Photography Articles: What Lens Should I Use?

So, you've looked at my page with the long list of lenses that I've reviewed, and you know that I still own most of them. Well, which one of those do I use the most? Which ones do I take what kind of photo shoots or trips and why? This article breaks down when I take what and why so you can not just compare the lenses on their own merits, but get actual hands-on real-world feedback about what lenses pair well together. Like a good wine with a fine dinner, it helps to know what is a great combination.

Weddings

For weddings I take four camera bodies. Two are my main bodies, which see 98% of the action. The other two are backup bodies in case something happens to a main body I can keep shooting and not be impacted. But, I figure since I'm lugging these extras around, I might as well put lenses on them so they are both ready to go at a moments notice, and more handy to me as a professional.

My main camera, which captures more than two-thirds of all wedding images, has the Nikon 17-55mm lens on it. This is the only lens I use at receptions and the one that I use for all of the walking-down-the-aisle shots. It also captures many of the normal kinds of images (not super wide, not super zoom). This is the lens I use with flash and this is the only lens/camera I pull out during the getting-ready shots.

My second camera, which captures almost all of the other images, has the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 D lens. This is used in a dark church to get close-up shots of the bride and groom. It gets candids of the flower girl who has no clue that some guy 100 feet away is getting close-up shots of her face. This is my fly-on-the-wall lens.

The third camera, which is really intended as a spare for one the two mains, gets a Sigma 10-20mm lens on it. I don't carry this combo around with me all day; I keep it mostly in my camera bag, or sitting in pew. I use it to get a few overall shots of the wedding ceremony showing the congregation and couple together, or a nice big panorama of a beautiful outdoor location. The number of shots that this combo takes can usually be counted on one hand, but these always make the cut for the album as they give views unlike any other camera since they are so ultra-wide and fit EVERYTHING in.

The fourth camera rarely sees action, but I keep it ready with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AFS for low-light candid shots in difficult situations.

Do I need four cameras to shoot a wedding? No, I really need two to operate at peak efficiency, but if I'm going to take the spares for the worst-case preparedness then I might as well put them to some good use and equip them with some usable capabilities.

I take a few other lenses with me, but these are very much "special use" kinds of things.
Iíll list them here just to be complete, but these are really unnecessary for all but the most extreme rare situations.

Macro

If I'm going out for the sole purpose of photographing bugs, floewrs, or other small objects, then I pick my favorite macro lens, the Nikon 105mm AFS Micro.

This lens isn't for all jobs big and small, but it is great for all jobs teeny tiny. It is optically wonderful and ergnomically great to use all day. It isn't so long that it requirs a tripod, like a 200mm Micro lens would demand, and it isn't too short that you're sitting eye-to-eye with a deadly spider like a 60mm Mirco would require.

Studio

When Iím in the studio, and I have studio lights, and Iím free to position my subject and move around them as needed, clearly I donít need a super zoom lens. Iíd go with a fixed prime lens to maximize the optical clarity and reduce distortion potential, but that isnít always practical to reposition that much. Example: kids. Kids move around fast and if you plan to move around as fast as they do to compose a shot, then plan to be pretty tired pretty fast. So, instead I opt for a zoom, but here again I go with the Nikon 17-55mm as it covers a good zoom range with a very low amount of distortion, with a nearly distortion free butter-zone in the middle of its zoom range.

This is a fast lens (at f/2.8) so I can get book bokeh, if needed, and its ergonomics are comfortable for a long day of shooting models.

Outdoor Portraits

When the weather is nice (or, for drama, when it isn't) I like to step outside to take nice portrait photos.

As these sessions typically coordinate with an indoor studio session the Nikon 17-55mm goes along for the ride with ease of stopping to f/2.8 with nice bokeh. Most of my outdoor portraiture is done with this lens as well, but it isn't the only thing that I use.

If the shoot will afford me the ability to move around (meaning zoom isn't a definite requirement) then I will consider a fast prime lens, such as the Nikon 35mm f/1.8AFS, which is a pleasure to work with in the field and has just that little bit of tighter DoF.

Trips

When traveling I typically take a camera backpack. This way it doesn't scream camera bag and my hands don't get tired from carrying it around. I always take a main camera body with my favorite lens, the 17-55mm lens as it is a great do-everything lens for me. It's got good macro capabilities, it has a fast f/2.8 aperture, little distortion, and covers a zoom range that gets good wide and reasonable zoom shots.

I almost always take a second lens of some sort, but the selection depends on the kinds of shots I anticipate wanting, but the selection is usually among two lenses. I either take the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 D lens or the Sigma 10-20mm lens. I take the wide (the Sigma) if I plan to take lots of panoramic / sweeping vista kinds of shots. Examples here are cityscapes, forests, and other big outdoor kinds of things. I take the zoom (the 80-200) if I think Iíll be doing wildlife or otherwise be very far away from something I plan to photograph a lot.

I don't take both as the weight gets to be too much with a big pro camera and three hefty lenses, so I plan what my trip will be like. Depending on weight concerns, and times of planned trip I will also pack a single SB-800 flash without extra battery pack. If the trip is just a day-trip and outdoors then the flash stays home. But, a three-day trip with some dinning out, then I try to see that the flash goes.

On the other hand, if the trip's sole purpose is photography, like an on-location shoot or fore-hire workshop, then I take a big dedicated photography travel suitcase that gets filled with at least two camera bodies and multiple lenses, flash heads, and accessories to suit the job, with redundancy in mind.