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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You may also be interested in the answers to How do I compose photos with prime lenses?, as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 22, 2015 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Experience, Experience, Experience ... \$\endgroup\$
    – Max
    Jan 22, 2015 at 16:55
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ 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). \$\endgroup\$
    – garik
    Jan 22, 2015 at 22:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ It will take some time for your kids to go from "up close for a portrait" to "out in the water surfing". Plan ahead and use this time to swap lenses. Just watch out for sand which will cause more mechanical wear issues than photographic disruption issues. \$\endgroup\$
    – FreeMan
    Jun 28, 2016 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FreeMan there are plenty of times where I'm out hiking and will have need to switch back and forth a lot to get the photos I want. On there-and-back trails, I usually use telephoto on the way there and wide-angle on the way back, but on full loop trails that's quite impractical, often leading to a lot of missed photos \$\endgroup\$
    – iAdjunct
    Aug 11, 2018 at 2:20

8 Answers 8


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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I was under impression getting rid of the dust on the sensor requires professional cleaning. wow! two cameras! \$\endgroup\$
    – Max C
    Mar 9, 2013 at 4:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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... \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Mar 9, 2013 at 4:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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 :) \$\endgroup\$
    – jwenting
    Mar 9, 2013 at 4:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, these days, most cameras have a pretty decent built-in mechanism for repelling and removing sensor dust. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 22, 2015 at 19:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was taught by a pro to turn the camera off before changing lenses to avoid (minimize) the static that may attract dust to the sensor, and point the opening downward. He also taught me how capture an image and inspect it to see if there is dust on the sensor and how to clean the sensor. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Jun 28, 2016 at 16:45

"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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ you make it sound easy :-)) \$\endgroup\$
    – Max C
    Mar 9, 2013 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ These instructions work for Canon DSLRs as well. And with practice, it is easy. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 10, 2013 at 3:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ And maybe, before you do all this, make a habit of turning away from the wind. \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    Mar 10, 2013 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, start by turning the camera off (something I keep forgetting). \$\endgroup\$
    – bauerMusic
    Jan 28, 2018 at 13:25

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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Mar 9, 2013 at 4:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm - Good point, I think I'll add that note. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Mar 9, 2013 at 4:32

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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fer
    Mar 12, 2013 at 19:07

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.)


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).


A lot of photographers, myself included, do have a lens for all occasions in their gear but none of them can carry all of them all the time. So how do they manage that.

  1. Invariably one carries more than one body - generally two. Sometimes one uses the option of carrying a compact as a third body, depending upon what one expects to shoot and what are the lenses one is carrying.
  2. In my case if, for example, I am on a wildlife shoot, lets say in Africa and think I will have the possibility of a camera support, tripod, bean bag etc, I will carry the EF 200-400(1.4x built in) as the main lens.

I would have a second lens as the 70-200 on the second body.

The Sony 100mm IV or Sony RX-1 would be in one of my pockets for the odd wide angle shot.

  1. If I wanted to be lighter and/or did not have the possibility of using a support, I would take the 100-400 (maybe on a crop sensor body) PLUS a 24-70 on a full frame.
  2. If on the other hand, I was in Galapagos, with lots of possibilities to get really close to the subjects and long walks ahead, I would carry the the 70-200 (with the 1.4x teleconverter in my pocket) on a crop sensor body and the 24-70. With so many options to shoot interesting shots close to the subject, I would carry the fish eye lens in a pocket too.
  3. If I was in a place like Florence or Istanbul, I would carry the 70-200 for people mostly (I rarely leave it behind) and the 16-35 for the interiors. on separate bodies. I would, most probably carry the 50mm and the fish eye in my pockets.
  4. If I am on the streets of New York. I am likely to carry just the RX-1 in hand and the 135mm prime on a full frame body over my shoulder - the former for wide angle and the latter for portraits mostly.
  5. If I am in a place like the Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan India,where candid portraiture is my main aim, I would have have the 70-200 on a crop sensor and the 24-70 on a full frame.
  6. If I am out only for strut photography without wanting to get close to people, I carry the RX-1 by itself.
  7. When I am out not with photography on mind I always carry the RX100 mk IV in my jeans front pocket.

My gear: Cameras : Canon : - EOS 1dx, - EOS 5D3, - EOS 7d2 - Sony RX1 (35mm f/2.0 fixed) and - RX 100iv (24-70mm f/1-8-2.8 zoom)

Lenses : Canon : - EF 8-15 fisheye, - 16-35 f/2.8, - 24-70 f/2.8, - 70-200 f/2.8, - 200-400 f/4 (1.4x), - 50mm f/1.4, - 85mm f/1.2, - 100mm f/2.8 and - Zeiss 135mm f/2 - Sigma 35mm f/2

I realize that is a lot of gear and I am lucky to be able to afford it but your question was on how photographers manage multiple options in gear and this is my experience :)

Have fun and takes lots of photographs with whatever gear you are carrying. That's all that counts finally.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a point I forgot from your query. As you can make out I try not to get into a situation to have to change lenses out doors but once in a while when it is a must I try to take whatever precautions possible to prevent getting dust on my lenses. It still happens sometimes but is not an issue if one cleans lenses regularly. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 28, 2016 at 8:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ You should edit your answer to add those elements. \$\endgroup\$
    – Olivier
    Jun 28, 2016 at 17:38

There are nice tricks to change the lens quickly. I use the technique described here:


Essentially, hold the body in one hand, the lens in the other, and use the side of the index finger holding the lens to press the "unlock" button.

Just make sure you don't follow the instructions of the video till the end ;-).


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