How often do you stop and think which lens you are going to take with you on the next assignment? If you had to make a choice for only one lens, which one would it be?
Ever since the digital AF-S lenses and my deteriorating eye sight (I’ve been making jokes that very soon I will be known as the blind photographer, but the truth is that it is only the fact that I have crossed my 40th and need specs) I found it easier to use the fast auto focus lenses than try to play around with a manual focus one, as incredible as it might be. Call it spoiled but I succumbed to technology quite lovingly. Honestly there are not too many bad things I can say about the 24-70/2.8 lens. I’ve had it for a while and used it extensively. It is a good lens but I end up using it mostly on the wide end, and let’s admit it; it is quite big. I’ve been feeling the urge for a change and a few months ago finally pulled out my old and trusted manual focus prime 35mm from the bag and started using it again, only to rediscover how much I love it. I have quite a few reasons, besides the stunning speed and amazing low light performance of this particular lens, for saying that if you are looking for one great lens, the 35mm lens should be it.
Why choose the 35mm lens
If you haven’t figured it out yet I am talking about the super wonderful Nikon 35mm/f1.4 AI-S Nikkor Manual Focus lens. This lens has been around so long that it has reached legendary status (The current Ai-S version was introduced back in 1982 which is amazing considering how much technology and cameras have evolved from that point). The lens was originally created for press photography and is one of the fastest wide-angle lenses that you can buy even to this day. This lens has one of the most superior color renditions of any lens out there and creates great contrasty images with amazing depth of field when you dial the aperture to its lowest levels. It might be old but Nikon still manufactures it as it is as fine, if not better, than any lens out there, even the more expensive options.
Fewer images but a better yield of great ones
In a way somewhat similar to going back to shooting film in the digital age, going back to a prime manual focus lens will change the way you make photographs. You will surely shoot less images but the yield of great ones will be considerably higher. It takes some time to get used to the fact that you do not zoom, but after a few months of using only the 35mm lens you will start feeling that you can anticipate the image and composition even before picking up the camera. You will get out of the comfort zone and the lazy habit of zooming in and will start positioning yourself better in relationship to the subject while being forced to engage and interact instead of shooting from a ‘secure’ distance. When the subject is farther away and you are unable to get close enough without a zoom you will need to look at the entire frame to create a composition that incorporates the environment along with the subject. In many cases your frame will be way more interesting than a close up. Your mind will start opening up to other possibilities and you will learn to move around the subject while you shoot in a way that does not happen when you can simply zoom. Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures are not good enough you are not close enough” and he did not advocate using a long telephoto lens. Using a 35mm lens will draw you into the action and will get you actively involved.
The 35mm is a great choice for environmental portraits and photojournalism as it pulls you in to the frame giving a very realistic feel. It is wide enough but not too wide to create a distortion and is the closest to the focal composition of the human eye. It is small enough to carry around and not take too much attention so is wonderful for street photography. You can basically shoot anything and everything with a 35mm focal length, from travel to real estate, product shots, close-ups and of course weddings. Many wedding photographers will take a 35mm lens over any other lens because of its versatility and compactness. As a matter of fact I would not come far if I said that it is probably the focal length used for all the wedding family portraits worldwide.
Once you get over the fear of giving up your zoon lens you will have to work harder but I guarantee you will come out with some amazingly surprising images that you simply could not even see otherwise. As if this is not enough, just imagine not having to think which lens to take with you when you go out. Wouldn’t that be great?
By Sephi Bergerson