You can tell a lot about a photographer from the lenses he or she uses. Here are a few of my own personal observations based on the types of non-pro photographers I'm most familiar with. Yes, I'm stereotyping, but that's the whole point. That said, please don't interpret these observations as moral judgements. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices in this list, at least not in the absolute sense; just indicators of a certain frame of mind. So with this brief prelude, here’s the list:
The Purist—The Purist’s motto is “Less is more.” He therefore carries only one lens and it’s almost always a fixed focal length. The advantage of this approach, as he sees it, is that he becomes intimately familiar with the way a particular lens “draws” a scene, its angle of view, its strengths and its weaknesses. Purists can see a scene and know exactly how it will photograph with their lens of choice. Anything they should happen to see that can’t be shot with The One Lens simply isn’t worth shooting.
The Prime Fetishist—The Prime Fetishist’s motto is “It’s all about the lens.” A Fetishist is easy to mistake for a Purist because they both shoot only with primes. The difference is that the Prime Fetishist owns many primes; the more obscure, exotic, and hard to find the better. Unpronounceable names (such as Goerz Dagor or Apo-Apocalypse) earn bonus points. Any given scene can best be interpreted by only one particular lens, which must then be mounted to a camera with an equally obscure adapter. The Fetishist’s main challenge is finding a subject worthy of his lenses.
The Lugger—The Lugger’s motto is “Be prepared.” With that in mind, he (and it’s always a he) carries enough glass during his photo excursions to cover every focal length from super-wide angle to telephoto, with macro capability thrown in for good measure. Zooms are his optics of choice because they are so “practical and versatile.” A standard accessory includes a bottle of Motrin to dull the pain radiating from their back and shoulders. Luggers favor cameras with good low-light performance because by the time they have everything sorted out and are ready to shoot, the sun has begun to set.
The Artist—The Artist’s motto is “It’s just a lens.” They therefore take pride in using what other photographers would politely refer to as “junk.” Equipment that’s twenty years old, dented, scratched and worn offers evidence of continuous use for Artist Purposes, even if it was bought at a yard sale the week before. As for the results, where you see flaws the Artist sees “style and character.”
The Kit-Zoomer—Kit-Zoomers don’t really have a motto. They just use the lens that came with the camera and make the best of it. They zoom until the image in the viewfinder looks pretty good and then they click the shutter. If zooming doesn’t do the trick they move closer or further away, if they can. Kit-Zoomers take an equally casual attitude toward lens aperture, which is probably just as well: Kit-zooms are so slow there are only four full stops to choose from anyway. This freedom from the boring details of photographic technique frees Kit-Zoomers to produce photographs that, much to their surprise and delight, are acceptably sharp and well-exposed.
So the question for today is, did I leave anyone out? More importantly, which one of these types are you?