A long time ago, when I got my first film SLR, I had three prime lenses: 50mm f/1.8, 24mm f/2.8, 135mm f/2.8. And that, or something very similar, was the standard kit of a huge number of photographers of the time. The big difference between my lens selection and most other photographers was the wide angle lens; where I used a 24mm, most others had a 28mm lens. So, I thought it might be interesting to see what it would take to emulate that setup today, in either an APS-C or micro four-thirds rig. APS-C DLSR
Since most people are shooting APS-C DSLR cameras these days, I figure this would be the place to start. For these cameras with a "crop factor" of about 1.5x, we need to cover the range from about 16mm-90mm to get lenses with an equivalent angle-of-view to my three-lens setup.
16mm wide-angle: There's really only one non-fisheye 16mm lenses out there, and it's a manual-focus Samyang SY16M-C 16mm f/2.0 (it's also available as a Rokinon- or Bower-branded lens, but in each case, they're manufactured by Samyang), which sells for about $479.00. In addition to most regular DSLR mounts, this lens is also available for Sony's NEX mirrorless cameras, as well as Fujifilm X-mount cameras. Most of the reviews I've read of Samyang lenses are pretty good. The only big caveat that I can see is that on most cameras, focusing may be difficult. This is not really a fault of the lens, but rather, because most DSLR and mirrorless camera systems are severely lacking when it comes to manual focusing aids. It should also be noted that this is a large, heavy lens at almost 4" long and weighing about 20oz.
30mm normal: For a "normal" 30mm lens, again, there's really only one choice for DSLRs. This one is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 which is, by all accounts, an amazing lens that sells for $300-$500, depending on the lens mount. You could also use a 28mm or 35mm lens designed for full-frame cameras; most major manufacturers offer 35mm f/1.8 lenses that are small, light and fast at similar prices:
90mm telephoto: The only actual 90mm prime lens that I've been able to find is the Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8, which is available for most DSLRs. It's an incredibly sharp lens, and is quite versatile -- it can be used as a general telephoto lens, a true 1:1 macro, and it's a great lens for portraiture as well, and this versatility makes the $500 price tag a little easier to cope with. However, because the macro lens is designed to focus very accurately at close range, the gearing of the focusing mechanism is such that autofocus can be fairly slow when used for non-macro photography. Depending on your use, that may not matter at all, and the versatility of the lens may outweigh the slow focusing.
If you need faster focus, and don't mind giving up a little bit of "reach" from the telephoto and close focusing capability, there are a number of excellent 85mm lenses available at very attractive prices -- or much higher prices, depending on the model. 85mm f/1.8 lenses make excellent portrait lenses.
There aren't many zoom lenses for APS-C DSLRs that cover the range we're looking for. If you're a Canon shooter, there is the Tokina 16.5-135mm f/3.5-5.6 AF DX II, available for about $250. As near as I can tell, it's a discontinued lens, and it was never all that great. It's also a slow lens, which means that getting nice, soft backgrounds for portraits may be an issue, depending on the shooting conditions.
Micro Four-Thirds Compact System Cameras
Choices for Micro Four-Thirds 3-lens kits are a bit more limited, but the available lenses are all excellent and compact. Unfortunately, they're also expensive. An advantage to the micro four-thirds format is that one lens fits both "DLSR-style" and "rangefinder-style" bodies, so if you want a "big rig" and a "stealth rig", you don't have to buy a complete set of lenses for both. In the micro four-thirds format with it's 2x "crop factor," the focal length range is from 12mm to 67.5mm. There are generally two manufactures of micro four-thirds lenses: Olympus and Panasonic, and lenses from both manufacturers are of excellent optical quality. Olympus and Panasonic happen to also be the only current manufacturers of micro four-thirds cameras, and there's one major difference between the two -- Olympus uses in-camera image stabilization, and Panasonic handles stabilization in the lens. Let's move on to our lens selections.
12mm wide-angle: As I mentioned, options here are limited. For a 12mm lens, the only option is the $800 Olympus 12mm f/2.0 at nearly $800. Image quality from the lens is stellar, and the construction is top-notch. As it's an Olympus lens, there's no image stabilization in the lens. Switching from auto-focus to manual focus is as easy as sliding the focus ring in or out. At f/2.0, it's a fairly fast lens, and it's a great one for photographing the "grand landscape" or for street photography in tight quarters.
25mm normal: Olympus doesn't have a 25mm lens, so for the normal lens, the option is Panasonic's Lumix G Micro 4/3 LEICA DG SUMMILUX 25mm f/1.4, which will set you back about $530. While there's no image stabilization in this lens, the fast f/1.4 aperture features seven curved blades for exceptionally smooth bokeh and nice, creamy-soft backgrounds when used under the right conditions. There are also special optical coatings to all but eliminate flare and other optical aberrations.
67.5mm telephoto: The closest thing currently available to a 135mm-equivalent lens would be the Olympus 75mm f1.8, which works out to a 150mm equivalent. This is a pricey lens, too, at $900, but it's really the only prime lens in its class for micro four-thirds cameras.
You'll notice that I haven't suggested any zoom lenses, and there are reasons. Zoom lenses that cover a range from very-wide-angle-to-medium-telephoto are always compromises in at least one area. Almost always, they're slow, and that all but eliminates the chances of getting good control of depth of field. Also, they tend to not be as crisp as prime lenses at the extreme ends of their zoom ranges. In micro four-thirds, where the sensor chip is even smaller than APS-C, you need every bit of depth-of-field control and sharpness you can get. However, the point is moot, as there are no micro four-thirds lenses available that cover the range we're looking for.
You'll notice that I made very little mention of the Fujifilm X-series in this discussion, and that's because while there are some great lenses available for the Fujifilm cameras, it's quite difficult to match up to the focal lengths I was looking for. It is possible to mount various lenses to the Fujis via adapters, and some folks are being very successful doing this, but I was really wanting to use lenses that, for the most part, just fit. As it is, there is an excellent 14mm F2.8 and 35mm F1.4 to cover the wide-angle and normal ranges. However, there really aren't any medium telephoto primes out there for the Fujis yet. I'm sure that will be rectified in the relatively near future.
The zoom lenses that Fuji have made so far are excellent and relatively fast, too. So far, there's a 18-55mm f/2.8-4 that's available with the X-E2 kit, and a Fujifilm XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 that I'm told is extremely impressive. I could definitely see the combo as a nice, two-lens system for a quite decent price. Somehow, the magic within the Fujifilm boxes delivers unexpected depth of field, given the APS-C sensor size.
So, there you have it. My off-the-cuff attempt at finding a way to replicate my favorite kit from 1979 using today's gear. It's obviously an expensive proposition and there are a number of compromises involved, but it could be done.