In the sprawling urban canvas of Toronto, with its eclectic mix of soaring skyscrapers and intimate street scenes, photographers are often told that the 50mm lens is an absolute necessity — the so-called “Nifty Fifty.” While its merits are undeniable, I propose a more pragmatic approach to determining the “one lens you must have,” which begins not with a fixed focal length, but with the versatility of a zoom lens.
Why Start with a Zoom Lens?
Zoom lenses are the Swiss Army knives of photography. They’re versatile, practical, and allow photographers to experiment with a range of compositions and focal lengths without the need to switch lenses constantly. For those new to the streets of Toronto, or to photography itself, a zoom lens can be an invaluable tool. It lets you capture the vastness of Nathan Phillips Square in one moment and zoom into the intricate details of the Toronto City Hall the next.
But the true value of starting with a zoom lens lies in the data it provides about your shooting preferences. Over time, as you review your work, you’ll likely notice patterns in your favorite photos — are most of them wide-angle shots of urban landscapes, or do they tend to be zoomed-in portraits capturing the diverse faces of Kensington Market?
Analyzing Your Photographic Tendencies
By examining the EXIF data of the images you’re most proud of, you’ll start to see which focal lengths you gravitate towards. This is a far more personalized approach than simply adopting the 50mm standard. You might discover that the majority of your favorite shots are taken at 35mm, suggesting that a prime lens of this focal length would best suit your vision. Alternatively, you may find that you often zoom to 85mm when shooting portraits, indicating that a lens with this focal length could be your true “must-have.”
From Zoom to Prime: The Revelation of Preference
This revelation of preference is your compass to finding the lens that truly aligns with your artistry. If the bulk of your shots are taken at the wider end of your zoom lens, perhaps a prime wide-angle lens would not only refine the quality of your images but also invigorate your creative process. Or maybe you’ll realize that a significant portion of your work is shot at 50mm, confirming that the “Nifty Fifty” is indeed the lens for you — not because of conventional wisdom, but because your own portfolio has led you there.
Your Personal “One Lens”
The “one lens you must have” is a deeply personal choice that should be guided by your unique eye for photography. By starting with a zoom lens and reviewing your favorite shots, you allow your experiences and preferences to inform your equipment choices. As you grow and evolve in your photographic journey, your choice of lens might change, and that’s perfectly okay. The key is to ensure that the gear you choose serves your vision, not the other way around.
For us photographers in Toronto, or anywhere else for that matter, the quest for the perfect lens is ongoing. By adopting a zoom lens initially and analyzing your favorite shots, you’ll be making an informed decision about which prime lens truly deserves a spot in your camera bag. Photography is a journey, and the gear we choose is part of the adventure. So, before you settle on the “Nifty Fifty” or any other lens, let your own body of work guide you to the “one lens you must have.”