Gear | One Prime Lens Challenge

Seaweed on the beach in Destin, Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/400th, f5.6, 100 ISO, Crystal Beach, Destin, FL  ©Rick Lewis

I read a lot.  Well, I read a lot of other photographer’s blogs and I’m a gear head.  One of the professionals I like to follow is a chap by the name of Sean Tucker. (Website)  In his blog post, “Island of Gozo”, (watch his video), he talks about pairing down his camera equipment for a trip to the island of Gozo, where he was to meet up with an old friend.  He talked about the “challenge” of using just one prime lens, his camera, his feet, and his imagination to create beautiful images.  I thought, hmmmm….  I had been thinking of this same “challenge” for some time and thought his video was very timely.

I had a couple of photo opportunities coming up.  The time was right to embark on this challenge. Now, I have been a zoom guy since I can remember.  Back in the day, I shot hundreds, if not thousands of prints and slides using a 43-86mm f3.5 Nikkor, and an 80-200mm f4.5 Nikkor.  By the way, that 43-86mm Nikkor was pure crap, but, it made it so I didn’t have to change lenses a lot, and I liked that.  I’ve just always had zoom lenses.  You name it, I’ve probably shot it.

So, I challenged myself to shoot exclusively with a 24mm f1.8 Nikkor on my Nikon D500, crop sensor camera.  That would give me as close as I could get to my favorite single focal length of 35mm, (FX sensor equiv).  On my D500 I would have a 36mm lens and that would be it.  I would leave my 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor home.  Now all I needed to do was dial up Lens Rentals and rent the 24mm Nikkor for a week.  About three clicks with the computer mouse and it was ordered.

Stacked muskets with bayonets stand next to Civil War soldier actors.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/640th, f4, 100 ISO, Confederate Memorial Park, Marbury, AL  ©Rick Lewis

My first shooting opportunity came at a Civil War reenactment encampment at the Confederate Memorial Park in Marbury, Alabama.  It is an annual event that draws a fairly large local crowd.  They have static displays and educational seminars for students and the grand finale; the battle.  There are plenty of authentically clad actors that stroll about and provide photo opportunities in formation.

Civil War actors stand in formation with their muskets standing ready.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/1600th, f2.8, 100 ISO  ©Rick Lewis
A Civil War era covered wagon on display with barrels and boxes.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/1250th, f2.8, 100 ISO  ©Rick Lewis
Civil War reenactment actor in a seated pose.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/320th, f1.8, 1250 ISO  ©Rick Lewis

Shooting this type of event is a lot of fun.  Normally I would have been using my 17-55mm (26mm-83mm equiv).  Using just one focal length did provide some challenges.  Space was tight in some areas, so getting far enough back was sometimes difficult.  In some cases I had to move in very close to my subject which definitely gathered attention.  Did I miss some interesting angles?  Yup, sure did. And, I found I really had to work harder to get what I wanted, but, that’s not a bad thing.

The second location for my challenge was the Destin area in the Florida panhandle, as is represented in the opening image.  My wife and I spent a few days there eating a bunch of seafood!  We travel there several times a year and I’ve photographed most of the sights several times over so I thought this would be quite a nice little diversion.

Orange Adirondack deck chairs on a front porch in a seaside town in Seaside Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/400th, f7.1, 640 ISO  Seaside, Florida  ©Rick Lewis

Most of our time is spent either walking on the beach, shopping, or eating.  Just normal stuff, right? While my wife shopped, I looked around for anything that looked interesting to shoot.  The fact I only had one prime lens (36mm equiv), was not as limiting in this environment.  There were a few occasions I wish I had a little longer reach but rarely did I feel I needed a much wider view.  Gear is important, but, imagination can make up for lack of gear in many cases.

Garden art work on display in Seaside Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/250th, f4, 320 ISO  Seaside Florida  ©Rick Lewis
Parked bicycle on display in front of a store in Seaside Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/250th, f4, 900 ISO  Seaside Florida  ©Rick Lewis

Trying to get what I wanted in the area of landscape photography was where I found myself a little limited.  This is where I wished I had a little longer lens available. I had no option of getting closer to my intended subject, in this case the iconic long leaf pines of Draper Lake near Grayton Beach. Draper Lake is one of the many coastal dune lakes found along Scenic Hwy 30a.  A true gem of the Florida panhandle.

Coastal dune lake, Draper Lake, on Highway 30a, Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/320th, f8, 720 ISO Draper Lake  ©Rick Lewis
Coastal dune lake, Draper Lake, on Highway 30a, Florida.
Nikon D500, 24mm f1.8 Nikkor, 1/640th, f7.1, 100 ISO Draper Lake  ©Rick Lewis

I had fun!  The lens was superb.  I am currently shooting with the new crop sensor D500 powerhouse. The lens was magnificent on this body.  This isn’t a lens review and I’m hardly competent enough to evaluate a lens, on a technical level, but, this is a great lens on a crop sensor camera.  I really don’t see why it wouldn’t perform very well on an FX body.

The experience was interesting.  I found myself thinking more about what I could get out of an image, knowing I only had the one focal length available.  But it really wasn’t all that limiting.  I may, in fact, do this again.  I was thinking maybe next time I’ll rent a 35mm Nikkor (50mm equiv), and see what I can get.  I believe anytime you take the time to think through a shot, it’s a good thing.  Sometimes I seem to be on auto pilot.  I needed a change.  This was fun and challenging.

Finally, if you find yourself in a photographic rut, find a way to get yourself thinking.  This may be one way to get a new perspective, (pun intended), on your craft.  Now, go to the link I provided in the first paragraph and listen to what Sean Tucker has to say.  Maybe it will inspire you too.