The 1 Year, 1 Camera, 1 Lens Project

Erics’ Note: This guest blog post is by Christian Nilson, a street photographer based in Zurich. For this article he shares his experience (so far) of the 1 year, 1 camera, 1 lens project. You can also see his last article he wrote on the benefits of shooting a TLR for street photography here. Hope you enjoy the post! 

Christian: 3 down 9 to go!

Eric asked me if I could write something about the “project” that I’m currently working on. 1 year, 1 camera, 1 lens, 1 type of film or “Leica as a teacher”, this project is known under different names, the first I read about it was on The Online Photographer blog. It caused a bit of controversy there since it mentions that you have to use a Leica rangefinder and many comments were left saying that this is elitist etc. In my 3 months experience I don’t see using a Leica rangefinder as a necessity, I think it is important that you use a film camera and a simple one at that. With simple I mean, no automatic, aperture priority or shutter priority setting. To get the most out of this you need to shoot fully manual.

I admit that I do use a Leica myself, I just think it is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship and I just love holding it in my hand, but that is just me and I can understand people who say that Leicas are too expensive. On the other hand, if you buy a film Leica for this project and you sell it again after a year, you will most probably get your money back, so if you look at it like that it will cost you nothing.

Ok, here are the details of my personal choice of gear for the project. I’m using a Leica M6TTL BP, a 35mm Summicron ASPH and Tri-X 400. Tri-X is not too expensive and very easy to develop yourself. It’s also flexible and you can push it to ISO 1600. If you want some pointers on developing your own black and white film, I wrote a short article about it here.

The main “rules” of the project are:

For one whole year, shoot with 1 camera, 1 fixed focal length lens and 1 type of black and white film. Shoot a minimum of 2 rolls each week. Develop the rolls and make contact prints or scans and edit each roll down to the best 1 or 2 photos. Make prints of the selected photos.

Having completed the first 3 months, I have been looking back trying to figure out what has changed. Before I started this project I had very little experience with black and white photography, almost all of my previous photos are in colour, be it either film or digital, but I’m slowly but surely learning to see in black and white and I have to say I am beginning to really appreciate it.

For those of you that are interested in doing the same I have tried to complete a rewards list based on my own experience.

1. The ability to judge light

I find myself getting better and better at judging which combination of shutter speed and aperture is the correct one for various lighting conditions. Before looking through the viewfinder I’m able to set the correct speed for the selected aperture, this in turn lead to faster reaction times and less missed opportunities.

2. To see in the focal length you have chosen

Limiting yourself to one focal length only helps your ability to frame without looking through the viewfinder. Again this speeds up the process, cause you know before even putting the camera up to your eye what the framing should be like. Personally I shoot with a 35mm, fits my needs perfectly, but anything goes as long as you are happy with it.

3. Increase the editing ability

Forcing yourself to only choose the best one or two photos of a roll is really hard sometimes and I found that it makes you look at your own photos in a much more critical way.

4. Overall increase in the quality of the photos

Well this is the whole point of the project so it would suck if this were not the case. I think it has more to do with the time you actually spend shooting and editing than anything else. Let’s see what it looks like after a whole year, but I believe I see and improvement in my own photos. Practice makes perfect.

Working on this project does not hinder you in any way to do other projects as well. I try to look at it as kind of an umbrella project, where many other projects can fit underneath, provided you do them with the same camera, lens and film ;o)

Some projects I have planned to complete during the next 9 months:

–       Invasion

–       Wacken 2013

–       Beauty beasts

To follow my entire series, check out my set on Flickr here.

Follow Christian

If you would like to know more about my photography and me you can find me in the following places:

Blog –

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I hope you found the post interesting and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to drop me a mail:

What are your thoughts about shooting with 1 camera and 1 lens and what have your experiences been? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below! 

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  • Scott McCourt

    Last month I glamorously broke 2 of my lens and my DSLR. The day after I was heading to Geneva for my first time and the only camera I could get my hands on was my mother in laws Canon AE-1 with a 50mm lens, retro ! I went and got some film (had to ask a sweet old lady how to load it) and went on a shooting spree. I’m still waiting to get the film back though over the 3 days in Geneva I could feel these creative juices flowing from places that I never knew existed. You’re so right in everything you’re saying. I had been doing alot of travelling up until that “glamorous” day and had felt quite burn out from photography and to be honest was starting to loose my passion for it. Since shooting with film I’ve found a whole new love for photography again and I haven’t even got the film back yet but isn’t that half the fun !

  • Daniele

    Me too, after 9 month of shooting with “only” the sony nex 5n and the 24mm Zeiss, I’ve started to see in the focal length I have chosen.

    Now I gave it to my brother and I’ve started to shoot with film.

    I’m using a Fujica gs645w and I’ll try to make like you:
    One year, One camera, One lens.

    Thanks for your blog Eric, and Christian for share your project!

    (Sorry for my poor English…)

    • Christian Nilson

      Good luck, this project in MF will for sure bring another dimension, with only 14? frames per roll.

      • Daniele

        Thank you,

        I want to start to think a little more.
        With digital I shoot too much.
        Than I started to shoot film with an old SLR.
        And even with this i shoot a lot (I develop all my BW films)

        I’m an architect and I have a project to study places with street photography.
        I’ve been inspired by Chris Dorley-Brown’s Photos

        I think that this type of street photography is compatible with a MF with a Wide angle.
        Tomorrow I’ll go out, I’ll try to take one (max two) rolls of 120 film and I’ll tell you if 30 frames are enough.

  • Michael Meinhardt

    Why are people apologizing for using Leicas all the time? It’s just a camera preference. Use what you want to use stop listening to people who equate expensive cameras with good pictures. There is no connection.

    • Christian Nilson

      I’m not apologizing for using a Leica, the “I admit…” part is in reference to what I say concerning using a Leica is not necessary.

  • Brandon Scales

    I’m doing a similar project. 1camera, 1 black and white film, 1 lens and mine goes one further to limiting myself to 1 street. This project will become my first book.

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  • Daniel Belenguer Perez

    Good idea, after years of using dslr for my work I gradually started using fixed focal lenses instead zooms, step by step y realizad that I didn’t need so much gear.. when I could afford an m8 I bought a 28/2 and this was my only lens for two years. Now I use three lenses 28-35-50 for my wedding work, but I’ve done weddings with only one camera one lens, m9+35. Without doubt is a great discipline exercise and for sure will imporve your photography.

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  • ilparm

    It is funny to see how even in topics like this people still get caught up in gear talk.

    • E

      The project is one camera, one lens, one film. Don’t you think what he uses and why has any relevance? I don’t really think there’s much focus on the gear here, and there is no “you have to shoot Leica and tri-x” about the article.

      • ilparm

        Well, my comment was aimed not only to the OP but some of the responses as well. And while I understand that the nature of the project makes the camera selection a critical choice, I found excerpts like “I don’t see using a Leica rangefinder as a necessity” and “if you buy a film Leica for this project and you sell it again after a year, you will most probably get your money back” hilarious.

        • Christian Nilson

          Glad I could make you happy. If you have read the original post on the online photographer and the comments to it you would understand both sentences. Both of them are IMHO true.

          • ilparm

            So tell me, this post you wrote is about a project or about your little discussion over that other site? If you really think a Leica is not a necessity then why do you even bring up that discussion here?

            Do you know why most of people reading this will not buy a Leica and sell it after project completion? For the same reason they will not buy it and keep it: Because THEY CAN’T AFFORD IT to begin with. It was really hilarious to see you making such a suggestion, as if a Leica was something most of folks can buy and sell on a whim at their convenience.

            Had it been me writing this I would have said: “This started as the Leica as a teacher project, but obviously any film camera with manual controls works for the purposes of this project” and leave it at that. The rest is only you telling stories about your Leica masturbation parties.

          • G

            Wow! Think you read this with the wrong glasses on as you’re obviously reading too much into it. Not everyone who mentions Leica is a narrow minded Leica fanatic.. and not everyone who doesn’t have one has to be a ‘Leica hater’.

          • Christian Nilson

            I guess you are just a better writer than me.

          • ilparm

            I should sell editor services. :o)

  • Guy Platt

    Not sure why it has to be film. I have a couple of film cameras, but the film would be a pain. In the small town where I live (in South Africa) it is not possible to buy any film developing supplies nor any decent film, and there is no one who can scan film beyond 500kb files.

    • Christian Nilson

      I believe the film part has to do with slowing down and thinking more about light and composition since you are limited to 38 photos per roll and each press of the shutter costs money. But I guess the same can be done if one is extremely disciplined and limit yourself to very small cards. Again it’s just a case of doing what you feel works for you.

  • cwcushman

    Interesting project. Growing up in the film era shooting this way is second nature to me. My primary lens is still a 50mm prime.

    If people don’t want to buy a Leica I would suggest checking out either a Rollei TLR or a Nikon FM (if you have a Nikon DSLR).

    An alternate project would be to shoot slide film. You will learn to be even more accurate with your exposure due to slide film’s limited latitude.

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  • Eisenvater

    Well, is this a kind of special camera kata? You’re right if you say with one camera & one lens you are learning to make images faster. That’s because you learn to move and see in a better way to find your own view. But why are you going the ‘pain way’ with all that limitations? For years, I practiced the zone system described in The New Zone System Manual. And in the book
    Das Zonensystem in der Schwarzweiß- und Farbfotografie. Those days are gone…. You don’t need it anymore. Photoshop & Raw files are much better! At the end … only the Images are important in a way that is described in this little book called Camera Lucida of Roland Barthes. What do you think? You can shoot good pictures with your mobile too!

    • Christian Nilson

      Each to his own, I like the process and the “slowness” of it all. I love to get my hands dirty and develop and enlarge myself. I have shot digital before and I’m sure I will do it again, but right now, this is what I prefer, it’s a personal preference, that’s all.

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