Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Streets of Yangon V


I only took two lenses with me on my four week trip to Myanmar in the autumn: a 35mm and an 85mm. I wanted to keep things simple and light by only using prime lenses. I ended up using the 35mm about 90% of the time, typically switching to the 85mm late in the day. It’s a great combination for someone mainly interested in portrait photography. The 35mm is ideal for environmental portraits, showing a person in context (as above), while the 85mm lends itself to close-up head shots (as below). Both are relatively small and light, and encourage the photographer to get close, but not too close, to their subject. With both lenses, my physical distance from the person I’m photographing is about the same: close enough to establish some kind of connection, however fleeting, but not so close as to invade their personal space.

I’m finding my standard zoom lens increasingly cumbersome, and rarely use it these days, so much so that I’m thinking of trading it in for a wide-angle prime. While I never really wish for anything longer than 85mm, there were occasions on this trip when I would have liked something wider than 35mm, particularly for landscapes and architecture. Does anyone else out there have any experience of going zoom-free? I’d be interesting in hearing your thoughts.

















16 Responses to “Streets of Yangon V”

  1. Mitchell Lorens

    Interesting, so rich and the people seem so easygoing and proud. Really enjoy the photos especially the hands one in this set although all are great. What camera? Two lenses seems appropriate. Lots to be said about traveling with minimal gear. Seems a great choice for you. I don’t travel much except here on WordPress. Thanks for posting.

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thanks, Mitchell. The people in Myanmar are wonderful, a real pleasure to meet and photograph. I use a Canon 6D. It’s small and light for a full-frame SLR, so the camera and two lenses fit really easily into a small shoulder bag – perfect for walking around in a hot climate.

  2. Jeff Bell

    Stunning images. I have really enjoyed looking through your photos. There is something hauntingly beautiful and striking about the 2nd to last photo. I love that shot.

      • Jeff Bell

        Regarding your question about going zoom free, I used to carry around a 10-20mm and 50mm on a DSLR, so it was about the same thing. I bought a Fuji X100t with an equivalent 35mm and I use it almost exclusively now. I have learned to zoom with my feet. Not having a zoom is great in that it makes everything simple, but every now and then there is a shot I just can’t get, especially on the wide side as you say.

        Sigma makes a relatively cheap, small and good 10-20mm you might check out.

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thanks for your thoughts on lenses, Jeff (can’t seem to reply directly to your second comment, for some reason). A wide angle zoom is another option that I’m considering. Decisions, decisions.

  3. keebslac1234

    In my work as editor of a local weekly, I lug my zoom everywhere, but the thing is constantly banging against something, and I’ve thought many a time of getting three individual prime lenses instead. My thoughts: Will my photos be sharper with a fast prime lens? I love the idea of having several 1.2 lenses for work without a flash. Photoshop is such a powerful tool, I’m thinking a wide angle, the equivalent of a 35 mm and an 85 would be a great combo. Now, to afford good light-gathering lenses!
    You’ve got an eye for great images! Enjoyed your blog!

    • Jon Sanwell

      Thank you, glad you like the blog. I don’t use flash, so really like fast lenses, though those f/1.2 ones are out of my budget, unfortunately.

  4. Dalo 2013

    Well done on your portraits ~ Discovered yet again on WP for your work and talents đŸ™‚ There is something special about capturing an authentic portrait, a matching of the eyes and expression which you do well.


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