Why I Love Cameras with Non-Interchangeable Lenses

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject (shot on the Ricoh GR II)
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject (shot on the Ricoh GR II)

I’ve shot with tons of different cameras over the years— Leica’s, Fujis, Micro 4/3rd cameras, Ricohs, Smartphones, Canons, DSLR’s, etc.

I’ve found that for me, I most prefer cameras with non-interchangeable lenses (lenses that you can’t change).

Why? Let me share some reasons:

1. Creative constraint

Downtown LA, 2015 (shot on the Ricoh GR)
Downtown LA, 2015 (shot on the Ricoh GR)

One of the best benefits of having a camera with a non-interchangeable lens (like point-and-shoot cameras, the Ricoh GR II, Fuji x100T, Fuji x70) is that you are forced to be more creative by having fewer options. They call this a “creative constraint.”

For example, if you are in a very tight place, and you only have a 28mm or a 35mm lens. You make the best composition given your constraint, and the constraint forces you to be more creative with the situation.

Or let’s say that you’re shooting with a 28mm or 35mm fixed-focal lens. And your subject is really far away. Instead of taking the easy way out (using a zoom lens), you can either try to intentionally get a wide-angle shot of the scene (make the subject look very small), or you will use your “foot zoom” to get very close to your subject.

I very rarely find any photos shot with zoom lenses very interesting. Zoom lenses flatten the perspective, and make the photos feel less personal. Photos shot on wider-angle lenses feel much more personal, intimate, and it makes the viewer feel like he/she was really there.

2. Less stress

NYC, 2016 (shot on a Ricoh GR)
NYC, 2016 (shot on a Ricoh GR)

When I used to have a DSLR, I would always be stressed out when deciding which lens to shoot with.

For example, I was about to leave the house and had to decide: “Should I bring my 24mm, my 35mm, my 50mm, or my telephoto lens?” Not being able to make a decision, I would just bring all of my lenses.

Then I’d go out and hit the streets.

I’d start with the 35mm lens, and then suddenly I found myself in a tight alleyway. I would stop, and put on the 24mm lens. A few minutes later, I see a good opportunity across the street, and then I change my lens again to the telephoto lens.

All of this time and stress to change my lenses would cause me to get kicked out of my “zone.” I couldn’t focus this way, and I was constantly stressed by not having the “optimal” lens for each situation.

I then (mistakingly) bought a Sigma 18-200mm lens which I though would solve all of my problems. After all, having all the focal lengths must be the ultimate solution, right?


I found out having that “mega-zoom” lens, I was actually less creative in my photography. There is a funny saying, “A zoom lens only has two focal lengths: the widest focal length, or the closest focal length.”

Because I was interested in street photography, most of my photos were shot at 200mm. And that prevented me from getting close and intimate with my subjects. It prevented me from overcoming my fear of shooting street photography. Not only that, but the lens was incredibly soft, and the maximum aperture was only 5.6.

There is no perfect or ideal lens or focal length out there. Rather, it is about finding the lens or focal length which fits 80% of your needs. Psychologists call this “satisficing” (a mix between satisfying and sufficing). Rather than aiming for “perfect”, you aim for “good enough.” And by aiming for “good enough”, you are a lot happier and and satisfied than people who are “maximizers” and aim for “perfection.”

3. Cameras with non-interchangeable lenses are smaller, more compact, and lighter

Saigon, 2014 (shot on a Fujifilm x100s)
Saigon, 2014 (shot on a Fujifilm x100s)

For me, the smaller, lighter, and more discrete the camera, the better.

I remember when I started photography and just had a simple Canon point-and-shoot camera. I would always carry it with me everywhere I went, and shooting with it was an absolute joy.

However as time went on, I thought I had to be more “pro” by getting a DSLR and big-ass lenses. I kept upgrading my camera from a Canon 350D (Rebel XT) to a Canon 5D, and my lenses kept getting bigger and bigger. By the time I had a 70-200 f/4 L lens, a Canon 5D, and battery grip, I started to hate my life. I hated traveling with my DSLR.

Now I’m back to just shooting with a point-and-shoot camera (the Ricoh GR II camera). And man, my life is so much more pleasant. I feel that because my camera is tiny, I can easily bring it with me everywhere I go, without hassle. And because I always have the camera with me, I always am taking photos (whereas with my DSLR, it would just collect dust on my shelf).

Cameras that are engineered to have non-interchangeable lenses are much smaller, compact, and lighter. And that is a huge benefit.

Honestly, I think the ultimate camera with a non-interchangeable lens is a smartphone. Why? It is small, compact, and always in your front pocket. Some of the best photographers I know just shoot with smartphone cameras, and by shooting a lot, they are constantly learning, and improving their photography.

Don’t get fooled— advertisements and commercials will try to sucker you into buying big camera bodies and lenses. But smaller is always better.


Wedding, 2016 (Shot on a Ricoh GR II)
Wedding, 2016 (Shot on a Ricoh GR II)

There are a ton of cameras with non-interchangeable lenses out on the market (as of 2016) that are fantastic. Some of my personal recommendations:

Another hidden benefit of these cameras with non-interchangeable lenses; you are less prone to “G.A.S.” (gear acquisition syndrome). After all, if your camera cannot switch lenses, you cannot get suckered into buying new lenses for the sake of buying lenses.

Also cameras with non-interchangeable lenses tend to be more affordable than their counter-parts. This means you can invest more of your hard-earned cash on photography books, education, and travel.

Ultimately there is no “perfect” camera out there. Just the best camera for you.

I know for me as a “street photographer”, cameras with non-interchangeable lenses are ideal for me. I love to travel lightly, don’t want to worry about the cost of my gear, and like having a “zen-like” state of appreciation for the gear I already have (and not succumbing to G.A.S.)

But of course, this might be different for you.

Don’t be afraid to invest in a camera system with a non-interchangeable lens because of the “what if” scenario of “needing” a different lens. Accept your creative constraints, and I can guarantee it will make you a better photographer.


More articles on camera, gear, and G.A.S

  1. What to Consider When Buying a New Camera
  2. Why is Image Quality Important?
  3. Why Sharpness is Overrated in Street Photography
  4. More Megapixels, More Problems
  5. Sensor Envy
  6. 10 Practical Tips to Fight G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
  7. How to Overcome G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
  8. What is the Perfect Camera For You?
  9. Disregard Differences, Notice Similarities
  10. If Your Camera Isn’t Good Enough, Your Camera isn’t Expensive Enough
  11. What to Consider When Buying a Camera for Street Photography
  12. 8 Ways How Money Can Buy Happiness in Street Photography
  13. How to Be Grateful For What You Have
  14. Having No Choices is the Ultimate Freedom
  15. In Street Photography, The Smaller the Camera, the Better
  16. What if Smartphones Had The Same Image Quality as DSLR’s?
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