Why I Prefer to Shoot With Just One Focal Length

Why I Prefer to Shoot With Just One Focal Length:

Hey everyone, apologies for the lack of posts.  I hurt my back in August, and I was out of commission for the entire month.  I was getting better but then it got worse.  I decided to just completely rest it for the first half of September, and now it’s finally getting better.  Anyway, I have a couple of reviews coming up but I thought I’d start off with something a little less technical just to get back into the flow of things.  For nearly all my pics on my Instagram, I hashtag under my photos something related to a 50mm lens, and often times, I get asked if I truly use just the 50mm focal length for nearly my entire work.  The answer is yes.

I don’t shoot with mostly one lens because I think it’s cool or I’m after a challenge haha.  I do it because I find that it works better for me.  Some might see this as limiting, and I get it.  There are so many focal lengths out there to choose from that can sometimes produce vastly different effects.

↑ For my boudoir and street fashion work, this is my go to kit right now: Leica SL2 and Summilux-SL 50mm f1.4 ASPH.

But here’s the thing: When I was buying more and more lenses, I was thinking I would have more ability to get more shots.  However, shooting with more equipment was just distracting for me.  Often times, swapping lenses have made me miss some critical moments.  Furthermore, if you’re a photographer of people, and you do boudoir like me (No boudoir work in this article but you can check my Instagram), for instance, there’s a rhythm that forms during a shoot, and often times, doing something as simple as changing a lens, can break that rhythm.  It’s like stopping a song midway, and then restarting it from the beginning.

↑ This was taken with the Leica SL and Summilux-SL 50mm f1.4 ASPH at f4.

My philosophy has always been just keep things simple, and that, for me, probably started from my early days in photography.  The first real camera I ever owned was a Leica M3.  I was young at the time.  I think I was around 12 but I definitely had a passion for photography, and I remember always sneaking into my dad’s room to play with his Leica gear :).  My dad received the M3 from my great uncle who passed away.  It was stored in the basement for years, and just collecting dust.  At the time, my dad had his M6, so he wasn’t going to use it at all.  It would’ve been a waste to just let it continue to collect dust, so my dad sent it to Leica to get a CLA.  He let me shoot with it, and let me use one of his lenses: the Summicron-M 50mm f2.

↑ Here’s a shot with the SL and the 50mm Lux set at f1.4.

I thought it was an amazing camera but at the same time, I remember feeling like I would miss a lot of shots because there was only one focal length or the lens wasn’t a zoom  Well, I shot that camera with only that lens for all my years in grade school, high school, and part of college.  I shot quite a bit with just that combo.  I remember chasing down my friends to get them to model for me haha.  I’ll admit the combo was limiting at first but that limitation forced me to really learn how to use a 50mm effectively, so I could get the most out of it, and at least for the content I shoot now, I feel I can do more with just a 50mm than any other lens in my collection.  I feel most of my best work comes from a camera with a 50mm lens attached or the equivalent focal length on a crop sensor camera.  I should add that when I was finally able to save up for an M6, the first lens I bought for myself was a Summicron-M 50mm f2 :).

↑ This was taken with the SL and Summilux-SL 50mm as well.

Of course, there are times when shooting with one lens just isn’t feasible.  That’s why my article is titled, “Why I PREFER to Shoot With Just One Focal Length” :).  For me, sometimes when I’m out shooting street, I’ll bring along an 18mm lens.  For the Leica, it would be my Super Elmar 18mm f3.8 ASPH, and for the Fuji, it would be my Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8.  The 18 and 50mm combo cover pretty much everything that I would need for a day of street shooting.  But I will say that the 50mm still gets like 80-90% of the use.

↑ This was taken with the SL and 50mm Lux set at f1.4.

For my primary work though, I’m currently shooting with a Leica SL2 and Summilux-SL 50mm f1.4 ASPH.  Literally, almost every photo on my Instagram has been shot with the Lux.  I also have the Summicron-SL 90mm f2 ASPH, and the 24-90mm but the 90mm gets used maybe 2-5% of the time with the zoom being used even less.  I do a lot of my work in my studio, and I do have the space for the 90mm, which on a technical basis, is better for certain shots because of the angle but I prefer the 50mm focal length.  I look at technicalities in photography more as guidelines than actual rules haha.  I feel it’s better to shoot with what I’m most comfortable with because in the end, I get consistently better shots.

↑ This last shot was taken on my roof with the 50mm Lux and SL combo as well.  The aperture used was f1.4.

Now, I’m not saying everyone should sell off all their gear, and stick with just one focal length.  This method might not work for everyone because people have different shooting styles, and have different subject matter. Some people might work better using multiple lenses or even systems at the same time.  The point is, you have to find what works best for you in photography.  All I’m saying is if you find yourself a bit overwhelmed with gear, keeping things simple might just be the answer.

10 comments… add one
  • Richard

    Hello Patrick,
    It’s good to see you’re back and feeling better; I have missed the regular flow of articles and reviews.
    This article has struck a chord with me. Through my decades of being a very average amateur photographer the 50mm lens has always been my first and often my only lens. For a long time this was a result of limited finances.
    With one system I did try a 180mm lens thinking now I could get photos of subjects too far to really see with a 50. After lugging the thing around for some time I finally realized I was taking the same photos I would have with my regular lens, I was just backing up 6 feet or so to capture it. A similar attempt with a wide angle lens netted me wide expanses, tediously empty, around a very small subject.
    What I have concluded now is that I’m really only effective at taking photos of what I see normally with my eyes and glasses; lenses of varying focal lengths do not seem to help me to see differently. Even with a 90mm lens which I do like, the difference is not that I can pull in more distant subjects but rather that I can take the same candid portrait I could with a 50 but with a more comfortable personal distance and perhaps a more pleasing perspective.
    I’ve seen many photos taken with a variety of lenses that I do enjoy very much, but I am not suited to taking anything similar. I realize that dedicated effort to develop an ability to see differently could be successful, but at this point in my life I don’t see any need to try; I would be more than satisfied if I could improve what I can capture with a 50 and 90.
    Hope your recovery is speedily completed.
    Richard

    • Patrick

      Hi Richard,

      I’m so sorry for the very late reply! My back was still acting up a bit, so I took one more week off. Things on my blog should be coming back at a regular rate now :). Thanks for leaving a comment, and I really do appreciate you visiting!

      It’s funny because throughout my years with the M3, all I could think about was getting a 35mm but at the time, I could not afford a Leica 35mm lens. Plus, there’s no 35mm frameline in the M3. When I was finally able to afford an M6, I still couldn’t afford a 35mm with the camera, so that is also part of the reason why I ended up with a 50mm Cron, which at the time, was the cheapest Leica lens besides the Elmar collapsible. Now, I don’t even have a native 35mm lens for my SL2 :). They say a 35mm is an essential lens for a Leica, and my dad still gives me grief haha about not having a SL 35mm in my kit but I always say, you get what works best for you. I’d basically be throwing away a lot of money if I bought the SL 35mm. It’s a fantastic lens; it just wouldn’t see much use.

      I have other lenses for my camera but often times, I just use my 50mm Lux on my shoots, and that’s about it. I also like the 90mm but like you, I take the same shot with my 50mm. The 90mm used to give me a more comfortable distance but now that I don’t shoot much candid anymore, I find the closer distance of the 50mm helps me develop a better relationship with my subject. Plus, I have grown to love the 50mm perspective even though the 90mm is technically better :).

      Of course, I think it’s always great to grow and learn new things. That includes learning how to see with new focal lengths but like I said before, do what works best for you. If the 50mm and 90mm work best for you, more power to you. Like you, my second lens is always the 90mm :).

      Thanks for your well wishes about my back, and have a great weekend!

      Best,

      Patrick

  • David Gleason

    Patrick,

    This article resonated with me as well. In many ways, my “happiest” period as an amateur photographer was when I shot with an M9 and a 50mm Summicron (f/2). It wasn’t an aesthetic choice; it was because after buying the M9, I could only afford one lens! But somehow, I never really felt limited by that lens during the couple years that I shot primarily with that combo. I knew what I could do with that field of view, and I found a way to make it work for many situations.

    Fast forward several years, and I found myself with too many camera systems and too many lenses. So this spring I consolidated, and I shoot with just a Q2 and my SL2. On the SL2, I am mostly using the Summicron-SL 50mm lens, which I love. I also picked up the Voigtlander 21mm Skopje that your wrote about. I have a few other lenses for the SL2, but I between the 50 and the 21mm, they account for 95% of my shots with that camera. And the Q2 at ~28mm fits neatly in between the two. I think I could actually be happy on an extended vacation with just one of these cameras; I wouldn’t get every shot that I’d get if I were lugging a bag ‘o lenses around, but I’d get *more* shots, because I’d be in the flow of shooting, and not thinking about focal length options or lens changes.

    Anyway, as you say, one focal length doesn’t work for everybody in every situation. But there are benefits to using this approach where it works.

    And welcome back – looking forward to upcoming reviews and articles.

    David

    • Patrick

      Hi David,

      Apologies for the very late reply! My back was acting up a bit, so I took one more week off. Thanks for taking the time to read my article, and for leaving a comment!

      The 50mm Cron was the only lens that I could afford when I bought my M6 :). Besides the Elmar collapsible, it was the cheapest Leica lens. That along with my years of using a Cron with the M3 have made this lens special to me. I still have my original Cron, and even though it makes no sense for me to keep it, I still won’t get rid of it :).

      I know what you mean about having too many systems and cameras. Even when I’m reviewing stuff, it gets tedious going through each one. Sometimes, I’ll bring multiple cameras with me to save time but I know I end up missing shots.

      It sounds like you have a great set up now with the SL2 and Q2. Like you said, if you were to go on vacation with just one of these cameras, you may not get every shot but you’d get “more” shots because you wouldn’t disrupt the flow. That’s important and a great point. That’s exactly how I feel, and it’s why for most of my shoots, I actually only use my 50 Lux. I have other lenses but for me, the 50 and the SL2 just work. Changing lenses may not sound like a big deal but it not only disrupts my flow, it disrupts the model’s. Both parties have to get back into it, and often times, I end up missing the shot I wanted in the first place.

      I really appreciate you stopping by, David. It’s always great to hear from you, and I hope you continue to enjoy the SL2 and Q2.
      Have a great weekend!

      Best,

      Patrick

  • Cheekz4dayz

    Hi Patrick,

    Nice to hear your feeling a bit better. I really like this post and I’ve also suffered from GAS. About a year ago I sold all my fuji XF gear and consolidated with a Leica Q2. I’ve definitely loved all the shots I’ve gotten with it and I still really love the camera. Although, I now miss interchangeable cameras a bit so I’m saving up for the SL2 with a 35/75 SL combo. What I have learned from my limited time with photography is I really love shooting with primes only. Zooms are great for me especially when I’m travelling but I prefer just to use a single focal length as it just jives with me better. I think my favorite focal length so far is the 35.

    Thanks again for all your posts and stay safe and get better!

    • Patrick

      Hi Cheekz4dayz,

      It’s great to hear from you, and thanks for taking the time to read my article!

      Yes, sometimes keeping things simple can make for better shots :). The Q2 is fantastic but I know what you mean. I love the camera but I’m not a fan of the 28mm focal length. The lens, of course, produces superb images but I wish Leica would make a 50mm version of the Q2, since that is my favorite focal length.

      The SL2 is excellent. You will love it. The 35mm and 75mm combo will work great, and you’ll probably never need anything else. I agree with you on zooms too. They are convenient, and if I’m on vacation, I’ll bring one but I’m a single focal length type of person too :).

      Stay safe my friend, and keep in touch! Let me know what you think of the SL2 when you get it!

      Best,

      Patrick

      • Cheekz4dayz

        Hi,

        No problem at all. I always love reading your content 🙂

        Ha, yeah I totally understand that. I think the Q2 worked for me well because I started photography on the iphone (similar focal length).

        Thanks! I can’t wait to be able to afford it but I’m biding my time to do it responsibly. I’ll definitely keep you updated especially since your blog here has helped me so much on my photography journey.

        Maybe one day (post covid) we can meet in person, and go for a photo walk I moved to nyc this past summer 🙂

      • Patrick

        Hi,

        Thanks buddy, I always appreciate you stopping by, and it’s great to converse with you about photography!

        That makes sense about the Q2. I have a friend that has been looking into getting a Leica. She started photography from an iPhone as well, and I recommend she look at the Q2.

        Smart move with waiting. The gear will always be there. Plus, waiting allows you to do more research to make sure what you want to buy really does fit you. I’m also so glad to hear that my blog has been helpful. It means a lot. If you ever have any questions, always feel free to ask me, and I’ll try my best to answer them.

        As for moving to NYC, glad to hear it! I hope NYC has been good to you so far, and yes, when this is over, I’m down to shoot. Just message me on any of my platforms :).

        Thanks again for stopping by,

        Best regards,

        Patrick

  • David Murray

    Hi Patrick. Pleased to hear your back is improving. It wasn’t anything to do with the amazing-looking young lady leaning on a stool was it. A Corker, as we say in Great Britain.
    Now the 50mm lens? Beloved of HC-B, but you have to remember that his first Leica was a 1929 1a with lens bolted on. It was used when he purchased it in Marseilles in 1932. He remained faithful to this focal length until 1975 when he abandoned photography for painting. He did own 35 & 90 but I understand he rarely used, as he mentions distortions and problems of perspective.
    Now Roger Hicks (roger&frances.com) states that the best zoom lens is your legs. I’d already discovered this before I read it. However, my own experience led me to the conclusion that the 50mm focal length was THE lens to use for this scenario. The 35mm & 90mm still retain elements of their perspectives, even when one moves fore and aft. Given that the Summicron 50 is such a superb lens, bright image on the screens of SLR bodies and the capability, wide open in dim interiors with rangefinder Leicas that can be used at much slower speeds, especially if your sitting down with elbows on a table. Indeed, I like the 50mm so much that after buying a Zeiss Contax 111a (1955) a few years ago, never bothered getting another lens for it. I got the correct hood and a few 40.5mm filters for the Opton Sonnar lens and beyond a strap, bag, light meter (my built in doesn’t work) that’s it. The 50mm lens on the Leica 1a my boyfriend bought me for Christmas around 3 years ago still delivers the goods, on mono film. Have not tried colour. Mine is black, H C-Bs was chrome finished. All the best.

    • Patrick

      Hi David,

      Haha, I wish it was a cool story like that but my back problem started when I fell asleep on the couch! Ugh man, I can do normal tasks again but it still hurts. I can’t believe it because it’s been a little over two months now. That’s why I’ve been kind of slow to get back into action here.

      I feel the same way as those photographers you mentioned…distortion/perspective issues. I just think the 50mm, at least for me, is the ultimate lens :). They’re usually cheaper, so it’s easier to start a system with, and even the cheaper 50mm lenses are optically very good. Plus, you’re right in the middle of a 35mm and 90mm, so you can still use it for a variety of shots.

      While the Lux lenses are my favorite when I’m looking for a 50mm, I have to give credit to the 50mm Cron, especially the R and M (regular version in this case because of price although the APO is awesome too) versions. It is such a fantastic lens. I bought the Lux M a while back but never traded in my Cron. I just couldn’t do it. The Cron is one of the cheapest Leica M lenses yet the optics are world class, and to top it off, it’s also compact. The f2 aperture makes it very versatile as well. It’s just a really great lens to have in your bag. It’s the lens I recommend most to a new Leica user who wants a Leica branded M lens.

      Wow, a Leica 1a, that’s pretty cool! Have you posted images with it on Insta? You should give color a try, and see what you get. Might be interesting.

      Best regards,

      Patrick

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