Lensoholic – Why I Bought 100 Lenses In 50 Months (Then Sold Nearly All Of Them)

Five years into my film photography journey (and probably a decade since I first began photographing with intention, with camera phones), I have less kit than virtually any time since I began.

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I talked about the importance of narrow focus recently, and a part of this for me includes the cameras and lenses I use.

It hasn’t always been this way though.

A few months after discovering film photography via a Holga 120N my father in law gave me as a birthday present, I had started to amass a growing number of 35mm cameras.

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Once I’d sampled SLRs, the options widened vastly. So many lens mounts, so many cameras, so many lenses, so many combinations. So little time.

I pretty much dived in headlong like a kid who’d been starved of chocolate for a year then let loose in Wonka’s factory, gobbling up cameras and lenses in all directions. 

Even once I’d started to find my tastes more and gave up on the 35mm compacts after realising that the Olympus Mju pretty much does all I ever need, and even after I thought that M42 and Minolta SR were the only two mounts I would need, I was still devouring new (old) glass.

Here are some of the reasons why – 

1. Lenses are physically alluring objects. Especially vintage lenses with plenty of metal and glass and delicious smooth operation that’s testament to their fine build and quality.

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2. Each lens model potentially promises something I’ve never known before. So for example I ended up with a 58/1.4, 55/1.7, 50/1.4 and two or three 50/1.7 Minolta Rokkors from different eras that possibly performed ever so slightly differently.

3. Each lens example potentially promises something I’ve never known from other examples of that lens before. Maybe I’d only had a dud one previously, and by buying another one or two I’f eventually find a very good example and bring a whole new level of wonder to my photography.

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4. There are so many different focal lengths, and I need(ed) to find the ones best suited to me. A 45mm, 50mm and 55mm Rokkor would again give me slightly different fields of view to each other.

5. Finding a bargain lens (sometimes for only £5) then having the challenge of creating something memorable and worth sharing after such a tiny investment is a great thrill. And it encouraged me to try lenses that I might otherwise have not looked twice at. Opening another new world of possible lens options.

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6. My Sony NEX is incredibly adaptable. With that one camera I’ve used lenses in Olympus OM, M39, M42, Pentax K, Minolta SR, Konica AR, Contax/Yashica and Rollei QBM mounts. A small outlay on a £10 adapter opens a whole other world of opportunity.

7. I just really like receiving packages in the post. They’ve come from all over the country and sometimes the world – lenses from Japan, Germany and the former Soviet Union for example, each with their own curious local packaging and scent. I’m not sure why, but this is deeply satisfying, like enjoying mini Christmases throughout the year.

You can see how with all these potential reasons it’s easy to get drawn in to buying more lenses than you’ll ever need.

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But ultimately more (and more powerful) reasons to outweigh this endless chase have emerged –

1. I hate knowing I have maybe a couple of hours free time coming up then spending 30, even 15, minutes debating which lens(es) to take. I’d rather just choose and go in 30 seconds and invest the rest of my time in enjoying using the kit.

2. I hate the clutter of too many lenses and cameras, and them spilling all over my space. However beautiful individual objects may be, when there’s too many of them they just become one ugly mass.

3. I hate the cycle of buy, try, sell on eBay. Whilst it’s allow me to try some amazing stuff and ultimately build the core kit I have now, I shudder at the thought of all the time I’ve spent photographing and listing photography kit to sell only weeks after I’ve bought it, and the hours browsing online for a bargain.

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4. Too much choice makes me anxious. This is true in most parts of my life, and as a whole I try to be fairly minimalist. If you need a pair of smart shoes and only have one pair, it becomes an easy and stressless choice!

5. Constantly switching lenses means you never get to really know any one of them. It’s like some kind of speed dating experience when you might get a glint of a smile and an enticing spark, before bundling on to the next one a moment later. You’re rarely in the present moment because you’re half lost in between thinking of the moment that just passed and the potential moments that may be waiting ahead.

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6. In any one focal length – especially the most common ones like 50mm and 135mm – there is very little difference in performance. At least for my level of photography and for my needs. I could (and have) made just as pleasing photographs with a 50mm Pentax, Takumar, Yashica, Minolta, Zeiss or Konica lens. I don’t need one of each, plus all the related cameras and/or adapters.

7. I really don’t need to look much further than Takumars. I recently referred to them as the only lens you’ll ever need, and they remain the most wonderful lenses I’ve used. Why keep looking for others and wasting time I could be spending with a Takumar in my hands?

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I confess, I’m not quite over the lens buying, and there are a couple of lenses still on my wishlist.

But these days I’m down to the essentials – two film bodies, two digital, plus about a dozen lenses, mostly Takumars. The lenses fit neatly in two lens bags that in turn fit snugly and unobtrusively on two small compartments in one of my bookcases. The cameras take up another one, the entire kit all together occupying an almost invisible space in a corner, in stark contrast to spilling in every direction maybe a year ago.

I must also confess, sometimes even this relatively humble amount still at times seems far too much, and I wonder about selling all but, say, one camera and three lenses.

Maybe this would focus me further (or more narrowly) and allow me to reach a new level of satisfaction – both in using the small range of kit I had, and in the results gained from knowing that smaller range even better than I do now.

Or maybe I’ll sell everything and just use my iPhone.

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But for now I’ll rest.

Moving too vehemently in the opposite direction, and shedding possessions with abandon can lead to just as compulsive and obsessive behaviour as the hoarding.

I know some reading this might feel it’s all over analytical and there’s nothing wrong with buying and trying a range of cameras, if it doesn’t cause harm or financial destitution.

And to an extent I completely agree.

It’s just not the path I want to take anymore.

Give me my Pentax K10D and a Takumar or two and I’ll happily go out hunting for beauty for the weeks and months to come…

I’m really positive and excited about this new era in my photographic adventure.

What are your thoughts on lens buying?

Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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16 thoughts on “Lensoholic – Why I Bought 100 Lenses In 50 Months (Then Sold Nearly All Of Them)

  1. TELL me about it – what a pain it is to sell on eBay. I buy a thing thinking that if I don’t like it I’ll just sell it, and then …. it sits for months because I can’t bring myself to go through the process.

    1. Ditto! I have a fairly smooth process for eBay, and once you’ve set up one listing it’s much easier to “Sell a similar item” than to start again from scratch. But still the photographing, uploading and listing probably takes at least 30 mins per item. Time to take that back! Or rather not throw it away in the future!

  2. I agree completely, it’s addictive, it becomes a mess when too many, even words when “oh I’ll save that broken lens for spares”.
    And if I make a profit, which I usually do….well that just feeds the addiction. Cos it can be seen as better than cost neutral. And the whole time I am not taking photos cos I am on eBay.

    Why does this now feel like an AA meeting.

    My name is Toby and I’m a lensohlic!! 😀

    1. Yes I went through a phase of buying broken compacts, extracting the lens and adapting to use on my NEX. I got some fun results (very impressive actually for such tiny lenses, especially a little Ricoh 35/2.8 – https://35hunter.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/the-resurrection-of-razor-ricoh/) but ended up with just fragments of cameras strewn across shelves – even more messy than whole cameras!

      I was also in a routine of trying to making a profit via eBay to fund film processing. It worked to an extent, but I found as I said I was spending too much time photographing and listing kit rather than using it. Plus in the last year or so eBay prices have rocketed, and most sellers have very optimistic prices! Lenses you could pick up regularly for under £10 or £15 now seem to be £30+, and any decent 50/1.4 seems to be the best of £100!

      1. I really appreciate you’ve made me think. It is time I curved things too. One thing that did occur to me is that when I shoot film I carry less lens changes. Maybe only one.

      2. Interesting… Why do you think you carry fewer lenses with film? Because with film you also have that (ie the film choice) as another decision to make, so by taking just one lens you’ve limited the decisions in another area? That’d be my thinking if it was me!

  3. I understand. Bargains are difficult to turn down especially when it might give you that little something that has been missing. i still need to purge some of my cameras and other gear; not lenses so much. The Voigtlanders are staying for sure (and will increase) but the rest are up for debate. I just want to keep the beautiful ones for display plus one working example of an SLR, a TLR and a large format (which may or may not be a Voigtlander). My Olympus digital is perfect and like your Sony is easily adaptable.

    1. Fortunately whilst I admire the beauty of many cameras, I have no urge to have any simply for display purposes. I don’t really have anything for display, cameras or otherwise, I like stuff to serve a use.

      Yeh bargains can be very tempting (the recent SD Tokina 28-70mm I got for £5 + postage has highly impressed me, even though I don’t really like zooms) but I think they key is to just stop looking. Same with most areas of life, if you take yourself out of any “shopping” environment then it makes it almost impossible to buy.

  4. No for me when adding one choice, by choosing film I am removing several other choices. I cannot change iso, ok I have exposure compensation but it’s a psychological thing, it anchors my photography.
    The number of film rolls I carry limits the number of shot I can take. I rarely carry more than two. Therefore without a memory card with the capacity to hold hundreds of shots I am more selective and thoughtful about the shots I take. It’s other effect is that in limiting shots I know I can’t photograph everything. So I don’t try, I don’t carry a lens for every eventuality. Maybe that last point I need to transfer to my digital photography.
    Thanks Dan, interesting and thought provoking, never a bad thing

    1. Interesting how certain choices help limit your choices and so enable you to focus and have a more rewarding experience. And hopefully make more pleasing photographs!

      I’m not very conventional with SLRs and lenses, I don’t lug around a bunch of lenses for every possible opportunity. I usually take a couple, start with one, and look for compositions that will work with that particular lens.

      Then when I’m done with that lens, switch to the second one, and again look for compositions that’ll work best with that particular lens.

      I can’t look around me and think “over there’s a scene that’ll be great captured with my 28mm, and then behind me is one that’ll be great for a 135mm” and so on.

      I like to just pick one lens at a time and commit to it. Which sounds like what you do when shooting film.

  5. Even though I only own two cameras and one non-prime lens, your essay speaks to the treasure hunter in me when it comes to the tools of photography (or any hobby for that matter). One or two more lenses are on my wish list; if and when I find them it’ll be a good day. In the meantime the focus is on making the best of what I’ve got. Good luck to your endeavor to pair down to the essentials.

    1. Peggy thanks for your thoughts. A challenge I have in my head is to use just one zoom lens and one camera for a month say and see how I get on. I know in theory I could do this and quite confidently get enough decent shots to prove I don’t need anything else! Maybe that’s why I’ve not done it yet – I don’t want to admit that I don’t need even the dozen or so lenses I have left!

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