Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Frequent Lens Changing Or Why It's Not So Convenient To Carry Multiple Lenses To Shoot With.

Hello Alphanautics:

This time I bring you an article based on my own experience about an issue that happens to photographers that have more that one or two lenses.


1 week ago I went with some friends to a place a bit far from where I live to shoot out some scenery and whatever else came across in between.

Normally I can carry everything Ill need, including most of my lenses, due to the case I have. Usually I don't carry it with me per se but leave it nearby for easy access in case I need an item from the bag. It may not sound that practical to some of you, but its better to have that lens or filter near instead of saying "Great, I left it home".

Of course, one could plan meticulously ahead and just take what you'll need and that's that. I have to learn to do that.

Anyway, since we were going in my car and I was driving and it was just two of my pals and me, I had space to carry all my stuff.

Once we got there, I got a bit of a hang of how the shoot would go: we would be moving in short distances, stopping to shoot what we wanted for a "fixed amount" of time (and I use quotes because usually the 10 minutes we agreed on, turned 20 or 30... Nature is a beautiful thing to explore and enjoy) and then move on until we stopped again, we would repeat that routine until we reached the farthest place we could go.

Here is the lens line up I had with me that day:

Sony DT 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3

Sony 28mm f/2.8

Sony 50mm Macro f/2.8

Tamron LD Di Telemacro 75-300mm f/4-5.6

I wish I had taken the Lensbaby 3G I have...

And to my surprise, one of the friends that was going had a Minolta Maxxum 7000 SLR with a Minolta 35-70 f/4 lens. He took it because he wanted me to see it in case I wanted to buy it.So he gave it to me to test out.

So that made for 5 lenses available to use.

I tried the 35-70mm lens but I quickly took it off and switched back to the 18-200mm, the problem with it was that I was going for wide shots, and due to the crop factor of the sensor in my camera (1.5x), the 35-70mm yields a range of 52.5-105mm on my camera. Not exactly wide...That lens in APS-C sounds more useful for portraits or telephoto shots, not wide shots.

That's one drawback from APS-C, the focal lengths required for wide or ultra wide angles have to be from 18mm to 10mm. And that means specially designed lenses, full frame wide angles stop being wide when you use them on a smaller sensor.

Anyway, after the first stop and taking some photos, I realized I was going to want to do both wide angle shots and telephoto shots, so I took out the 75-300mm and put it in my vest. Its worth noting that I didn't left the 35-70mm in my bag, but I carried it around without noticing...

As we moved on, I found myself doing something that slowed me down big time: I was changing lenses frequently.

The problem with frequent lens changing and carrying lenses around.

For a good while, I kept going between the 18-200mm and the 75-300mm. While this produced good shots all over a wide focal length spectrum, it slowed me down and made my moving around very clumsy.

The great thing about the SLR system is that it allows you to change lenses in order to get the shot with the angle you want or get close with something far away. The possibilities are endless.

The problem is that, as you acquire more and more lenses, you have a need/craving to carry them all around and use them all at the same time.

Because you got so many choices, you want to try them all. The problem is that if you don't make up your mind about what kind of shots you want or in what focal length you'll want them, you'll end up switching lenses endlessly.

Back to me, every time I changed lenses, I either had to do some acrobatic stunt while holding two lenses, the camera body and caps or ask a friend to help me out. The problem was, whenever I switched lenses on my own, I stayed behind while my friends moved on.

Not to mention that I had to put my lenses on rocks, even though nothing happened, I was risking them to a fall or worse.

Once I actually managed to switch lenses and catch up, another problem showed up: I couldn't move with enough freedom.

The terrain we were at, was mostly rocky. Some points required jumping from rock to rock, climbing or sitting on the rock and sliding down just to name a few examples.

Its hard to do it as it is with no extra luggage, unless you do it all the time. But add a handicap of one hand busy holding the camera and things get a little bit more complicated, then to that add the fact that you're carrying two lenses in your vest bags, and those lenses wont let you jump comfortably because you risk of smashing them against a wall or press them against you, or they wont let you cross through a narrow space because the pocket is so bulky, or you cant get on the ground on your belly to take a shot because you got to take the lenses out of the pockets and you have a quite handicapped shoot.

After a while of enduring this, i said enough of the bulky 75-300mm and I placed it back in my bag since I wasn't using it anymore.

But then I made another mistake, I forgot to take out the 35-70mm and I took out the 28mm because I planned leaving the 18-200mm in the bag as well and just use a prime for the rest of the trip.

I know, I know, I collected more strikes at this point than a blind person would on the bottom of the 9th inning on the 7th game of the World Series...

In my defense Ill say that, as I was switching the 18-200mm off my camera, I noted a group of large birds landing on top of a rock and some flying around where I was. So I kept the 18-200mm lens on and shoot the birds (not literally of course) but I forgot to leave the 28mm behind...

Then I wandered off on my own and came across a rock that looks like a mushroom and wanted to shoot it at ground level, but just as I was setting on the floor, I felt two bulks on my pockets that didn't let me lay flat.

Yeah, those two bulks were the 28mm and the 35-70mm...

I finally decided to take them back to my car and leave them on my bag and just stick with the 18-200mm for the rest of the shoot out.

After doing that, things proceeded much more smoothly. No more lens changing slowing me down, no more unused lenses in my bag doing nothing but adding weight, no more worries.

Despite these problems, I had a great time and got great pictures. However, once I got home and I reviewed both the pictures and the experience, I came to some conclusions and lessons learnt that Id like to share with you.

What I learnt and what I realized.

The first thing I realized was that carrying multiple lenses around is just NOT practical. The best thing to do is to set on one lens or two at the most and stick to those.

I realized that, personally, I still tend to lean toward zoom lenses than primes. This is understandable; I come from a camera that allowed me to move between wide angle to telephoto shots with the same lens. Most of the cameras Ive used before (video and photography) have zoom lenses. The lens my A700 came paired with is a zoom. There's also the detail that these days, camera manufacturers tend to sell bodies with zoom lenses rather than primes.

This is understandable too, they want to give you options within the same lens. Back in SLR days (before 1980 or so), camera makers used to sell you the SLR with a 50mm lens and that's all you had to make pictures until you bought other lenses. But then lens makers got the hang of making zoom lenses that looked as good or better than fixed focal length lenses, and a lot of people switched to those and became the de facto "go-to-lens" for many.

A zoom lens is a versatile way to have plenty of focal lengths in the same lens to do shots up close or wide as possible.

The problem I see is that, if one sticks to this kind of lenses ALL the time, then one is not exploiting the full power of the SLR system, which one of its advantages is THE ABILITY TO CHANGE LENSES!

One might as well stick to a high end compact bridge camera or P&S in that case...

Since I realized that point, I have decided to shoot for a while only with a fixed focal length lens or a small zoom lens. That way I will learn to shoot in a new way and will get more used to those lenses that I don't use that much.

The other thing I concluded is that is not worth carrying plenty of lenses around "just in case" or "because I want to shoot with all of them". You'll waste more time changing lenses than taking pictures. And if you carry a bulk of lenses around, your attention will be on them; that nothing happens to them, which lens should you use, if they aren't rubbing against each other, etc.

Its just not worth it, the best thing to do is to set on one lens or two and fully exploit them and work around their short coming against other lenses.

For example, if I had just taken the 28mm lens all the way on my trip, I would have had a lighter camera+lens combination than with the 18-200mm. If I had wanted to get close, I would have walked or climbed as much as I could. If I had wanted to go wide, I would have walked back as long as it took to get all I wanted to get in the frame.

Maybe I could have taken the 28mm and the 75-300mm and deal with those. Or just do what I ended up doing: using just the 18-200mm and take pictures.

Its a trade-off, as anything related to photography, but the point in this case is to maximize the time you spend taking pictures instead of taking a lens off and putting another one on.

Of course, it all depends on the kind of shooting you do or the environment you shoot at, maybe a zoom will work better than a prime, maybe a heavy lens will be better than a lighter one, maybe a 50mm lens will be better than a 28mm lens.

The possibilities are infinite, only you know what you need to get the shot you want.

The trick is to learn how to get that shot when you don't have the specific lens you want or need.

There is also another issue: whether you're willing to let some shots go.

Take my example, if I had switched the 18-200mm lens to the 28mm and then I spotted the birds I saw, I would have had two choices: 1) Switch the lens again back to the 18-200mm or the 75-300mm or 2) Stick with the 28mm and get as close and as high as possible to the birds and shoot what I could get.

The zoom lenses allowed me to track the birds and get them close enough for the shots I wanted, but the 28mm wouldn't have got me as far as I needed. In that case I would had to compose differently or move to get them as close as possible.

Then there's also the post-processing resource of cropping. Taking a wide picture and then take out pixels off the picture to frame it as you originally wanted. Personally I'm not a big fan of this...

Of course there is always the possibility of hiring one or two people who carry your stuff around and have them have the lenses ready for you. But if you cant afford it or find two people willing to do it, you'll need to learn how to do some lens management.

One interesting and (awfully) surprising detail: Despite all the lens changing I did, I didn't get ANY dust bunnies on my sensor! Woo!

I guess the clean and cool air of the mountain is cleaner even at dust level than the city's air.

But then again I think, if I had done this in...downtown, my sensor would be filled will all sorts of garbage.

Well, there you have it. Some food for thought about how to best use your lenses and how to spend more time shooting than changing lenses or worrying about them.

In summary:

1.- Decide before hand what kind of shots you'll want to get and which focal length you'll need to get those shots. Then pick a lens with the suitable focal length.

2.- Carry as few lens as possible, carry what you need, but dont carry all of your lenses.

3.- Zoom lenses are one good way to minimize carrying many lenses around and switching them frequently, but also explore fixed focal length lenses to exploit the advantage of being able to change lenses in your camera.

4.- Keep in mind the sensor size of your camera, the smaller it is, the longer the focal length of any lens becomes if its meant for a full frame camera. The exception to this is when using lenses especially designed for smaller sensors.

If you shoot with a full frame camera, dont worry about this.

5.- Sticking to one lens may force you to develop the way you frame or compose in order to get the shot you want or a shot that looks just as good, this is a good thing worth exploring into.

6.- The only reason why you wouldnt need to worry about this stuff is if you got a crew of people taking care of your lenses so you just focus on shooting (pun intended).

7.- Its ok to have a lot of lenses, just dont carry ALL of them around, instead learn how to pick them depending on the pictures you want to get.

The only (valid) reason I can think of for carrying plenty of lenses around is because you work for a lens making company and youre displaying them on a show or in a field event sponsored by the lens maker, or borrowing them to people for them to use. But if youre going to take pictures, carrying 4 lenses or more is just going to slow you down.

I hope this article helps you out.

Until next time.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    Changing lenses is always a pain. I generally change the lens inside the car, and have to find a not-windy place first. You might want to check out this tip:

    Personally, I don't usually using one hand holding the camera while walking/moving. Just put the lens cap on, and hang the camera in my neck to give me flexibility of moving. Also, a good/handy bag is also useful. I would suggest a backback like Lowepro Slingshot which allows you to quickly access and open the bag and 'sling' back to your back.

    Many professionals carry two or more DSLRs each fit with different lenses. (Well, I am not that rich.)

  2. Hello Antony:

    Thanks for your reply!

    I checked out the video you linked to, Ill be posting a new entry with that video and some thoughts, since I think its a useful video to watch but there are some things to keep in mind when doing it.

    I forgot to include something in my entry about the trip: The light was changing quickly. We got where we were going just before sunrise and we shot around before, during and after sunrise. Because of this, I couldnt afford to put the lens cap back on or put the camera away in a bag (I have one of the Sony carrying bags, and I left it in the car...) because of the fact that light was changing so rapidly. However, you got a very good point though; placing the camera inside the bag would have allowed me to move around much better than having to hold the camera myself.

    I screwed up, I admit. I just took the camera out of the carrying bag and threw it on the seat and took off taking pictures. If I had actually taken it with me, I would have had an easier time moving. Good point Antony :) Ill be sure to remind this next time Im shooting on the field.

    I know that some pros carry two or more DSLRs with different lenses, they got their handling and carrying techniques developed over time, besides, they usually know what kind of shots theyll need so they can cover the focal length range with extra bodies. Not to mention that some of them have assistants and they do all the hard work of carrying stuff around.

    Finally one note on dust; dust doesnt need wind to enter a camera. It is true that wind moves dust around, but if there isnt any wind, usually dust remains still or floats in the air until it lands on something, be it you, your camera, the ground, whatever.

    Therefore, you can still get dust inside a mirror bcz in a un-windy environment. The real trick is to change lenses as fast as possible and expose the mirror box downwards to avoid making things for dust easier.

    Grat post Antony, really helpful :)

    Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment!