Photography: Single Lens Discipline With a DSLR

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Single lens discipline with a DSLR. I’m an old guy—a REALLY old guy. I will turn 71 next month (May 18th to be precise). I started snapping shutters when I was 7 years old (almost 64 years ago). No—dinosaurs were not still walking on planet Earth (but thanks for asking).

My early cameras were of the fixed lens variety: a 1940s Kodak box camera, a Kodak Brownie Bullet II and a Yashica D TLR. I was a young 19-year-old Marine Corps Sergeant in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 and bought a beat to shit Ricoh rangefinder camera from a fellow Marine.

Later in my tour of duty I bought my very first 35mm SLR which was a Yashica J-7. It came with one lens—a 50mm f/1.7 screw mount (similar to a Leica). So for all intents & purposes it was still a fixed lens camera even though it was technically capable of mounting other lenses. I eventually upgraded to the original Nikon F SLR which came standard with a 50mm f/1.4. As time and finances allowed I added a 28mm, 105mm and 135mm lens to my kit (as well as a second body).

Crathie Kirk (Church) – Aberdeenshire, Scotland

I also shot with a Leica IIIf RD with a 50mm f/2, Leica M-3 with 50mm f/1.4 (both 35mm rangefinders) and a Rolleiflex TLR with 75mm f/3.5 (medium format). These cameras all served me well until 2009 when I finally made the switch from film to digital technology. From 1954 until about 1975 I did most of my shooting with a single lens and that lens was usually a 50mm or the medium format equivalent. From 1975 until 2009 I used a few other lenses with my Nikon F bodies but always relied heavily on my 50mm f/1.4. As an aside all of my lenses were prime lenses.

The Tolbooth (Former Prison) – Aberdeen, Scotland

Today my photography kit includes two camera bodies and five lenses (four zooms and one prime). Here’s a link to What’s Currently in My Bag. My dad was always a photography gear-head and would constantly embarrass us with the amount of gear he would carry out in public. To make matters worse he was a dwarf (true statement) and looked absolutely ridiculous with two cameras hanging around his neck and photography bags (called gadget bags in the 1950s) slung on each shoulder. As if we weren’t enough of a spectacle already. I always said I would never be THAT guy.

The River Thay – Perth, Scotland

I travel the world full-time (365 days a year) with my brother Joel. I’m the photographer/writer and he’s the novelist. All of my photography kit travels with me in a Pelican 1510 hard case but I never take it in the field with me. Once we reach a particular destination (we’re in Scotland for three months) the padlocked Pelican case stays in the hostel, guesthouse, non-tourist local hotel or jungle shack safe and secure. I anticipate my shooting needs for each day’s shooting or assignment and plan accordingly. Unless I’m on commercial assignment that typically means one camera and one lens.

Clifden Castle Ruins – Clifden (County Galway) Ireland

Too much gear just slows me down and complicates the process. If it’s a paid gig then I am forced to carry more gear but when I’m shooting for myself I stay with the KISS philosophy: Keep It Simple Stupid. Part of it is my age (gear is heavy), part of it is my experience (I’ve shot most of my life this way) and part of it is an aversion to looking like my father in the field (even though I’m much taller than he was). Learning photography back in the bad old days of film instilled a certain discipline of economy—both with gear and film. Things were much more deliberate.

Christ Church – Clifden (County Galway) Ireland

The advent of digital memory cards has fostered (in many cases) a run & gun or spray & pray approach to photography. That’s fine but as mentioned in the first paragraph of this post I’m a dinosaur and old habits are hard to break. My approach is to pre-think and pre-plan every shooting assignment (whether it’s a professional assignment or a recreational outing). What will the shooting conditions be, what gear will I need (camera bodies, lenses, batteries and cards) and what is my goal? Both of my camera bodies have battery grips (so I always have two fully charged batteries with me).

Rock of Cashel – County Tipperary, Ireland

Both bodies also have dual memory card slots for added protection and flexibility (sometimes I will slip an extra card into a shirt pocket). Most of the time I shoot with my full-frame sensor camera but will switch to my APS-C crop-sensor camera when shooting wildlife at a distance or on the move. The 1.6x crop factor and 10 fps burst rate come in handy for that kind of assignment. I try to stick with just one lens if possible for a couple of reasons: I hate carrying the extra weight and I dislike changing lenses in the field especially in wet, windy or dusty weather (a dirty sensor is a pain).

Perito Moreno Glacier – Southern Patagonia, Argentina

Here’s peek into my Inner Sanctum: On Thursday I had scheduled an 8-hour trip by Range Rover to Balmoral Castle (Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland) to photograph the castle, surrounding countryside, the Crathie Kirk (Church), the Royal Lochnagar Distillery, the small Scottish village of Ballater, the River Dee and the Cullerlie Stone Circle near Echt. A long day but the weather forecast looked good—partly cloudy with some sun, brisk but not freezing temperatures and mild winds. I knew I would be photographing a lot of architecture, some interior shots and some landscapes.

Uahyalceh Hacienda Ruins – Yucatan, Mexico

I decided on my full-frame sensor (primary shooter) camera body and my 16-35mm f/4 ultra wide-angle lens. This lens works great for architecture and interior shots and is a good landscape lens too (I prefer it over my 24-70mm f/4 for this kind of shooting). If I had decided to lug around a second lens it would have been my 70-200mm f/2.8 but it’s big and it’s heavy. Using just one lens forces me to try different angles, approaches and perspectives which is a good thing (and it keeps my sensor clean). This was a recreational shoot and not a paid gig so I had more flexibility in my approach.

Shawn Jumping 40-feet Into a Cenote Pool – Yucatan, Mexico

You can read my post here at The Royal’s Love of Balmoral and All Things Scottish. It turned out to be an excellent day and an interesting excursion. If I had lugged around a lot of extra weight I’m not sure that would have been the case. I like the discipline (even if antiquated by today’s standards) of shooting with just one camera and one lens. It challenges my creativity and makes me look at things in a different way. If you haven’t tried limiting yourself like this in the field you might give it a try—you might be surprised (and pleased) with the result. Even dinosaurs know a thing or two.

Church – Acanceh, Yucatan, Mexico



9 responses to “Photography: Single Lens Discipline With a DSLR

  1. Thanks, interesting and entertaining 😀. Made me take a walk down memory lane. Kind of like a mirror image actually. Throw in a Pentax for those lovely walks in 67 – 68 and it’s me LOL.

  2. I used a Canon EOS 700D but am aiming for the super versatile EOS 80D with Sigma 18-300 lens as an all-rounder. Travel, wildlife – there is too much dust outside and no time to switch lenses.

      • It is the only camera that does 960+ shots per battery recharge afaik. It doesn’t do 4k video but I don’t want that as getting a laptop that can edit such large files isn’t easy and it will be very costly. It is bulky, gigantic compared to most mirrorless cameras, but then there is a huge array of lenses that can be used. Every camera is a compromise, always. This maybe is just the sweeter spot.

        • Well said, I think it would be a great choice. Nikon and Sony seem to have passed Canon (at least temporarily) with their sensor technology but sensors are just one small part of the photography equation. I think Canon still makes the best lenses around with the L-lens (pro-grade glass). However, Sigma is really coming on strong with their Art-series lenses. My only prime lens (these days) is the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and it is STELLAR. Tamron has also upped their game. Anyway, I fully support your decision about purchasing an 80D (I don’t think you will be sorry). My current travel gear:

          • Nikon came close with D7500 but falls slightly short in minor aspects. Sony here doesn’t have a choice of lenses, costs almost double what Canon does. I also looked at bridge cameras, but none have larger than 1″ sensors. I need to make reasonable prints of 2.5 x 2.5 metres….

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