There are Only 3 Lenses You Need in Your Camera Bag
We’ve all seen the photographer that suffers from constant G.A.S.
I’m talking about Gear Acquisition Syndrome, the pervasive photography illness that compels many of our peers to buy every possible product, just because the marketing people said they need it.
In fact, you might have even suffered from G.A.S. at points in your past, or worse, at present!
But at the end of the day, having Gear Acquisition Syndrome really just leads to two things: a whole bunch of gear that isn’t used and takes up space at home and a bank account that’s on life support.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to build your kit…
What I am saying, though, is that building your kit should be done smartly, in a way that maximizes your bang for your buck while meeting your various photography needs.
Just think about G.A.S. in terms of buying lenses.
Do you really need a collection of four or five prime lenses and a couple of zooms to boot? Or can you get by on just a few good lenses?
Actually, I’d argue that most photographers can get the job done and be perfectly content with just three lenses in their bag:
- 14-24 mm
- 24-70 mm
- 70-200 mm
Now, I know these focal lengths aren’t set in stone for every manufacturer, but generally speaking, you can find good-quality zoom lenses around these focal lengths, and once you do, you’re covered from wide-angle all the way to telephoto.
Let’s look at the virtues of these lenses in more detail.
The Wide-Angle Zoom: 14-24mm
For wide-angle shooting like landscapes, a 14-24 mm lens like the Nikon AF-S 14-24 mm f/2.8G IF-ED shown above is a great choice (though, Canon, Rokinon, Sony, Tamron, and others make similar focal length lenses too).
The great thing about a wide-angle zoom is that you can incorporate a vast swath of the landscape before you, highlighting the sheer size of the scene for viewers.
Many 14-24 mm zooms also have a large maximum aperture like the Nikon, meaning you can more easily shoot during Blue Hour, Golden Hour, or even at night without having to raise the ISO to noise-inducing levels.
Ask anyone that’s used a 14-24 mm zoom lens, and they’ll tell you they also appreciate the ability to get an ever-so-slightly tighter frame in the shot without having to move around a lot. Even though 24 mm doesn’t seem like much of a difference from 14 mm, when you see the results, they’re noticeable.
But don’t think that a 14-24 mm lens is a one trick pony for landscape photography.
They’re also ideal for tight, indoor spaces, and for photographing architecture. Check out the video above to see a Nikon 14-24 mm lens in action.
Indoors or out, this zoom has you covered for the wide-angle end of the focal length spectrum, with image quality that will have you and your viewers mesmerized.
See more specs on this lens here.
The Standard to Short Telephoto Zoom: 24-70mm
Where you really get a lot of versatility is in a lens like the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD lens shown above.
On the wide end, you can shoot landscapes and interiors to nearly the same degree of drama as you can with the 14-24 mm zoom discussed earlier.
In the standard range, portraits and street photography are a joy, with images that look a lot like what we see with our own eyes.
In the short telephoto range, you can get close up shots, like tightly framed portraits, but without having to be right up in the model’s face.
What’s more, zoom lenses in this focal range are plentiful, with many choices that run the gamut from budget-friendly to professional-grade glass.
On top of that, like the 14-24 mm zoom, there are many 24-70 mm variants that have large apertures. Make excellent portraits with a blurry background, shoot at twilight with a lower ISO, and take high-quality indoor shots in low light too. See a hands-on review of a Tamron 24-70 mm lens in the video below by Matt Granger:
Another benefit of the 24-70 mm lens is that many of them are lightweight, making them an ideal travel photography lens.
You can shoot all day long without arm fatigue, and as noted above, you can comfortably photograph just about any subject within the range of the 24-70 mm focal length.
It’s also worth mentioning that many manufacturers build 24-70 mm lenses to be quite robust. Though I don’t recommend knocking your lenses around, if one is going to stand up to the bumps and bruises of daily use, the 24-70 mm is probably it.
It’s versatile, easy to use, lightweight, and there are plenty of inexpensive options. Ask many photographers, and they’ll likely say their 24-70 mm lens is their go-to, the one that is mounted on their camera when they pull it out of their bag. It’s hard to go wrong with a 24-70 mm lens!
The Telephoto Zoom: 70-200mm
At the long end of the focal range is the 70-200 mm zoom, like the Canon EF 70-200 mm f/4 L USM shown above.
Like all lenses, 70-200 mm lenses aren’t all built alike.
The Canon pictured above has a reputation as a solid professional level lens that’s sturdy enough to handle the rigors of frequent shooting but is also deceivingly lightweight, so you aren’t lugging around a heavy lens all day. See this lens in action in the video below from Christopher Frost Photography:
Though 70-200 mm lenses from other manufacturers might not be as durable or as lightweight as the Canon, something they do share is the versatility of shooting a wide range of subjects, just like the 24-70 mm lens reviewed earlier.
Shoot at 70 mm and take nice close-up portraits from a good distance away. Conversely, use the 200 mm focal length for sports or nature and wildlife photography that puts your viewers close to the subject with highly detailed images. It helps that some 70-200 mm lenses are lighting quick too, so you can easily track the action of a moving subject.
Perhaps the best part is that you can hand hold many 70-200 mm lenses, making them a great choice for shooting light and fast.
Granted, you’ll have an easier time getting sharp images with a 70-200 mm lens with an aperture that’s bigger than the Canon’s f/4. That being said, you can still hand hold a 70-200 mm f/4 given the right lighting conditions.
Bringing It All Together
For all you photographers out there that have Gear Acquisition Syndrome, pay attention: You don’t need all that gear!
When it comes down to it, the best photos aren’t taken with the most expensive camera and lens. If you ask me, the best photos demonstrate an understanding of composition, framing, and lighting, and evoke a feeling or emotion that engages the viewer in the shot.
That being said, spend some time thinking about your priorities as a photographer and fill your kit out accordingly.
When it comes to lenses, you already know my position – the 14-24 mm, 24-70 mm, and 70-200 mm are the perfect trio for your camera bag. You can photograph anything with these three lenses, and then save your hard-earned money to invest in other must-haves like a good, solid tripod, high-quality filters, and other accessories that can actually make a significant difference in the quality of your photos.
Trust me, as a former G.A.S. sufferer, you’re much better off having a few great pieces of gear than you are having an overwhelming stockpile of stuff you never use!