In 1985, the year I got my first newspaper job, I carried a 28mm f/2.8, a 50mm f/1.2, a 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, a 105mm f/2.5 and a 200mm f/4.
In the early years of these adventures, I had between my ears that instead of shooting these trips like I shoot news, I was just going to make “high art.” Looking back, I believe this was a mistake. There’s nothing wrong with attempting to be artistic, but that goal got in the way of recording the event and making memories. I made far fewer images than I probably should have.
At the time, I eschewed zoom lenses. In my defense, at that point in photographic history, zooms weren’t what they have become in the 21st century.
I recall that by 1987 my kit for shooting news included these Nikkor lenses: 20mm f/2.8, 24mm f/2.0, 28mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2.0, a 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, 105mm f/1.8, 180mm f/2.8, and a 300mm f/4.5. It was a pretty standard bag for a news shooter in that era. You could do a lot with it, but it was a lot of very heavy glass.
On a hiking trip in 1990, I took only one lens, a 55mm macro, thinking that I didn’t want to carry all that heavy equipment on a long backpacking trip. It’s a good lens, but not nearly as versatile as it needed to be.
In the 1990s, I bought some nice used lenses, including a 28mm f/3.5 and a 135mm f/3.5, that were super sharp and very lightweight, so that by the time of the 1999 and 2000 photo vacations, I was getting the hang of assembling travel photography gear. Since I still wasn’t a big zoom lens shooter, I knew well how to use the 28mm or the 135mm and “zoom with my feet.”
I was stuck in the “prime lenses are the only lenses” paradigm for a long time. I wasn’t wrong, though, since so many early zooms were junk. Still, looking back, I believe I would have been more successful with a midrange zoom than with one or two primes, particularly if I’d been able to see my goal as more about recording the moment and less about creating perfect art.
In 1983, I had a Sigma 28-80mm zoom for a short time. I traded it away by 1985, but sometimes I think I could have put it to good use on trips like A New York Minute in 1985 or Into the Fire in 1990, particularly since most of the images I made then were either in bright light or from a tripod, which would have allowed me to use smaller apertures, at least somewhat improving the image quality.
I guess the good news after all this hemming and hawing is that I have settled in to formula: lightweight zooms either on a digital SLR or built into a bridge/prosumer model. It’s a completely different style of photographer than my daily shooting with big, heavy lenses and multiple pro cameras, but it is more fun and more productive for those occasions.