Advantages of Shooting with One Lens Setup

I’m not necessarily a one camera, one lens guy as I usually bring two cameras when I’m traveling or out on the streets shooting, but I am a one lens setup guys with a 35mm focal length as my weapon of choice. I’ve been sticking with 1 focal length for almost three years now and hasn’t looked back. Three years isn’t really that much of an experience, I know, but definitely, enough for me to learn a few important things from taking photographs with a one lens setup and I want to share it with you. 

Here are 5 reasons why 1 lens is an advatage for street photographers.

1. Always ready to go

 Self-portrait in front of a convex mirror. Took this during a break from longboarding with my buddies. Leica M6, Zeiss Biogon 35mm f2.

Self-portrait in front of a convex mirror. Took this during a break from longboarding with my buddies. Leica M6, Zeiss Biogon 35mm f2.

Pull it out of your bag, set exposure, point, focus and shoot! That’s it, you have your photo! No more hassles of choosing what lens will best fit the photograph. It’s just there ready to work with you. Treat it like a point and shoot camera. You’ve got a fixed focal length camera in your bag that once summoned, It’s going to deliver.

Nowadays I always bring one point and shoot camera with a fixed 35mm focal length. It’s in my bag when I go to work or I’m just out doing others stuff but photography. Every time I see something interesting come up, I pull my camera out and instantaneously capture the moment. E-A-S-Y!

2. Pack light

It’s a dead giveaway, really, but I’ll expound anyway. Say you are traveling abroad; sure 2 or 3 lenses would be great. You have one for street photography, another one for landscapes and another for portraits. But when reality bites (and gravity starts to take its effect), it’s no fun after all. It’ll be fine if you’d only be staying in one place to document an event and you need a couple of lenses to tell a story but otherwise, a whole day of walking and lugging around feels like you brought a couple of bricks packed inside your bag. It's uncomfortable.

Besides how many times do you really find yourself constantly changing lenses every time the scenery changes? Not a lot.

3. Avoid analysis paralysis

 Marina Bay, Singapore. 2015. Leica M4, Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4. 

Marina Bay, Singapore. 2015. Leica M4, Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4. 

You probably heard this term a few times already. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’ve experienced this. We all have.

It’s that event or moment where you fail to decide what lens to use (or what type of camera, film or digital) for a particular scene and you end up missing the shot or losing a lot of time because you can't make up your mind. Sometimes you even wonder what if perhaps you used your 50mm rather than your 35mm or vice versa. You keep on going back and forth and as a consequence, you mess up. You don’t want that.

Sticking with a single, fixed lens setup, you are left with no choice but to deal with it and if you are really keen on taking a good photo, you have to force yourself to move and look for the best shot. Bottom line is, single lens setup means you have the least option to choose from but the upside is it pulls you away from being paralyzed.

Another reason why is that you become loose. Being so used to a single camera and a fixed lens all the time relaxes your mind and your physical self and helps you become more focused on taking the photos rather than fiddling with your camera or lens settings. Think of it this way, the first time you step on a stage to perform, it’s going to be nerve racking. You get so overwhelmed and you end up stumbling and forgetting the sequences of your performance. But as you put time facing the crowd and repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again, it becomes a routine. Eventually, you became at ease like it’s just one of those ordinary days.  

4. Style development

Using a single lens over and over again helps you to develop your style. It’s the same as using the same brush to paint or the same guitar to create music. You develop this harmony with your equipment or tool and it shows with the art you create. The more you use it the better you get.

Photography wise, You learn to see the way your lens would see and with that, you are able to see the photograph before you actually frame it with your camera. That is a huge advantage. Use it to learn how to develop your distinct style and further create your own unique interpretation of the world you see.

5. Master the focal length

 Mt. Ijen, Indonesia. 2016. Leica M4, Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4.

Mt. Ijen, Indonesia. 2016. Leica M4, Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4.

Similar to Style development, with the same focal length you use time and time again, you become a master in utilizing it. You get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the lens and you turn it all to your advantage.

I have been using a 35mm focal length lens or fixed lens cameras for almost 3 years straight now. At this point, I pretty much know where to stand to get the frame I want without even looking through the viewfinder. Although it’s a skill that shouldn’t be required, It’s still an invaluable skill for me to have especially for composing quickly while staying in stealth mode. Imagine you are in a crowded place and even though it’s crowded, people aren’t exactly unaware of your presence. With such skill, you just walk up to your subject where you assume to take the photograph, wait till they return to what they are doing and once clear, quickly compose and fire the shutter.

Something about shooting with the same lens creates this fluidity and the feeling of being one with your camera. Your mind calculates everything and subconsciously considers the focal length you are using which is a huge factor in creating a seamless flow between you and your camera when you're out shooting the street.

Conclusion

Whatever focal length you choose, stick with it and explore the advantages of using it. Learn as much as you can from it. Make the most out of it. I urge you to try it. It’s a good exercise and it’ll do you nothing but good! Let’s shoot!