The Lenses I Used in China

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Thanks for reading! Andrew.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Fujifilm XT-1, 35mm lens, 1/400 @f10, ISO 1600

The Forbidden City is one of Beijing’s most famous attractions. And rightly so – despite the crowds and the heat exploring the temples, alleyways and buildings of this fantastic structure is a very enjoyable experience. If there were less people it would be easy to imagine life in the Forbidden City in ancient times when it was the Emperor’s residence.

I recommend Empress Orchid by Anchee Min if you would like to read a good novel giving an insight into those times.

While exploring I sat on a bench to take a rest and noticed that the doorways in the above photo, by which I was seated, made a nice frame. But it needed some kind of human interest to lift the photo. I took some photos as people passed by. Then, the little boy you see in the photo ran up to the doorway and hid by the post. No-one else was in the frame and I pressed the shutter. A few seconds later he jumped out to surprise his father as he stepped through the doorway.

As a bonus the colour of the boy’s shorts matches the yellow-orange tiles on the pillar closest to the camera.

Lenses used in China

We have left China now and this morning I had a look to see which lenses I used while there. This is the result.

Lenses used in China

73.13% Fujinon 35mm f1.4 lens – this is the one I used the most (discussed further below).

10.43% Fujinon 18mm f2 pancake lens – I used this one when I needed a wide-angle lens.

7.82% Fujinon 56mm f1.2 lens – I really like this lens and in hindsight wish I’d used it a bit more. However the 35mm f1.4 was so versatile and easy to use that I ended up using it most of the time.

4.14% Fujinon 16-50mm zoom lens – I used this lens when I borrowed my wife’s XM-1 to try it out.

4.07% Helios 58mm f2 lens – I wanted to experiment with using this lens for the swirly bokeh effect you can create with it, but in the end only used it in one place.

0.43% Fujinon 14mm f2.8 lens – This lens was too wide for the work I was doing. This is a very useful lens for landscapes but was a bit out of place in China.

How to check which lenses you have used

This is easy to do if you want to try it yourself, especially if your Collections are well organised. In this case I created a Collection Set called China 2015 for the photos that I took in China. Every Collection and Collection Set relating to the trip has been placed in that master Collection Set.

This is how you can see which lenses you have used.

  • Select the Collection Sets or Collections containing the photos you want to search.
  • Go to the Library module, activate Grid View (press the ‘G’ key on the keyboard if you are not there already). When you do this Lightroom displays thumbnails of all the photos in the selected Collections and Collection Sets.
  • Click on Metadata in the Filter Bar (use the ‘\’ keyboard shortcut to reveal the Filter Bar if it is hidden). It lists headings such as Date, Camera and Lenses, telling you how many photos were taken on each date, with each camera and with each lens.

The majority of my photos were taken with the Fujinon 35mm f1.4 lens. This lens has become a firm favourite of mine since I purchased it with my Fujifilm X-Pro 1.

These are some of the reasons that I like it so much.

  • It is light and complements the Fujifilm XT-1 very well. It is much lighter (and smaller) than the 56mm f1.2 lens and is easier to carry around all day.
  • The 35mm lens focuses quite close to the subject. That means that I can take close-up photos without having to use a close-up lens or extension tubes.
  • The maximum aperture of f1.4 is very useful in low light or if I want to play with selective focus.
  • Aperture settings such as f2 and f2.8 are very sharp (you are probably aware that the image quality at the widest aperture setting is noticeably worse on most lenses than the image quality on narrower settings.) I use f2, f2.8, and f4 a lot, and it’s good to know that the image quality is excellent at these settings.
  • The relatively small size of the lens and camera means that I can take photos of people without them taking much notice of me. Having said that, I am in China where most people take no notice of photographers.
  • It allows me to take photos of people in the street without getting too close to them, yet without losing a sense of intimacy as you do with longer focal lengths. If I were using a wider angle lens then I would have to get closer, and that’s hard to do without invading people’s personal space.
  • The field-of-view of this lens seems to enable me to strike a comfortable balance between including too much background (as can happen with a wide-angle lens) and too little background (which can happen with longer focal lengths). This is a consideration when shooting in sunny conditions, which is what I encountered most of the time in China. Shorter focal lengths include more of the background, which makes it harder to frame the image without a) including more people and b) including bright spots created by the sun.

Before I came to China I wrote an article listing the gear that I was going to take. While I had a reason to bring every item, it’s become clear to me now that I could have travelled with a much lighter kit if I had wanted to.

I don’t think that I would have lost out on much if I had just taken a Fujifilm X-T1 and the 35mm lens. While I normally wouldn’t want to limit myself to just a single focal length, it does concentrate the mind and encourage you to get the best out of the single lens you have by using it creatively.

An excellent lightweight kit is a Fujifilm XT-1 with a 35mm f1.4 lens and a 18mm f2 lens for wide-angle shots. Indeed, I spent two weeks travelling around New Zealand’s South Island last year with my X-Pro 1 and those two lenses and was perfectly happy with the set-up.

A backup camera is essential – having said that I’ve never had a camera go wrong so I guess the biggest risk to my primary camera would be clumsiness (i.e. dropping it) or theft (unlikely in China if you are careful with your gear). So, as a backup a good quality compact camera or even a good smart phone camera would be enough. The important thing is to be able to continue shooting in case of an emergency. In practice bringing the X-Pro 1 as a backup is no hardship as it’s such a light camera.

Somewhat unexpectedly I only used my tripod once, and I didn’t use my filters (neutral density and graduated neutral density filters) at all. I had planned to try some long exposure photography at Hangzhou’s West Lake, but the weather (rain, cloud and wind) was unsuitable for that.

In short, if I had to keep my gear to an absolute minimum, I would be perfectly happy to do a trip like this with my Fujifilm XT-1 and the 35mm lens, plus a good quality compact as backup.

What do you think? What lenses (and cameras) do you take with you on trips abroad? Let us know in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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8 Responses to “The Lenses I Used in China”

  1. I only own the 35mm and 18mm (on X-Pro1 body) and very rarely feel that I’m missing out by not owning more, so your findings don’t surprise me at all. I think those two lenses are a near-perfect combination, especially when out walking all day and you don’t want to carry much weight or bring too much attention to yourself.

    • Thanks Simon, it’s interesting that you have found the same thing as me. I used the 35mm and 18mm lenses with an X-Pro 1 on a trip in New Zealand and they covered me for pretty much everything. The 18mm is so light and easy to carry that you don’t even notice it.

  2. Ben says:

    Instead of taking a backup wide angle, I take the X100S which gives me a backup camera and wide angle lens without much extra space and weight, not to mention a quiet shutter, built in ND filter, high sync speed,etc.

  3. Jan says:

    Andrew, love your photos! Also a fan of the 35 by the way..
    Have you heard about Lightroom Dashboard?
    Let’s you do the same analysis on your lightroom catalogue and one of the aids I used to help me decide on buying the 35 in the first place

    • Hi Jan, I hadn’t heard about Lightroom Dashboard. Thanks for the link – I will try it out and if I like it I’ll write a blog post about it.

  4. Peter says:

    Hi Andrew, enjoy your photos and the thoughts behind them. Visited Otranto recently for a few days. Took D60 with EF 24 -105 f4 attached, great for most shots. But backed it up with PowerShot S120 which is, I think, an under rated Compact. Good in low light and is very unobtrusive for street photgraphy.

    • Hi Peter, I have to admit that I like the idea of a good quality compact as backup camera. Not only for backups, but as something you can carry in your pocket all the time as a just in case camera.

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