I found this site. I’m downloading Blurb and want to make a book about my upcoming 8 weeks in Paris.

    1. Philip,
      First Blurb book at 70. There is hope for you yet. I had a Fuji X100 as well. Dropped it two weeks after purchase…….totally my fault. Let me know how the book goes…

  9. I spent a couple of years with one body, a 35mm lens (50mm on the crop sensors), and many batteries. It taught me more about actual photography, and not gear, than anything else. When I didn’t have a choice with gear, I was free to think about the choices that went into the photograph. I still do 90% of my stills work with my old 35, which is now falling apart (one of the rings around the focus barrel fell off the other day. ARGH). The other 10% is with the 56mm (about 85mm in full frame terms), for a particular kind of portrait that I’m required to deliver. In a pinch though, I could go back to that one body and lens arrangement. I’m so attuned to that focal length with that body that it’s built itself into my entire approach and process like a physical reflex.

    1. Charlene,
      I use the 56 the same way, and for the same reason, you do. A bit slow on the focus but otherwise a great portrait lens.

  10. I don’t know what to say. I agree with everything you just said. My Fuji 35mm is my favorite lens, use it all the time. I have a 16mm and 90mm which I use for specific situations. And that’s it. I’d never go back to zoom, having to move to get your composition just makes you so much more aware of your environment and what’s going on. Keep making these videos, they’re great.

  11. I love the idea of heading out with a stack of batteries and shooting till they’re dead. That was the most inspiring ending to any youtube video I’ve ever seen. I discovered you through the magical algorithm recently and I’ve watched everything. And ordered two blurb books already. Now I need to go out and make some content of my own!

    1. Jake,
      Wow, way to go. That is taking the bull by the horns. There is something rewarding about finishing a battery. Many more films on the way.

  12. For the past year I have been using a Leicaflex SL with the Summicron 50mm that I believe has the same signature as yours (Mandler). Tighter, simpler. HP5 at ASA 400 only. Now, every time that I grab a 35mm, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information inside the frame. To each its own, but I think is good sticking to a focal length.

    1. Manual,
      I hear ya. I have a 35mm as well and have used it consistently since my early days, but if I could ONLY take one it would be the 50mm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *