The first SLR I owned came with three lenses. Gosh I was pleased, it had a 35mm, 50mm and a 135mm. The years passed and I started working as a photographer documenting many of the alternative approaches to learning that were happening at that time in Southern California’s Education system.
At that time my gear was an SLR, a 50mm and a 200mm lens. Equipment that I quickly found lacking in the fast moving events I was expected to document. Sure, sometimes I photographed students sitting down, but more often than not, those grade schoolers were bouncing around coastal rocks while searching tide pools, excitedly running on board whale watching boats, dashing through city parks and even racing up stairs in some Los Angeles high-rise.
Changing lenses on the go, better yet “on the run”, was a hassle and awkward in a crowded space.
Then a company named Vivitar started advertising their 70-210mm zoom lens. I can remember talking with other working photographers about the magazine advertisements showing a page of postage stamps with perfectly in line perforations.
I’ll make this short by saying, it wasn’t long before I owned one, and wow, could I work a crowded street, schoolyard, site seeing-boat or any other people-filled event. The fact that it wasn’t a wide angle and I was forced to stand back was a minor inconvenience. I shot tight. I got faces, hands, feet, children talking up close, and was able to capture those quick ever-changing expressions.
I was sold on the versatility of that first multifocal length lens. I shot thousands of slides and black and white prints for my employer until I left, deciding to wander up the coast and settle in British Columbia, Canada.
Digital had yet to be invented or thought of by those of us earning our living with cameras, and the bigger the negative was the better. I remember feeling bad for those unfortunate brides and grooms that chose some pal to record their wedding with the family 35mm.
Serious photographers were using medium format cameras and there were very few zoom lenses for medium format. So I was stuck changing lenses again. Lenses that like the big cameras they fit, took up space and made the camera burdensome.
Finally after many painful and expensive years of carrying big formats, Kodak began offering a 35mm professional film that maintained a neutral and true to life colour and was great for enlargements. The film, called “Portra” came in ISO160, ISO400 and ISO800. So with that I was back to using 35mm and zoom lenses again.
I would pack two camera bodies to an event like a wedding, one for black and while and one for colour. I had my choice of mounting a 35-105mm or a 70-200mm multi-focal length lens on which ever I needed at the moment. That flexibility gave me an edge on those photographers that were struggling as they tried to keep up during quickly changing events.
Zoom lenses allowed me to choose the crop I wanted and gave me versatility and speed in any situation. That Versatility and speed is lacking when I am forced to change lenses and gosh, moving back and forth to widen or narrow framing is just tedious. Having many focal lengths all-in-one keeps me from missing those once in a lifetime shots.
Present day zoom lenses have become sharper, quicker and lighter than those I used with my film cameras. And for those, like me, that have a vacation planned for the upcoming summer. One lens that has the ability to capture and change the world’s perspective at a multitude of focal lengths is so much easier to carry around than several (prime) lenses with focal lengths that are fixed.