Creature from the Blog Lagoon 10: Non-Zoom Zoom.

Part of what primes my thought process are limits - limited lighting options, limited vantage points, limited equipment.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I made the switch from prime lenses (and three unpleasant-to-carry heavy metal bodies - two motorized Nikon F3s and a motorized FM-2) to two new bodies and a couple of zooms. Ahhh… two bodies and two lenses, a dream to carry and shoot with. Hey, subject’s too far away? Zoom in. Too close? Zoom out.

But forget about the perspective any particular focal length would offer.

In other words, my photography suffered. I got lazy.

Once I realized this I vowed to shoot with prime lenses whenever possible. I now typically carry nothing but primes. This is a quirk of mine, of course, and I know most photographers work well with zooms - I’m envious of them.

Yes, it slows me down a bit, but I’m pretty quick on the draw when it comes to changing lenses. Being slowed down a little forces me to think more about what I’m shooting.

But wouldn’t it be nice if there was a lens that offered the convenience of a zoom while also imposing a limit to the number of focal lengths available?

Ah, but there is… if you own a Leica or another camera that uses the same lens mount. I present to you the Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH. There are only three focal lengths (but the range stinks in my opinion, just 16mm, 18mm and 21mm), not an infinite number of choices between focal length A and focal length B. You want the framing and perspective a 21mm lens would offer? Fine, switch to 21mm. You want the framing and perspective an 18 would give you? Switch to 18. You want something in-between? Fine, move your fanny.

Now if Nikon or Canon (or these days even Sony or Panasonic) were to offer lenses like this, maybe an 18-24-35 and an 85-105-135 (for full-frame 35mm), they’d have at least one eager buyer. I suppose I could just mark common focal lengths on zooms with a sliver of tape, but there’s always the risk of thinking “I’ll ignore it just this one time…”

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