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Carrying Lenses I Don't Use

Using an interchangeable lens camera generally leads to carrying around more than one lens. I certainly fit that pattern. Sometimes I wonder if I fit that pattern too well.

There's no such thing as a perfect camera bag, but no matter which one I use I tend to fill it to capacity with gear. A large percentage of that packed gear is inevitably made up of lenses — interchangeable lenses.

Apart from helping to build strong muscles by carrying all those lenses around, there is a point here. Lenses provide for choices. And choices are good.

People often say that different focal lengths render perspective differently, with long focal lengths tending to compress perspective and wide angle lenses exaggerating it. This really isn't factually accurate, but the misperception persists. Admittedly, this seem true when you look through the viewfinder, but the appearance of changing perspective actually stems from changes in subject shooting distance. It just so happens that long, telephoto lenses are the tool of choice when shooting from far away while wide angle, short focal length lenses permit shooting from much shorter subject distances. Telephoto lenses generally can't even focus when too close. Yes, you can use wide angle lenses from far away, but the results are generally less than satisfactory. The only way to get a subject to fill the frame with a wide angle lens is to get right up on top of it.

And so I carry around a variety of lenses to cover a wide range of focal lengths. A single zoom lens does cover a modest range, but no one lens of any type can cover the gamut, making multiple lenses necessary. Given all this, I often find myself loading up my camera bag with lenses, and when they won't fit, I tend to opt for a bigger bag instead of fewer lenses.

Sometimes, at the end of a good hike loaded up with camera gear I get back to my car and realize at least one of those lenses I lugged around on the trail never even came out of my pack, let alone getting mounted to my camera and used. Whether or not this is a problem depends on how you look at it.

If I knew precisely what I was going out to shoot, it would seem that I could get away with carrying fewer lenses. So perhaps I'm not planning ahead sufficiently and end up needlessly carrying around lenses I should know won't be needed. A macro lens won't be of much use to shoot a waterfall. But the unexpected does arise, and I'd rather be prepared for it. I may find some early blooming wildflowers along the side of the trail on my way to that waterfall and feel a need to reach for that macro lens. I may not expect to find flowers, but nature doesn't necessarily always conform to my expectations. The real world can be unpredictable, and planning can't always factor in every variable even if they could be known in advance.

So if I get back to the car and find that I didn't use all the lenses I carried on the trail, does it necessarily follow that there were no wildflowers beside the trail, or that I simply didn't notice any? Ah, now that's the question. Often, I've got a self-imposed deadline to get to a particular place by a particular time, and stopping by the side of the trail simply doesn't fit in with that schedule. I may well walk right past one opportunity on my way to a different opportunity. Tradeoffs have to be made all the time. It's impossible to be in two places at once.

But now here's something a bit harder to come to terms with. What happens if I find the trail to that waterfall still blocked by snow and that I can't actually get there? What then? Sure, I can backtrack on the trail and go looking for those early blooming wildflowers, shifting gears as I shift subject matter. After all, I did head out on the trail prepared with a pack full of lenses. But while I can now feel good about getting to use that macro lens, I may well get back to the car after finding nothing to use some other lens on. Oh, what a predicament.

Sometimes, I find that even fully loaded up with lenses I wish I had one I left back in the car or even back at home. I've been a photographer for a fair number of years now and have accumulated a fair number of lenses in that time. Some of those are going to be left behind unless I start travelling with a pack mule or an army of able bodied volunteers.

The real world can indeed be unpredictable. Personally though, I'd rather end up carrying too many lenses than not enough. You never know what surprises you may encounter on along the trail. Being over-prepared may not be ideal, but it beats the alternative.

Date posted: May 29, 2016


Copyright © 2016 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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