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Pro Tip: How to Quick-Change an SLR lens

Professional photographers see you amateurs out there, frequently shooting right along side of us while we are on assignment.

You're right there at events like festivals, fireworks displays and high school football games. A few of you even seem to know how to BS your way onto the sidelines next to us a pro football games. (How do you do that, anyway?)

We see you watching us. What you might not know is that we are also watching you. While we sometimes get P.O.'d when you crowd our shooting angles, we are frequently jealous of how well you are equipped.

A couple of things we might not be so jealous of: Your shooting and equipment skills.

Which is why we think it is particularly entertaining to watch you do something like try to change lenses quickly when a fleeting moment is slipping by and you are caught with the wrong glass on your camera.

That said, here is how to quickly swap a lens and not look like Barney Fife going ballistic as he tries to wrestle his gun out of his holster on The Andy Griffith Show.

The following steps should (eventually) be performed in one smooth, fast motion. I am using Nikon as an example, but everything is the same for Canon. The twist direction is simply reversed.

1) Hold your camera in your left hand as shown in the upper left part of the top photo. Approach the lens as shown with your right hand open and the right forefinger extended a little.

2) As seen in upper right, when you close your hand around the lens, depress the lens release button with the left side of your right forefinger.

3) Moving onto lower left, rotate the lens clockwise (for Nikon, reverse for Canon) and let the forefinger slide along the still-depressed release button.

4) Finally, as seen at lower right, the lens slides smoothly off of the camera and leaves with your right hand.

Mounting the lens is the reverse action - just as smooth - except the lens itself depresses the lens release as it is pushed onto the camera before rotating into final position.

With about a minute of practice, you should able to go from not touching the lens to having the lens off in your hand in about a quarter of a second.

Don't believe me? Try it.

Learn it like they do in the Army Rangers - start slow and smooth at first and get the muscle memory down.

Like the mantra goes: "Slow is smooth and smooth is fast."

You'll soon be able to perform this maneuver while keeping your eyes on your subject instead of watching yourself fiddle with your camera. And that's important when your are seeing a good moment come together.

Try it - you'll be surprised at how easy it is.


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Anonymous Rob said...

The actual lens part you describe is not what fumbles me up. What gets me is juggling the lens caps and lenses and the camera. Partly, it's because I'm trying to keep the camera body pointed downwards and minimize glass off time to reduce dust getting inside the body, so I usually pull out the new lens, loosen the cap, then quick swap. It works best with a friend holding the new lens with loosened cap. =) What bag do you use to get easy access to your lenses? Do you use a neck strap or hand strap?

June 18, 2006 6:03 PM  
Blogger David said...


I normally work with two bodies and a waistpack, which helps.

Also, WRT the dust, you should always turn off your cameras if you have time when changing lenses. When a digicam is turned on, the chip is charged, which attracts dust.

Or so I have been told by the Nikon guys.


June 18, 2006 8:02 PM  
Anonymous Douglas Urner said...

What I'd like to know is where does the old lens go and the new one come from? Do you keep caps on the lenses while you're working or do you have your bag divided up so you don't need them, or ???

For me, the on-and-off is easy, it's where to put the fool things that hangs me up.

June 18, 2006 8:25 PM  
Anonymous Wayne said...

Finally, something I've been doing right!

June 18, 2006 8:29 PM  
Blogger rench said...

okay, here's what i do: I normally go out with one body and two zooms. I have one lens on the camera with a lens hood. the spare lens I have in a small pouch or inside my bag.

the trick is that the spare lens has a hood, NO front cover, and the rear cap is actually TWO CAPS epoxied back-to-back.

When I need to change, I go through the following sequence:(Assume I have the wide zoom on the camera, and the tele as spare)

1) unzip my pouch and take out the tele.
2) Press the lock with the same hand holding the tele and cradle the wide lens (the one on my camera) with my other hand and smoothly twist it off.
3) At this point i have two lenses, one on either hand, and the camera body around my neck. I join the two lenses back-to-back (Remember the epoxied rear lens caps?)
4) I uncrew the rear cap off the tele, leaving the back-to-back cap on the wide lens.
5) I mount the tele on the camera and place the wide in the pouch.

I can easily do this in under 10 seconds from the time i unzip the bag to the time i take my next shot.

June 18, 2006 8:50 PM  
Blogger David said...

Wherever my lenses are, (in a bag or waistpack) they are positioned in a way where when I grab them (with my right hand) my thumb and forefinger end up on the lenscap end.

That way, I can easily twist my thumb and forefinger to pop the cap as I am bring out the new lens.

My left hand is holding the camera at all times. So, the sequence (for the right hand) goes:

1) Quickly pull the 1st lens from the body as described in the post.

2) Slip it - no cap yet - into the pack or bag. I'd usually slip it in rear element up, and still capless.

3) In the same motion, pull the new lens from the pack/bag, twist-popping the back cap off in the same motion, letting it remain in the bag/pack.

4) Slip it onto the camera with the reverse move that was detilaed in the post.

Total time would be closer to one second than to two seconds.

The important thing is not trying to rush it. Go for smooth. Speed will come.

It's like hitting a golf ball. Or so I am told, by people who can actually hit a golf ball and have it land somewhere in the zip code they intended it to land in...

At the next practical moment - usually when whatever I quickly swapped to shoot wraps up - I would re-cap the first lens which is in the pack or bag.

June 18, 2006 8:53 PM  
Anonymous bikemike said...

There is a reason I look forward to coming here every day. I learn something new, not only from the master strobist but others as well. After some practice, this one hand lens change is absurdly simply. But somehow, I think the pros will still be able to spot me. I think it might be the short shorts and tube socks that give me away :^(

If you work with two bodies how do you carry them? If you use the camera straps on shoulders, how do you keep from being tangled up?
I have tried different configurations but I always end up in a half nelson.

June 19, 2006 1:37 AM  
Blogger David said...


Given that I have two bodies, and two shoulders, the math works out pretty simple for me. :)

Seriously, I carry one on each shoulder with the lenses pointed inward (toward my body) for protection.

It also keeps any other "fast lens pullers" from walking away with one of my zooms.

June 19, 2006 1:48 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

I want to know how to BS my way onto a football feild.

June 19, 2006 10:37 AM  
Anonymous BobSam said...

Act like a duck, walk like a duck, sound like a duck, look like a duck. Have your 'pass' with neck strap "dangle" out of your pocket and most security even opens the door for you.
Play the part.

If you are good at it, you will even get to park up close and be able to eat and drank in the hospitality rooms.

Works 4 me. ;-) Never paid for one ticket this past year.

June 19, 2006 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Jeremy said...

I leave the body in my right hand with finger on shutter and thumb turning off camera (10D). Left hand removes lens by: left palm on top of lens barrel, left thumb naturally points and press lens release then drops lens in bag. Left hand then grabs new lens and places on body. Meanwhile, right hand is still holding body, finger on shutter and thumb on power switch. Very fast. Very smooth, and right hand never leaves my shooting position. I am not a pro, but this seems so natural and fast. Why switch the body to the left hand?

June 19, 2006 9:52 PM  
Anonymous raoulw said...

David -

I notice the camera in your shots is an old film camera. You pull it from one of your bookends :-)


June 19, 2006 10:06 PM  
Blogger nrchris said...

If we're asking newbie questions, I have a lighting related one--what is the best way to hang a reflector. I don't want to buy a boom stand just to hold it. There must be some good ideas for fixing them to a lightstand, wall, etc.

The real issue is that my large folding reflector is a little unweildy and seems hard to place properly, short of having someone hold it in place.

June 19, 2006 10:41 PM  
Blogger kegsofduff said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

June 20, 2006 2:44 AM  
Blogger kegsofduff said...

Thought I'd chime in cause it's 1:30am and I'm bored. I like both David and Jeremy's techniques. I kind of have a hybrid approach.

I'm right handed and as such am much quicker and more precise with my right hand. I generally shoot with just 1 cam, strap over my right shoulder and my left arm in the middle so it hangs on my left side. I use a shoulder messenger type bag that sits on my back and i can swing around to my front right side.

To change lenses I "toss" the cam to my left hand while I pull around the bag to my front right. I then open the bag and with my left index finger push the lens release and in the same way as David, palm the lens and twist it off and put it in my bag. I then finger off the new lens' cap and twist on the lens. The only real difference between David's and My technique is the lens release finger. I just like to have the release at the ready while I maneuver the bag. I like to use my left hand to hold the cam so I can more easily glance at the thread marks on the body and the lens, it only takes a fraction of a second.

Then with the lens on I can take the shot then clean up the original lens and the bag. Just my way, not the best but it is so ingrained at this point I can to it with out thinking.

I like the post, David, lens changing is one of those things that you are never really taught in the early years but is very important in fast situations. Thanks for posting it.

June 20, 2006 2:57 AM  
Anonymous filmfrog said...

I sort of miss when I used to shoot Pentax, because it was soo easy to change lenses. The lens release button is on the right side of the lens (as opposed to the left in Nikon and Canon) so you use your middle finger of your right hand to press it, and your left hand just twists the lens out. So when you're shooting, your hands are already in the position required to switch the lens out...right hand on the grip, left hand supporting the lens. Absolutely no hand repositioning or acrobatics required to release the lens. Now that I shoot Nikon, I find it takes me longer to switch lenses.

June 20, 2006 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

er, whats a lens cap?

the post didnt mention the throw the off lens the last 12-18inches into the bag.



July 29, 2007 3:37 AM  
Anonymous tuomas said...

One thing that also makes a difference if you use Sigma lenses with Nikon, is to get the Nikon rear lens caps.

The Sigma caps that come with the lenses always have to be inserted with the "dots" aligned correctly, otherwise they won't fit. The Nikon ones can be inserted without worrying about this.

July 29, 2007 10:21 AM  
Anonymous Rytoid said...

I angle the camera down without holding it. Twist off the lens with my left hand and immediately throw the other lens on with my right. No hands on the camera.

I'm paranoid of dust bunnies on my sensor. :)

July 29, 2007 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We could do with an article on how to actually hold a camera.

The way I've seen how some handle their cameras is quite simply shocking. (Standing square on to their subject, feet together, viewfinder a couple of inches from their face, wobbling all over the place)

How they manage to land a single shot like that is way beyond me.

July 29, 2007 6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is where products like the ThinkTank system really pay off - having lens pouches dangling off your waist and easily accessible.

I dig David's tip for keeping secondary lenses front element up and twisting off the rear cap with thumb and forefinger. However, I just tried that with my 24-70 and it's easier said than done. Maybe David has gargantuan hands. ;-)

July 30, 2009 1:54 PM  
Blogger MasterOfGoingFaster said...

Actually David is fibbing a little bit on his method. He is much better and faster than he describes.

At a seminar, I asked David how he changes glass. He had a lens in his right hand, removed the first lens with his left, installed the second lens with his right hand, while the camera was hanging from his shoulder. It was bad enough that he did this in one second...

The bad part was he did it without looking.

Scott Kelby was there and mentioned it on DTown.TV, Episode 22.

David is serious fast, folks. And he showed us how easy it is to yank someone's lens while you distract them with a pat on the back. I've noticed he has much nicer lenses these days... Coincident?

August 05, 2009 7:46 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

The slow bit for me is aligning the dots. Do you have some way of keeping your glass in the bag oriented the same way? I always have to fumble to align the dots.

Those of you who worry about dust on the sensor (and have larger hands :)), try this: hold the new lens front-to-front with the old lens, remove the old lens, reverse the pair, and put the new lens on.

October 23, 2009 4:50 PM  
Blogger @GM_Bermeo said...

LoL, hello DigitalRev fans.

May 08, 2014 3:54 PM  

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