Create: Learning a New Lens

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Great photography is NOT about great photography equipment. Sure, equipment can assist and it does make a difference what platform you choose. Think about 35mm, 120mm, 4×5, 8×10, or any flavor of digital and you have a virtual buffet of options. But getting mired in “gear acquisition system,” can actually hold you back. My advice, start out with one camera and one lens. Shoot that combination for a few years then branch out into your options.

Me, I’m a 50mm guy. Film or digital, doesn’t matter. At first, when I began my photography career, I didn’t realize I was a 50mm guy. In fact, I bought and sold numerous 50mm lenses. Leica, Canon, Nikon. Yep, in my bag one day and gone the next. And then something odd happened. I kept buying 50mm lenses and one of them finally “stuck.” Suddenly, the 50mm was the ONLY lens I wanted to use, and all these years later if I had to choose a single lens for the rest of my photographic life you can bet it would be the 50mm.

Salsa Fargo Ti.

For the past twenty years, I’ve used the same 50mm lens on my Leica M4. This is my standard 35mm film setup. And for the past four years, I have been using the Fujifilm 35mm f/2 on the Fuji XT2 when I need to shoot digital. The XT2 camera isn’t full frame so the 35mm f/2 actually becomes a 50mm equivalent. This lens is small, light, and works well. But I felt like something was missing. Things felt too easy and I was also looking for a bit less depth of field.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour with nearly 3000 miles on them. Still new.

So, I decided to try something new. I purchased the Zhongyi Speedmaster .95, 50mm lens but let me explain what this is and what this means.  The Speedmaster is yet another 50mm lens but this one is manual focus only and the fast aperture setting is .95, which in lens terms means it is ultra-fast and capable of shooting in ultra-low light.

My disgusting sticky and unraveling bar tape.

The manual focus aspect might seem like going backward but manually focusing actually makes me feel like the old days when I had a bit more control of my photography process. Manual focus isn’t better than autofocus, only different. Also, the .95 aperture setting allows for a VERY shallow depth of field, which for a specific kind of photograph, can make a difference. The lens is heavy, lots of metal and glass, and I love it.

The sexy glow of titanium mixed with New Mexico dirt.

But like all other photographic objects, the lens takes time and practice to really understand. So, I’ve been carrying this lens on a daily basis and using it as much as possible. In fact, I dedicated one camera body to this ONE lens. What I’ve discovered is that for my projects this is all I need. Sure, when I’m doing work for other clients, including Blurb, I need much more diversity in my camera gear, but for me, this will do just fine.

Soon to be replaced components? Shimano? Anyone?

I would normally show you photographs of PEOPLE but the only person I have photographed since owning this lens is my wife, thanks COVID19, and she would kill me if I posted something of her without consulting about hairstyle, angle of view, lighting conditions, clothing choice, color temperature, viewing distance, and chromatic aberration detection. So, I give you my bike.

Comments 27

  1. My first real camera after the Kodak Brownie my father gave me when I was 10, was a Minolta SRT201 with a 50mm 1.7. Followed by a Nikon FM with 50mm 1.4, followed by a Nikon F4S with 50mm 1.4 ( which I still love & photograph with)

    Having one lens helped me to understand and focus on the art of photography by studying light, shutter speeds & aperture, and not gear as you say. One lens helped me study people, humanity.

    Today my favorite camera is my Rolleiflex 2.8F. One camera, one lens.

    When I do switch to digital, I also love the 35mm f2.0 Fuji & I must admit a fondness for the 16-55mm 2.8.

    I loved this blog. Thank you.

    1. Hannah, your photos are excellent. A career in stunts with a camera at your side. Awesome. I see that you have a blog, going there now to check it out.

    2. Scott, Thank you so much. Yes, it’s been a wild, fun ride.
      It’s a different world on my blog than my website, where I just announced the publication of my
      10 year photography book project, He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard.

      Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog.

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  2. Me too, started in 1977 with an OM1, and the standard 50mm, 1.8. Now have an x100f, with the teleconverter to 50mm when I need it. Bought a Pen f a couple of months ago and tried the Voightlander Nocton 25mm, .95, but it was too heavy for the camera. Then got a Meike 25, 1.8 for 69.00, and love it! With the monochrome settings on the Pen and the manual focus, it’s like shooting film again, or damn close.

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  3. My set up is always to take 2 lenses:
    17f1.2 and 12-40f2.8 Olympus on a M1 body.
    28f2.8 and 50f1.8 (or 85f1.8) on a F90x body
    Fuji instax mini 90 and Polaroid 636 Close up
    Lomo Lubitel 166+ and Lomo Diana Mini
    Olympus Mju 35-70 zoom and Olympus Mju 35f2.8
    Olympus XA2 35f3.5 and Pentax Program A SLR 50f1.7
    Reason: I don’t want iPhone to be my backup lens system.

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  4. Yes, your bar tape is disgusting. I have a load of photos on my computer of my bike with white bar tape. I can barely look at them nowadays. Life gets easier when you switch to black tape.

    I used to have a 50mm Summicron but like an idiot decided to sell it because I was keen on the Zeiss 35mm at the time. Luckily I think I’m a 35mm guy. But I hate having too much choice when it comes to gear. It’s not good for creativity or the planet.

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      My tape is probably four years old. My Salsa needs some love. I will bring it in soon for a variety of repair/upgrades.

  5. Must admit first lens I shot with was a 50 ‘cron on an M3 cuz well…..HCB did. Now? Well I’m a committed 35 user…have one dirty little secret…I love 28. It stretches me. It forces me to think about backgrounds and front to back compositions. BUT, he said, I’m an appreciator of the one lens approach…To each his own.

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  6. Ugh, GAS. I was aware of the pitfalls and did a pretty good job of keeping it at bay, but I’ve still acquired more than I need. To have avoided it entirely, I would have needed to be a more disciplined, methodical renter. I stick mainly to that 35 f/2 on either the XT2 or the XH1 these days. It’s a hard trap to avoid. On the few actual projects I’ve done, I tried to keep gear to a minimum, and still took enough that it got it in the way. Great post Dan, enjoy the lens.

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      I’m lazy but now I am one man band of stills, copy, sound and motion. I am about to have five cameras with me at all times as the need to make the range of work I need to make is making it impossible to stick to my small kit. But oh well.

  7. Dan,
    You never fail to educate and what’s super great, make me laugh with your last paragraph. I love the look of your photographs
    made with the Zhongyi Speedmaster .95, 50mm lens. Wonderful, shallow depth of field. Nicely done.

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  8. Slowly, very slowly, I have come to understand that what drives my definition of the “fun factor”, as it relates to photography, is a combination of manual focus and a certain focal length. While 50mm really is the Swiss Army Knife of focal lengths, and is probably my second most used, I always come back to 100mm-ish. This longer view clearly isn’t as versatile in tight quarters but I just don’t see the world in wider views (try as I might). Coming to this understanding about myself has started to help me to envision (and truly embrace) a much, much, much more paired down set up. Two fast(ish) manual focus lenses… 50mm and 100mm. I’ve learned that I don’t really need anything else.

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  9. >> I’ve learned that I don’t really need anything else

    I caught myself… I probably don’t “need” this but it does make life more interesting.

  10. Is this lens a 75 mm equivalent on your XT-2? How do you like the change of view ?

    I use my fujica ST 801 and the fujinon 55mm f1.8 and agree about how this simplicity of one lens. Fun thing is I’ve also adapted it to my Sony crop sensor camera and the way manual focus work lenses on digital cameras is really fun too.

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  11. Da

    50mm on the Fuji is more like a 85mm on full frame?

    Anyway I love the 50mm as well, however more of the vintage type. My Fuji xt1 and a 50mm Pentax super takumar. Something about all the buttons and dials to keep me connected to the shooting experience.

    Took your advice from advancing your photography YouTube channel and sticking with one lens,one body and a pocket of batteries. .

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      I’m using the 35mm Fuji, so it’s a 50mm equivalent. An 85mm all the time would be far too tight for me.

  12. I started with a Canon FTb in 1972 and I still romanticize it as having been the best camera I ever owned. Went to a small community college to study photography in the fine art program. I wanted to get good enough in my own eyes to cover the disappearing farm land in New Jersey but that day never came. I never felt ready and my life took some strange twists and turns.

    But I still kept active in the photography realm. I’ve owned a variety of SLR’s and DSLR’s over the years, Canon and Nikon. I shot weddings, family portraiture, events, some small product and a lot of “artsy” nature, all part-time. But I often wondered what might have happened if I kept with photography and did that documentary. And I missed the simplicity of that little FTb.

    Then “discovered” Fuji and mirrorless cameras in general. After having fun with the X100F, I felt constrained by the fixed lens. I sold all my camera equipment and pre-ordered the X-T4 with the kit zoom lens. It wasn’t long before I traded the zoom away and purchased over time the f2 16mm, 35mm and 50mm.

    I realized a couple of months ago that the 35mm had been on the T4 for nearly all the time that I’d been using the camera. I’d gone full circle and was basically back to a small camera with a 50mm lens. It’s nice to be back home.

    I don’t spend much time online. I do not have Twitter nor Instagram accounts, my Facebook account was locked because I forgot my password, tried too many times and they wanted me to send them a copy of my driver’s license or passport to verify the account. If it still exists I have no idea. Same thing happened to LinkedIn. Oh well, I’m retiring anyway. Besides, I’m too busy living life to spend a lot of time on the internet. TMI.

    But I do get online for some things. I was looking into making some book with images taken while traveling with my family and saw one of your videos on the Blurb site. Don’t ask me which one. But what you said about the print resonated with me. I always believed my photography was only worth while if I went from click to print.

    Your video piqued my interest and I started looking for you on the internet, which led to your interviews with Marc Silber, Youtube videos,… I’m going through your Create tab and enjoying what I’m seeing and reading. Rarely have I encountered so much that I agree with online. Will be getting on your mailing list soon to become #748 or whatever the next slot is in your subscription list.

    I like the journey you’re taking, where you’ve been, where you’re going.

    Thanks for sharing so much…

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      Hey Jon,
      Nice to have you. I think one of the things that often gets forgotten these days it that photography is a wonderful solitary pursuit. You don’t have to be liked, admired or even share what you are doing. Printing is coming full circle, at least in my opinion. Print scares a lot of people who have never really put the screws to their own work. People who are used to pretending their life is palatable. What it? What if you don’t have anything good enough to print? I’ve faced this reality many times and it motivated me to do more, try more.

  13. I hear you on the solitary pursuit. I find it distracting to do photography with others. I also agree about the print being the final part of the journey. I miss my Epson R3000… it served me well for years then some circuit board went nuts and the local repair shop couldn’t fix it. We’re on a tight budget so it may be a long time before it’s replaced. And I don’t like sending my images off to being printed. I won’t make better prints having someone else do it for me.

    I have never found it difficult to find something good enough to print though. In different contexts I have different criteria for “good enough”. For instance family and friends are more about preserving memories with the people I love than getting the perfect click to print. I have just shy of 65,000 images captured since I went digital in 2002. Not all of them are trophy shots but there was always a reason why I pressed the shutter; I can usually find something to print if I get the urge. Well, if I had a printer that is. I have a bit of a backlog now… 🙂

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      I routinely print average images that have meaning to me or fit a current journal. Nothing wrong with that.

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