I have no idea. You are going to decide but here is how you make that decision. It is super easy.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Decide if you are a 35mm or a 50mm person…or a 28 person
You need to leave one lens on your camera when it is on the shelf. You need to leave a lens on the camera so when you grab it you are ready for anything. What focal length are you going to decide on for that lens? That is your #1 most important decision and it will influence everything moving forward.
Most people tend to choose 35mm or 50mm. 28mm doesn’t seem as popular with most people. This is interesting for 2 reasons:
- The Leica Q comes with a fixed 28mm lens. I had one and sold it. 28mm is just too wide for my first choice. It might be of interest to note that the Fuji X100 series (which is their fixed lens point and shoot) comes with a 35mm equivalent lens. Apparently, Fuji doesn’t recommend 28mm either.
- The iPhone (depending on which model) has around a 28mm focal length equivalent.
Personally, I leave a 35mm lens on my camera all the time. If I don’t know what I will be shooting next, 35mm is wide enough to cover some wide things and I can also get up close without distortion and get a little bit of a background blur. Also, if I am going to leave the house with one single lens on the camera, it is a 35.
I don’t choose a 28mm and part of the reason is the iPhone. These days every one sees that focal length all the time and they are used to seeing absolutely everything in focus. For that reason alone I want something different. I also find it much easier to fill the frame with whatever I am shooting with a 35 or 50. Finally, 28 is only a little bit wide. It is just a little bit wider than 35 but it isn’t what I would call a WIDE angle lens. We will get back to this in a minute. It becomes important when you are building out a series of lenses.
Step 2: Decide if you want a modern or vintage look from the lens.
If you want the lens to get out of the way and you are looking for sharpness go modern. If you want the lend to add something to the look and feel of the image and you are alright with some softness (especially wide open), weirdness, flares, etc, go vintage. I would say that most normal people should choose a modern lens for their first lens. Truth be told you can do a lot of the vintage effect in post-processing but it is next to impossible to take a vintage lens and fix issues to make it look modern.
Step 3: My approach to building a kit
When I got my Leica, the original plan was to just have a 35mm and be done with it. Then I needed to shoot a book project and the 35mm wasn’t wide enough. So I got a 28 primarily because my Leica had 28mm frame lines. So, I figured 28 was a good bet but didn’t really like it. It was wide but not wide enough. Importantly, it was a stupid purchase because it was so close to 35. That is how this website got started. I didn’t want to make any more mistakes and the internet let me down with that 28mm purchase. Now you know.
Most times if I am shooting with my Leica, I only take one lens. If I take more, I go full tilt and take three. So, I will leave the house with either
- Just one 35mm lens. It will be either a vintage or a modern depending on what I am shooting. Most times, I bring the modern.
- Three lenses. 24mm, 50mm, and 90mm. The 90mm almost never gets used but I have it just in case. Depending on what I am shooting I will take a vintage set or a modern set. I don’t mix and match. In most cases, I choose modern. If I am shooting film I choose modern. This is probably a contrarian opinion but film adds so much vintage feel anyway, I pick modern for the lens every time.
Now you also see why I am primarily reviewing 24, 35, 50, and 90mm lenses on this site. I don’t see the need for a 75mm. 28 is also kind of a weird focal length for me because it is so close to 35 and it is just not wide enough when I want to go wide. I am sure I will get yelled at for that comment but it is what it is.
The last thing to mention is that if you use a 21 or a 24mm lens you may need an external viewfinder to frame your shot. This is why I shy away from 21. I can’t be bothered to mess around with an external finder. In my experience, however, I can get away with a 24mm lens without a viewfinder if you use the entire finder window (assuming an 0.72x Leica) and add a little. In my hands, you don’t technically need an external finder for a 24 or 25mm lens.
Step 4: An alternative approach to building a kit
Getting back to Step 1. Let’s say you are a 50mm person (or a 28mm person) and you never get a 35mm lens. Another most excellent approach would be to go with a 28-50-90 set. In your case, the 28 is pretty far from the 50. If you need a wide, your next step would be a 21 or 18 or something to use when you really needed a very wide lens. As I mentioned previously, your first lens is a big decision.
If you follow this approach, you pick your first lens and everything builds from there. Doing your due diligence in picking your first lens, really helps make your future lens choices easy. If you are like me and you are budget-constrained, you don’t want a big honking lens on your rangefinder, and you know that the chances of you getting a shot in focus at f/1.4 is slim, there really aren’t all that many options. If you want to save even more time, I would very much appreciate it if you checked out my Leica Lenses for Normal People: Recommended List. I think you will find it useful.
Header image by Anders Nord on Unsplash