A trio of lenses that remind me of my early days in photography; working with one old Leica and three prime lenses.

There's always another side to the argument. The photos here were all done with the amazing 
24-600mm equivalent zoom lens on a Sony RX10iii. Somewhat neuters my whole 
argument just below. Consistency is a vice......

When we photographers get together to jabber about equipment these days and mention the "holy trinity" it's mostly understood that we're referencing three lenses; usually fast zooms; and that they'll cover something like 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. It seems that everyone with any thought of being a "professional" is drawn to these lenses like addled moths singeing themselves on a naked 60 watt lightbulb. If everyone is using pretty much the same lenses (but with small variations between manufacturers) then everyone's work will probably have.......some vectors of commonality?

And what's old saw? That when one has a hammer everything looks like a nail? Never before have so many lazy photographer stood in one spot and zoomed in an out in order to make the most of their almost infinitely flexible choice of overlapping focal lengths.

I get it. There's a compulsion to "have all the important focal lengths covered." You'd use a prime but you might get agitated if your lens was a 50mm and what you really needed was a 45mm, right? So, with a spread of something like 16mm to 200mm in a seamless progression you now have the potential to cover everything without missing a beat because you have....the holy trinity of zooms. 

How did we ever do photography before these zooms were all perfected? And is an endless choice of no gap focal lengths a good thing or actually an impediment to interesting photography? I can see it both ways. If you are under pressure and are delivering images that have to fit a project instead of really exploring a personal vision then zooms are definitely the way to go. I often reach for an even simpler and more mentally boxing zoom, the 12-100mm. I can cover a lot of stuff quickly with that one but I often find myself staying stationary and using the zoom to compose and crop rather than investing a bit more time and energy in actually thinking about what particular focal length might work best in a given situation and then taking my time to implement that vision. 

The zooms are also practical when weather, dust or the jostling of crowds makes changing lenses dicey or inconvenient. And yet, I can't help but entertain the idea, bolstered by a bit of research in my archives, that discrete, single focal length, prime lenses that are well considered and used, might be better tools for the more creative parts of photography.

After a recent job during which I used my new Fuji X-T3 almost nonstop with the 18-55mm zoom (weather, dust, time, packing considerations, etc.) I walked through downtown carrying two lenses; neither of which could change focal lengths. These two lenses are very interesting to me because they force me to think about how I will compose and what I will photograph with them. 

These two lenses are the Fuji XF 50mm f2.0 and the 35mm f2.0 models. They are small, unobtrusive (in a way that the Sigma 50mm Art lens and the Zeiss Otus will never be) and easy to handle lenses and they are part of a diminutive trio of lenses that Fuji fans call, "Fujicrons," a nod to Leica's f2.0 lens family which are all called, "Summicrons." In the days when I shot with Leica rangefinder cameras it was de rigeur to build a system the core of which were the 35, 50 and 90mm lenses. Photojournalists modified that by selecting the 28mm instead of the 35mm but the intention was pretty much the same; have great optics that mostly covered the absolutely most important and most used focal lengths in a professional's arsenal.  When compared to zoom lenses both the Fujis and the Leicas are at least a full stop faster, are better corrected, have higher resolution and sharpness, and are much less of a burden to carry and shoot when out on the streets or in the middle of an event.

I bought the 50mm XF Fuji first and was delighted by the test shots I was getting from it; even wide open. It's a bit short, for me, to be the optimum portrait lens for the Fuji system but they seem to have a dead spot they need to fill in the fast, 60-70mm range. I'm sure they'll figure it out at some point. But with the nice sensor in the X-T3 I don't really mind cropping just a bit. And the 50mm is just about perfect when I use the camera's 1:1 crop setting (square format). 

I liked the 50mm so much that when the lenses went on sale I bought the 35mm (which is my favorite normal focal length on the APS-C sensor). It's also very good wide open and excellent everywhere else. When I got back from my whirlwind of shooting for my corporate client (in snow, sleet and rain. Now I'm starting to sound like the old postal service....) I thought it would be fun, medicinal, happy, restorative, etc. to get back to my roots as a primitive and naive, low tech, photographer. So today I ordered the missing link in my diminutive trio; the Fuji(cron) 23mm XF f2.0. 

While I'm sure clients will drop in from time to time in December, and I will do their work with my many zooms when appropriate, I thought it would be fun to create a formal construct for my own work during the month. To that end I'm putting together, in an small, old, worn Domke camera bag, my nod to the nostalgic (and very effective) systems of yesteryear in my collection of the 23mm, 35mm and 50mm f2.0 lenses along with the small and light (and rangefinder-esque) Fuji X-E3. Maybe I'll go all Robert Frank and just climb onto a Greyhound bus and head west. Maybe I'll drive somewhere. Oh hell, I might as well use up some frequent flier miles and fly somewhere... In any case I can't wait to subject myself to the formalist discipline of limiting myself to these three well spaced focal lengths and some additional shoe leather. Maybe I'll start a new counter trend to the standard zooms, giant perfect fast lenses and all the other stuff we routinely convince ourselves we need in order to be professional. Or at least to play at being professional. 

 I'm going to break with tradition here and put in some links to Amazon. You can ignore them and move on or click them and read more about the lenses. If you buy stuff on Amazon while you're there on a direct flight from my site I'll get a small commission which I'll use to buy more lenses..... but accessing Amazon from my blog and then buying stuff is penalty free. The prices are the same.

Here I go: The Fuji 23mm, the Fuji 35mm and the Fuji 50mm. I'm still not sure the X-E3 is as good a choice as an X-Pro 2 might be but it's a damn sight cheaper and the imaging performance should be just the same..... Time will tell.

Whatever your point of view you have to admit that's one cute dog......


Ash Crill said...

A small camera and some small, excellent lenses is a huge part of the appeal for many users who have been using mirrorless systems since 2011-2012.

The recent trend toward full frame cameras with big lenses might appeal to users who want to ditch their 'old tech' DSLRs, but this same trend isn't terribly appealing to those who of us who refer to keep things light and simple.

Dave Jenkins said...

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

ODL Designs said...

I have to agree, I shot an event a year or two ago where I decided to just bring the 17 and 45 Olympus lenses. Worked out well, kept me moving and looking for my photos.

All this buying your doing... Must... Resist... Buying... Pro... Lens.

Thankfully to didn't give me a convenient link;)

Keep well Kirk!

Anonymous said...

In case you aren’t aware Fuji does have a 60mm. It was part of the original trio (23mm 1.4, 35mm 1.4, and the 60mm 2.4). It’s a wonderful lens that is great for portraits, it just has slow AF. It really doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Kirk Tuck said...

Aware. Also aware of its dicey reputation for slow and inaccurate focusing. A good portrait lens should also be f2.0 or faster....

HR said...

I have a bunch of m4/3 lenses (zooms and primes), but sometimes I like to go out with just my Panasonic 14mm f2.5, Olympus 25mm f1.8, and Olympus 45mm f1.8 (28mm, 50mm, 90mm efl) with my PEN-F. They are all great, small, and light.

Daniel Walker said...

I am so excited that you a working photographer is writing about Fuji. I confirm and agree with many of your observations. When I am in a street or travel mode I like to outfit two Fuji’s with different prime focal lengths. I recently purchased the 50 f2 after seeing it on your lens inventory. I used it this week on an assignment and I love it. It may now stay on one body for a very long time. Sometimes I use one one body with the pancake 27 f2.8. It is not the sharpest lens offering by Fuji, but I love the focal length and how compact the small Fuji and lens are. It just seem to float on my body.

Bonaventura said...

I did a retirement bucket list car trip across the country last June with a Nikon D4 and 28mm, 50mm and 200mm lenses (and a parallel Leica MP film arsenal-28mm and 50mm). I had a blast with this kit. Obviously, as an amateur photographer, I don't have the imperative to deliver for a client. So I can enjoy using primes and zooming with my feet. Have fun with it next month.


Scott Kirkpatrick said...

The Fuji X-E3 and X-Pro2 (it can't be that expensive anymore) are a really nice fit with the Fujicrons. They have the same naturalness as the Leica M2 and Canon 35/2.0 that I started out with many years ago, so I hope you enjoy the Fuji 23/2.0. My taste in a set of primes would be (in full frame equivalents) 50, 35 and 24. Deep on my shelf is an old Leica 24/2.8 that I rediscovered recently and have been using with both a Leica M and a CL. Anyway, Fuji also makes a really nice 16/1.4 (24mm-eff) that matches up perfectly with your X-T3. You weren't going to leave that behind when you go on your holiday road trip, were you? The 24 really comes into its own when there are crowds of interesting people and you are right in the middle of them.