Why I Shoot With One Camera and One Lens

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Dear friend,

This morning — I was going to write an article on why I wear the same thing every morning.

Better than that— I figured I’d write about why I shoot with the same camera, and the same lens (everyday).

1. I suffer from ‘paralysis by analysis’

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I’m the type of person that I over-think my decisions in life. When I have too much choice; I get paralyzed.

They call this ‘paralysis by analysis’. You become paralyzed, because you analyze too many choices.

I wear the same thing everyday, because it is one less decision I need to make. I wear all black. I wear a black v-neck shirt, black pants, black shoes, and a black dress shirt. It also hides coffee stains well.

In terms of photography, the reason I choose to shoot with one camera, and one lens (currently the Ricoh GR II), is because it is just one less decision I need to make when shooting.

2. How I overcame ‘photographer’s block’

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As a photographer, I have often got ‘photographer’s block’ in the past. The idea is that I don’t feel “inspired” to go out and shoot.

I’ve found that owning too many cameras only adds to photographers block. The funny thing is that the photographers that I know who own all the cameras out there (Leicas, Nikons, Canons, etc) — have the biggest issue. They suffer ‘paralysis by analysis’ — they have too many cameras, and lenses, that they don’t know which camera to shoot with.

Same used to happen with me. But now, I’ve reduced my camera equipment just to the Ricoh GR II, while I am currently living here in Hanoi. And it is pure bliss.

3. Why I like sticking with one focal length

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The default lens on the Ricoh GR II is a ‘full-frame’ 28mm equivalent. I’ve learned a lot shooting on a 28mm lens, and it has been a challenge. The last 10 years I’ve shot on a 35mm lens, and shooting 28mm was a bit tricky. But it was a fun challenge, which helped push my photography to the next level.

It takes a long time to discover a lens. And it takes an even longer time to start to ‘see’ the world with a certain focal length.

So the benefit for me sticking with one camera and one lens is this— I’ve learned how to see the world, and I’ve learned to pre-visualize, and pre-frame a scene before making a photo.

4. Smaller is better

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When it comes to choosing just 1 camera and 1 lens, I recommend using the smallest possible camera. Because for me, the bigger my camera is, the less likely I am to carry it with me everywhere I go, and the less likely I am to make photos.

For me, even the Ricoh GR II is preferable to my Leica— because the Leica is a lot bigger and heavier, and bulkier than it seems.

Thank God that I have fallen in love with a ~$600 camera. It is pure liberation.

5. Choosing a camera with a non-interchangeable lens

cindy project eric kim black and white

I believe in ‘creative constraints.’ The idea is that the more constraints you have on yourself, the more creative you become.

For example, I know I am much more creative with a fixed-focal, prime lens, than if I had a 18mm-400mm zoom lens.

With a fixed focal lens, you need to force hard to innovate. When you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens, you need to get close to your subjects— emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

I am a big fan of cameras with non-interchangeable lenses, like the Ricoh GR II camera, the Fujifilm X100-series, as well as the Fujifilm x70. The great things about cameras with non-interchangeable lenses is this: you have one fewer decision to make in life, at least in your photography.

By not having the option to change your lens, the less stress you have. Because you are just stuck with that one focal length.

Some photographers complain like it was a downside. But in truth; it is the best upside.

So when in doubt, buy a camera with a non-interchangeable lens. Or if you’re going to buy a camera that allows interchangeable lenses (DSLR, most mirrorless cameras, etc) — just buy one lens.

And if you’re unfortunately a photographer who has too many cameras and too many lenses, and are severely stressed out — go on a purge. Sell all your cameras, and lenses, and just stick with one camera, and one lens. And no worries, you can always re-buy any of your camera equipment if you’re stressed out.

For me, I did a camera purge— and ended up giving away all my cameras to friends, and people who I thought could use it better than I could. At the moment, all I own is the Ricoh GR II (while living here in Hanoi), while my film Leica MP + 35mm lens is sitting in some box back in Cindy’s family’s home in Garden Grove, California.

I don’t miss the Leica at all. I might shoot some more film when I get back home, but I’m loving the Ricoh GR II now.

6. Sticking with the same preset

cindy project eric kim black and white

Another tip — I love sticking with the same preset on my camera. Why? Because I get a consistent look (like shooting film), and once again — it is one less thing I need to worry about.

I shoot all my photos in RAW on the Ricoh GR II. I would choose RAW + JPEG, but on the GR II — shooting both slows down the buffer.

Anyways, I still shoot high-contrast black and white mode, to pre-visualize how I will see the scene and the world in black and white.

When I import my images into Lightroom, I apply the “Eric Kim 1600 Monochrome” preset (which you can download for free on my blog). And then I quickly go through my images, and pick the ones I like, and export my favorites to 80% JPEG quality, to a Dropbox folder, and then upload my favorite images to social media or my blog.

I used to have a lot more stress choosing what preset to use, and how to post-process my images. Now I just ‘set it and forget it.’ I set the one monochrome preset, and if I need some basic exposure adjustments, I do that. But besides that, not much else.

7. No choices is freedom

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I believe that in photography and art, true freedom comes from lack of options.

There is a saying: “Mother is the necessity behind all innovation.”

Kind of like in Aesop’s fable, when the crow was dying of thirst, and needed to drink from a can. But the can was too deep, and the crow couldn’t reach the bottom of the can. So the crow figured out an ingenious idea: it started to pick up rocks, and filled the can with rocks, and eventually, the water rose to the top. And the crow was finally able to drink the water, and did not die of thirst.

To innovate, we really need to put ourselves in tough situations.

To innovate as a photographer, we need fewer cameras and lenses— not more cameras and lenses. If we want to innovate in our photo projects, we need to travel less, not more. We need to make photos more locally, closer to our homes— rather than trying to go somewhere ‘exotic’ and foreign to us.

Seek to make more personal photos, that reveal part of your soul. Are you the only one who can make the images that you do?

8. Buy experiences, not gear

Laughing Ladies / NYC + Hanoi

Another practical reason to only own one camera and one lens, or shoot with only one camera and one lens is this — you waste less money on gear.

Every new year, or every 6 months, there is a new camera, new model, or new update.

I would rather spend my money on experiences, like traveling, enjoying nice espressos at hipster coffee shops, meeting friends for dinner— rather than spending a lot of money on stuff that will be outdated (like cameras, cars, gadgets).

In photography, the best investment for your money includes photography books, photography education, and travel (probably in that order).

The great thing about buying photo books is that their value actually goes up over time. And a photo book is the best companion on a cold rainy day, with a nice cup of coffee — to inspire you with images. Much better to look at photo books than to just be on Instagram all day.

Photography education is great— I recommend workshops over schools. Workshops are short, intense, and you learn a lot of practical information. I don’t believe in photography schools — why would you go $200,000 in debt, just to learn how to make photos (you can learn this all online for free). Or better yet, you can hire a photography teacher as a 1:1 guide (either in person, or over Skype). For free photography education, check out my free photography bootcamp, and open-source street photography class.

If you want to find a personal mentor in photography, contact a photographer you admire, and ask them to give you feedback and critique on your photos, and personalized assignments. Offer to pay them $100-$300 an hour (whatever you can afford, or you think they are worth), and this will be a far better investment for your money than any camera equipment. Maybe meet up with them once a month.

Money on travel is always money well spent. Don’t travel for the sake of traveling. For me, traveling has helped open up my mind, meet new people and helped expose me to new cultures. To be frank, I very rarely make good photos while traveling to foreign places for the first time. I used to only travel to make better photos. Now I only travel to make better experiences, and to make myself a more well-rounded, cultured, and open-minded person.

9. The zen of one camera, one lens

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I feel (finally) satisfied with my camera. Even when I had my Leica M9 (and Leica MP) I was dissatisfied. There was always a new model, a new lens, or a new toy I wanted to buy. Spending a lot of time on social media doesn’t help— because people like to show off their fancy cameras next to their soy cappuccinos.

I think all of us as photographers are trying to find satisfaction in our photography, our gear, and our life. I had a long time being afflicted by ‘gear acquisition syndrome’ (GAS) — and I think I have (mostly) overcome it.

Now, shooting is zen. I don’t think about the camera anymore. It is part of me. I just point, and click. I keep the Ricoh GR II in P (program) mode, ISO 1600, center-point autofocus, and high-contrast black and white mode. I take photos for fun, and sometimes use a flash. I photograph Cindy, myself, and stuff I see on the streets. I don’t take my photography too seriously, I just try to wander like a child, and click for fun. I try to embrace ‘beginner’s mind’ — shooting like I were a beginner again. And this has helped elevate my creativity to the next level.

The less you worry about your camera, your gear, your lens, your whatever— the more focus, concentration, and intensity you will add to your composition, framing, and the subject of your photos.

10. Practical suggestions

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If you want to achieve the zen-like state of one camera, one lens — this is what I did:

  1. Gave away al my cameras and lenses to my friends (who I thought could use it better than I could)
  2. Uninstall all social media apps from my phone (not to get tempted by friends showing off their cameras and gear)
  3. Block all gear review websites from the browsers on my computer (Stayfocusd in Chrome, or WasteNoTime in Safari)
  4. Keep my camera strapped to my wrist (like a bracelet), and allow myself to take shitty photos, and just to have fun
  5. Shoot black and white (I’ve found it easier to get a consistent looking image in black and white, instead of fidgeting around in color. Because almost any modern digital camera looks good in black and white).

Conclusion: Do what works for you

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If you’re a chef, you probably own a lot of knives to cook.

If you’re a professional photographer, this advice won’t apply to you.

But if you’re a passionate hobby photographer, and you are suffering from photographers block, or suffering from lack of inspiration — perhaps the problem you have too much gear.

So stop looking at those gear review sites. It is like giving heroin to a heroin addict. Trust me, nobody is immune (certainly not myself). I know I am easily suckered by gear, so the only remedy is to tie myself to the mast (like Ulysses), and fill my ears with beeswax.

How to find more zen in your photography

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If you want to find more zen in your photography, I recommend reading my free book: Zen Photography

Also check out my Zen Photography Articles >


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