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Thread: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Vancouver Island Canada

    One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    4x5 large format photography is my choice for my personal expression and relaxation. I revel in its slow contemplative nature. The prints I enjoy reinforce the energy spent pre visualizing and executing an image free from digital feedback and interruption. For me it is very zen. Kind of like a meditation.

    I'm considering limiting myself to shooting with a single lens for an extended period of time. My thoughts are to remove all lens selection from my process and allow 100% focus on my subjects and how they speak to me with the intention of seeing past the obvious. I imagine pre visualization would become very intuitive and would have less mental clutter.

    It goes against most of our modern desires but do any of you roll only with a single lens by choice?

    Care to share how that adds to you process?


    Regards Lee

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Southland, New Zealand

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    Nearly everything I do is with a 210 on 5x7 or a 250 on wholeplate, which I have calculated to be exactly equivalent to a 210 5x7 combination at 6x8.5. But I don't restrict myself.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    I could see managing with just a 120 - 125 lens. To me that allows a pretty straightforward (natural) view of the landscape. I almost never use filters. They can be useful, but they almost always introduce unexpected consequences in unanticipated areas of tone. The result is exactly what you say - greater focus on the evocation of the moment.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    May 2015
    SooooCal/LA USA

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    One lens on that camera??? Bravo!!!

    You would be forced to "see" in that perspective, and soon the frame edges would be "burned" into your brain, you would optimize the FOV available, and learn to not worry about the things that are beyond (wider/distant) that would probably change the balances of what you shoot...

    Some would use it to develop a "style" that creates a linkage between other shots in the series, but others like Vivian Maier used that old Rollei (with fixed FL) for most all of her shooting, and was still able to capture MANY different types of subjects with a fresh look for each...

    And when it's printing time, you would get into the groove sooner, as the negs would easier to print than if you shot them with a dozen different lenses... And all of the prints hanging on a gallery wall would match each other's (lens) look...

    I think anyone considering buying (yet) another lens for that format should ask themselves would they be able to shoot that lens for at least 50%-70% of what they do for that series, and with any lens in their kit, is there one lens (FL+look) they would use if it was the only one that they could shoot???

    I think many series would have a more focused look... And someone would learn to get the best out of that lens...

    Steve K

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Leipzig, Germany

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    I can see the merits of this approach, especially since I have a clear favorite among focal lengths. Most of my images are made with a 120mm on 4x5" (or equivalent for other formats). I can judge a scene very intuitive, composition factors are very familiar by now. On the other head, I am a gearhead and enjoy working with different lenses and cameras, picking the right tool for the job or the right project for a technique I want to use. If your work profits from the variety of tools or you can't easily tell a favorite focal length, this might not be your way. If limiting your lens options is your own choice, go for it. It is very rewarding. If you have the feeling that it limits your artistic freedom, don't be to strict on yourself.


  6. #6

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Westport Island, Maine

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    It's a great idea, and pretty much what I do.

    210mm on 4x5, and I keep an 85mm on my Canon F1.

    The avoidance of choice is actually liberating, for the reasons you describe.
    Bruce Barlow
    author of "Finely Focused" and "Exercises in Photographic Composition"

  7. #7
    jp's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    I do it with mf and it works excellent. Rolleiflex user.

    In 4x5 i have plenty of lenses but only take two for the last year, my 9" hyperion and 7.25 verito. Its mostly for the purpose of learning them well. It is working.

    Go for it!

  8. #8

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    When I started working with a 4 x 5 I had a lens and I was not all that happy with the focus length. But I kept working with it. When I started working for Zone VI, Fred would have me house sit while he was away and this gave me a chance to do darkroom work. At the time I did not have a darkroom ,I would used the bathroom to develop film. While house sitting I had the chance to use Fred's camera and try a lot of different lens and found one that was to my liking and bought that focus length lens. It's has been my main lens ever since then. When I go out photographing or traveling with the camera it's that lens and one other as a back up.

    Every one sees the world a little different and what works for one person my not work for someone else. Best thing to do is find a lens you are happy with and just go photographing.
    Richard T Ritter

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Massachusetts USA

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    We learn from everything we do.

    You might find it interesting to view a book like John Sexton's Quiet Light or Ansel Adams Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs because they tell you the lenses used for each photograph. You can tally-up the various focal lengths and see how often certain lenses were used: some more than others. In the process, you may get a better appreciation for choice of perspective.

    As the saying goes, "The Sabbath was made for Man and not Man for the Sabbath"

  10. #10's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Winona, Minnesota

    Re: One lens - artistic zen or a limiting frustration

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeSimmons View Post
    [...]I'm considering limiting myself to shooting with a single lens for an extended period of time.
    It is better to choose limits than to have them thrust upon you. Try it. To me it was a liberating experience.

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