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Assessing your lens options

From: Shooting on the Road, from Gear to Workflow

Video: Assessing your lens options

There are a lot of reasons to travel: the opportunity to see things you haven't seen before, to explore different cultures, to meet different kinds of people. And of course, it might give a reason to by new lens, or maybe you already have a lot of lenses. Either way you're going to need to think about what lenses are appropriate for the type of trip that you're going on. Now if you're going on the type of excursion where you've got someone else to carry your stuff and you're going to be living in someplace where there is plenty of storage, then maybe you go ahead and take all of your lenses with you. Most of us though, if we have a selection of lenses, need to take a subset of those lenses where you're trying to travel little more lightly and only carry what we're going to need.

Assessing your lens options

There are a lot of reasons to travel: the opportunity to see things you haven't seen before, to explore different cultures, to meet different kinds of people. And of course, it might give a reason to by new lens, or maybe you already have a lot of lenses. Either way you're going to need to think about what lenses are appropriate for the type of trip that you're going on. Now if you're going on the type of excursion where you've got someone else to carry your stuff and you're going to be living in someplace where there is plenty of storage, then maybe you go ahead and take all of your lenses with you. Most of us though, if we have a selection of lenses, need to take a subset of those lenses where you're trying to travel little more lightly and only carry what we're going to need.

That means that we have to really make some decisions ahead of time about what is going to the best lens choice to take. Obviously if you're not taking a SLR, this is not an issue that you'll face. So where do I start what I'm looking a whole bunch of lenses like this and trying to pick out just two or three that are going to be appropriate for my next excursion? I start by trying to predict what it is I might be shooting. Now in some cases this is very simple. If you're going on a trip for a very particular reason--I'm going to Africa to go on safari, well, then safari, you're going to get a nice long lens, preferably one with stabilization, because when you're zoomed in real tight that stabilizer can make a big difference.

Or maybe you're thinking I am going to go wander the streets of Paris and street shoot like Cartier-Bresson. Well, then maybe you want to take a 50 millimeter just like he did, or maybe you want to hedge your bets a little bit and give yourself an easier time and take a nice a walk around zoom lens that can go a little bit wide to a little bit telephoto. Either way the first step is to determine what it is you might be shooting and pick lenses that are appropriate. Now obviously there are times when you don't know what you might be shooting. Or you're thinking, well, I am thinking I am going to shoot this, but there is a possibly that that will happen and I want to be ready. With that in mind, let's consider the different characteristics of lenses and the things that you'll be weighing here. First of all, there is focal length.

Obviously, longer lenses give you more telephoto power. If you don't normally shoot fine details, if you normally don't shoot things that are far away, then maybe you don't need to worry about that. If you're thinking, well, there's little chance there might be something, it still may not be worth carrying an extra long lens if it's not something that you normally use. At that point, consider your camera. What's the pixel count on your camera's sensor? Does it afford you a lot of cropping capability? If it does then maybe you can get away with the moderate telephoto length of your walkaround lens and just know that you'll have to crop a bunch.

It'll limit your final print size, but if you're not planning on blowing thing up a real big, maybe that doesn't matter. In addition to focal length there is lens speed. Are you going to be shooting a lot in low light? Are you going to be shooting a lot at night? Are you going to be wanting as much depth-of-field control as possible? In that case you, may want to go with a really fast lens. Now the problem with a really fast lens is it's going to be physically much larger. This is a 50 millimeter lens, but it has a maximum aperture of 1.2. All of the glass that's required to get that really wide maximum aperture results in a lens that's very, very large.

It's actually larger than this 85 millimeter lens, which is a physically longer lens in terms of focal length. So these are the trade-offs I'm playing with here. Well, I want a fast lens, but my bag is already heavy, because I decided to go with a long telephoto. So what you may want to do is mix it up. Take maybe one really fast lens, something really in the middle of the focal length range. That's a nice thing about a fast 50 is it's a pretty versatile lens, and then I don't need such fast lenses on my other focal lengths. For example, I have on here 24 to 105. That's an F4 lens.

Not super fast, but it's a good average maximum aperture that's going to be good for the bulk of my shots. If I do get into a low-light situation, I knock on the 50 millimeter one too and have some good low-light capability. Another option here that I use a lot, this is a nice wide zoom. This is a 16 to 35. That's a 28 lens. So it's still pretty fast. It's a good complement in my 24 to 105. So with these two lenses, I've got a focal length range of 16 to 205 millimeter with about a third of that at a really fast maximum aperture.

So these are ways that I can balance different ends of the focal length range with faster or slower maximum apertures and come out with something that may work well in one situation or another. So these are just the sorts of thought processes you need to go through. If you're having to winnow down a big selection something smaller. What are you possibly going to shoot? What focal lengths do you usually use? Do you need a fast lens? If so, can you augment some focal lengths with other lenses that are a little bit faster.

You can probably find that you can mix and match these things, keep the weight down, and get it down to just two or three lenses.

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Shooting on the Road, from Gear to Workflow

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