“I wondered a little when you posted
that you were buying the 5D with a
28mm lens. I had you pegged as a 50mm
man.” – Stephen Bray
Yes, it’s true. If I only had one lens to use, it would be a good 50mm f1.4 (full frame). I picked up the 28mm 1.8 because I got a good deal on it (honey they were on sale, look how much I saved) and because it had been a long time since I had used true wide-angles on a full-frame. And it is useful for scenics.
If you were to go through the images in the store, you’d find that 90% of them were shot with the equivalent (not counting the camera format) of a 50mm, give or take a few mm’s. It is one of my gripes with camera makers that the first thing they try to sell you as part of the “package” is a zoom lens. I would rather see them offer a 50mm f1.4 equivalent. It’s one of the first things I end up talking about when people (friends, cousins etc.) ask me how to “get better” at their photography.
I look at the kit they have, and try to forbid them from using the zoom lens that came with the kit, and going to a normal type prime lens, at least f2.0
This almost always seems like a novel idea. How will they be able to get closer to the subject? (You walk closer).
But what if it is a mountain that is far in the distance (I will make exceptions for objects that you can’t get close to, or if you need the perspective of a long lens). However, this is a different subject, and you are asking about how to get better and I am giving two rules: use a normal and hopefully “fast” lens, and take the camera with you everywhere. Yes, everywhere.
The two rules are related. It is going to be more difficult to take the camera with the heavier zoom lens with you everywhere, and since the zoom lens is going to be slower than the prime lens, you are going to end up wanting to use flash more often.
It is a little bit like the advice a friend once got about playing the trumpet. The teacher refused to give the student a trumpet at all, and had him only blowing into the mouthpiece for about three months to develop the armature before handing him the trumpet.
My own experience, when I went back to photography was to use a camera with a fixed normal lens for close to a year before getting a camera with interchangeable lenses. It is really an excellent way to get a feeling for what is in the frame, and what walking a few steps forward or a few steps back can do.
I have nothing against zoom lenses; I just don’t think they are a good way to begin. Once you’ve got a feeling for a normal lens, I would add a semi-long (maybe 90mm or so) lens for portraits, or getting closer. And after that you are on your own and can buy out the store.
Before I get mail about my prejudice against zoom lenses – let me put it into context – I’m only talking about the beginner, or the student (at whatever stage) that is in need of a kind of optical purification. I own and will use a long zoom sometimes – but it comes at a point where I understand the consequences, and I can say for sure that I don’t carry it with me at all times and use it when I need a good long lens.
Wide-angles on the street are often used as measurement of street courage. The shorter the lens, the closer you need to be to the subject, and hence there is a sort of macho thing about using short lenses for street shooting. However, I don’t believe any prizes are given for street photography with the shortest lens. The shorter lenses for the candid shooter usually come later in the career; when you need to up the challenge a bit; or you like the challenge of having more bits of the puzzle in the frame. So, just as the long lens is not for the beginner, neither is the short lens.
– The Art of Photography, Dave B’ck-mahn