Home Film Back to happiness: Just one camera, one lens

Back to happiness: Just one camera, one lens


Auckland-based professional photographer A.B.Watson has had some sort of Damascene conversion. He’s gone right back to basics. Read on…..

“I had everything I could ever need, all the dream gear. Broncolor lighting, the latest professional Canon cameras and all the faster canon lenses. I had the latest Apple laptop, tethering equipment, software, c-stands, tripods, light modifiers, Polaroid cameras, all the gear I could have ever dreamed of.”

Image: A.B.Watson

But he decided to drop all his clients and fashion work and concentrate on the basics.

“I stopped using all my gear. I put away the Broncolor lighting and all the beautiful Canon glass and picked up a rangefinder. I needed a simpler process, a guide, a set of basic rules that I could bend and push my creativity against.

“Abundance is the death of creativity, so I chose one camera, one lens, and one process. My photography gear dwindled down to this and nothing else:

  • One camera (Leica M)
  • One lens (50mm Summilux)
  • One 10-stop ND filter (no tripod)
  • One film/preset (Kodak Tri-X 400)”

As a result of this drastic pruning, A.B. found happiness: “Happiness in less. Joy in serendipity and accepting what nature has to offer. I started to love and create like the philosophers and artist I was reading about. In a scene I was enlightened, I found zen—zen in one camera and one lens.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a story like this. I think many of us would love to get back to just one simple camera. John Shingleton and other Macfilos contributors adhere to the philosophy, although John has supplemented his X1 with a Leica Q.

What do you think? Are we too obsessed with gear, with chasing the pixels and the latest gizmos? Would you feel happier with just one rangefinder and one lens? Back to the simple life?

Read the full story here on PetaPixel


  1. I love the idea of one camera, one lens – but it never quite works out for me because I usually find that different projects need different baseline focal lengths for the subject matter.

    Even projects that could realistically be made with a single lens can potentially benefit from different focal lengths, for example using the old trick of gradually switching wider or longer through a sequence of images to effect changes in intimacy.

    But there is a simplicity and mental focus on the subject that comes with having no equipment decisions to make that is deeply compelling and very very tempting…

    • I suppose we could stretch the argument to one camera, one ZOOM lens. This offers some versatility without having to add more lenses. The old Tri-Elmar MATE with its 28/35/50 focal lengths springs readily to mind.

        • Indeed. The X Vario as a concept had much merit. It was castigated because of the “slow” lens but this ignores the fact that much of our photography is done at smaller apertures and is all the better for it. The idea of keeping things simple and effective, using superb optics and trading this for ultimate speed is still valid. That’s why the X Vario is still a popular camera despite all the naysayers.

          • For general about-town photography (street photography?) I usually set to f/8 as you say. With a wider-angle lens such as 28mm or 35mm, f/8 gives a very useful depth of field when used with zone focus. This can be faster than any autofocus!

  2. One camera and one lens is a nice thought – but currently it would not work for me. I enjoy close-up natural history photography which requires several lenses and accessories. This afternoon I was using an 1120mm lens with two bellows attached and the necessary gimbal and tripod. The chosen subject matter requires this combination. I’m chasing scarce subjects for scarce images and could not achieve the desired results with e.g. an M240 and a 50mm Summicron. I’m 72 years young; when I’m 85 I’ll likely slow down a bit, maybe abandon my Eckla Multi Rolly trolley, and make more use of my M4-P.

  3. One lens, one camera can be a great discipline. Yes, it is back to basics. I admire the folks that can do it. I can even manage this on a single day outing, or shooting for a few hours. My usual stripped down kit is the CV 50/1.2 or the Lux 50 and a wide angle of some type.

    BUT, there is no way I can do this on an overseas or extended trip. I am one of those people that love wide angle, and super wides. There is no way I could take an extended trip with let’s say a 21 or 24, let alone my WATE, as the only lens I had. Obviously, a 50 as a single lens for my way of shooting wouldn’t cut it either. My typical travel set-up is the WATE, a 24/3.8 Elmar and either a 50/1.4 Summilux or CV 50/1.2. I’ll usually have a 75/2.5 Summarit along as well.
    This is about as disciplined as I can get, but I do use all of these lenses on an extended trip.

    My other problem is to take along too much gear as I am usually testing for Viewfinder articles. On my Med Cruise last fall, I had the CV 50/1.2, 50/1.4 Summilux ASPH and Zeiss 50/1.5. Well, as they say the best intentions…I ended up just doing a review of the CV 50/1.2 and the other lenses stayed in the safe in the room.

    • “My other problem is to take along too much gear as I am usually testing for Viewfinder articles.” That’s my excuse as well…..

  4. I managed a couple of years with just my Leica X 113, which sort of covers this principle. I have since added the Nikon Df with a 50mm lens, but I bought that to cover off some of the Leica’s limitations.

    My experience of just using the X helped improve my images, and also reduced my output. I seem to think a little more about what I see before me, and anticipate a little more. It’s definitely worth a try, but ultimately sometimes we need different tools for different jobs.

  5. This is such a fun (and frequent) mental exercise that I go through.

    I love my M2 with a Summaron 35/3.5 on it. A perfect handling combo, perfect for almost any situation.
    But I equally love my 1930s II-d with its lovely uncoated Elmar 5cm. So light and compact and simple.
    My M-D 262 pretty much feels like shooting a film camera, and I most often use it with a 1950s Konishiroku Hexanon 50/1.9. Lovely, slightly wild rendering wide open, and very sharp, too, stopped down to f4. But then I sometimes take out the M-D with the large-ish Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4. It never disappoints, and makes up for its size with amazing 3-D images (when I do my job right).
    And let’s not even start talking about my little autofocus kit, the diminutive Canon M6 and its handful of small, lightweight and very sharp prime lenses. On paper, it mops the floor with the Leica M-D (Autofocus! Great high ISO! Much lighter!)…but it doesn’t, in reality. I really wish I could love it more, especially considering the price.

    So, one camera one lens? Great idea…

  6. No. I know the idea’s been pushed for a while by Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer, as a way – presumably – of “honing one’s vision”. But, to me, it’s like using one letter of the alphabet for a year ..using nothing, for instance, but the letter ‘D’.

    How would I express myself like that?

    Let’s give it a try; “D DDDD DD DDDDDDD DD D DDDDDDDDD” ..does that work?

    Or let’s ask a painter to use just one colour for a year. I know that Yves Klein invented his own blue, and used that over and over again ..but he used it in many different ways; rolling women in it, sculpting torsos in it, using gas jets to deliver dancing blue ..but after a while, what more can you say with just blue? (Yes, Derek Jarman made a whole film which was nothing but a static blue screen..)

    But I’d find one camera, one lens to be deadly. Like Bill (above) I tend to use a very wide angle most of the time – so it seems, looking at the results – but now and again I want a rest from that: a distant shot compressing the perspective(*) ..and sometimes a big camera which gives soft background focus with wide apertures, and sometimes a teeny pocket camera which I can have with me all the time.

    [(*) Yes, the perspective’s the same whichever lens you use, but cropping away 9/10ths of the picture to deliver just what you want pretty much wrecks the quality of what you’re left with.]

    Just imagine having one car, and just the one route which you drive day after day: you’d see the seasons change, and the traffic change, but wouldn’t it drive you absolutely nuts? Thank heavens I’m not a tube train driver!

  7. I have just returned from a trip to Alaska armed with (1) a Leica CL together with a complement of adapted M and R mount lenses to allow a 35mm equivalent range of 22mm to 560mm and (2) a Ricoh GR2 with its fixed 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens. Viewing the results I have been alarmed to note that not only was the Ricoh used more but also, on balance, its results were better than those from the Leica. Both have APS-C sensors and the lens on the Ricoh is renowned as, of course, are those used with the Leica.

    Part of the explanation comes down to the immediacy of the little Ricoh and part down to the increasing difficulty I find in focusing manually despite modern focusing aids. However, I think there is another issue here. Unless one is photographing for a specific genre, like landscape or portraiture / fashion, modern camera technology is just so good that, short of the need to print on a large scale (A2 upwards), superb lens / sensor combinations may now be unnecessary. At least for me.

    For my next travels I am seriously considering buying a Sony RX10 v3 and taking it along with the Ricoh and nothing else. I sense that the time has come to severely cull my kit!

    • A lot of sense here, Martin. The Ricoh is a great little camera but is underrated by outsiders because it looks so inoffensive and toylike. In other words. It doesn’t look like a serious proper camera. But it is immediate, fits in a pocket and produces great results. My only criticism is the lack of a viewfinder – but then it wouldn’t be as small it as pocketable. Can’t have everything, I suppose, but as a carry everywhere camera the GR takes some beating.

      If you are in the market for the RX10 you owe it to yourself to at least try the RX100 VI. It’s the same sensor but doesn’t reach as far (only 200mm equivalencies) but it’s a stunning little camera with all the handiness of the GR plus a viewfinder.

  8. I have the original rx100 and still love it but the mkVI is clearly several steps up, not least by having an EVF. However, for travel, the extra range of the rx10 mk3 (and I think the additional speed of the mk4 is unnecessary for this purpose) at roughly the same price makes it a more useful camera even if it is not pocketable – neither is my CL, with or without a lens. I have always believed an uncropped long shot is better than a cropped one using a shorter lens. I have had some great cropped bird shots using a (no longer owned) Sony A7RII at 200mm but that had a 42mp full frame sensor. I can’t imagine a cropped 200mm shot on a 20mp 1″ sensor would work.

    I think the point I was trying to make earlier is that cameras are now so good that simplicity allows for greater creativity and IQ is still going to be good enough for most amateur purposes. So I am in agreement with Mr Watson but just choosing a different route


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