My Dream Lens: Ken Rockwell


The 50mm lens is so easy to use that you can give all your attention to light and composition. Photograph/Ken Rockwell

The 50mm lens is so easy to use that you can give all your attention to light and composition. Photograph/Ken Rockwell

If you were allowed to use only one lens all through you life, which one would that be? Which is the lens that defines your vision and style of photography? Raj Lalwani posed this question to five internationally renowned photographers and got some interesting insights. Along the way, they also gave some great tips on using different kinds of lenses. Here is what they had to say.

A Normal Bargain
Ken Rockwell’s favourite lens is, coincidentally, also the cheapest lens in the world—the 50mm f/1.8.

Lenses do not take pictures. Photographers do. A lot of amateurs believe that buying the latest pro lens will make them shoot awesome photographs overnight. However, it is the manner in which a photographer uses his tools that is important. For its simplicity, my favourite piece of optics is the 50mm f/1.8.

Boring Can Be Nice Too
A circular fisheye or super telephoto lens allow you to capture photos that automatically look different. A 50mm does none of that. It will not help you fit in a thousand people within the frame, nor will it show you the craters on the surface of the moon. Its charm lies in the fact that it is normal and well, boring.

Be a Photographer, Not a Geek
I used to be a typically photography geek earlier. I would carry a heavy camera bag full of equipment, and would pray that carrying all those lenses will give me a few good pictures, at least. This was also a time that I thought that the 50mm was a stupid lens. It is neither wide-angle nor telephoto and so cheap—surely that cannot be nice. Today, I love the lens because it sets me free—I do not need to carry anything else!

Lighter and More Fun
According to me, photography is all about having fun. Even if you are doing this professionally, the assignments that you have more fun with, will get you the best photographs. I think the 50mm is so great that everyone should have it … not using one is as bad as not wearing underwear!

Be a Low Light Demon
I find it very funny when I am able to shoot with a 50mm in really low light, while another photographer who is shooting with an expensive f/2.8 lens struggles. The fast f/1.8 aperture means that I can use ISO 400 in a situation that a kit lens will be forced to use ISO 3200!

Fixed Lenses Make Better Pictures
Well yes, I said that lenses do not make pictures, but a fixed lens automatically makes you think. You will not be lazy and stuck in the same spot all the time.

Do Not Carry Anything Else
Some people wonder whether carrying two or three fixed lenses is good enough. I believe that if you have a good eye, you only need one fixed lens, like the 50mm.
Once we learn to shoot with one lens, we think about making pictures intuitively with what we have, instead of wasting time worrying about changing lenses each time. It is much easier to take a step or two to frame a better image than it is to change the lens and miss the shot.

See the Composition Before You Shoot
The 50mm has a field of view similar to the human eye. This helps me gauge the frame without putting the camera to my eye.

Blur, Beautiful Blur
I am a huge fan of bokeh. The lovely out-of-focus circles that are formed while using the 50mm lens at f/1.8 or f/2 can make ordinary pictures stand out!

Spend Your Money Elsewhere
Instead of spending thousands of rupees on high-end lenses, a 50mm f/1.8 is a far better option. It is tack sharp, produces no flare and focuses faster than most pro lenses. Considering the amount of money you will save, you can spend the rest of it on education, travel, on your girlfriend or on someone else’s girlfriend!

Do Not Worry, Simplify
Some of my favourite cameras in the world are old point-and-shoots. They are so simple to use! You do not need to think about any technical settings—the entire emphasis can be on light and composition. The 50mm is something similar. No zoom, no complicated levers… all you need to do is click.

About Ken Rockwell: He is equally known for his photographs of landscapes and American culture, as he is for his sense of humour. Despite being popular for his camera reviews on, he strongly advocates that the camera is not important—the man behind the camera is.

Tags: Raj Lalwani, Lens, may 2011, Ken Rockwell, Normal Lens