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Business / Philosophy of Photography Taking pics is one thing, but understanding why we take them, what they mean, what they are best used for, how they effect our reality -- all of these and more are important issues of the Philosophy of Photography. One of the best authors on the subject is Susan Sontag in her book "On Photography."

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The Power of Less
Old 04-04-2009   #1
Steve Williams
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The Power of Less

At some instinctual level I know this is true. I recently began reading "The Power of Less" by Leo Babauta, author of ZenHabits blog. The book's premise of doing less and accomplish more was an intriguing thought for someone who struggles with laziness but after only reading a chapter I realize it is more about the art of limiting myself to the essential.

A light came on as I thought about my photography. I often find myself asking "Why aren't you out shooting". Sometimes more important business gets in the way but in most cases I choose to engage less important and non-essential activities.

Where the power of less really has me thinking is in regard to equipment. There are days when I seem to be more concerned with having the right gear than I am in making pictures. I walk out the door believing I must have everything I need for every possible circumstance otherwise I am lost.

I realize the need for gear on some assignments --- an assistant, a cart load of lights, stands, batteries, computer, triggers, gels, tape, lenses, spares, blah and blah. I feel like the novice backpacker with a 100 pound pack who wonders why they hate backpacking.

I continue working on my 3 Prints Project but today I feel different. I'll walk out the door shortly with my Mamiya 7 instead of the Leica M6. If the Leica allows me to work in a sketchbook the Mamiya allows me to write haiku. One camera, one lens, one focal length.

I'll still need much more when I am on most assignments. But for my personal work that is part of a daily meditation, less is more.

I often wonder if others struggle this way. I often feel overwhelmed by information and things. Making photographs helps me recognize the essential...
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Old 04-04-2009   #2
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Nice blog. I like your 3 prints project too.
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Old 04-04-2009   #3
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Here is my analysis: There are 3 characteristics/tendencies in photographers/ people with cameras. Individuals have varying degrees of each.
1) Collecting for the satisfaction of owning a collection displayed on a shelf.
2) Gear-headedness is the satisfaction of manipulating and taking pictures with various different cameras and lenses. Emphasis is on the process of photography.
3) The artistic drive which is satisfied by the final image without regard for the process or tools. This is the essence/spirit of creativity in all arts.
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Old 04-04-2009   #4
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I have more than one camera because each one is different and fits a certain niche. But sometimes I wish I only had one camera to choose from. Having to think through which camera makes the most sense on any given day (for personal work, not commercial) complicates the mind. I deal with this by designating a "go to" camera for a period of time. If I don't want to make a choice I just grab the go to camera. Usually, it's with me most of the time anyway.

Over time I've also made a point to shoot less but in a more focused manner. This cuts down on the "post processing" time in front of the computer. In fact, getting into film rangefinders was one way to do this. Now I shoot digital as if I only a "roll" of so many exposures.

I enjoy reading a blog called Wouter Photoblog and he shoots with a single camera, a Ricoh GX200. A few recent posts talk about how this simplicity has actually turned into a creative barrier for him. The camera has limits and he desires something different to work with and express his vision.

Though I would really like to simplify, my photographic interests aren't leaning in that direction. I accept that. The photographic process itself is my Zen.
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Old 04-04-2009   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
Here is my analysis: There are 3 characteristics/tendencies in photographers/ people with cameras. Individuals have varying degrees of each.
1) Collecting for the satisfaction of owning a collection displayed on a shelf.
2) Gear-headedness is the satisfaction of manipulating and taking pictures with various different cameras and lenses. Emphasis on the process of photography.
3) The artistic drive which is satisfied by the final image without regard for the process or tools. This is the essence/spirit of creativity in all arts.
Dear Frank,

You will have to further elaborate your three parameters, perhaps with a scoring table or whatever, as I belong to the three of your cathegories, and perhaps could add more....

Cheers,
Ruben
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Old 04-04-2009   #6
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Steve, it's taken me a long time to feel comfortable with a limited set of choices. Having a bad shoulder that won't suffer carrying a bag of any weight helps, but so does accepting that not every picture is yours to take; leave something for the guy with the telephoto or fisheye.
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Old 04-04-2009   #7
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Hi Steve,

Seriously speeking, I liked your post for the opposite meaning. I know many folks are in the same trend, one lens one camera, which is not for me.

To cut it short, I would say that there is THE POWER OF LESS, and there also is THE POWER OF THE MIDDLE WAY. Being a sinner in the former, I would like to train mayself in the latter.

Cheers,
Ruben
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Old 04-04-2009   #8
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On a scale of 1-10 for each parameter, I'm a 2/10/8.
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Old 04-04-2009   #9
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I just like to take photographs. I buy what I want, use what I want, and don't worry too much about it. There is way too much navel-gazing going on around here, in my opinion. Just be what you are, do what you do, and get over yourself. It really isn't that difficult.

I have never understood this incessant need to alternate between buying things we like, berating ourselves for doing it, complaining that our lives are now too complex, purging, swearing allegiance to a 'simpler way', and then beginning the cycle again. Stop persecuting yourselves, you chowderheads. Do what you want, buy stuff, enjoy it, take photos, and above all, stop feeling guilty about it. All this self-hatred makes me itchy.
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Old 04-04-2009   #10
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Hell, I don't berate myself for buying stuff. If I turn out not to use it much, I sell it again. I like having a complex life, and I think a lot of other people do, too. But it's definitely true that this impulse can become counterproductive.

I think I'm similar to Frank, by his scale, though I think I'm more like 0/10/8. I am actually made uncomfortable by having a collection. But I love the feel of different cameras, lenses, and technologies.

To prevent #3 from being negatively influenced by #2, I bring very little equipment with me while shooting--that's where the "power of less" comes in. Usually two cameras with one lens attached to each, and I don't switch lenses. So when shooting I'm only thinking about results. It's very effective and fun!
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Old 04-04-2009   #11
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May I suggest another metaphor.

I have photographed many classically trained musicians and opera singers and I think there is a parallel here.

Going out with a one lens and one camera is like a violinist practicing scales and rehearsing. It is focusing one's mind on the images in the world and not the gear.

I too shoot professionally and have to drag a bag of gear with me.

But I see assignment work like a performance for which the "one and one" shooting was the practice and rehearsal.

Of course the images I make on a one and one are often the ones I find more satisfying personally, but that is again like a musician finding a sound in rehearsal that just never happens again.

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Old 04-04-2009   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Matt(1pt4) View Post
Steve, it's taken me a long time to feel comfortable with a limited set of choices. Having a bad shoulder that won't suffer carrying a bag of any weight helps, but so does accepting that not every picture is yours to take; leave something for the guy with the telephoto or fisheye.
I always think of Chuck Close and the way he dealt with limitations in his vision that led to an entirely new body of work. I have toyed with the idea of invoking limitations in gear but wrestle with thoughts of "why would you not take advantage of all the tools available you idiot?!".

Your missive on acceptance is important to remember. Thanks for sharing it.
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Old 04-04-2009   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ruben View Post
Hi Steve,

Seriously speeking, I liked your post for the opposite meaning. I know many folks are in the same trend, one lens one camera, which is not for me.

To cut it short, I would say that there is THE POWER OF LESS, and there also is THE POWER OF THE MIDDLE WAY. Being a sinner in the former, I would like to train mayself in the latter.

Cheers,
Ruben
We are an amazing lot and are at so many different points on the road that I have to remember what may work for me might have the opposite effect on someone else.

For me, I feel like I have spent most of my life in the middle. Or maybe off to the side of the middle... *grin*

I'll have to give your post some thought.

Thanks!
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Old 04-04-2009   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
Here is my analysis: There are 3 characteristics/tendencies in photographers/ people with cameras. Individuals have varying degrees of each.
1) Collecting for the satisfaction of owning a collection displayed on a shelf.
2) Gear-headedness is the satisfaction of manipulating and taking pictures with various different cameras and lenses. Emphasis is on the process of photography.
3) The artistic drive which is satisfied by the final image without regard for the process or tools. This is the essence/spirit of creativity in all arts.
What a great scale Frank! As I look at it I would probably be a 1/2/8. There is perhaps another category that I have to consider:

4. Thinking about cameras and pictures but not doing anything about it.

I would have to rate myself around a 7 in that one.
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Old 04-04-2009   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hawkeye View Post
May I suggest another metaphor.

I have photographed many classically trained musicians and opera singers and I think there is a parallel here.

Going out with a one lens and one camera is like a violinist practicing scales and rehearsing. It is focusing one's mind on the images in the world and not the gear.

I too shoot professionally and have to drag a bag of gear with me.

But I see assignment work like a performance for which the "one and one" shooting was the practice and rehearsal.

Of course the images I make on a one and one are often the ones I find more satisfying personally, but that is again like a musician finding a sound in rehearsal that just never happens again.

Hawkeye
Excellent! That is exactly how I feel. Thanks for making it so clear.
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Old 04-04-2009   #16
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Lenses are like Paint Brushes. They all draw an image a little bit differently.

I like making "paintbrushes".



and am always amazed at what an artist can do with it.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/3318307656/

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Old 04-04-2009   #17
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You are an artist, Brian.
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Old 04-04-2009   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
Here is my analysis: There are 3 characteristics/tendencies in photographers/ people with cameras. Individuals have varying degrees of each.
1) Collecting for the satisfaction of owning a collection displayed on a shelf.
2) Gear-headedness is the satisfaction of manipulating and taking pictures with various different cameras and lenses. Emphasis is on the process of photography.
3) The artistic drive which is satisfied by the final image without regard for the process or tools. This is the essence/spirit of creativity in all arts.
I am 0/8/8
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Old 04-04-2009   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hawkeye View Post

Going out with a one lens and one camera is like a violinist practicing scales and rehearsing. It is focusing one's mind on the images in the world and not the gear.

Hawkeye
I wholeheartedly agree.

To me, taking the gear out of the equation is akin to taking down the wall between your "mind's eye" and your picture.

Peace of mind for you "eye" to be all it can.

m.
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Old 04-04-2009   #20
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I wholeheartedly agree.

To me, taking the gear out of the equation is akin to taking down the wall between your "mind's eye" and your picture.

Peace of mind for you "eye" to be all it can.

m.
Imagine the freedom of no camera, no lens, and better still, no computer. I think it would be great for you.
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Old 04-04-2009   #21
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I have recently been evaluating my collection of cameras, and doing some remedial work on light seals etc. I have been using my Leica M6 almost exclusively for the last decade and it was only when I got out my Olympus OM1n cameras that I realised how much I enjoyed using them before I got the Leica. I was thinking of doing a one camera and one lens thing with the 35mm Zuicko f2.8 and see what happens from there. It is a focal length missing in my Leica outfit and may be ideal for such an exercise in minimalism.
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Old 04-04-2009   #22
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less is more, but when you think about it, it speaks about material things but also spiritual matters.

Like Diane Arbus said, if you stick with one subject. Just one subject, then you will succeed in "unfolding" it.

Less doesn't mean absolutely no idea, you've got have ideas, there's no great painting or photo without great ideas! Just don't get confuse with too much ideas, just focus on the most important to you. My 0.02€
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Old 04-05-2009   #23
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edodo

Absolutely correct. Continuing with my musician metaphor may I add that musicians also find one subject or in this case sytle or period of music, to focus on and to try to know well.

And isn't the task of a musician repeatedly practicing the same sonata or jazz phrase to get into it deeply. To take one idea one thought and to view it from as many angles and aspects as possible. To know it and then to present it in perhaps a new way.

Similarly as a photographer by concentrating on one subject over and over I can hope to truly see it and just maybe add to it.

But I disagree about there needing to be great ideas. At this point I am happy to see ANY ideas in the photgraphy I see around me and often in my own.

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Old 04-05-2009   #24
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edodo & hawkeye, you're talking about concentrating a fewer subjects, which is different from using less gear. Or do I misunderstand you?
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Old 04-05-2009   #25
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No, I am still talking about less equipment. As I wrote earlier my rehearsal exercise is to go out with one camera and one less. And as well going out trying to see one subject.

For example going out to photograph kids playing baseball with my CL and the 40mm normal lens and trying to find the small gestures that reflect visually the tensions or stresses or excitement of the player. The camera and lens limit me a lot but also force me to really work on finding images.

Does this make sense/

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Old 04-05-2009   #26
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If I wanted to catch small gestures on individual players that reflect tension or excitement, I would grab a short telephoto. I would not grab a CL, as the VF mag is low or just the 40, as the small gestures could be lost with a wide-angle lens. I would probably grab the Canon P or Nikon S3 and the relevent 10.5cm F2.5 Nikkor. Grab two cameras, one with a 35 or 50, the other with the Telephoto. All Fits in one medium sized compartment case.
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Old 04-05-2009   #27
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I guess I'll admit to all three.

I love beautiful old cameras.

I love the satisfaction of learning to use them all to best advantage.

In the end, it is my photos that count.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
Here is my analysis: There are 3 characteristics/tendencies in photographers/ people with cameras. Individuals have varying degrees of each.
1) Collecting for the satisfaction of owning a collection displayed on a shelf.
2) Gear-headedness is the satisfaction of manipulating and taking pictures with various different cameras and lenses. Emphasis is on the process of photography.
3) The artistic drive which is satisfied by the final image without regard for the process or tools. This is the essence/spirit of creativity in all arts.
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Old 04-05-2009   #28
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PS When I am out shooting, I am nearly always out with one camera and one lens. This intrudes less in the way that I approach photography... the doing part.
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Old 04-05-2009   #29
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Re: Hawkeye's post 26 and Sweeney's post 27.

Brian's right (as are most people named Brian). I've been doing kiddie baseball shooting for several years, generally with either a Nikon SLR and 85mm or a Hassy and 150mm. Neither combination is really sufficient -- too short for almost any shot that depicts "small gestures that reflect visually the tensions or stresses or excitement of the player" I've had better luck with Nikon SLR and 80-200 zoom, which I'll be using at the next game. Even that makes it a bit of a stretch to adequately photograph kids on 2nd, whatever base is on "the other side", or in the outfield.
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Old 04-05-2009   #30
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"Imagine the freedom of no camera, no lens, and better still, no computer. I think it would be great for you."

Interesting suggestion and it hits the point exactly: HBC and Man Ray in their last years both spent much time drawing and painting .....after they reached enlightenment through photography. Just look up some Japanese Masters of the sword who also hat their "satori" and never needed or used their swords afterwards.

OK on that scale: I would be 3(once 6)/5/9.

The problem is that category b and c often get mixed up in a bad way and when you decide to go out spontaneously ....and you spent about 15 min's to thing which camera to take..
But OK I am sure ...that a guy will chim in who sez that evrything changed since he uses a shoebox with a pinhole (which will become afad and we will have lomography guys selling luxury shoeboxes for 50 $+)
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Old 04-05-2009   #31
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Quote:
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Interesting suggestion and it hits the point exactly: HBC and Man Ray in their last years both spent much time drawing and painting .....after they reached enlightenment through photography. Just look up some Japanese Masters of the sword who also hat their "satori" and never needed or used their swords afterwards.

'Once they reached enlightenment'.
Saint HCB is it, Guru Man Ray now?
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Old 04-05-2009   #32
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I just like to take photographs. I buy what I want, use what I want, and don't worry too much about it. There is way too much navel-gazing going on around here, in my opinion. Just be what you are, do what you do, and get over yourself. It really isn't that difficult.

I have never understood this incessant need to alternate between buying things we like, berating ourselves for doing it, complaining that our lives are now too complex, purging, swearing allegiance to a 'simpler way', and then beginning the cycle again. Stop persecuting yourselves, you chowderheads. Do what you want, buy stuff, enjoy it, take photos, and above all, stop feeling guilty about it. All this self-hatred makes me itchy.
Imagine that! Navel gazing on a Philosophy of Photography Forum. Try Calamine lotion.
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Old 04-05-2009   #33
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Imagine that! Navel gazing on a Philosophy of Photography Forum. Try Calamine lotion.
Yeah. Imagine reading comprehension skills.

Quote:
Philosophy of Photography Taking pics is one thing, but understanding why we take them, what they mean, what they are best used for, how they effect our reality -- all of these and more are important issues of the Philosophy of Photography. One of the best authors on the subject is Susan Sontag in her book "On Photography."
This is not the 'Narcissism of Photographer' forum...
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Old 04-05-2009   #34
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Wink

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'Once they reached enlightenment'. Saint HCB is it, Guru Man Ray now?
......Come on do I really have to put " before and after the word enlightenment?

......and well since there are enough people pronouncing "HCB" in a very reverend way Saint is quite close to the truth. The only thing missing is a proper miracle like "after meditating at HCB's grave I had a whole series of people jumping over puddles on a roll of film i just bought and did not use!"

whereas "Guru"(somthing like a teacher) is exact when you think about the people he influenced like Lee Miller who was his student and his lover (Which to my mind is very very guruesque)
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Old 04-06-2009   #35
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Yeah. Imagine reading comprehension skills.



This is not the 'Narcissism of Photographer' forum...
You raise an important point about narcissism -- one that I have been quick to apply especially when listening to some artist's talk about their work in terms of process. It took me awhile to get past my simplistic application of the term as a dismissal to people who didn't allow their work to "speak for itself". I know a lot of people think artists and photographers are narcissistic but my experience is I find them more often full of self doubt and loathing. The narcissists seem to appear more regularly in politics and business and not art.

That aside I think there are strong feelings against asking those big why questions about work and process and it often does get labeled navel gazing. For me, that gazing has been helpful once I was able to accept that most of the time I was flying along on intuition and luck with little idea of why I was making the choices I make.

Has it made me a better photographer? Yes. Would it make everyone a better photographer? I have no idea.
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Old 04-06-2009   #36
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If I were a golfer, I suppose it would be a dozen bags of clubs and I'd select a set for a particular course. Some of them would be hacked in the basement. I don't play golf. I can hack lenses, and modify them the way I like. I would have taken out the 300mm F4.5 Nikkor-H for that baseball game.

But if you want a minimalist approach from a real professional, buy the 12th Edition "Leica Manual" by Lester and Morgan. Alfred Eisenstadt wrote a chapter, and advises a Leica with 35, 50, and 90.

Eisenstadt stated:
"For 95 percent of my pictures I use a 35mm Elmar lens. When the light is good, I can usually stop down to F6.3 or F9, at which setting it can be used as a fixed-focus lens. I usually have with me two Leica cameras, one equipped with the wide-angle lens, one with a 50mm Summitar".

So, what does this establish? Eisenstadt was a great photographer, and he selected a reasonable outfit for photography.

And prices on Barnack Leica's are way down, as are prices on a 5cm f2 Summitar, 9cm F4 Elmar, and 3.5cm F3.5 Elmar.

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Old 04-06-2009   #37
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Location: Austin, TX
Age: 66
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Start with a small bag. A 28/2.8 Canon, a 50 and a 90 with a single body is how I often do it while on the road. In truth, I'd be better served with just the 28 and a 50 on two bodies.- with one body for indoor work and a second for Sunny 16. I rarely reach for the 90.
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- Andrew in Austin, Texas -

35mm Gear Bessa R, Leica II, - IIIg, - M2
Just for fun 35mm Gear a Kodak Retina IIa, a Rollei 35 S, plus a Voigtlander Vito II and Vito BR
Modern Medium Format Fuji GW 690III
Vintage MF Folders a Voigtländer Perkeo II and Bessa II, 2 of them - a ZI Mess Ikonta 524/2 - plus an Agfa Super Isolette & a Record III
Digital a D300 and a D700 with some primes - still going over a decade later

"Who spilled the Dektol on the bathroom carpet?"
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Old 04-06-2009   #38
Solinar
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Steve, your choice of transportation has probably fired up those synapses in the brain that induce you to reach for what is small light and basic, since you are not riding a full blown road bike with side bags and maybe one on the tank. By comparison a motorized scooter is relatively small, light and basic.

I have been mostly riding a 30 year old 10 speed to commute to work for the past 12 years and recently picked up a beefier bicycle with an Shimano inner 8 rear hub. Even with saddle bags, I usually reach for one of my folders before heading out the door.

I notice when I do a road trip in my VW Westfalia - the synapses fire a little differently. I tend to reach for at least four lenses, plus 3 bodies, because I'll have the option to shoot 35mm, medium format and digital. Throw in a full sized tripod and I'm like Brian at the golf course.
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- Andrew in Austin, Texas -

35mm Gear Bessa R, Leica II, - IIIg, - M2
Just for fun 35mm Gear a Kodak Retina IIa, a Rollei 35 S, plus a Voigtlander Vito II and Vito BR
Modern Medium Format Fuji GW 690III
Vintage MF Folders a Voigtländer Perkeo II and Bessa II, 2 of them - a ZI Mess Ikonta 524/2 - plus an Agfa Super Isolette & a Record III
Digital a D300 and a D700 with some primes - still going over a decade later

"Who spilled the Dektol on the bathroom carpet?"
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Old 04-06-2009   #39
Brian Sweeney
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> Men's egos drive all these markets, and fast, large-super expensive lenses are no exception.

Last year at Cherry Blossom time, we went on a picnic at Meadowlark Gardens in Northern Virginia. I took an uncoated CZJ Sonnar 5cm F2 converted to LTM, on a Canon P. (I mark the bag of photo's with what was used). I also use the CDS light meter that came with the Polaroid 180. I was very happy with the results.

Almost everyone else had their BIG Multi-MegaPixel Macro-Zoom Monsters out, ring lights, etc, crouching to get close-ups of every Blossom.

I was the only one using a lens that I made myself. (Manly ego-trip)

Not from that Day, but with the same setup.



I could have taken any number of macro-lenses with an SB-29 ringlight and an SLR or DSLR. Could have photographed the Blossom in infinite detail, and in monochrome or color Infrared. The Sonnar seemed like a better choice. I could do 95% of my photography with it.

Last edited by Brian Sweeney : 04-06-2009 at 06:04.
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Old 04-06-2009   #40
hawkeye
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Location: Pezenas, France
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Brian

You are missing the whole point. Using one lens forces you to think and move-physically move around. A long lens lets you sit on the sidelines and "obseerve". Shooting with a 40mm lens is contrarian to using a long lens. That is the point. To stretch by doing what you are not supposed to.

Using a normal or even a wide lens forces me to literally get up close and personal with the subjects.

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