As in birding, I see photography as having many “levels” or approaches when it comes to gear. The type of gear used, and the amount of it depends on personal preference, subjects to be photographed and budget. There is no “wrong” way of choosing.
Tennessee Walking Horse mare using my shoestring 50-200 lens
When I decided to simplify I had a long talk with myself. Yes, I admit it. Most people would have said that they “Gave it a great deal of thought”or that they “Analyzed the situation”. But I talked with myself, sometimes out loud.
I have a hour or so commute each way to my day job. So my first step in deciding to simplify was to spend that time thinking about what it is I want to be taking photos of. My next step was to separate out the “What I like taking photos of” from the “What I think I would like to take photos of if I had the time and money.” There is actually a rather large distinction between the two.
The first can be easily seen by looking through the photos you’ve taken recently. Which ones make you smile as they tickle your memory. Which ones have captured the scene just the way you remember it. Which ones make you anxious to go to the same location and shoot some more. Those are what you like taking photos of. The later, well those are more an offshoot of equipment desire. The conversation usually goes something like this,
“That new alpha-beta-phi 300-600mm f4 is one sharp looking lens. It’s GXA-p1 ratings are fantastic”
“What do you need a 300-600mm lens for?”
“I don’t know, but I bet I could take some really nice photos of rock climbers with it.”
“Do you take photos of rock climbers now?”
“No, but with that lens, maybe I’ll start”
And before you know it, you’ve spent the price of a small car on the new alpha-beta-phi lens and soon learn that it is too heavy to handhold, you forgot that you lent your tripod to a friend and haven’t seen it in six months, and there are no rocks worthy of climbers within a fifty mile drive of you.
Now there is an area in between. That is when you know that the equipment you own isn’t up to the photos you want to take. Like the poor guy who wants to take pictures of birds and only has a 50mm prime lens. He gives it his best. He uses a blind, spends hours letting the birds get used to his presence. He has even tried a 2x teleconverter. But he knows that in order to get the shots he wants, he will have to find a way to get a different lens.
Once I had separated my reality from my fantasy I went through all of my favorite photos and looked at the focal length I had used. And, since I also shoot for profit; royalty free and rights managed stock photos, print on demand and work for hire, I also checked the focal length of many of those images.
Having put my dreams of long lenses for birding and wide lenses for sweeping landscapes on hold I took a long look at what focal lengths I had been using. Despite having a range of 18-300mm (not all on one lens), My most common range for people and horses was 100-200mm. For my style of stock photos it was 30-50mm and for landscape I hadn’t gone below 20mm.
So, now I began to analyze. I took out my lenses that covered from 20-200mm and did static tests on them all. From there I found that I had sharp lens coverage from 50-200mm and only poor to good coverage, depending on the lens, for 20-50mm. My immediate reaction was to find an affordable zoom to cover from 16-45mm or so. That would give me some extra width for landscapes as well. Well on my budget it soon became apparent that affordable and sharp in that zoom range did not was not possible.
So I had another talk with myself and decided that I needed a sharp lens more than I needed a lens for landscapes that I only thought about taking. So I turned to primes. Well even then I still had some choices to make. Based on my most used focal lengths I decided on a 35mm. The next decision however again took some data mining. I needed to know my most used aperture. The faster the lens, the more expensive. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when I found that my most used apertures at that focal length were from f4 through f8. My budget would survive my new lens. The shoestring was still intact.