The 35, 50, 70 Game

There's something to be said for history. 

Historically, photography had a long stretch where the go-to lenses were 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm (eventually that latter focal length pretty much became anything modestly telephoto out to 85mm or even 90mm). One thing about these focal lengths is that they produced smallish lenses and simple optical designs that are quite decent.

Historically, a lot of imagery has been made at the 35mm, 50mm, and short telephoto focal lengths. A lot. As such, that base of images forms a sort of collective "this is what images should look like," and establishes a norm that many are very comfortable shooting with. 

So, can you put together that three-lens kit today? 

This is the mirrorless version of this article. The DSLR version is on dslrbodies.com.

I'm going to set the bar at apertures from f/1.8 to f/2.8. To play you need a 35mm f/1.8, f/2, f/2.4, or f/2.8, for example. Ditto for 50mm and 70mm, and I'll accept 70-85mm for the focal length on the long end. As you'll see, I'll make a couple of small exceptions along the way, but nothing major and nothing that really detracts from that historical collective look that's been established.

Canon EOS M
Nope. As I write this we have exactly two lenses that fit (and the second one is a little faster than my standard):

So:

  • Canon 22mm f/2 (US$250)
  • Canon 32mm f/1.4 (US$480)

To fill out the last item, you'd need to use an EF or EF-S lens on the converter. The good news is that you can do that (the EF 35mm f/2 IS and the EF 50mm f/1.8 are probably the lenses you want if you're looking for three-lens sets). The bad news is that you need to buy a US$200 adapter and you're starting to lose the benefits of a small, simple mirrorless system at the telephoto end.

Canon EOS R
Still no. Curiously, we have the same two choices: 35mm and 50mm. The former in this case is for some reason a stabilized macro lens, but it fits our restrictions and is still modestly small. The 50mm is an f/1.2, once again faster than the restrictions I set. This does two things: it makes for a big and heavy 50mm prime, and it's expensive.

  • Canon 35mm f/1.8 IS (US$500)
  • Canon 50mm f/1.2L (US$2300)

Fujifilm X
No problems here.

  • Fujifilm 23mm f/2R (US$450)
  • Fujifilm 35mm f/2R (US$400)
  • Fujifilm 50mm f/2R (US$450)

We're at US$1300 for the trio, which is a decent enough price, about par for the course it seems. If you want to pay more for larger lenses, there's a full set of f/1.4 choices at higher prices available from Fujifilm. 

Leica TL
This is why the Duopoly players should be shamed: even the luxury brand has the full set.

  • Leica 23mm f/2 (US$1950)
  • Lecia 35mm f/1.4 (US$2400)
  • Leica 60mm f/2.8 (US$2995)

Okay, I cheated a bit again (I went to f/1.4 on the normal lens and 90mm on the telephoto). But we're in a luxury brand here, so we'll give them a little bit of leeway as the prices are going to be very high compared to the rest of the competitors to start with. Moreover, we've got an 18mm f/2.8 we can add to give us the 28mm equivalent if you like that. 

At US$7345, we're in a different playing field than the rest of the camera companies. 

Leica CL (Same as L-Alliance)
Surprisingly, Leica is missing the 35mm lens for CL, and their only 50mm is f/1.4:

  • Leica 50mm f/1.4 (US$5295)
  • Leica 75mm f/2 (US$4750)

Maybe they realize that we've already hit US$10,000 in just two lenses and their consumer will probably need to save up to buy that 35mm ;~). I don't think we'll be waiting long for the 35mm, though. 

Nikon Z
Nikon's new Z system had two of my three basic primes available in the first three lenses for the mount (and the third is coming this year):

  • Nikon 35mm f/1.8 S (US$850)
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.8 S (US$600)

So a solid start, with it likely that we'll have the full set soon for about US$2400.

m4/3
Olympus and Panasonic both basically hit the bar, though with some focal length variations):

  • Olympus 17mm f/1.8 (US$500)
  • Olympus 25mm f/1.8 (US$400)
  • Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (US$400)
  • Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 (US$400)
  • Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 (US$300)
  • Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.7 (US$400)

So, for between US$1100 and US$1300 you can put together a full set of lenses that are small, just like many of the m4/3 cameras.

Sony E
Surprisingly to many, Sony can actually provide a three lens set for the APS-C crop sensor Alphas directly:

  • Sony Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 (US$1199)
  • Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS (US$450)
  • Sony 50mm f/1.8 (US$300)

That totals (US$1949). Of course, these are three very different lenses. The 24mm, in particular, is quite large, especially for a crop sensor. And it's also expensive. The 35mm has image stabilization, which is strange, as the latest APS-C bodies from Sony have IS built-in. The 50mm is the stripper of the bunch, just being a basic 50mm. 

Sony FE
Sony meets the mark with the full frame Alpha cameras, too:

  • Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 (US$800)
  • Sony 50mm f/1.8 (US$250)
  • Sony 85mm f/1.8 (US$600)

Surprise! The full frame lineup makes for a cheaper three-lens set than APS-C, coming in at US$1650. If you were looking at the high-end APS-C body (A6500) versus the low-end full frame body (A7m3), the full camera+lenses kit costs are only US$700 apart, which is a little surprising.

Final Thoughts
The mirrorless makers do better than the DSLR makers do in APS-C. Generally for between US$1200 and US$2500 you can put together a three-prime set for most mirrorless cameras that's small and competent. 

text and images © 2019 Thom Hogan
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