When you pose this question to most photographers they will probably tell you that they can never have enough lenses. But the truth is, if you have just 1 or 2 really good zoom lenses, then that’s pretty much all you really need. If you read my other post The Most Useful Lens In My Bag, I even talk about just one zoom lens that I end up using much of the time.
But if you do specialty work, for example, architecture, underwater, food, macro, beauty, or product photography, then you might need specific types of lenses for your craft, but, for most other forms of photography, a lens or two should cover you.
I also see many enthusiasts who are generalist photographers producing great work with just one decent zoom lens. So, many of us can get by with just a good wide angle to medium range zoom. In fact, some shooters spend most of their time shooting at just one focal length most of the time anyway. A good example is when shooting head shots and portraits at a narrow focal range mainly between 85mm to 135mm. So if you really think about, you don’t need very many lenses at all.
If it’s about the extra stops of light you get with some prime lenses at F1.2, F/1.4 or F/1.8 that some prime lenses offer us above the standard widest aperture of F/2.8 that zoom lenses gives us, then you can bump up the ISO instead to gain more shutter speed if you need it when shooting in low light situations or with moving subjects. Sure, increasing ISO is not as “clean” as opening your aperture in terms of image quality, but with most of the sensors in DSLR bodies today, grain and noise aren’t as much of an issue as they used to be, especially with camera bodies released within the last 5 years.
Plus, noise reduction software like Topaz DeNoise can help on this too. Especially if a totally noiseless digital file is what you’re looking for. So, as camera hardware and post processing software advances allow us to comfortably shoot with higher ISO settings, the benefit of having additional light stops via a wider aperture on a prime lens is often no longer worth the extra money or hassle of carrying around a bunch of fast lenses in your bag. And when we’re in a studio shooting with strobes, we often don’t shoot at very wide apertures anyway. I shoot most commercial work at F/8 or F/11 and food at F/5.6
The lens I often see people using is either a 24-70mm or the 24-105mm on a full frame body, both of which I talked about previously in my other article.
I realize images shot with zooms may not be as sharp as they would be if using a prime, but the difference is hardly noticeable if you aren’t making huge prints. Sure, primes can offer better subject to background separation, and the wider apertures on primes produce creamier bokeh, but honestly, it’s still amazing how great the overall quality of the images are that you get from a high quality zoom and just a minor bit of post processing.
Even though primes may be a bit better grade than zooms, I would argue that the quality I get from my Canon 24-70mm F/2.8, or my 24-105mm F/4, or even my 70-200mm F/4 is more than enough for all my applications. If our images have great colors, contrast, and are sharp enough for our needs, do we actually need something more? Or more to the point, do we need to be carrying around a heavy bag full of expensive prime lenses that will just slow us down in terms of weight and constant lens changes?
Yes, some photographers will need different specialty lenses as I mentioned, and some will require other unique equipment or tools for their job. But the point of this article is really just to say that you don’t need that many lenses to get the job done with a very high quality standard, especially for the more common types of shoots that don’t require specialist gear.
After working commercially for 15 years, I can comfortably say I never had a client look at the bokeh or sharpness of the work I shot for them and ask me if I captured the images with a prime or a zoom lens.
Clients usually only care if the images speak to them, match their brief, and deliver the message that the photographer was hired to deliver.
Let me know how many lenses you shoot with and what you use them for. Do you find you do the majority of your work with just one lens? What percentage of your work is shot with a zoom? I am interested to know.