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Over the years, I’ve found myself purchasing, trading, selling, tactfully acquiring, or otherwise receiving and getting rid of lenses. I’ve journeyed through pages and pages of reviews and online forums, spoke to many wonderful skilled photographers and dissected people’s images to find out what I wanted and what I needed in terms of glass.

My Experience

Well, gosh. I’ve earned, hustled, found and borrowed money to get my grubby hands on some of the best consumer and professional throughout my career all after spending a tremendous amount of time doing ridiculous amounts of research. Most of my research was done by reading reviews, but searching through sites like Flickr and 500px and sorting through images by the model of lenses used helped me see how certain lenses were used. Nothing wrong with that, but when I was younger, I ended up adding what was seen with what I’d read in the reviews and dividing it all by how empty my pockets were at the time… and then still made the crazy purchases.

Instead of renting anything, I sure did spend most of my lunch money, my hard earned paycheck, and lots of Capital One’s money, just to satisfy the craving for the instant gratification that I knew would come with the gear I wanted. Smart? Not exactly… But heck, I was fresh into photography and obscenely obsessed with acquiring the best of the best technology—otherwise known as bragging rights. I ended up buying a lot of gear that didn’t exactly do what I wanted and sometimes needed it to do. Those needs and wants changed according to what I was shooting– and I had no idea what I wanted to shoot.

Here’s a few things I wish I followed:

  1. Know what you want to shoot.
    Knowing is at least one-third the battle. What you want to shoot will greatly influence what you lenses you’ll most likely end up with. The gear set for landscapes and architectural photography are really expensive and quite different than most portrait and wedding gear sets. So, know what you want to shoot—believe me, it’ll save you some precious time… and perhaps money.
  1. Be a copycat.
    Imitation is a form of flattery for those being imitated. Imitation is also a lesson of learning for those doing the imitating! Find some photographers whose work you admire. Then, find out where they live, what they eat for breakfast, and maybe perhaps something actually useful like what equipment they have. Notice that I didn’t use any form of the word “stalk”. That being said, many photographers will gladly answer questions or otherwise freely give out information about what they use and what their favorite lens is and on what pictures they used it on, but only if you’re not stalking them. After gaining your newly acquired knowledge, get in their skin and try all you can to be exactly like them—figuratively of course. Try to imitate a photographer of your choice, this’ll give you some a decent idea as to what lenses to purchase.
  1. Don’t burn holes in your pockets.
    Here’s a true story—I once invested in a Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L IS for $850, but found that even after the research I did, it didn’t fit my style. I sold that lens at a minimal loss and bought a different lens for $1100, but didn’t like that either. So I traded that lens for a different lens… and then that lens for another lens that was cheaper than $850… So yeah, I lost a lot of money overall (I blame the dang penny pinchers on Craigslist and other places of getting used gear). The point is… don’t get stuck with an investment that you won’t like—You’ll waste money and time… and gas… and time, which is money. Am I still bitter? No. Well, possibly. Anyway, borrow or rent the gear to see if you’ll like it before setting your pockets ablaze.

Really, I’m not that bitter about how much time I spent learning about the lenses I had purchased. It made me realize the value and limits of each lens that I had. It was an amazing and expensive journey that helped me build the gear set that I have today. That doesn’t mean that you have to do what I did and spend months with each lens, although you are more than welcome to do so.

My Bag

So after shooting and exhausting myself doing a bunch of weddings—indoors, outdoors and in between doors—I learned what I wanted to do, did my research and narrowed my gear down to a small list of 3 lenses that work for me as a simple and basic portrait photographer both in and out of studio.

Mykii's Kit

So here is My Current Bag:
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon EF 24mm F/1.4L II
Canon EF 40mm F/2.8 STM
Canon EF 85mm F/1.2L II

Bagged Lenses (pun intended)
Canon EF 17-35mm F/2.8L
Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L
Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L IS
Canon EF 28-135mm F/3.5-5.6 IS
Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8L
Canon EF 70-200mm F/4.0L
Canon EF 70-200mm F/4.0L IS
Canon EF 200mm F/2.8L II
Canon EF 135mm F/2L
Canon EF 100mm F/2.8L IS Macro
Canon EF 85mm F/1.8
Canon EF-S 60mm F/2.8 Macro
Canon EF 50mm F/1.4
Canon EF 50mm F/1.8

I’ve included that long list of lenses I’ve tried, just to help illustrate how crazy the process can be. I sort of guessed at what I wanted when I started, but surely didn’t know. After all, it is a process. As I mentioned earlier, it is good to see what gear people are using.

On that note, there are many creatives out there that have great sites that inspire and inform readers what type of gear is used, like InMyBag.net. The man behind the site, Simon Ellingworth, also a photographer, educator, and all around creative, has created that site as not only a resource for gearheads, but also as a glimpse into photographer’s minds, visions and experiences. You’re able to scroll through hundreds of photographers and kits—from the most minimal to the most complex! There you can find the likes of Joel Grimes, Daimen Lovegrove and even yours truly! His site takes submissions, so you can go and share whats in your mind as well as your bag! It’s pretty rad, check it out!

If you have any questions about any of the lenses that I’ve bagged or am currently using, please don’t hesitate to ask!

-Mykii Liu

Find me on Instagram @Mykiiliu and on Facebook! Other articles written by me may be found here!

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Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on This Got My Attention and commented:
    There’s always another lens to try!

    Reply
  2. Good day Mykii Liu,
    I have read your article with interest. I have a similar behaviour with regard to my equipment and in my past life, I have done some weeding photography as a living…
    I am curious to know why, in your list of bagged lenses, you got rid of your Canon EF 50mm F/1.4? It’s a lens that most closely resembles the angle of vision of the eye with less distortion than your 40mm F/2.8 and with an additional 2 stops to capture more light. Wouldn’t full-time portrait and wedding photography justified that kind of lens?
    Again, I am just curious to have your opinion…
    Regards

    Reply
    • Hey Dennis! Great question, and thanks for reading!

      Lets see. I’ve been always planning to get the 50mm F/1.2L because of the image quality, bokeh capability and closer focusing range than the bigger brother 85mm, so getting rid of the 50mm F/1.4 and F/1.8 lenses was always in the plan. Short answer as to why I got rid of the F/1.4– I was planning to replace it, and it was failing pre-maturely in my standards.

      There are many thoughts on what the eye naturally sees. I’ve heard that the eye would see a 22mm or 24mm angle of vision, but of course without distortion, but the 50mm is close in terms of distortion relativity. I’ve also heard that 40mm or 43mm is more normal and standard to what the eye sees in terms of both. As such, I’ve also heard that many photographers compromise in both the distortion and field of view and choose the 35mm as a “normal” lens. Oh, then there’s the normal lens definition that people use that is supposed to show what the eye sees– the hypotenuse of the film or sensor, which on 135 or 35mm, is 43mm. Personally, all those theories are great and work well for some people in terms of choosing a normal and standard standard lens. In terms of my wedding photography, I always wanted to go for something impactful or compositionally sound, which both my 24mm and the 85mm do for my style quite well. That typically puts the normal 40mm/50mm range in no-mans-land for me. But that’s my style and how I shoot. Who wants to be “normal” and take “normal” images anyway? (Don’t take that seriously, photographer’s lenses and gear do not equate to what kind of images they create) Where I really think the 35mm/40mm/50mm lenses shine is in street photography.

      Although the 50mm F/1.4 had some issues for me, mainly that it was susceptible to dust here in Las Vegas, it was a great lens and produced great images while I had it. One of the main issues I had was that the focusing ring got rougher and rougher. I typically take care of my gear quite well (in a Pelican case), but with the Vegas dusty winds and such, it just wasn’t durable enough.

      I chose the 40mm mainly because of the price point and the weight of it. Because I occasionally like shooting street photography, I wanted something that was lightweight, durable and somewhat fast–F/2.8 is the slowest I’ll go. The 40mm, was basically that for me. I rarely shoot at f/1.4 for street (and rarely at night in Vegas), but what it lacked in terms of light allowance, my camera made up for in light sensitivity.

      Hope this answers your question!

      Reply
  3. Your comment about landscape lenses being relatively more expensive doesn’t seem quite right with me . The 17-40 f/4 L and the 70-200 f/4 L are both mainstays in a lot of landscape camera bags. However, they each retail for <$800USD. I know quite a few successful landscape photogs who use one or both of these lenses.

    Reply
    • Heya Rick! Thanks for the comment! I’m sure that there are great landscape photographers that use decent glass at a good price point, but I think you may have misunderstood. I don’t believe that I commented that they were relatively more expensive. I believe I said that switching between the sets are expensive due to the different lenses in the gear sets. :)

      Reply
  4. Uh…Mykii, Duke says, “Knowing is half the battle.”

    Excellent post, and great response, too. I’ve had a similar journey in my gear acquisition habits (it’s a job all its own). I appreciate knowing there are other wackos out there, too ;)

    Reply
    • GI JOE!!!! My statement still remains true– it’s at least one third!!
      Bwhahaha… Heck yeah man, I’m pretty sure that I’m the epitome of a wacko. I can’t wait to pick up some more lenses though– creative crazy ones!

      Reply

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About Mykii Liu

This portrait photographer is named "Mykii Liu". Yeah, that is a weird/crazy awesome spelling, isn't it? Well, that kind of goes with his personality. Liu is a technological geek that has drifted in and out of full-time portrait and wedding photography as well as the IT world. As a youth, he was raised with computers and exuded an inherit ability to explore and understand other bits of technology, which included a 35mm Canon FTb film camera that he was gifted. Fast forward 20 years, add a couple other cameras, computers, lights and lenses, then find Mykii Liu shoot for love as he explores the portrait world.

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Gear, Photography, Portrait, Reviews

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