Sometimes It Is the Lens
For the last few years, I have pared down all my equipment to one lens and one camera. I have been walking around with this for the last three years. The camera is, of course, a Nikon D3s; the lens, a 28–300mm zoom.
I am unashamed of my love for this lens. It has saved me from walking around with 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, 90mm, 135mm, 180mm, and 300mm lenses.
I used to use a 70–300mm and carried a 24–70mm lens in a little belly bag. My daughter said, “You look like a huge dork with that belly bag.” In point of fact, the belly bag prevented me from using the 24–70mm. It was a matter of inertia and the fact that I basically think in telephoto terms most of the time.
When Nikon came out with a 28–300mm, I thought, “This probably won’t work. It’s a compromise. They’re attempting too much. It won’t be as sharp.”
Wow, was I wrong! I could not be happier and, in addition, it has enabled me to shoot at wide angles, since the lens is already in my hands.
I don’t need the belly bag anymore, but my daughter still thinks I’m a huge dork for a million other reasons that she shares with me when I least expect it.
When I started in the business, I worked with a borrowed Kodak 35 with a fixed lens. After some time, I borrowed two Kine-Exactas from Bucky Fuller. Bucky was one of the best people I have ever met. He also felt that all equipment, if it wasn’t being used, should be put in the hands of people who would use it.
I also tried Prakticas and Mirandas. I bought a Rolleiflex and a Canon, and returned each of them after one day. Everybody told me I should buy Leicas, so I bought three Leica MPs. I hated them. I could never focus the two images together. I hardly ever used them.
I bought Hasselblads because I was doing square album covers. I got an assignment to shoot an air-to-air shot and the client wanted me to shoot with a Hasselblad. I told him it would be better with Kodachrome 35mm. He said, “No, it’ll be better with 120.”
I went up, did the shot with 120, and then did it again with Kodachrome. When I finally showed him the job, I showed him the Kodachrome first. He loved it. I then asked if he wanted to see the Hasselblad stuff. He said, “Nah, it couldn’t be better than the 35mm Kodachrome.” That was the end of the Hasselblads.
Finally, in 1959, Nikon came out with the Nikon F. At one point, I owned 16 of them. I still have them, since I have always thought it’s morally wrong to sell anything to anybody after the abuse I put them through.
I never bought the Nikon F2 because I thought there was too much “electronic crap” in it.
When the F3 came out, the legendary Marty Forscher, who repaired cameras for everybody, said to me, “Start buying the F3s because I am not going to repair your Nikon Fs anymore.”
Full disclosure: Marty had given me an award as “The photographer who had the worst attitude toward the care and maintenance of his cameras.” It was well deserved, as I believed in cramming my gear into my bag without any benefit of padding since, “They were packed too tight. They couldn’t move anyway.” I also pleaded the fact that they were tools, not jewels.
I no longer shoot film at 10 ASA or 25 ASA or 64 ASA, or even 200 ASA, because the Kodachrome, which I adored, turned to s#[†. Now I shoot digital, and I shoot at anywhere from 1600 to 12,800 ISO. I can shoot in places where the light really sucks.
I’ve gone though all this, because way back then I carried so much crap. I even carried a 1000mm lens everywhere. The two pictures you’re looking at now are both shot with a 1000mm lens.
The desert in Iran with a railroad line in it is testimony to what a packhorse I was. I didn’t even have an assistant, but this picture could not have occurred with any other lens.
The other image is in Morocco, in the Atlas Mountains. If ever you could say, “You’re like a fly on a wall,” it’s when you shoot with a 1000mm lens.
Now I have a couple of 1000mm lenses and even a 2000mm f/11. They never leave the house. I can no longer lift them onto the tripod. I am dependent on the kindness of strangers to help me work with them.
I don’t use them much, but when I do, it’s an incredible treat.