What Is Your “Desert Island” Lens?

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If you could have only one lens to use for the rest of your time on the planet (or off), or if stranded on the proverbial desert island, what lens would it be? Would it be a pro zoom lens? A prime lens? An all-in-one zoom? A “nifty-fifty?” A 35mm?

We asked several B&H employees, members of the B&H Creative Partnership Team, and a few of our B&H partners what was the one lens they could not live without (and why). While some of our photographer friends took the desert island thing literally, they all rose to the challenge in full spirits. This is what they said.

Allan Weitz, B&H — @allanweitz

“If I were to spend eternity on a desert island—or Coney Island, for that matter—and could take only one lens along for the ride, it would have to be a ZEISS 38mm f/4.5 Biogon, which is the amazing ultra-wide-angle lens that comes permanently attached to Hasselblad Superwide SWC cameras. The lens is virtually distortion-free and is one of the few ultra-wide-angle lenses that doesn’t take pictures that look like wide-angle pictures. And then there’s the camera itself, which is one of the most beautiful, best designed, and best built cameras ever made IMHO. The package is a total delight.”

Autumn Schrock, B&H Creative — @autpops

“Okay! My desert island lens would be the Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS. If I’m stranded, might as well keep myself occupied by swooning over the moon and all of the adorable wildlife on and around the island! Maybe I could even use it to spot passing ships and/or aircraft. If not, at least I’d die happily gazing up at the craters on the moon.“

Bjorn Petersen, B&H

“Working with a single lens isn’t unfamiliar territory for me, and my current favorite is Sigma’s 65mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary. I’ve always gone back and forth between favoring portrait focal lengths and normal focal lengths, and the 65mm hits that in-between sweet spot for me. It’s long enough to isolate subjects and pick out details from a crowded scene, but not too long that it’s impossible to photograph an entire subject. Besides the focal length, I’m currently on a mission of bucking the trend of fast glass in favor of lighter weight (and consequently slower) designs. The f/2 maximum aperture is another sweet spot: fast enough for depth-of-field control, bright enough for working handheld around sunset time, and lightweight and small enough to walk around with all day long.”

Chuck Capriola, B&H — @chuckxphotographs

“My everyday take everywhere with me ‘except when I’m shaving’ (to quote HCB) camera is the Sony A6000. Shooting portraits of subway performers during my travels, I found myself turning more and more to a vintage Leica M 50mm f/2 Summicron (latest version) with Near-Focusing Range, sometimes called "Dual Range" or "DR" for short. On an APS-C sensor camera, this lens becomes an extremely versatile portrait lens with a distinct way of handling the many light sources in the New York City subway system and color. The lens is prone to flaring, yet it can render detail in Photoshop, and the colors are pastel yet rich. Using my A6000 as much as I do, the 50 DR would be one lens I would have to have with me if stuck on a desert island. One very unique feature using this lens adapted on any mirrorless body and viewing through the EVF full time is the fact that you do not need its close-focus attachment ‘googles’ or ‘bug eyes’ to take advantage of the full focusing range down to 478mm.”

Dan Carr@dancarrphoto

“If I could have just one lens with me on an island, it would be the Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM. Not only is this lens incredibly sharp, but it's also quite small for being an f/1.4 prime, so it's easy to carry around all day. The 24mm focal length is one of my favorites for landscape photography, so I hope it would come in handy for beautiful beach shots. Sure, some people like to go wider than this, but if you stick with the 24mm, you also get that wide f/1.4 aperture, which would be perfect for Milky Way photography out over the ocean. I'm not sure where this island would be, but where I live in the Canadian Yukon, the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM is also one of my go-to lenses for Northern Lights photography. Not many desert islands in the North, but perhaps I'd get lucky and see the Southern Lights instead.”

Gabriel Biderman, B&H — @ruinism

“​If I were stranded on a desert island, I’d imagine I’d have lots of time on my hands. The one lens that I would want to have, is one that I could make myself, out of most anything—a pinhole!

“These were the ‘original’ photographic lenses, and are literally a pinhole that is the equivalent of f/150 to f/250. I’ve owned many pinhole cameras throughout my life, from the build-your-own pinholes, to the more professional 4x5 versions. The creativity these lenses inspire by working with forced long exposures of two to eight seconds on a sunny day forever fuels my imagination. Pinholes have this soft/sharp feel to them, often vignette, and have other wonderful imperfections that help you let go and enjoy the spirit of photography!

“My current favorite pinhole camera is the Zero Image 6x12 pinhole, which allows you to shoot medium format film, from 645 to 6x12. Ninety-five percent of the time, I shoot it in that epic wide 6x12 panoramic format. I look for movement in the scene and love how the sun or other direct light sources appear through the pinhole’s minuscule aperture. I’ve tried pinhole lens caps on digital cameras but I can’t get too excited about them. They aren’t wide enough, don’t vignette, and just look soft. For me, the ultimate pinhole experience is with film and either a wide-angle or rounded back to cause even more curiosity. Worldwide Pinhole Day (April 25th) is actually right around the corner, so air drop me some film to my desert island and who knows, maybe I’ll make this coconut into a pinhole camera!”

Hugh Brownstone — @hughbrownstone

“The Leica APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH. is the finest lens Leica has ever built—that’s what Leica’s optical design head Peter Karbe told me when I interviewed him, one day after I drew that conclusion on my own after photographing that bearded gentleman with it on a Leica SL2. I bought both (the camera and lens). The Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. is a legendary optic as well (the benchmark for that focal length for decades), but it is manual focus only; much smaller and lighter than the 35; and on an M10-R perfect for when I want to be a flaneur, wandering through one of my favorite cities.”

Jason Tables, B&H — @jaytablez

​“The Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 would be my ‘desert island’ lens. It's tiny, fast, and super sharp. When paired with the M10-P, it reminds me of a compact, agile, manual drive sports car, like a Porsche 911. Sure, no autofocus, since it's a rangefinder lens, but that's all part of the fun.

Jessica Santos, B&H Creative — @missjessbess

“It’s pretty well known that I prefer a wide-angle lens, so much so that my idea of a telephoto lens is 24-70mm. Therefore, if I were stranded on a desert island with only one lens to choose from, it would have to be the Sony 12-24 f/2.8 GM. This has long been my dream lens, and it practically never leaves my camera. The ultra-wide of the 12mm allows me to get up close and personal with my foreground, and the f/2.8 makes it so that I can photograph stars and sunsets with one lens. Definitely my hands-down, no-brainer, go-to choice for anything.”

Jessica Wright, B&H Creative — @bontraveler

“If I were stranded on an island and could have only one lens, my go-to would be the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM. It's my most versatile lens that is super sharp and can capture a wide variety of photos. We use it on our travels and at home all the time."

Jill Waterman, B&H — @nightpix

“My ‘desert island’ lens is not an optic I’d generally choose to carry anywhere else. For the ultimate distraction from dueling emotions of utter boredom in being stranded and desperate yearning for rescue, I’d immerse myself in the soft focus and shallow depth of field of Lensbaby’s Velvet line. I happen to own the 56mm f/1.6 focal length for Nikon F, while the Lensbaby 28mm f/2.5 would allow for an even wider view of immediate surroundings. The smooth, glowing Lensbaby aesthetic can offer a great diversion from the harsh realities of being marooned, and after composing pictures amid the privations of desert island life for long enough, one can almost discern a lifeboat taking shape on the distant horizon.”

John Harris, B&H — @jrockfoto

"Whatever lens is on the Olympus Tough TG-6 Camera or its successor camera at the time my ship is sunk. While this camera's Field Sensor System with a GPS module, manometer, compass, temperature sensor, and Wi-Fi might really come in handy—hey Olympus, please start working on a built-in mini solar charger for that model!—I'll stay happy for a while using its underwater and microscope modes, and mounting a true solo exhibition of my work. For the record, the lens is a 25-100mm f/2-4.9 equivalent with a dual pane of protective glass to prevent fogging."

Olympus Tough TG-6 Digital Camera

John Kingston, B&H Creative — @roaminglost

“The Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM is by far the most-used lens in my kit. It’s so universal and can get you the most variety. As they say, ‘Variety is the spice of life,’ right?!? And with this lens having an f/2.8, you still get some awesome bokeh. So, as we can see (insert eyes emoji), it’s the winner for sure.”

Mike Mezeul, B&H Creative — @mikemezphoto

“If I were stuck on a deserted island and could have only one lens with me, it would definitely be my Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S lens. Now I know that's probably not the lens you thought I'd be choosing, but here's why. First off, if I'm stuck on an island, I'm hoping it's one with a volcano. The 70-200mm lens will allow me to take those awesome close-up shots of the lava and explosions (and because this is all fantasy, of course I'll be safe from the lava!). It will also be a great lens to help me get rescued, because with those wide-angle lenses, you can't zoom in on the horizon to watch for passing ships! And of course, once the 200mm reach allows me to see that ship, it's time to build the world's biggest bonfire, grab Wilson, and get ready to get back home!”

Nate Luebbe, B&H Creative — @nateinthewild

“Stranded on a desert island? I think in this case I would have to go for the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS. When disassembled, the large front element would work perfectly for concentrating sunlight so I could start a fire to stay warm and cook over. The metal e-mount plate on the back is nicely curved already, so it would take a minimal amount of effort to fashion it into a makeshift fishhook, and I suspect the electrical wiring inside would be sufficient length for a fishing line if there are no other fibers to be found on the island. The large lens hood would be perfect for concentrating the heat of the fire for more efficient cooking, and the conical body would double as a perfect chimney for creating a highly visible smoke column to alert passing ships and planes as to my whereabouts.”

Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens

Robert Sansivero, B&H — @rsansivero

“Since I’ve only been at photography for a couple of years now, my knowledge of the vast number of lenses out there is limited. Very different than cine glass. So I’m going to stick with contemporary, since that’s what I’ve used the most.

“Most of my work has me grabbing the same lens over and over, and only switching it up when I can’t back up far enough. That would be the Nikon NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED lens. This lens has become my absolute go-to lens for all things ‘portrait.’ Why do I like it? Well, I’ve always gravitated more toward longer focal lengths, coming from the cinema world. I want solid separation between subject and background for my cinematic style portrait work and the ability to control that amount of separation. The lens has a really wonderful balance of sharpness, but not too sharp like some of those ZEISS/Sony lenses that beg for post-production softening. This is another feature about cine glass that I love. It can still resolve high resolution yet not be TOO sharp. I can shoot at f/8 and, if I want a razor-sharp focal plane, I can open up to f/1.4 with really smooth falloff.

“The NIKKOR 105 is a beefy lens compared to most, and I love it. The only thing fatter than the 105 at this focal range is a cine lens. It doesn’t feel like a toy. Does this matter for picture quality? Probably not, but it matters when I’m holding it. I would imagine that since I’m on a desert island I’d have plenty of room to back up and still make full-body portraits with my 105, so that’s what I’m bringing with me. I’ll leave the landscape shots to the landscape photographers.”

Siya Zarrabi, B&H Creative — @siyazarrabi

“My desert island lens would have to be the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM. It's the perfect mix of a vlogging lens and a hand weapon. This way I can film myself talking to a coconut as I go insane, then use the lens to crack open the coconut. This lens would make for spectacular night photography, as there would be zero light pollution. During the day, the zoom would help me search for rescue boats along the horizon. Detaching the lens from the body, it doubles as a magnifying glass to start a fire, so I can cook my daily catch.”

Thomas Simms, B&H

“If I were stranded on a desert island and could have only one lens, I would like to have a good normal lens or a slight wide-angle lens. Presuming you’re stranded with another person, you can shoot both environmental portraits and landscapes with relative ease. I’m shooting on a Canon 7D, which has an APS-C sensor, so the Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS USM is the closest to normal that I use. It has image stabilization, which is handy for low light, and the depth of field at wide open is just perfect for a portrait without having to worry too much about focus. On a full-frame camera, the same lens would be a nice normal wide angle and also a good stranded-on-a-desert-island lens.

Tom Kirkman, B&H

“Just a simple response—I’d take my Nikon NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR because it’s wide enough without distortion, and 70mm is long enough (and far enough away) for any desert island wildlife or inhabitants that might do me harm.”

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Lens

Todd Vorenkamp, B&H (the Author) — @trvphoto

“While my workhorse lens is the FUJIFILM 35mm f/1.4 R, if I were forced to shoot with one lens for the rest of my days, I would take the recently discontinued Nikon NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2 with me. The lens is constructed beautifully, fully manual, and as sharp at f/2 as it is at f/8. On my FUJIFILM X Series cameras, the 75mm equivalent focal length is great for portraits and general photography. Also, it makes great sunstars, and the fact that it is all manual means that it will likely outlive its electronic cousins in the harsh desert island environment.”

What is your “desert island” lens? Tell us in the Comments section, below!

For more information on the B&H Creative Partnerships Team, subscribe to the Creatively Yours newsletter here or email us at [email protected].

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43 Comments

i think i might consider my Nikon 58mm f1.4G lens. when i first saw a review about it on the internet, it convinced me to purchase a Nikon system, a D810. prior to that i had three Canon L lenses, the 35mm f1.4L, the 50mm f1.2L and the 85mm f1.2L, but there was something special about those images produced by that Nikon. i usually use it for half body portraits or for casual shots of friends and it has not failed to produce a distinctive and pleasing image. i've also tried the 105mm f1.4E lens and that lens is supposed to have an equally good reputation. that may be my next purchase if i am able to justify the cost of it. the 58mm also pairs well with the 35mm f1.4G as a pair of walk about lenses as it is slightly longer than the typical standard length.

Hi Jui,

Nice choice there. That lens certainly got mixed reviews, but I am glad you are getting awesome shots with it! The 105 is sparkling as well. If you want to go retro, I can attest to the greatness of the older 105mm f/2 DC lens. That is a special piece of glass, and a lot less than its contemporary replacement!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Now since this is a desert island, it will probably be great for pristine wildlife photography, especially birds. Not only will they be likely to be calm around humans (given what I see on David Attenborough's nature videos about birds), but no swarms of other bird photographers will be in the way, too :-)   So, I'd go with my Nikon 500mm phase Fresnel lens, excellent for bird shooting. One only hopes those "Killer shots"  are all captured before the camera's battery runs dry...    And the 500 is not too bad for scanning for rescue vessels.

Hey Matthew,

Good choice! Those Nikon Fresnel lenses are awesome. Bring some solar power to keep the batteries going!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

My vote is for the Sony 24-70 f/2.8.  Light enough to carry around all day but also versatile for near wide angle and a little telephoto too.

Popular choice, Joyce!

Sony must have a hit with that lens!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I think my desert island lens would be one that I could start a signal fire with.  It would have to be pretty fast.

I think you can do that with almost any lens, David! :)

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I think along the same line as Nate @ B&H Creative, but mine would be Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6L USM. Helps me scan the horizon for any passing freighters - it's an EF lens for DSLR/SLR so no need to power up the camera to look through the viewfinder. It's heft makes for a good weapon as well but its rarity above all will make people send out search parties for the lens and not me.

Hi Heidi,

Good thoughts, but, having used that lens myself, you'd need to bring a friend with you to carry it and use it!

The better use for that lens would be for someone on the passing ship to be using it to find you! :)

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/features/bh-photographic-journey-legendary-canon-ef-1200mm-lens

Best,

Todd

Another vote for Olympus - the 12-100 f/4 on any M43 body. It does almost everything and won't weigh you down (too much) while you are out foraging for food.

Thanks, Ralph! I am glad to see the Micro Four Thirds crowd is alive and well on the desert island!

Best,

Todd

I'd take a full frame 24-120mm or its equivalent for smaller sensors - 16-80mm for APS-C, 12-60mm for micro4/3, etc. These are usually f/4 or f/2,8-f/4 which is fast enough for me.

Good choices, Thomas!

Thanks for stopping by!

Best,

Todd

I have to agree with John Harris on the Olympus TG-6..  On my last live-aboard dive trip to Indonesia, I took a TG-5 for surface shots and a TG-4 in a housing for underwater.  I haven't bought a TG-6, but the TG-5 is my everyday grab-and-go camera.

Hi Josef,

Yes, I agree with John as well. Having used a TG-5, it is a very very cool and versatile camera.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I have been pretty much a one camera one lens for several years now. My camera, Nikon D600, I know time to upgrade right! Anyway, I have been using exclusively my Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8. It's an awesome lens! I do mostly landscape and travel, but anything that gets in front of my lens is in danger of being photographed. 

That is a popular choice, Roy!

Thanks for reading! Danger noted!

Best,

Todd

I see that only one Fujifilm lens is mentioned here. The lens I would choose, if only one, would be the Fujifilm XF16-55 f2.8 lens. It was the first Fujifilm lens I bought when I switched to Fuji. Still my go to lens.

Hi Walter,

Great choice from a fellow FUJIFILM X shooter!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I can't help but notice that there's one lens that appears on this list three times!  I'm thinking it'll look nice on my A7, although I'm hoping it "goes wide enough" - as much of my shooting is wide angle.

You noticed that, too, eh?

The masses have spoken!

Thanks for reading, James!

Olympus 12-40 f/2.8 PRO for Micro 4/3. One can get really close (even at 40 mm.) and it's good for 90% of the photos I take. 

During the pandemic, my iPhone 11 Max is surprisingly effective for the flower pictures I take when walking the dog!

Hi Carl,

I have personally used that Oly lens and it is truly spectacular. Great choice!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

For me, it would be a jack of all trades (but master of none) like the 18-300 AFS VR DX Nikkor, to be able to handle as much as possible, which is what is in my travel lightly kit.

David J. wrote:

For me, it would be a jack of all trades (but master of none) like the 18-300 AFS VR DX Nikkor, to be able to handle as much as possible, which is what is in my travel lightly kit.

Which I bought from B&H, BTW.

Thank you for shopping at B&H, David!

I fully support the all-in-one zooms!

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/buying-guide/all-one-zoom-lens-roundup

Best,

Todd

NIkon 28-300 f/3.5.  It's, well, everything.

There is something to be said for those expansive zoom lenses!

Thanks for reading, John!

Best,

Todd

ostNikon 24-70 f2.8, With my D850 the one lens I reach for the most and a Nikon shooter for 40 years I an the most conferable with this setup. A Z7II 24-70 f2.8 would be my next choice one I know the Z better.

Thanks, Carter! Great choice(s)!

Best,

Todd

Nikon 24-120 f/4, I have two of the "trinity" lenses, 14-24 f/2.8 and the 70-200 f2.8E, but the one on the camera the most is the 24-120, a nice "middle of the road" lens. With the ISO performance of todays digital cameras f2.8 is not needed as much as it was in film days

the 14-24 is such a beautiful lens!  it would be my number 2!

Maybe I should have another article on Second Desert Island lenses. :)

Thanks for sharing, Cory! Let B&H know when you need the third "trinity" lens! :)

Best,

Todd

Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-s. It won't get in the way of running from dangerous creatures. The ability to focus on something half a foot away gives for interesting views of the less dangerous ones. While not ideal, one can crop if necessary. There's the IR focusing dot, too. And that focusing ring...

Hey Jonathan,

There is definitely a tactile pleasure in the manual focus rings of cameras of yesteryear. I wish technology could replicate that in modern AF lenses!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

After spending some time on a real desert island, My lens of choice would be my Canon 24-70mm 2.8L. I found it worked the best for beach/ coastline shots, capturing the remoteness of it all.  

Hi Ted,

Thanks for sharing and we are glad you got off of the desert island safely!

Best,

Todd

Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM! Sony's lost their mind a bit on the ultrawides lately that the super useful 16-35mm range is being a bit overlooked

Hi Yousup,

Thanks for sharing...hopefully someone from Sony will see your feedback!

Best,

Todd

My go-to lens, and the one I shot with about 85% of the time is my Canon EF 24-105 f4.0L IS USM II, on my 5d4.  With the 5d4's built in GPS I wouldn't be lost anymore! :-)

Hi Henry,

Nice choice there! Many of my students "rent" that lens from our school and get consistently great results with it!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

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