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This is probably a very naive question but I will ask anyway.

It appears that most photographers carry multiple lenses. Each lens serves a different purpose. I understand that. However, I can't understand how photographers manage to quickly switch lenses and still not miss any shots or damage the sensor. How would a photographer know what photo opportunity will present itself? I recently purchased 50mm 1.8, it is a fantastic lens for portraits but I do not just shoot portraits all the time. I may want to shoot a portrait of my kids on the beach at one moment, and then shoot a picture of them surfing far away next.

I understand that some pros shoot under very specific conditions: (sporting events, portraits) and they know exactly which lenses they will need. However, I have to assume that is not the case for most photographers.

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You may also be interested in the answers to How do I compose photos with prime lenses?, as well. –  mattdm Jan 22 at 15:17
    
Experience, Experience, Experience ... –  Max Jan 22 at 16:55
    
the big issue is a dust during this process: camera position, new lens position (real side), wind! Sometime I use my bag (top case of it) to shield the camera and new lens from the wind (dust). –  garik Jan 22 at 22:11

6 Answers 6

up vote 21 down vote accepted

In situations where things are happening fast, like sports or events, most pros will carry two (or more) bodies with different lenses. For example, a wedding photographer might have a 24-70 and a 70-200.

Shooting basketball, they might have a wide angle lens on one body for action under the basket, then have a telephoto for shots of players further away.

Once you are used to it, it just takes a matter of seconds to swap a lens. There are holsters and sling bags that make accessing extra lenses quite quick

Sensor damage isn't a big issue for pros. Swapping lenses will lead to more dust on the sensor, but that can be cleaned off. Just a business expense.

But all photographers do get caught out with the wrong lens for a shot when something unexpected happens. That's one reason they make expensive pro zoom lenses, to reduce the amount of swapping that needs to take place.

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Thanks! I was under impression getting rid of the dust on the sensor requires professional cleaning. wow! two cameras! –  Max C Mar 9 '13 at 4:25
    
It can be done yourself, or as I say, many pros would just consider it an expense, part of doing business. And yes, two cameras, extra batteries, extra speedlights, handful of memory cards... –  MikeW Mar 9 '13 at 4:42
    
dust is easy to get rid of in the field using a blow brush, but you do want your camera professionally cleaned at least once a year (or more often if you use it heavily). It's cheap, think of it like getting your car services. 2 bodies is great to have, 3 is better if you can get away with the weight and bulk. If you have an assistant, 4 is even nicer :) –  jwenting Mar 9 '13 at 4:44
    
Also, these days, most cameras have a pretty decent built-in mechanism for repelling and removing sensor dust. –  mattdm Jan 22 at 19:10

There are professional grade, fast, zooms out there, Google "Nikon Holy Trinity" for an example of such. Zooms, obviously, give you some flex when shooting in unpredictable situations and that is why these exist. Couple some of these options with multiple bodies and you're covering quite a range, something many pros do.

When the situation is predictable or certain looks are desired, then the primes often come out. Portrait photography is often done with prime lenses, such as an 85mm, because these lenses are typically sharper, very fast, give smoother bokeh, and you don't have constant distance switching in play.

Finally, some people do get very fast at lens switching. There are markers and indicators for lenses and bodies, so get consistent in how you prepare, how you detach and attach, and your speed will increase. Dust is always a risk, and it's omnipresent for people who switch lenses, but cleaning is not hard and, for the most part, isn't that big an issue unless you have a very narrow aperture and a uniform background. For what it's worth, applications like Photoshop with content-aware processing make dust cleanup a snap in post-processing and most modern cameras have dust removal features that can be activated on command and/or at camera start-up.

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Also worth noting that the automatic dust removal systems on modern cameras are very effective. I change my lenses all the time and never worry about dust anymore. –  mattdm Mar 9 '13 at 4:31
    
@mattdm - Good point, I think I'll add that note. –  John Cavan Mar 9 '13 at 4:32
    
+1 for the term 'Nikon Holy Trinity' –  Regmi Mar 9 '13 at 7:18

Actually, I believe that with only a small amount of experience, all photographers can learn which lens to use, at least most of the time. So in practice, this is not a problem.

For example, I have three lenses for my Canon 50D, the 17-55 F2.8, the 50 F1.4 and the 75-300 zoom. Most of the time, I use the 17-55, because most of the time, I am taking photos of people. When I am shooting outdoors, I use the long zoom. And the F1.4 is for taking shots either where there is very little light, or when I want the out-of-focus background.

See this article on lensrental.com: http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2010/07/lenses-dont-collect-the-whole-set

Even if you shoot everything over time, on any give day, at any given place, you should be aware of an "area of emphasis" of possible shots. For example, if you are walking around the National Mall in Washington DC, you are most likely to take photos of famous monuments and buildings. So you mount your favorite lens for shooting landscapes. When you go to the Daytona International Speedway, you will be taking photos of things going fast, and you won't be close to them. So you mount a very fast sports lens.

While it may look intimidating at first, after you have shot a few thousand photos, it will become second nature.

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I agree with your assumption included: you have a topic you focus on with a focal length to match it. I, however, am a broad range wildlife photographer (amateur). I shoot anything from macro to landscape to midrange to telezoom. Even with 2 bodies this really is a challenge. –  Ferdy Mar 12 '13 at 19:07

"However, I can't understand how photographers manage to quickly switch lenses and still not miss any shots or damage the sensor."

I'm far from a professional, but here's how I do it:

  1. Make sure the camera strap is securely around your neck. You won't have any hands free to hold the camera while you're juggling the lenses, and you really don't want to drop it.

  2. Hold the new lens in your left hand. With your right hand, remove the rear cap from the lens. (This is also a good time to check that you're holding the new lens at the correct angle so that it'll go smoothly into the lens mount mechanism.)

  3. Press lens mount release button with your left hand (still holding the new lens) and use your right hand (still holding the rear lens cap) to twist off the old lens.

  4. Twist the new lens onto the lens mount with your left hand and make sure it locks in place.

  5. Move the old lens to your left hand and screw the rear cap you removed from the new lens onto the old one. Put the old lens in your bag and start shooting with the new one.

With a little bit of practice, all this takes maybe a few seconds — at least as long as you have the new lens ready to grab when you need it. A good camera bag and a bit of forethought helps a lot here.

Of course, you'll typically also need to remove the front lens cap from the new lens and maybe put the front cap of the old lens back on, but those can be done at any point when you have a hand free.

Note that these instructions are for the Nikon F-mount. Some adjustment to details may be needed for other lens mounts, but the general principle should be pretty much the same.

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you make it sound easy :-)) –  Max C Mar 9 '13 at 18:06
    
These instructions work for Canon DSLRs as well. And with practice, it is easy. –  Pat Farrell Mar 10 '13 at 3:29
    
And maybe, before you do all this, make a habit of turning away from the wind. –  Unapiedra Mar 10 '13 at 13:52

I have a small collection of prime lenses (28mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 40mm f2.8, 50mm f1.2, 50mm f1.7, 135mm f2.5) and two zooms (18-55mm f3.5-5.6 70-210mm f2.8-3.8) and what I found to be more satisfying is to just pick one lens stick to it for the whole day.

That's of course from the point of view of a hobbyist that wants to have fun with photography; because each lens has its own "personality" and it forces you to think more creatively and walk around the scene to get the most of it.

Professional photographers usually carry two bodies as it's been said before, and they have lots of practice swapping lenses too. I have a friend (amateur as well) that changes the lenses of his Canon 1000D in less than 6 seconds (starting to count from the moment he has the new lens in his hand and stopping the clock when the old lens has the rear cap on). So imagine how fast can be a pro that does that all the time!

I also found that some mounts are less forgiving with the initial placement of the lens and give you a harder time if you don't align it perfectly (like the Pentax K mount).

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In addition to the other good answers, I'd like to address your sentence:

I may want to shoot a portrait of my kids on the beach at one moment, and then shoot a picture of them surfing far away next.

As you gain more experience, you won't just be reacting to what happens, but you'll decide the shots and looks that you want to get to tell a story. As you say, you want to get a portrait-like pose at the beach. Then you want some shots of them running into the waves with a surfboard. Then you want some shots of them riding waves. Then the family around a campfire in the evening.

Now you can start working backwards: what will be the lighting conditions, where will you need to stand, what lens will be an option, etc. You'll have the experience to decide if you can stall the kids for 6 seconds while you change lenses, or if you're going to run after them, up to your thighs in the water to get the shot with a 50mm, or if you'll run up the beach to get a better viewpoint and be willing to crop the photo a lot -- too much really, but oh well.

That doesn't mean that you don't keep your eyes open and end up in a situation where you have three or four seconds to get that shot that just popped up. And you may be caught in the wrong place, with the wrong lens and you have to live with missing the shot or shoot what you can and try to salvage it later or...

In fact, that's part of what distinguishes really good photographers from the rest of us: they visualize their goal when they're shooting. What will the final product look like? What is the effect/feeling I want? What do I want to emphasize, what do I want to isolate, what do I need to leave out? That helps with composition, exposure, etc, but also with lens selection.

(Of course, with experience also comes speed in lens changing. And decisions about tradeoffs: do you get a 70-200mm zoom, or 18-80mm zoom, a second camera, etc? I'm just addressing the planning factor.)

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