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Saturday, February 11

Three into one doesn't go

Back in October, I wrote a post about my difficulties in going out for a few hours with just one lens. I know there are readers who can do this and they're probably bemused by my rumblings of discontent.

The photo trip in question was to the Fife village of Crail on a picturesque stretch of coastline known as the East Neuk. That wee outing caused me to do some thinking as I was pretty fed up carting the Rollei SL66 and heavyweight Benbo tripod over soggy beaches and rocks made slippery by the retreating tide.

There must be a better way of tackling this sort of thing, I thought at the time, and still do, to be honest. It was in the comments that a couple of people advised just taking the camera and one lens. True, this cuts down on a lot of faffing about and the heavy weight but I find it leaves the compositions I can achieve being dictated more by the lack of the "right" lens than by creativity.

I know you can never have the right lens for every photograph otherwise we'd all be followed around by a pack horse and a small Himalayan sherpa but it's still nice to tilt the odds in one's favour. Generally speaking, I'm happy with the 35mm format equivalents of 28mm, 50mm and 135mm in the bag with a 300mm lens in the car. As I wrote in the Crail post, I took three photographs there - one with the 80mm, one with the 40mm and a third on the 250mm. With just one lens, I'd have missed out on two photos.

I developed the film last week and posted here are the three pics I was referring to. They're nothing special but do illustrate the point. The first was taken on the standard lens and the second on the wide angle. The last one of the Isle of May was on the long tele.

I suppose if I'd used the wide angle on the harbour shot then I would have got the whole of the reflected house in the frame had that been bothering me but I'd have got masses on top of that as well. We're talking about the difference between a 24mm and 50mm lens on the 35mm format. The shot of the old cobble stones depends on the exaggerated perspective of the 40mm for its effect. Yes, I could have used the 80mm but there would have been little point in taking that photograph at all.

Here's the Isle of May. At the time, I thought I really needed something longer than the 250mm - which I don't have - but, looking at it now, I quite like the bit of foreshore. Again, I wouldn't have taken this pic with anything wider.

I was making the same complaints in October when visiting Alyth Den (never realised I was such a  moaning old bugger!) again in the company of the SL66, its four lenses and the light-as-lead Benbo. I wasn't very happy with the pics I took - they were, eh, a bit boring - but here are a couple anyway which were taken with the 80mm (top) and 40mm.

So, they may not have been the most interesting photographs of Alyth Den but at least I had the right lenses! When I leave the house, I haven't a clue what I'm going to be photographing - absolutely no idea. So how do I decide which lens to take if I'm going to be a one-lens chap? Speak to the local seer? Have a wild guess? Or just accept that I'm going to miss quite a few pics that day?

That's why I'll never be a one-lenser. I had a similar problem today when Cath and I went for a run up to Glenisla. I took the lovely recent addition of the Super Ikonta and meant to throw my bag with some Nikon 35mm gear into the boot - but forgot. That meant I was up a lonely glen with light snow and mist with only a standard lens. I spent half the time telling Cath that I'd just seen a pic but needed a telephoto. I took a couple of those shots with the aim of blowing up the centre of the neg but it's hardly ideal.

But enough of my gripes. I've got a few options: stick to 35mm, put up with the heavy medium format gear, or go for something like the 645 format. I've been here a couple of time already in the recent past and I'm in no rush to make up my mind.

One good thing that came out of these rolls of 120 Tmax was the fact that you can develop a few rolls  in a tank of D76 1+1 without any problems provided you stick to Kodak's recommendations. In this post, I wrote about how a couple of 35mm rolls had come out a little under-developed because I'd failed to stick to Kodak's recommended 250ml of stock solution per film. This time, I developed three 120 rolls in the one tank with the proper amount of stock and had no problems.

In between those two multi-reel sessions, I'd developed a roll of 35mm Tmax with 250ml stock at 1+1 and went with Kodak's fairly vigorous agitation sequence. That led to over-development so my regime now (D76 1+1) is the 250ml stock rule, ten minutes development and agitation of four inversions at the start and four every minute thereafter. I still don't like the results as much as with Firstcall Superfine (Rollei RHS) but that's another matter.


DougH said...

Depending on what I have available in various formats, I usually have 2-3 lenses packed in my truck. But once I arrive at an area/location, I'll pick just one. Once I'm in a groove of seeing based on format/lens size, I can move about and shoot more intuitively.

Marcus Peddle said...

I had a lens problem yesterday. I felt lazy, so I only took a camera with a 50mm lens on it. This is usually fine, but at a wharf I found myself with my back against a wall and unable to get everything I wanted into the frame. I'm going out again today, and you can be sure there will be a 28mm lens and an 85mm lens with me.
(I did get the photo I wanted with my iPhone but it's not the same . . . .)

Herman Sheephouse said...

I can understand your dilemma Bruce, but well, did you start out with a single lens kit, or where you firmly into multi-lens territory from the start?
I never had the luxury to begin with of many lenses, and even when I broke down and moved over to the college K1000's and had the opportunity to use multiple lenses at a time I didn't. Then it was the Rolleis' 75mm for many years. I have to say, these days I think I probably could do with a longer lens at times on the 500CM, but for the Leica, I'll just shove one on there and take it from there, utilising a variation on the Ernst Haas "keep moving back and wait for the a-ha" and the shoe leather zoom.
I think what is flooring you with the SL66 is the Benbo. Have you tried the SL66 as a handheld outfit? Remember the quality of those Zeiss lenses is such that you could shoot wide open and still get superb results -it' worth thinking about.
Back to the Benbo - OK you don't need to spend as much as a Gitzo or a RRS CF tripod, but some of the better built Chinese copies would probably do you just as well - it's worth thinking about.
Really nice photos btw - not 'boring' at all!

Steve Weston said...

I understand where your coming from Bruce. On my recent walks I have just been taking my Nikon F100 and a standard lens. On the last two bimbles I haven't taken a shot. I know some of it is lack of inspiration but when I do see something it seems I can't get the right perspective so end up leaving it. All the comments seem to be regarding fixed lenses but certainly in the 35mm format have you considered using a zoom lens?

Pieter Vandenberghe said...

This has been suggested before, and I too believe the Mamiya 7 could be all that you're looking for.
(Probably I'm just hoping you'll get one, fall in love with it and post just enough brilliant pictures to convince me to save up for one myself...)

Frank M. said...

I always take only one lens with me (usually a 28 or a 40 mm equivalent). I make the decision before leaving home. That defines the mind-set for the trip. I try not to regret having chosen a particular lens, but to adapt my "photographic eye" to the lens I'm carrying. I've always thought that this is the same attitude as adapting to the type of film one has loaded into the camera (when I used film cameras...).

Frank M.

Nick Davis said...

I suspect it depends on your chosen subject. I've recently been doing a personal project and had intended to use a Mamiya RB67 but started it off with a Fuji Wide 60 which worked so well I haven't touched the Mamiya once throughout the project. It might be a case of thinking, if I can't take this particular picture because I don't have the appropriate lens with me, you should look around for another composition that does suit the combination you have with you. It's another kind of creativity. The pictures that "got away" may not have been as good as you thought they were going to be! You are a creative and thoughtful photographer, Bruce, so go to it!!!

Nasir said...

By following the 250ml of D76 stock rule, what do you do if you only want to develop one roll of 35mm? Mix up 500ml working solution if you want to use 1+1 dilution?

My stainless tanks only require 250ml of solution to cover a 35mm spiral. Am I just better off using 250ml stock and going with a shorter dev time?

Howard Pan said...


It just dawned on me that with a Super Ikonta (I'm going to assume C or 6x9), you can achieve the same effect through cropping.

A 135 crop (24mm x 36 mm) on a 6x9 negative would give you the same effect as shooting with a 105mm lens on a 135. A 645 crop would give you the same effect as a 60-70mm lens on a 135 format. Of course, if you didn't crop, you would get a 45mm equivalent on 135.

If you're happy with the quality of 135, then you have in effect 45mm-105mm lens.
If you're happy with the quality of 645, the you have in effect a 45mm-70mm lens.

John Carter said...

I'm a one lens guy, whether 35mm or 120. It is too much trouble for me to fiddle with multiple lenses. But that doesn't mean I don't have different focal lengths, I just take one. I will say that I will take two bodies sometimes: color and B&W.

Bob Smith said...

Perhaps your featured post has the answer.

Bruce Robbins said...

The Rolleiflex, Bob? You're probably right.

Anonymous said...

I very much enjoy this site (among others), having recently returned to B/W film photography after a three+ decade lapse. I've got all my old 35 mm stuff which includes a variety of lenses 20mm-300mm. I've taken your advice and am sticking to TriX/Tmax400 in D76 (Microdol is gone, sadly). Other than taking pictures of my boy on the soccer pitch last year (with the 300mm), I can't remember having so much satisfaction with just the 50mm prime. It's liberating to go out with just a simple rig with a perspective equal to my vision and find the images, rather than make images by manipulating perspective with a bag full of glass. This isn't a comment on anybody else's pleasures, just one guy relating his enjoyment with One.