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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

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Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Fixed focal length or zoom?
Old 10-10-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Fixed focal length or zoom?

Fixed focal length or zoom? Being an old person who actually took pictures in the pre zoom era (which was followed by the not-very-good zoom era before we got to the really good zoom era) my tendency is to use fixed focal length lenses, sometimes adding a zoom to cover a range of longer focal lengths. There are two reasons beyond living in the past that I cans use to justify my concentration on fixed focal length lenses. 1 - Fixed focal length lenses are usually faster, and I tend to shoot at the higher shutter speeds that can make possible. 2 - I find myself fine tuning, i.e. fussing with, the zoom to the degree that I sometimes miss the moment.

That said, I certainly can see the advantages of a single camera with a small zoom that provides a range of useful focal lengths and am beginning to try to break old habits and see if it will work for me. What are your thoughts, what is the way you choose to work and why? I could certainly benefit from your thoughts.
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Old 10-10-2018   #2
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Generally, I prefer primes... specifically a 50mm equivalent supplemented by a 35mm and 75mm equivalent when I feel like it. I like the size, the speed, and knowing what will be in my frame before I even bring the camera to my face.

However, when I travel... I use a 28-85mm equivalent zoom since I`m not sure what I`ll encounter.
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Old 10-10-2018   #3
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I mostly have prime lenses. I've tried a few zooms, and have not kept most of them. Either I didn't like the weight, or the speed, or the image quality. I kind of liked the 20-35mm f/2.8 Nikkor, but sold it after encountering reliability problems. But one zoom I have come to regard as essential is my 28-105 Nikkor. It is a little slow, and the build quality is a bit plasticky, but the focal range is very useful, and the image quality shows that "this is not your grandfather's zoom!" And now I'm trying gout the 17-35mm f/2.8 Nikkor. The image quality is as good as I need (it's very good). And it allows quickly trying out the extreme wide angle views, at the flick of the zoom control, without having to change lenses. If it looks good, i can press the button; if not, I can dial it back to 28 or 35mm, no time lost. It is too heavy. I can walk with it for one hour comfortably enough. After an hour and a quarter, I have to put it down and return to using a prime.

However, I think enough of the lens that I went to Target and bought a 12 pound dumb-bell. I get up a little early and go to the basement and do curls with it. It may be helping. If it works out, maybe I'll get the 24-70mm zoom Nikkor, which is definitely too heavy. But first, I will need to go buy the 15 pound dumb-bell.
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Old 10-10-2018   #4
Jamie Pillers
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I like how using primes makes me move around to get the right framing. I was recently trying out the Sigma SD Quattro H and became frustrated that the only way I could afford focal length lenses I like was to buy Sigma's zoom lenses. Using those reminded me how much I miss small medium speed prime lenses.

That said, it would be fantastic if some company would come out with an APS-C or full-frame sensor camera with a fixed f2.8 24-50mm zoom lens. Something like the Fuji X100 camera. Maybe even have lens' focal lengths discreet: 24, 28, 35, 50.
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Old 10-10-2018   #5
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Generally primes. I have a 50~90 f3.5 Zuiko for my Pen F. Sometimes, when I cannot stand where I need to with a prime, it comes out, but I don't carry it around normally.
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Old 10-10-2018   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Pillers View Post
I like how using primes makes me move around to get the right framing. I was recently trying out the Sigma SD Quattro H and became frustrated that the only way I could afford focal length lenses I like was to buy Sigma's zoom lenses. Using those reminded me how much I miss small medium speed prime lenses.

That said, it would be fantastic if some company would come out with an APS-C or full-frame sensor camera with a fixed f2.8 24-50mm zoom lens. Something like the Fuji X100 camera. Maybe even have lens' focal lengths discreet: 24, 28, 35, 50.
the fuji 15-45 (app.24-70 equivelent) is small, light and sharp & cheap...i use it with the 60 macro as a street kit.
as for zooms normally...i tend to stay away from them as they slow me down...or i am slow using them, much harder for me to compose with a zoom.
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Old 10-10-2018   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie Pillers View Post

That said, it would be fantastic if some company would come out with an APS-C or full-frame sensor camera with a fixed f2.8 24-50mm zoom lens. Something like the Fuji X100 camera. Maybe even have lens' focal lengths discreet: 24, 28, 35, 50.
I have often wished for this. A Fuji X100 with such a zoom would be perfect. The discrete focal lengths would help the designer to optimize the lens for the specific focal lengths. Leica actually did this with at least one P&S model.
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Old 10-10-2018   #8
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I have 16-35 f2.8 zoom, it is as good as Leica 21 2.8 , 24 whatever, 28 2.8 and 35 2.8 primes. And it is very usable on 16mm.
It has AF and it works with real TTL flash on film and digital cameras.
But it is big lens and digital camera is also big, yet, film one is as small as film M and lighter.

If I want best and most accurate framing, plus fast focus - I'm using my AF zooms.
If I want to feel fancy and have compact setup it is primes.
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Old 10-10-2018   #9
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My dad had some crappy zoom he used on his Yashica SLR; it was terrible! Scarred me for life, I think. Primes for me, or fixed lens. Also, I'm lazy. Focus AND pick a focal length? No thanks.
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Old 10-10-2018   #10
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Fixed focus, zoom is just another stupid thing to mess with when trying to shoot a frame.
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Old 10-10-2018   #11
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Zooms on digital (Canon 60d), primes on film (mainly M42).
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Old 10-10-2018   #12
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It depends what camera I'm using. On a Canon 5D/6D I usually kept the 24-105mm f/4 on it all the time except when another lens was specifically called for eg a fast 50 or a longer focal length. I wanted to keep lens changes to a minimum to avoid salt air (I live on the coast) and dust off the sensor. I no longer have a standard zoom lens for it and now use the excellent Canon EF40mm f/2.8 STM pancake, which makes for a very light (and relatively small) combination for a FF DSLR.

With film Nikon SLRs I prefer the primes I've collected over many decades. A recent exception is a Nikkor 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AF lens on my F80. I like it because it's as compact as a prime and it takes the same 52mm filter size. The IQ is "acceptable" for film use. It makes a nice walk-around lens.

My favourite carry-everywhere camera is a Barnack, of course zooms are not applicable.. I just love the small prime lenses and everything about the Barnacks.
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Old 10-10-2018   #13
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I've always shot primes in my manual-focus film cameras. They're faster, lighter, generally sharper, generally have less distortion, and are easier to focus. I tend to visualize based on the focal length I have mounted on the camera.

Recently I bought my first digital/first auto-focus camera, a used full-frame DSLR with a 24 - 105 zoom and a 17 - 35 zoom. These cover all the focal lengths I normally use and I can't afford to buy a new set of primes, so I will learn to use these.

I think I will approach these new zooms, at least at first, as I would primes. I will visualize in terms of a chosen focal length, set that focal length, look through the finder, and make subtle adjustments to focal length, if needed, to aid composition. What doesn't work for me is zooming through a wide range of focal lengths while looking for a suitable composition.

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Old 10-11-2018   #14
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Mostly zooms with digital, although I do a lot of studio product shots with macro primes. With film, it is strictly primes--Zeiss didn't make zooms for my Contax IIIa!
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Old 10-11-2018   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charjohncarter View Post
Fixed focus, zoom is just another stupid thing to mess with when trying to shoot a frame.
Agreed but sometimes I have to.
All primes for me except one Canon 70-200/2.8 when I`m covering a course of jumps for horses.

I did however cover a course today with a prime but it would have been a lot easier and safer with a zoom.
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Old 10-11-2018   #16
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35mm (~75%) and 85-105mm (~10%) fixed focal length lenses cover most of my photos.

Reasons for choosing fixed focal length lens are the usual ones:
Sharpness, speed, ease of focusing and selective focus.

I do own a couple of moderate range zoom manual focus SLR lenses but seldom use them.

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Old 10-11-2018   #17
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I prefer simple and smaller primes. The only zoom I’ve used that challenges my primes is the canon 24-70 2.8ii. I still generally prefer the 35L/135L combo though and my fiancé takes the 24-70. 2.8 will Never be 1.4. Also, since using my M’s for a while I can’t get used to carrying around huge lenses anymore.
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Old 10-11-2018   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Fixed focal length or zoom? Being an old person who actually took pictures in the pre zoom era (which was followed by the not-very-good zoom era before we got to the really good zoom era) my tendency is to use fixed focal length lenses, sometimes adding a zoom to cover a range of longer focal lengths.
I started taking pictures in the pre zoom era. I only shot medium format, black & white roll film, with one prime lens.

Later, I began to shoot 35mm small format, black & white roll film, with interchangeable prime lenses.

During the "not-very-good zoom era," I purchased my first zoom lens ... a Nikon 43-86mm f/3.5 that was so bad that it soured me to zoom lenses for decades.

During the "really good zoom era," I was given a Tamron 28-200mm f/3.8-f/5.6 auto focus as a gift that impressed me so much that I decided to give zooms another chance.

I now shoot with primes and zooms on my small format film and digital cameras. Most of my zooms are fixed aperture because I prefer them to variable aperture.

I now shoot color and black & white roll film on my medium format cameras but only use prime lenses.

I now shoot black & white sheet film on my large format camera but only use prime lenses.

Two of my favorite zooms are the weather resistant 16-55mm f/2.8 & 50-140mm f/2.8 for my APS-C Fuji digital cameras.


16-55mm f/2.8 & 50-140mm f/2.8 Fuji Lenses by Narsuitus, on Flickr
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Old 10-11-2018   #19
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I work with prime lenses, mostly, for several reasons related to size, weight, performance, etc.

But the most important one is that I don't go out looking at things and then try to find the focal length that best fits them: I go out looking for things with the context of a particular notion in mind to begin with, which includes what focal length and what aperture settings I'm going to use. Even when I carry a zoom lens, I only rarely change the focal length or aperture from what I had in mind at the outset of the photo session.

A zoom sometimes changes that and then I find myself forgetting what I had in mind due to the surfeit of focal length choices.
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Old 10-11-2018   #20
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It depends on the system. With the Canon digital I use for work, it's mostly two zooms. For my own work with film cameras, almost always primes. I do have two good Nikon manual focus zooms - the 25-50 f 4.0 and the 80-200 4.5. But they mostly stay home; I learned on primes and still prefer them.
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Old 10-11-2018   #21
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Definitely prefer primes, since I don't have the brainpower to visualise a scene with more than one field of view. Then again, all my zooms are effectively dual-focal lenses anyway.
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Old 10-11-2018   #22
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First camera was a Waltz Envoy 50 2.0 Nippon Koagu. Really really wanted more lenses. After college graduation, bought a Spotmatic and 8 or more lenses all the same time. Double parked on Wabash to go in and meet Selwyn and pick up order.
For the old timers who get it.

Tried a few zooms which were not noteworthy.

Got a digital Nikon D200 and zoom was much better.

Now doing Leica M digital and film and 35/50/90. Happy camper who uses one lens mostly and does not carry 50# of gear.
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Old 10-11-2018   #23
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For about 8 years I made money with zoom lenses. I used ~15-35 (equivalent) focal lengths because there were limited options for where I could place the camera.

Now, I don't own a zoom lens. I prefer to use smaller, light-weight primes.
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Old 10-11-2018   #24
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Bill, Your thread here felt timely in piquing (no pun intended with this spelling!) my interest.

Before recently stumbling into a deal on an X Vario, I was considering borrowing back the Fuji kit lens I "gave" my son with the X E2. I even tried out a 16-55 f 2.8 at a store a couple weeks back. That larger lens runs a bit counter to the X Pro2 because the OVF is a big reason for my using that camera and compactness is what attracted me to Leica in the first place; some preferences don't change.

There is more and more sense in using a good zoom at least for travel and I find with the X Vario that the zoom is not fiddly or distracting....and it's really good (if a bit slow). The 28 at 3.5 is more than adequate a lot of the time. In fact, looking at many images that I made on my last trip, few were even f2.8 or faster.

So it is vindicating to read you were considering these as well.

David
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Old 10-11-2018   #25
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Over the course of years I've used both prime focal lengths and zoom lenses. I've owned some outstanding lenses in both categories. Today I'm almost exclusively using Fuji fixed focal length lenses. Although I bought the Fuji 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms about two years ago, they've been used so little they could pass for fresh out of the box new.

I think a lot of my preference in types of lenses has to do with the cameras on which I'm using them. My favorite Fuji cameras are the X-Pro1 and X-Pro2, preferably used with the optical viewfinder. These cameras just feel right with fixed focal length lenses. I've only used the Fuji zooms on X-T1 bodies.

Shooting with the X-Pro cameras and fixed focal length lenses, I tend to shoot more loosely and not try to be obsessive about composition. The pictures seem more spontaneous even when the subject is not in motion. Shooting with the X-T1 (or any other SLR/DSLR) and looking through the lens that records the image, it's easy for me to get obsessive over composition and tight framing. The pictures can sometimes look constipated, if any of this makes any sense to anyone but me.
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Old 10-11-2018   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogman View Post
My favorite Fuji cameras are the X-Pro1 and X-Pro2, preferably used with the optical viewfinder. Shooting with the X-Pro cameras and fixed focal length lenses, I tend to shoot more loosely and not try to be obsessive about composition. The pictures seem more spontaneous even when the subject is not in motion. Shooting with the X-T1 (or any other SLR/DSLR) and looking through the lens that records the image, it's easy for me to get obsessive over composition and tight framing. The pictures can sometimes look constipated, if any of this makes any sense to anyone but me.
The advantage of any SLR, that it can give a very exacting preview of the final image, is also its greatest disadvantage. It's sort of the form vs the moment and a reminder that cameras are tools, not an end in themselves.
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Old 10-11-2018   #27
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Don't use or even own a zoom lens. Wouldn't even consider it actually. All prime, all the time.
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Old 10-11-2018   #28
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Everyone knows -- or ought to know -- that the Professional Leica M Autofocus Zoom lenses are THE:BESTEST.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTQ9WQCCFyQ
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Old 10-11-2018   #29
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I use zooms almost exclusively. I love the Pana-Leica zooms made for the micro four thirds system. I use the 8-16, 12-60, 50-200, and 100-400mm. The set isn't that heavy and gives me tremendous focal range. The IQ of MFT at 20 Mpx is fine with me.
Sometimes when I travel on short trips, I'll take a one camera - one lens set up.
That can be the Panasonic G9 with the Panasonic 14-140mm or the Sony A7rIII with the Sony 24-240mm.
I know my approach is heresy to many but I photograph for fun, not to make a living.
I appreciate those who want fast primes for a certain bokeh effect but that just isn't for me.
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Old 10-11-2018   #30
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In part it's that 'bad taste in the mouth' experience many had when using zooms on manual focus cameras - maybe without TTL metering... just too much going on at one time. Given the improvement in the lenses and camera systems, the zoom deserves another look... only to zoom and shoot might make sense.
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Old 10-11-2018   #31
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I’m a prime lens kind of guy for 95% of my photography but I do have 4 zoom lenses for use on my Sigma SD1 Merrill and Sd Quattro cameras.

Sigma 10-20mm f3.5 EX DC lens
Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4 DC "Contemporary" lens (25mm-105mm on Sd Quattro)
Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 DC "Art" lens (27mm-52mm on Sd Quattro)
Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 EX DG lens (32mm-93mm on Sd Quattro H)

The Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 EX DG lens weighs a lot but man does it produce some excellent images. The other zooms are also outstanding. Regrettable for them they rarely see the light of day.

Mike
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Old 10-11-2018   #32
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Quote:
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I use zooms almost exclusively. I love the Pana-Leica zooms made for the micro four thirds system.
The micro four thirds photographers that I know are the photographers that routinely use zooms as their primary lenses. Maybe it's a simple as the fact that these lenses are smaller and pleasanter to use than their often large and heavy APS-c and full frame brothers.
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Old 10-11-2018   #33
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For personal use I usually prefer fixed focal length lenses. If I'm traveling lightweight (is there such a thing with a Nikon F2?) then I'll pack a long focal length zoom, like an 80-200. These days I'll pack a 28mm and 50mm and be happy.

Back when I was shooting for money, it was 2 bodies, each with a zoom. I preferred the 20-35 f/2.8 and the 80-200 f/2.8. I'd also carry a fast 50.

Yes, I have back problems but I will always insist that photography never caused them.

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Old 10-11-2018   #34
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The lens I used the most, a Canon zoom, 24-70 f 2.8

That’s when I was in business.

Now it’s mostly whatever is on the camera. Usually a 50. Canon has a real nice 50/f1.4 I paid less than $400 from B&H.
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Old 10-11-2018   #35
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For what I do, I found a 40 mm prime to be the only lens I need. When I see something interesting, I stop right there and shoot it, no walking back or forward. 40mm covers precisely whatever catches my field of attention (I don't have good peripheral attention, I know). Wider lenses don't work for me (I've abandoned my 28 mm for the most part) because by the time I've zoomed with my feet, the composition is gone because of change of perspective, or movement of subjects (also, you cannot generally zoom with your feet into the sky if you see some interesting architecture looking up).
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Old 10-11-2018   #36
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Takuma Nakahira was Provoke's most talented and versatile photographer. He started with stunning grainy, blurry, b/w images taken with wide-angle prime lenses . At the end of his career, after suffering a debilitating stroke , he was shooting in color with a Nikon SLR and a zoom lens, shooting mostly at the telephoto end, the same gear used by the hatted weekend photographers who take images of cherry blosson trees and Mt Fuji. This work was no less inspired (see his book "Documentary") . Zoom or prime it really doesn't matter - its all about creative talent and vision.
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Old 10-11-2018   #37
Contarama
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Zooms? That is what movie folks use!
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Old 10-11-2018   #38
Oscuro
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob-F View Post
I have often wished for this. A Fuji X100 with such a zoom would be perfect. The discrete focal lengths would help the designer to optimize the lens for the specific focal lengths. Leica actually did this with at least one P&S model.
Caro,

The Fuji X100F gives a very functional 35 - 50 - 75 with the flick of a switch. My husband stolen my X100 and giving me back X100F. Superb! I use it with the 28 converter. The switch gives me 28 - 40ish - 60ish. Yes, it is digital zoom but the image is up resolving to 24mp and I notice only small issues not really visible in printing.

It has nearly replacing the FF Nikon. (still D3 with 28-300 zoom)

Ciao,
Mme. Oscuro
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Old 10-11-2018   #39
peterm1
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I use both but I prefer prime lenses. However, when I go away on holidays and space and weight are considerations I trend to use a zoom for everyday use backed by maybe a fast prime for low light and night use plus a long lens for those longer shots. When used with a mirrorless camera this works well enough and is not unmanageable. I did this on a trip to Bali two years ago and thought it pretty good. The only slight gripe I had was not with the lenses but with the camera - M4/3 cameras are still not quite good enough for some very low light shots compared with full frame, but that is another story and in any event overall it was still a very workable outfit.

My favorite lens on the Bali trip incidentally was the Olympus 75mm f1.8 which got used pretty often. See below for samples.

Faces of Bali 3 by Life in Shadows, on Flickr

Faces of Bali 4 by Life in Shadows, on Flickr

Bali old and Bali new by Life in Shadows, on Flickr
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Old 10-11-2018   #40
farlymac
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I go back and forth on this. No really carved in stone requirement for using one or the other, just mainly what I plan to photograph that day.

Since I started using rangefinders more often, I tend to shoot the same way with my SLR's. Stick a nice prime on there, and I'm good for the whole day.

But when it comes to events, a zoom is my lens of choice.

PF
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