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I recently purchased an entry-level DSLR and a couple of nice prime lenses, mostly for the purpose of taking artistic shots of city streets.

The primes are 35mm and 15mm, or about 53mm and 23mm full-frame equivalent. I love them both, but I'm finding myself spending a lot of time swapping between the two lenses. This question is about whether there are any tips or techniques I can use to avoid swapping them all the time, or whether I should simply practise swapping them until it becomes fast and easy.

The reason I swap them is mostly just because I see a shot that would look awesome with the other lens. Sometimes it's also because I can't get the shot I want with the lens on the camera - I often find I can't get far enough away with the 35, and not every shot needs the wide angle of the 15.

I realise that an obvious solution to my problem is "you should have bought a zoom instead", or an intermediate focal length between the two primes I have. However, assuming I want to stick with the kit I have for now (which I do, because I'm really enjoying using it), how can I avoid the need to change lenses constantly?

This is not a technical question, but rather it's about the mindset of going out on a photography mission. Do people who shoot with primes learn particular habits to avoid swapping them all the time, or is swapping lenses just something that comes with using primes?

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I'm by no means an expert. But one thing that I've tried is having 2 bodies. It sounds expensive, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. I have an old Canon Rebel, and more recently bought a Canon 7D. I was shooting a series of soccer matches and ended up putting a long lens on the 7D and a wider lens on the Rebel. Most of my shots were with the long lens because I wanted some close-up action shots, but every now and then I would switch to the wide lens for a team shot.

The other thing to do is just shoot with what's on the camera for a while. You're never going to get every shot. Art is all about constraints. Shoot with what you have on the camera, and if you can't get a shot you want, find a different shot to get. After you've shot with one lens for a while, just switch it up and shoot with the other one. Don't worry if you miss "what could have been." You'll probably find you get other things that you wouldn't have thought of! In fact, some times you should go out with only one lens and see what you can do. This will force you to think differently about framing and subject, and will probably get you some shots you didn't think you would have gotten otherwise.

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    Your second paragraph is quite inspiring - I might try leaving one of the lenses at home today! – Nathaniel Nov 5 '16 at 4:36
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Mount one lens and focus your mind to pre-vizualize your shots in that focal length. Keep focusing, forget the other lenses in your pocket. Or leave them at home.

Once your brain starts working in specific focal length (angle of view), you will start seeing more interesting opportunities and your need to swap lenses will decrease.

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Good for you, stick to your primes.

0.Use one lens and stick a modifier to it.

There are modifiers that change the lens into something wider or narrower. There is a reason this is recommendation number 0. These modifiers are almost always, no not almost but always, crap. But this is an option if you don’t mind the loss of quality. You can probably get as “good” results just by sticking concave and convex lenses to your primes. I would rather just have a zoom and that’s saying much.

1.Zoom with your feet.

It is cliché, but for a reason. Often just moving around resolves the issue and more importantly, gives you time to think about the picture and see other angles and view or compositions that you hadn't considered.

2.Alternate between the lenses.

One time period like a day, or a week take one, the next the other, or this lens for this specific project, that lens for this other one. That will force you to be more creative. If you only have the 15 that day and want a 35 type shot, you will find a way to do it, and do it better than if you had the 35.

3.Stick with one.

Chose either lens and use it till you master it. Get to know it, so you can transcend the camera and lens. Also, each lens is unique and behaves differently, the more you know yours the most you can get from it. From general to specific the individuality goes something like: Primes, 50mm, this 50mm lens design family, this 50mm model, this generation, this batch, this particular lens. If you know the lens you will know that in this situation, with this camera, at f8, ev11, you stop down 1/3 and take it at that angle.

4.Chose the 50mm lens and use it till you master it.

As you probably know H.C. Bresson shot all his life with a 50mm. while it is unusual and most street shooters use something closer to 35, the 50’s are generally the best in lens Quality. 15, or 23 eq seems quite wide to me and is probably not as well built optically and slower. The 35mm in FF were also very good and you are benefiting of 100 years of lens designs I would use the 15 more for indoor situations were you need legroom. However it is a personal preference, if you prefer a very wide angle of view then stick to it.

5.Get a 3d lens.

Yes it would make your problem worse, but you are missing out on a 70 or 85 lens. Yes, even for street I would recommend a moderate telephoto. It gives you a fresher and different perspective than wider lenses; Get a 50 mm, it will be eq to a 75 an ideal “portrait” lens length. Also remember what I said about lens design and inheriting from past experience. In most systems the 50 is the best value of the bunch quality build, lens design and speed for an unmatched price point.

6.Laugh at Zooms.

With this trinity of 15, 35, 50 you can confidently laugh at folks telling you their zooms are as good as primes and outshoot them with your primes on an APS-C camera against their FF flagship body with the professional zoom.

7.When you master your lenses, you can decide whether to bring one or all.

If you only shoot streets I would probably recommend one, the best use of lenses is a specialized one, or even get a good quality non interchangeable lens camera. Look into the Sigma foveon sensor for instance, super quirky but super quality too. Else you can go the rangefinder route with mirror less. If you do more street plus general photography bring what you can and maybe a tilt shift if you do buildings, a macro for details and maybe a telephoto.

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Yes, zoom lenses are extremely popular because they are so handy. Zooms may not be f/1.4 if that is any concern (better High ISO quality makes that of little importance today), but the better zooms closely duplicate the optical quality of prime lenses.

In the old days of prime lenses, we learned to "zoom with our feet", moving where the camera stands, approaching the subject closely to simulate zooming in, or backing much farther away to simulate a wider view.

  • "the better zooms closely duplicate the optical quality of prime lenses." I do own a fixed aperture zoom, it is useful in some situation, but it gives me, at most, 60-70% of a prime IQ, and in some situations the flatness, light gobbling, spectrum absorbing optical properties of zooms makes it 20% of a prime or roughly equivalent to a beer bottle bottom. – Reed Nov 7 '16 at 3:53
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I recommend to decide what lens you should use before you go shooting. Make a plan about what you are going to shoot. Are it landscapes? well take your 15mm. Is it street or portrait, well take the 35mm than.

Be aware if you change your lens to much, you could get dust on your sensor very fast!

So decide what you are going to shoot, pick one lens and let the other one at home. Than you wont think about change the lens and you will focus more on which shot you could get with that lens you are currently using.

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