Saturday, July 7, 2012

Photographing with one Nikon body and one prime lens

The other day I was planning to do some street photography in Calcutta and was debating about what equipment to use. I wanted to be as unobtrusive as possible and not carry a big bag loaded with cameras and lenses. There is some joy in being able to move seamlessly through the streets and shoot before anyone has  realised that a photo was being taken!  Ideally for this sort of shooting one of the smaller compacts like the Canon G12 is very suitable but I am a "SLR man"  at heart and so decided on an SLR. The Nikon D90 is small and compact:  it was my choice of camera body. Now the lens?

The choices with me as you can see presented quite a dilemma!
  • Nikon 12-24 DX zoom
  • Nikon 24 f2.8 AF-D
  • Nikon 28 f 2 AI 
  • Nikon 35 F2 AF
  • Nikon 50 F1.8 AF D
  • Nikon 16-85 VR DX
  • Nikon 85 F1.8 AF
How did I decide as the brief was one camera and one lens only?

My first instinct was to take the normal zoom 16-85 mm as that would take care of almost all the situations which I would be looking at. But, zooms are slow and the 16-85 is no exception and bulky as well compared to the primes. As I wanted to be "not looking like a photographer" I abandoned the zoom idea and with the same logic also ruled out the Nikon 12-24 DX wide zoom.

So I was left with the Nikon prime lenses!

The 85 mm ruled itself out as it is a short telephoto and would not be very useful on the street as I was not looking for telephoto subjects or portraits specifically.

 I then had to consider that the D90 is a cropped sensor so all the Nikon prime lenses would be subject to this crop factor.

The 50 F1.8, though a superb lens,  and extremely fast and sharp,  eliminated itself again for being  a short telephoto  on a DX body.

So I was left with the three Nikon wides - 24, 28 and 35.

The 28 f2 AI was one of my favourite lenses in the old film days and many of my outdoor shots were taken with this lens. Howver, I soon realised that the lens would not meter with the Nikon D90 and as I needed to shoot fast this would not work.

So it was between the 24 and 35!

The 35 would operate like a normal lens 52mm and would have the advantage of a f2 fast aperture. However, my past experience told me that 52mm would perhaps be a little too tight in busy street situations. It would be easier to get closer to the action and shoot with a wider lens and also take advantage of the additional depth of field of the 24 which would effectively be a 36 mm.

I quite like the field of view of the 24 when used on the D90 and the combination makes a fast compact kit. So how did I set it up?

  • The ISO was on auto with maximum ISO of 800 as I felt that would be sufficient given that I had a fast  2.8 lens and reasonable depth of field.
  • I set the autofocus to AF-S, single point as I did not think I would need continuous focus.
  • I decided to use aperture priority auto as I usually do and set the 24 lens to 5.6 which is two stops below the maximum aperture which is a  reasonable sweet spot for optimal performance.
  • I set white balance to auto as I was not going to have time in the field to tinker with the white balance settings.
  • And finally as always I decided to shoot RAW.
  • I formatted a 4 GB scandisk Ultra memory card and put in freshly charged battery which should be sufficient for a day's work and set out.

And finally how did it work out?

I must say that the setup resulted in extremely quick shooting! There was no need to fiddle about with the zoom ring - my feet were the zoom and I had to move closer or away depending on how I wanted to compose! The camera lens /combination was small and unobtrusive so often I could hold it behind my back and take it out and shoot in a jiffy and in most cases the subject was not even aware as I walked away! I could shoot in seconds as I was not changing any of the settings before shooting.

I knew that I had only one lens so I needed to shoot photographs for that lens. So instintively close up portraits from a distance, ultra wide landscapes etc were all ruled out. I also knew that for impact I needed to be close to the subject to get that feel of drama especially when shooting street activity like shops, market places etc. Focusing was also not an issue as the available depth of field made it easy to focus as well.  In most cases I tried to be within six to ten feet of my subject, sometimes maybe even closer!

Try this out someday - you will find freedom from a bag full of lenses, bodies and having to make choices as you go along!

For more of my photographs please do visit


  1. The fun in using a prime lens is that it makes your feet do a lot of exercise. You do not become one lazy photographer who sits at one place and keeps zooming in and out of frames.
    Next time, please do a portrait feature using the 50 mm :-)

    And pls pls pls , remove the captcha from comments :(

    1. I dont think I can remove the captcha from comments... isnt that something which is done by blogger itself?

  2. wow, this was a great dialog and a lesson rolled into one. thanks for sharing, sujoy.

  3. I experienced the same, shooting with a Olympus EPL1 and 28mm Canon prime. The added advantage apart from easy shooting, the photographer disappears in the street when the camera/lens he carries isn't prominent! I think, the more compact one's setup street photography becomes more appealing.

  4. Very well said! It is a different matter that I would have gone with the 12-24 had I that lens. I have a Tokina 11-16mm and on Nikon D90, that gives a perfect slightly widish point-of-view for street photography. It forces you to go more close to your subject to capture the drama and be part of it. A prime like 24mm is also my favorite (immediate second choice on my D90, and first choice on a FX body like D3) on any day.

    Had a look at your website -- must say, some truly fantastic photographs there.

  5. Coincidentally I was searching some article on same topic u have discussed here. It is real helpful ! TFS !

    1. Thks Paresh - look forward to seeing your photos with this combination!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...