Scenes from the morning’s walk: Rethinking one camera one lens

Posted on 2 Feb ’13 by Earl

©Meandering Passage - Earl Moore Photography

I’ll admit, I’ve always discounted the “one camera, one lens” photography philosophy as a blogging project similar to the 365 projects you see across the photographic blogosphere rather then a true learning opportunity.  You know, something photographer bloggers do to write about but with debatable tangible deliverables from the activity.

However, I’m reconsidering my hasty opinions, at least in some cases.  For several weeks now I’ve been walking almost every day with our dog Maggie over both hiking and mountain bike trails at a nearby large county park.  Because of the unpredictable weather, distances travelled and the uneven terrain we follow, the camera of choice and convenience has become my iPhone4 — a 5mp camera with definite limitations but meeting the one camera, one lens concept.

Weeks into it I’m finding these limitations are making me more conscious and premeditated in my composition and the use of the tiny camera. Clipping of highlights and shadows, almost infinite depth of field and limited details, small pixel count and limited post-cropping — limitations of the camera/lens, but also opportunities to explore…challenges to overcome.

Modern digital cameras, especially the D-SLR’s,  are so damn good these days you seldom experience many of these limitation on this scale in “normal” non-extreme photography.  It’s taken me back to the days of my first digital camera with it’s 1.5-3mp sensor — except the iPhone is considerably better in most regards. A reset to basics so to speak.

Now, I’m not implying I’m creating any great works of art with the iPhone. But it has become a welcomed and fun learning experience for me – an unexpected one at that.


The above photo is a foggy early morning in the forest shooting into the sun which to some degree overwhelmed the tiny iPhone sensor but in my opinion gives it a interesting disappearing in the distance effect.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Cedric Canard 2 Feb ’13 at 5:38 pm

    I’ve been a one-camera-one-lens photographer for a long time now but it became so out of laziness rather than as a pre-meditated exercise to improve my skills. My increased use of my phone camera is driven by the same factor I am ashamed to say. The thing is that for me the final photograph is no longer much of a factor in the whole endeavour and sometimes I wonder if I should just use my fingers to frame a scene and be done with it. Ok, that would be going too far perhaps.

    Interestingly, as I sit here typing, I realise that in all reality I could not solely use my phone simply for the fact that I have a dislike for shooting without a viewfinder. So, for me, while the phone offers convenience and ease, the actual experience of making a photograph is always suboptimal. I find it difficult (if at all possible) to make my phone feel like an extension of my hand.

    Anyway, I agree that a competent photographer can work with any gear, and working within the gear’s limitations, get excellent results. As you’ve done here Earl. I do like the burnt-out highlights.

    There’s some quite amazing examples of recently awarded, creative, phone photography at this site: http://connect.dpreview.com/post/0058326113/mobile-photography-award-winners
    Cedric Canard recently posted..A prison of the mind

    • Earl 3 Feb ’13 at 12:07 am

      Cedric, after reading your comment I was thinking about your statement of using a phone where “the actual experience of making a photograph is always suboptimal.” Indeed, I do find using a phone to take a photo awkward as hell and certainly it never feels like it’s “an extension of my hand.”.

      However, I’m finding this very awkwardness to cause more awareness of small details of the photography/camera process. Many of these details have with more familiar/comfortable cameras become automated, mostly performed by muscle memory. This “new awkward camera awareness is probably temporary and with soon become “automated” — just an interesting observation.

      If the final product is no longer much of a factor to you, Cedric, I’d be curious where you see the value lying for you in photography?

      • Cedric Canard 3 Feb ’13 at 3:03 am

        Quite right Earl, the awkwardness of a phone can be turned into an awareness exercise and can even be fun at times but I’ve been shooting regularly with my phone for a year or more now and it still remains awkward and suboptimal. I don’t think holding a camera out at arm’s length will ever feel right to me but in spite of this I am sure I’ll continue to shoot with a phone, especially as they improve in terms of speed, focusing and control.

        As to your question; the value for me is in the picture making process itself, the walking around, camera in hand, the quiet mind, the underlying awareness, the moment of seeing something and capturing it. With some photos the value extends into the post-processing but whether the photo works out is no longer something I am overly concerned about. This isn’t to say that this is how things will stay in the future. I may find that some day when I have more time to dedicate to photography I will start to look at doing books or online galleries or perhaps even hang some up on my walls and then the photos will take precedence again. Who knows?
        Cedric Canard recently posted..A prison of the mind

  2. Jim | SpinView 2 Feb ’13 at 5:43 pm

    I enjoyed the tone you applied to this image. And the disappearing effect…an unexpected result of your phone’s limitations and quite enjoyable.
    Jim | SpinView recently posted..They Watched Us from the Bluff

    • Earl 3 Feb ’13 at 12:07 am

      Jim, thanks!

  3. ken bello 2 Feb ’13 at 6:01 pm

    So far I have been fortunate enough that my DSLR has always been the camera of choice for me and they serve me well, although I sometimes wish I had a small point and shoot to keep in my pocket. In the 1970′s, I had a Minolta 110 SLR because I liked the idea of a small camera, but the format was just too small to give high quality photos and I was disappointed with it. Modern digital cameras are much better at delivering good quality photos in a size not much bigger than a credit card. If I could find one that shot RAW at a reasonable price I would probably be tempted again.
    ken bello recently posted..mystery of the stone pyramids

    • Earl 3 Feb ’13 at 12:10 am

      Ken, I started out carrying my DSLR on these walks, then it became my micro 4/3′s camera and now it’s the iphone. It’s amazing how several swift miles over rough terrain each day will strip down the baggage. :-)

  4. Monte Stevens 2 Feb ’13 at 10:10 pm

    When I first bought the Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX lens, it stayed on my camera for several months. I went through the stage of just one camera and one lens. Light as heck on my D300 and, for me anyway, a sharp lens. Strange as I’ve been thinking about using it more. I may take a trip to Seattle or Portland and walk the streets with just that setup and an 85mm f1.8 in my backpack for any surprises. My lust buttons would like to have the Fuji film X-E1 with the 35mm lens. But alas, lack of cash stops me. I still use my iphone, especially when flying.

    • Earl 3 Feb ’13 at 12:15 am

      Monte, those lust buttons never fully go away do they.

      As I was commenting to Ken above I’ve slowly progressed to only walking with bare minimun equipment due in part to trying to keep up with a very swift dog. ;-)

  5. Don Cooper 3 Feb ’13 at 11:49 am

    I used a Nikon 18-135 for a long time and was all I would use. Now the wife and I have both use the D3200, she has the 55-200 and I use the 18-55, so if we want we switch cameras but actually we both like our simple choice.
    Don Cooper recently posted..Lake George NY 2/2/13

    • Earl 5 Feb ’13 at 12:33 pm

      Hi Don, Thanks for stopping by! I’m not sure the original concept of “one camera, one lens” considered a zoom lens as a valid choice but I have to admit when walking about with my DSLR I usually have a zoom lens attached. However, I do sometimes think doing so has made me lazy with my photography.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Don Cooper 5 Feb ’13 at 4:37 pm

        Earl I agree the one lens theory was for a 28mm, 35mm or 50mm etc. but as I get older I don’t want to carry a lot of baggage or mess around with lenses with my arthritis hands.
        Don Cooper recently posted..Ft. Ann Beach, Pilot Knob Lake George NY

  6. Steve Skinner 3 Feb ’13 at 8:35 pm

    That’s one outstanding image Earl regardless of how it was made!
    Steve Skinner recently posted..Thoughts On The Forest

    • Earl 5 Feb ’13 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks, Steve. I knew shooting into the sun was beyond the capabilities of a small phone camera sensor but then you often see errors or mistakes become art don’t you. :-)

  7. Paul 4 Feb ’13 at 11:37 am

    Surely, one camera does not fit all situations well; however, I think that when you take out all of the variables, especially lens choices, you get the opportunity to just consider the photo. Some may fail. Others may succeed, but then it becomes more about the shooting … or, perhaps, just an exercise in frustration. LOL
    Paul recently posted..The quiet places

    • Earl 5 Feb ’13 at 12:39 pm

      Yeah, no one camera with any single lens is best for all situations but that exactly why doing this becomes a exercise in thinking more about the end result because of those limitations. I haven’t felt frustation yet. I just have tell myself to take the shot anyway even in those circumstances where I know it’s pushing the camera and/or lens…such as this shot. Thanks, Paul.

  8. John - Visual Notebook 4 Feb ’13 at 12:07 pm

    The one camera, one lens philosophy is appealing to me simply because I don’t like having to swap lenses all the time. I was thinking a several lens several camera philosophy might mitigate that issue ;-) So, does the one lens one camera philosophy mean the lens has to be a prime? What if it’s a super-zoom that encompasses 18-250mm range (or its equivalent). Isn’t that a one camera really multiple lens combination in one package philosophy? Not that it matters – shoot with what you want, what feels right at a given moment. I agree with Paul that one camera doesn’t fit all situations and having more than one camera to choose from feels good to me.
    John – Visual Notebook recently posted..Big News

    • Earl 5 Feb ’13 at 12:45 pm

      Hi John, I believe the original “one camera, one lens” concept considered the lens had to be a prime. A zoom lens would be considered cheating and not much of a photographic exercise.

      In my opinion, those situations where you choice of camera/lens doesn’t “fit” would be the very occasions for the most learning and development of skills — extending one’s creativity. :-)

  9. Mark 9 Feb ’13 at 8:26 am

    As I have read a few times from various sources, I think it is proven that people that have limitations imposed upon them, or limitations they create themselves, is what really causes creativity to shine through. With an iPhone however, it almost seems you need to limit yourself to a certain app and setting with the endless possibilities there are now with filters, etc.
    Mark recently posted..Morphing Landscape

    • Earl 9 Feb ’13 at 12:57 pm

      Mark, I’ve been using the SmugMug Awesome Camera app on my iPhone, however, I never use any of the built in filters simply because on such a small screen is so I can’t determine if the results are truly pleasing pleasing or not. I normally bring the photo’s into Lightroom on my Mac and then do any post processing I feel it needs. I guess this would meet the one camera-one lens definition?
      Thanks!

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