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on Feb 15, 2012 in Camera Tech

“If You Only Had One Lens?”


Bison Cow – D3x, 200-400VR2 w/TC-17e



This is in the top ten of emailed questions, “If you only had one lens, what one would you have?” I’ll get to answering that in a moment. For the last 18 months or so, I have felt I have had too much gear, lenses. I felt this from a personal and well as business perspective. It might be old age, no wanting to carry so much. It might be getting mentally lazy, not wanting as many choices to have to select from. It very well could be from getting older and wiser and knowing better what I need visually (I always hope it’s this one) but whatever it is, I’ve cleaned out a lot of gear I wasn’t using. It’s for this reason, I actually keep track of what lenses I use and what they produce.

For the third year in a row, in 2011 the lens I shot with the most and at the same time, had the most number of images sold was the 200-400VR2. This lens simply gets pounded and looking back at the stats, there wasn’t one shoot in 2011 that it wasn’t at least present if not used. Why? There are a number of reasons with the main one is its performance. It is simply beautifully sharp! It produces 24×30 prints (captured handheld) that blow away my clients in clarity. And this holds true from 200mm to 400mm, f/4 to f/22, I see no weaknesses in my 200-400 in any aspect of the lens. And 94% of the time, the D3x was the body attached to it.



A-10 “Warthog” – D3x, 200-400VR2



When I head out for big game, the 200-400VR2 is in my hands. When I head out for birds, about 45% of the time now I head out with the 200-400VR2 with the 1.7x attached. When I head out for aviation, the 200-400VR2 always comes along. When I go chasing the light on the landscape, the 200-400VR2 is right there. When you have that kind of optical performance combined with the flexibility of the 200mm to 400mm, creativity and what I like, the optical isolation a long lens brings to a photograph, I’m not surprised just how much I rely on this lens.

Looking at the numbers, the lens I shot with 2nd most in 2011 and had the most images published from was the 24-70AFS. Ever since its introduction with the D3 which seems like a lifetime ago now, this has been my go to lens for nearly just about everything. There are a number of its attributes I depend on. One of the big ones for me is that f/2.8. It’s bright, it’s sharp and when I need it, it gives a narrow band of DOF at 24mm. When that is combined with its optical performance and focal length range, it just works for my style of photography.



Ausable River, NY – D3x, 24-70AFS



And this is really at the heart of this conversation. I mean seriously, how many out there are so anal to know that about their photography, the lens they shoot with the most in a year? I started to keep track long ago when the question came in because I was curious, not that it would change anything. But this trivia only applies to me and my preferences for visual communication. It also has a lot to do with the subjects I chase.

And that “If you only had one lens” question. First, those who want to interview me and ask that question, the interview ends because IMHO, it’s the lamest question on the planet! (I know, I should learn not to keep my feelings penned in). Yes, if you’re just starting out, you will probably just start out with one lens, I understand that. I’m not just starting out though, been at it for three decades. You look at my camera bag, while shrinking a little, I obviously have more than one lens. Why do I have more than one lens? Because I NEED them to do my job. What if you’re just starting out and can only afford one lens, what should you buy? In all sincere honesty, how would I know what you should buy? Since I don’t know you, your style or abilities, how can I honestly provide a valid answer? Can I make a recommendation? Sure. Is it a stab in the dark though? You bet! With that being true, why ask the question of a stranger? (If you don’t know, rent!)



Mono Lake, CA – D3x, 24-70AFS



The lens is a tool, a vital tool in our quest to communicate visually the wonders we are so darn fortunate to see! The first lesson I learned in photography is buy the best you possibly can from the start and this holds so true for lenses. Manufactures, bless their little hearts, make a HUGE assortment of lenses for many reasons and if you look at the ones I’ve talked about in my 30yrs, it’s an itty bitty fraction of the possibilities. This means you have a whole lot of options beyond those I talk about you need to look at yourself and find the best one for your photography. Just because I or some other “pro” owns a lens doesn’t mean it’s the best one for you. Will my choice and most “used” lens change in the future? I could receive a phone call right now taking me on a whole new photographic path possibly changing the lens I use the most. In the meantime, I know what works for what’s on my plate right now and that’s a comfortable place to be. The tools in my camera bag provide me the platform I need to tell the stories I want to tell. And for me, those are the best lenses.



Firehole River, WY – D3x, 200-400VR2 w/TC-17e

In the Bag