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Why I switched to prime lenses: Priming my photographer’s brain

Back in October 2012 I had picked up the Canon 24-70 USM-II L 2.8 lens. It was/is a great lens – sharp, good in low light and ability to quickly go from wide to medium-tele. Then in Feb 2013 I sold the lens. Now why would that be?

Make no mistake, the 24-70 is a fantastic lens. But I realised it was not for me. Here’s why.

On my 5DMkIII, I almost always found myself turning to the 24-70 zoom so as to be “safe” – no chance of “missing the moment”, I reasoned with myself, prior to every shoot. My second cam – the 7D, would then have a longer lens – the 105 or the 200L. But the setup made me lazy. Lazy in terms of lens choices and lazy in terms of moving during the shoot – my zoom did the moving. It became a no-brainer when I got to a shoot, one lens was invariably the 24-70 – the safe lens. It gave me good images no doubt. But I wasn’t thinking as much. Neither thinking when selecting the lens, nor thinking when actually shooting. Not the right composition? No issues, zoom in or out and shoot. That’s it!

But that wasn’t it obviously. At least not for my photographer’s brain! That piece of muscle wanted to do some work at a shoot and it just wasn’t getting it. It made me complacent. Finally it (my brain) threw its hands up and said, “enough’s enough!”

I called my good camera dealer, Naresh from Bangalore and asked if he’d take the lens back for whatever price and give me a prime 24 1.4L instead. He was confused cause it would be a loss in terms of money for me. But he did, nice guy! I also picked up the 85 1.4.

I found myself without any zoom lens in my lens bag.

That was a refreshing reality. Albeit a little intimidating at first. Cause now I didn’t have a “safe” lens anymore. Each situation demands I think and anticipate the shots in that situation and then choose the right lenses for it, for each camera. This puts a lot of pressure on the brain no doubt, but that’s what creativity is about.

Moreover, the primes are razor sharp (when they need to be) and super in low-light cause now most of my lenses are below 2.8 (1.8 to 1.4). This works perfectly for my minimum flash style.

Since I’ve switched to all prime lenses, I now realise, besides having to think of the lens choice, I’m also thinking about the composition, based on the lens’ focal length. For instance, shooting with a 50mm I know the kind of shots I’m going to get will be different when I’m shooting with the 24mm. So I’d visualise accordingly. That means my brain gets a lot of exercise. My feet are now my “zoom lenses” and get some exercise too. And since I’m moving around more I see variations in the scene more that ever.

Exit complacency. Here’s to pushing the limits.

That to me is the essence of photojournalism.

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