The Glass Menagerie: Choosing your Best Lenses

The Glass Menagerie: Choosing your Best Lenses

Image by canonsnapper

Image by canonsnapper

‘Choosing the right lenses is tougher than picking the right camera. Kim Brebach from Get the Picture explains why.’

Traveling Lightly

A wise photographer once said: the bigger the camera, the less likely you’ll have it with you when you want it. Most of us use our cameras to shoot kids and pets, sports, city- or landscapes and occasional portraits. Most of us want a camera that’s easy to cart around and can take a few knocks.

Pro shooters who travel light have the same need, and legends like Galen Rowell have proved that you can produce stunning results with simple equipment. His friend Thom Hogan once described how Galen would race past him up a mountain, with only a Nikon F80 and a couple of light-weight lenses in his small chest pouch. .

‘If he were still with us today,’ Thom wrote somewhere else, ‘I’m pretty sure it [the camera in his pouch] would be a D60. The emphasis was on light, light, light. On the lens side, Galen zipped around with an old 20mm f/4UD and the 80-200mm f/4-5.6D (US$99!) consumer lens.’

New Options

That was written a few years after Galen lost his life in a plane crash. If he were alive today, would he use one of the new compacts like the Olympus E-P1 or Panasonic Lumix GF1? Or the Sigma DP2? Or would he choose a D60 or D5000 because of the vast lens choices they offer and their all-round competence? These Nikons are smallish cameras weighing less than half a kilo. Canon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony all make similar cameras.

As their prices shrunk and their features grew, many of us took the leap and bought a twin-lens DSLR kit. As time went by, we bought more lenses to supplement the two kit lenses. In my case it was a Nikon 18-135mm for convenience, a Sigma 10-20mm for super-wide angles and a 50mm fixed lens for its f/1.8 speed and because all the critics raved about it.

Learning Lessons

I hate carrying big camera kit bags or backpacks when I’m out. Instead I got used to slinging the camera over my shoulder and sticking a second lens into my bum bag. It’s an easy way to walk about as long as the gear isn’t heavy. That Sigma was a heavy lens but a bigger problem was that I now had to make serious decisions whenever I went out: which 2 lenses do I take?

Learning Lenses

One day I took stock of which lenses I’d taken most of my photos with. The result: 80% with the humble 18-55mm, and at least another 10% with the 55-200mm (Seagulls on the right).

Why was it so? I’d bought the 18-135mm thinking it would be on my camera most of the time since it covered the most common range. In practice, it was often just a little short and also lacked the Vibration Reduction of the kit zoom. Worst, it wasn’t as sharp as the two kit lenses until you got to 100mm and over.

The super-wide Sigma produced a few exciting shots with a lot of fine editing, but they were far and few in between. Most landscape shots weren’t sharp enough (really fuzzy in the corners), and the light blow-outs were blindingly spectacular. It’s a special-purpose lens with no practical streak and severe limitations.

The Nikon 35mm f/1.8 prime lens has no real flaws but is no sharper than the 18-55mm kit lens. Yes, it’s faster but the 18-55’s range is more useful so the prime lens went on sale on eBay with the two others.

What do you lose when you go light?

Build quality, size and speed. Nikon’s pro lenses aren’t only bigger, but have more glass inside them and tend to be made of metal. The 70-210mm for example is beautifully made but it’s not the kind of lens you’d throw casually into a bag. Portability is not a strength but speed is: a constant f/2.8 compared to f/3.5 – 5.6. Does it make that much difference? If you’re a pro, the answer’s yes. If you’re an amateur, it’s a lot of extra money and heft for a marginal benefit.

What about super-wide options? That’s a tough question. An improved version of the Sigma 10-20 features a constant f/3.5 aperture and a $1,000 price tag. The new Tamron 10-24mm is lighter (plastic) and just a little cheaper. Nikon’s consumer 10-24mm is closer to $1,500. Tokina makes a couple of good wide-angle lenses but they won’t autofocus on a D60/D5000.

How often do you need a super-wide angle? If you shoot photos of very small apartments for large real estate agents, you’ll need to find the money.

Working out what you Need

My needs are more at the long end of the range. As a mid-range zoom lens that’s light and portable, the 55-200mm takes a lot of beating but beyond 200mm things get more tricky. Nikon makes a 70-300mm VR which isn’t too heavy and gets good reviews. The bad news is that it won’t leave you with much change out of $1,000, which is incomprehensible when you can buy the same lens in the US or from Hong Kong for A$600. Why are we being punished for living in Australia? Because we get more sunshine?

$1,000 is a hell of a lot for a slow (f/4.5 – 5.6) plastic lens, even one with a 450mm reach. Yes, since it’s designed for full frame cameras, the range on a DX (all Nikons except D3 and D700) is 105-450mm. That makes it better value in theory because the longer the tele end, the bigger the ticket price.

Among the alternatives is a cheap Tamron 70-300mm, which gets mixed reviews as they say, and a Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG MACRO, which sold for $300 and was described in many user reviews as the bargain of the year.

For $300 I was prepared to take a chance. The only problem was that I couldn’t buy one in Australia for love or money, even in the middle of a deep recession that saw lens makers in Japan laying off workers.

A call to the distributor produced a vague answer about a shipment due in 3 or 4 weeks, so I ended up buying it from Adorama for the same A$300 including the hefty $50 freight charge for having UPS deliver it to my door four days later (there was no cheaper, slower option).

This 100% crop is from a shot of Centrepoint Tower taken from Waverton across the harbour. This lens doesn’t need much sharpening across the range, the colours are accurate and the build is rock-solid. The AF is a bit noisy and the macro function a bit clunky but still the only thing the lens really lacks is VR. Given the bargain price, who’s complaining?

Filling gaps

We’re back to three lenses but most of the time you know when you need to pack a long zoom, like when there’s stuff on the harbour like the Sydney-Hobart or the Queen Mary coming through the heads. The Sigma is too heavy to go walk-about with as well so it rules itself out for Sunday walks, but a special purpose lens for $300 I can live with. I may buy a second hand super-wide one day to fill that gap, because super-wide angles can be fun.

Meanwhile, here are links to the views of a couple of Nikon gurus on lenses:

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Some Older Comments

  • Adrian December 16, 2011 09:18 pm

    My two cents.

    I carry a canon 5D mk II. Not light but tough and takes awesome shots. As for glass. On a light trip i take my trusty canon 50mm f 1.4. An awesome lens. And I love the canon 85mm f1.8 I know thoses two are very close and I don't have much range, but I live and shoot around tokyo, don't really find I need much more. Not many they I think give you awesome choice around a city. (75% @50mm rest at 85mm guess I could live with out it but it is not that heavy)

    If I am to go on a bit more of a dedicated photographic walk, I will haul around the canon 70-200f2.8 (weight a ton) and the 16-35mmf2.8L and the trusty 50mm with those 3 altogether I am lugging around half of the Sahara desert's worth of sand in the amount of glass. But with that set up apart from birds 3km away you can shoot just about anything. And get very good clear shots. My next step will be to up grade my 50 and the 85 to the faster L versions. But that will cost several 1000's of £ (well ¥ as I am living in Japan)

    On another note. One of the biggest problems with getting high quality images (ignoring artist value) is camera shake! If you are hand holding a pro lens or tripod shooting a kit lens I would wager the tripod makes the biggest difference. Hence on a semi involved walk, a gorilla dslr pod is a great little item to have.

    Any comment?

    Sorry for typos posted from an iPhone on the train.

  • Gerry March 3, 2010 11:49 am

    Question for Val y in her reference to Nikon D300s and Tamron 18 - 270 VC. I just bought a 300s and am experiencing focusing problems, e.g slow or no focus with the Tamron lens. I never had this problem with this lens on my old D80. Have you experienced this? Also problems with excessive battery usage.


  • emmanuel mallari, jr December 9, 2009 12:11 am

    I've read all the comments (from top to bottom) and it is hard to believe that not single soul posted comment on Cannon gear (camera or lens). Perhaps, DPS is more of a Nikonian site. Cheers!

  • Kim Brebach December 4, 2009 08:57 am

    I had no idea my breezy little piece would stir up such emotions - I'm tuly flattered. And surpised by some of the venom - isn't it obvious that I live down under? I said we were being ripped off, and the prices I quoted were for gear listed at competitive places and Aussie warranties. I only bought the Sigma from Adorama because I couldn't get it here; I wouldn't normally do that or recommend it.

    The point of this article, as most of the readers have well understood, is how to settle on a small and light travel kit. A good friend has a D700, an anstonishing camera by any standards, but I wouldn't take it on a hike through the mountains. The same applies to the 24-70mm lens he has on it. He's a pro shooter and works mainly in a studio or on fixed locations. Different gear for different needs. That was the point.

    Appreciate the support for the piece.

  • John December 1, 2009 05:24 pm

    Interesting. The article, and subsequent discussion, turned out to be about something different than I imagined when I clicked the link. What I thought the article would be about was the importance of anticipating what you would be shooting before going out on the shoot. I've found that thinking ahead to the situations I might reasonably encounter in a given situation saved lots of pounds when it came to lens choices. The right lenses for the beach are not the same as the right lenses for a church. Knowing what NOT to bring is crucial.

    I for one would like to see an article about that.

  • Rob December 1, 2009 10:04 am

    I will preface this by saying that since I shoot Pentax, I dont have to worry about VR/IS lenses vs non-VR/IS or autofocus motors . Not bragging (ok, just a little) but pointing out why I wont talk about that.

    Im a bag carrier and perfectly happy to carry 3-5 lenses with me but I also find I normally use only one or two on any given day because the subject I am shooting lends itself to those lenses. Im just not organized enough to know what those two are going to be most of the time!

    Im also a fan of kit lenses because of their size, weight and range. Between the "standard" 18-55 and 50-200, you can safely assume you will be able to get a shot. And of course they are either inexpensive or "free" as part of the kit.

    All that said, I have fallen in love with my Tamron SP AF 17-50mm XR f/2.8 Di II LD. Sharp, fast and not excessively heavy. Unlike my Pentax kit lens, it is sharp across the full zoom range and there is no fall off wide open. I would be hard pressed to find real differences between the two at 35mm and f/8 but then I might as well get an even smaller prime. It is good enough to relegate my Pentax FA50 f/1.4 to extreme low light and extreme low weight situations. I love my FA50 but below f/2 the sharpness falls off a cliff.

    If weight and weather are a concern, I fall back on my two kit lenses. They are feather light and do the job dawn to dusk. If I know I am going to be indoors or in low light, I reach for my Tamron. My next non-prime is going to be the Tamron 28-70mm f/2.8. I think for "general" or "dont know what I will be shooting" times, those two will cover quite nicely. I love the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 but I dont do enough at that range to justify the size and weight. I have thought about the Tamron 18-250mm but for now I am willing to give away 50mm for the weight of my DA 50-200mm.

    I do not agree with the author about only pros needing fast lenses. My FA50 extended my "shooting day" and my Tamron has removed the "zoom penalty" from my thinking. Does fast glass give me better composition? No, of course not. But it lets me look at subjects I would have passed on and lets me shoot at lower ISO longer and in places where a tripod is not an option. Fast glass even gives more flexibility and options with flashes and supplemental lighting. That expands my creative options.

    All things considered, "fast" lenses are pretty reasonable for most people who have already shelled out the money for a DSLR. Yup, starving students and people with unsympathetic spouses will disagree but in relative terms, fast zooms are a bargain right now. When I started with my K1000 in the 70s a zoom lens was out of the question for anyone not working for NatGeo and a fast zoom was in the price range of military hardware. Today a fast zoom cost about the same as a "just above low budget" body. If I could have gotten a fast zoom for $125, I would have jumped for joy.

  • Krishna Rao November 30, 2009 05:02 pm

    Saw a lot of criticism for this post about how the fast 50mm lens doesn't yield significantly sharper results. i think the author is talking about how it doesnt make a difference for a serious hobbyists. it will obviously make a difference for the pros. But this post might not be directed at them

  • johnp November 30, 2009 12:46 pm

    I agree I decided to stick to 2 lenses only - 50mm 1.4 and a Tamron 18-250. Maybe not the ultimate as far as quality goes but they cover the range and situations I need and actually I can't really find much fault in their quality. Sticking to just these lenses means I know how to get the best out of them. I'd rather spend the $1,500 - $2,000 plus saved on travelling to exotic places to actually take photos. I guess it comes down to if you want to be a photographer or a collector.

  • David Geer November 30, 2009 12:30 pm

    I read this article with interest because I have more glass than I want to carry around and I came to the same conclusions namely:

    The Nikon kit lens are benchmarks, and having been persuaded to use my 55-200 at 100mm for a portrait class found it was the one lens I like to use the most - its so sharp and the VR really makes low light stuff work, like night shots without tripods but maybe rested on a wall.

    Since I still use a D40 I havethe non vr kit 18-55 and thats hard to beat too though not quite as nice as the other kit lens.

    Then I have a Tokina 11-16 f2.8 wide angle - no problems manually focusing that on the D40 and stunning results.

    These are my use all the time glass with the big Tokina left at home sometimes!

    Somewhere in the house is a G 70-300, largely useless without tripod at 300mm - good job I bought it on ebay, i use the 55-200 vr instead.

    I bought the new f1.8 35mm but yes its no sharper than the 18-55mm kit and has been back twice to Nikon with that complaint and they say is within manufacturing tolerance - it sure isn't a sharp prime in my view. Fast and autofocus but if I had paid less for the VR 18-55 I'd have been happier! Mostly left at home though light.

    A mate sold me his rarely sued 50mm f1.8, very sharp but manual focus on a D40 and hard/fiddly to focus manually (short turning cycle). Works well with extension tubes (Kenko) but autofocus would be useful or greater turning range. Light weight rarely sued though, 55-200 same range and use din its p[alce as it focuses fairly close in (flowers etc).

    So I agree, for light weight and easier about anywhere use the D40 and its similar sized mates with a good lens covering 18-200 or in my case 2 (I hear from a fellow Nikon shooter that his Nikon 18-200VR not only burnt out when he was on holiday, Nikon were churlish about repair or replace as well as the fact it is not as sharp as the 2 kit lens are)! Like the writer I hanker after other lenses but don't know why, I am happy with what I have, especially as Nikon insist on reserving focusing motors for their more expensive and heavier cameras, the D5000 lacks this even, and my Canon super zoom produces stunning results as a super zoom in all but the most difficult focusing situations or increases noise when the light dims. I seriously wonder whether i will up grade to a better DSLR if by the time I have worn out the D40's (I have 2), Canon have released a superzoom with prism viewfinder and a larger sensor!

    On the other hand maybe I'll buy a Pentax K7 or successor as I found it small light and very portable and it does not seem to have limitations on focusing motors and VR or no VR! My experience with the new Nikon 35mm has been a negative and I am much less likely to be brand loyal as a result of this overpriced and poor quality prime! The modern marketing children should go back to school and learn what the rest of us know, if its not better don't put it out there!

  • Pamela Oliveras November 30, 2009 10:00 am

    I get the lens lust every so often, then I can't decide what lens so usually end up going back to the old faithful nifty 50 on my D300. It's so light and I rarely feel limited. Plus, if I ain't there (because I am too busy looking for a new lens) I can't shoot it LOL
    For my shoots, I use the 50 most of the time, followed by the the 18-70, fisheye and the 85 1.8, the 55-200 rarely comes out. I have thought of selling it but it's so cheap, I keep it and sometimes put a nikon close up filter on it for poor man's macro!
    I definitely feel more 'free' with just one or 2 lenses...

  • Val Y. November 30, 2009 08:50 am

    Well, I believe that DPS was successful with the above article and commentary. It evoked emotions (and opinionis). Isn't that what it's all about?
    Keep it up DPS!.

    Regardless of the quality, (or lack of quality), of the camera/lens in front of your eye, it is still you (and me) behind the camera/lens who make the photograph. Everyone says it; but this simple fact must be re-enforced everyday. I have a Post-It on my bathroom mirror about this. I'm not good at it, but I keep trying to believe.

    Some of my 'best' photos are from a trusty 'point-n-shoot'.
    [Think of Ken Rockwell telling us most of his stuff is still with his Nikon D60. Not a point-n-shoot, but a small camera and only 6MP]

    When I want to 'travel lite' or 'walk around', I usually use two options.
    Option A is my Nikon D90 with a Tamron 18-270 and an aforementioned point-n-shoot (either my underwater SeaLife DC1000 or Canon SD 890 IS), or;
    Option B is my Nikon D300s with a Tamron 18-270 and my Nikon D90 with a Tokina 11-16 (I do not like to change lenses in the field and the minimal extra weight of the D90 vs the 'pont-n-shoot' is not that great).

    [Check out some of the photo's the Tamron Pro's have posted on Tamron's web-site. Some of Ken Hubbards photos, and other Tamron Pro's ( demonstrate the power and quality of the 18-270]

    When I am thinking about IQ, then I'll use a Nikon 70-300G f/4.5-5.6 (sorry to hear this lens is soooooo expensive downunder. It's about $530.00 USD before shipping and before Tamron's $70.00 USD Mail-in Rebate. I've meet some pro's who love this lens (check out Moose Peterson's video Blog or Bryan Peterson's web site)).
    If I'm shooting action/sports, then it's the 70-200 f/2.8 regardless of the weight. Sometimes I'll include a 1.7 Teleconverter with the 70-200 depending on the activity and sport. Also, I don't have a press pass so I need the extra length (mm's) to reach the subject, especially in some of the large Football and American Soccer stadiums.
    If I'm carrying multiple lenses, then the 70-200 or 70-300 is strapped to my D90 (usually attached to an R Strap) and the 14-24 f/2.8 is attached to the D300s. I'll pocket or sling either the Nikon micro 105 f/2.8 or the Tamron Macro 90 f/2.8.
    If I have a vehcile with me , then the Tamron 18-270 and Tokina 11-16 is in the big bag.

    So, with all that said, which is my best lens?
    It obviously 'depends'.
    BUT, if 'I' had to choose my one (1) best lens for most of my general shoots; for what my "eye" sees, I'd pull the Tamron 18-270 because of the flexibility (15x), decent quality, and light weight & small size.


  • Pete November 30, 2009 07:31 am

    AF18-270mm/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) Macro Good picture quality (and it IS good), and a decent price.

    I'd rather haul that around on my D90 than an 18-55 and a 55-200 and have to change all the time. Of course the D60 would work as well but my hands are too big for it.

  • Killian November 30, 2009 06:14 am

    So you don't agree with the article, and therefore DPS sucks. Huh. OK.

    'Cause ya know, I don't see the gun being held to your heads to make you read this site.

    If you have a differing opinion, great. But if your big point is not your experience, or other such evidence, just that DPS sucks, why don't you go find another site?

  • Kurt Wall November 30, 2009 04:26 am

    You must be kidding. Ken Rockwell is a Nikon "guru?" He uses Nikon equipment and has a lot to say, perhaps, but neither of those facts make him a guru.

  • Paul K November 30, 2009 04:01 am

    Let me weigh in on this lens selection issue a little more. First, my eengleesh is no so gut, sosory. Nah, I'm kidding. Just coffee hasn't filtered through yet, so I'm bound to make a few mistakes, so be kind, thrust gently. Paragraphs would be good though, that I have to admit.
    It is correct, that it is difficult to agree with the article one hundred percent, but I don't think we should start talking about screening posts and editing stuff out, and oh my god, what have the DPS done. Primarily, lens choice WHEN INTENDING TO GO LIGHT, as opposed to dragging your whole kit around, is a matter of personal choice, and I'm guessing here, but they let us respond here to share our individual experiences and opinions. DPS has done its job. It sparked a debate among us and its clear, how differently we approach this issue. Personally, yeah, I'll go light, and sometimes I'll take my 10-20 OR if I feel brave I'll put my 35 in my pocket and stitch a few photos in CS4 when I feel like it. Am I going to take a heavy expensive prime or a metal VR monster for a walk in the woods or to a local conservation area when I know I'll be shooting at 5.6 of 8 and up in relatively civilized parts on North America. No lions chewing on the end of my front element, so no. Glass is glass no matter what tube you stick it in. On a more comprehensive excursion, yes, the whole kit comes along. Its a matter of need and a matter of choice.
    On issue irks me though, and that is the belief that equipment categorizes both the craftsperson and his/her craft. I don't care if the greatest photographer in the world comes out of their grave and contradicts me, but you can take breathtaking images without the benefit of pro equipment, or great or good or any lesser camera/lens combination. It the person behind the viewfinder, and how far they are willing to go. This arrogance that you need top kit for top photography is so pervasive in this craft, its disgusting. That's why so many of us get so passionate dealing with this topic. It intimidates so many people from sharing their work, and articles like the one above try to embolden them and bring them into the spotlight.
    Cameras and lenses don't matter. Even in the pro world, grown individuals get silly. It more about the image rather than the actual images. The dude waist deep in water, sneaking up on a bird with his D90 and a 300 f/4 while consciously developing an amoeba and paramecium infestation in his crotch, is gonna get a better, more personal and interesting image than the silly bunch sitting on the side of the road, with their hot cups of coffee, and $5000 lenses mounted on tripods, waiting for the birdy to pop its head up. I've seen it. I've also seen fellow tourists with big cameras and long lenses in the narrow streets of Europe. What are you going to shoot, pigeons on the rooftops? My dad is in construction and there is a saying "Beware the man with shiny brand new tools". Very true where ever you go. Silly people.
    Again, taking an example from the art world, a marble statue hacked out with a rusty chisel and a worn iron hammer some 800 years ago is not less valuable as art, as something made today with a titanium tipped precision kit. I find it amazing when someone with an average camera/lens kit comes off with a breathtaking image. I'm pretty sure that a lot of lens/camera choices are driven more by ego and thick wallets than by anything else. In the end, yes, there are differences between lenses and the images they produce, but can you see them on your monitor. I wander how many of us have printed anything larger than an 8x12. Mostly we take our 12+ megapixel images and down-sample them in Photoshop where the only way to "see" the difference in image "quality" is to look at the metadata.
    That is the gist of the lens selection issue. Most of the time, the differences are so small, you can't even see them. Browse Flikr and you tell what camera and lens combination each individual picture was made with. Better yet, take me to a photo gallery and do the same with the images on the wall. It doesn't matter. Let me finish with an another real world example where imaging comes into play. If a backyard astronomer comes in to see a bigshot PhD pro, and says I saw a shooting star, they conversation will be rather short although polite and pleasant. Its nice to see people take interest. But when an amateur astronomer comes and says, yo, I just located something brighter than what it used to be, should the pro astronomer say NEIN, this is only a good discovery made with only a good setup, lets wait for a year (lineups are that long) for the Keck to be available or better yet lest get the Chandra to bear, and make a great discovery. Or should they say, holly shit, let me call anyone and everyone that's available. Now check how and by who most supernovae are discovered, pick a year like 1999. No pro-photographer attitude here, "we show up with what we have" is the one most prevalent. Astronomers would love to get the best and the biggest "camera" available, but in the end its what's available to you. Yeah, I'd say your lens doesn't matter, its how you swing it, and the article above is not so far fetched as we believe.
    And what pro reads DPS for photo tips anyway, lol.

  • Kathleen November 30, 2009 03:01 am

    Instead of schlepping around a full kit and all its weight on a recent trip to New York City, I took just my D300 and the Best Lens Ever Made, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. Sure, there were a couple of architectural details I couldn't get, but I was amazed at what I was able to photograph, and never had to worry if the picture would be soft or distorted. I used to think the Sigma 18-200 would be my walking-around lens, but am now pretty much convinced the 50mm is the keeper.

  • Bostjan B. November 29, 2009 09:30 pm

    Having a Nikon full frame D700, I find the "nifty fifty" 50 /1.4 the best everyday lens. That's somewhat comparable (focal lenght) to 35 mm and with even larger aperture really a great choice. I find it even more useful than 24-70/2.8 8, that is a pro lens. I own 14-24/2.8 which is the sharpest of them all. And no matter what I shoot, if I need sharpness, I go with it. Carrying heavy? Well as I said my 50 is very small and light and once you get used to 1,2 kg body of D700 with battery pack, you don't even feel the difference. Anyway hen I go mountain hiking, my equipment is normally 3 lenses (I leave my macro lens at home) and all weighing around 7 kg. But who gives a sh**? Mostly it's the 50mm I use, and as quoted from bjorn: it's the lens you have on your camera that counts. Ask Ken Rockwell, he'll tell you, it's better to shoot than to carry. I do a bit of both. But when I want, I shoot with what I have on right that moment.
    That said, my long time dream is to get my hands on 400/2.8 lens one day. ;-)

  • Stamos November 29, 2009 06:08 pm

    All people that have answered here have some valid points. However nothing is absolute. I have tried the "have the long zoom on the camera and the small lens in your pocket" approach. It feels great when you shoot the long zoom. But when you change lenses where do you put the long zoom? I have the Tokina 12-24 (which I love), the 18-55 the 28-80 the 50 1.8 and the 70-210. If I take the 12-24 then I will combine it with the 28-80 if no long shots are envisioned, otherwise I will also carry the 70-210. If I do not feel like carrying the 12-24 (which is admittedly heavy) I will get just the 18-55 or combine it with the 70-210. My point is, I try not to get focal length overlaps (some small gaps are not important) and I try to foresee the subject matter so I can always carry the minimum weight. I have even tried the "only the 50" approach but on a DX body it can be too limiting.

  • JP Lumansoc November 29, 2009 06:00 pm

    "A good camera doesn't make a good photographer, but a good camera will open up more creative possibilities."

    There aren't any lenses that are light and "good" unless you're talking about primes which in that case you lose your ability to zoom. People argue that a kit lens 18-55/18-105/28-135 ($100-400) is just as good as the high end 17-55 f/2.8's (~$1k+) or 24-70 2.8's (~$1.3k+). Not true, any advanced amateur/professional will tell you that the steady aperture, fast focusing and brighter view finder along with superior saturation, contrast, sharpness are key to high quality photos. High quality photos (not good photos) come from high quality lenses which usually excludes most 3rd party lens manufacturers and most variable aperture lenses (those little junkers below 500 dollars). To compare a entry level kit lens to pro level f/2.8's or primes is kind of a joke.

    In all honesty, in normal daylight, comparing a little Panasonic LX-3 ($500) or Canon S90 ($420) with a rebel ($500-800)or similar entry level camera + kit lenses. you'll be hard pressed to find any differences on a little 4x6 or 5x7 unless you really want that bokeh. Of course your background is going to melt at f/3.5 at 18mm or f/5.6 at 55mm so that is barely any better than a point and shoot. In all seriousness, if you want a portable camera, a point and shoot with a wide zoom range (Canon or Panasonic) will be enough for something light. People who want high quality photos know that they have to deal with carrying around multiple primes or heavy f/2.8 zooms. My argument, if you're going to travel light, bring a point and shoot, it's almost as good as any entry level SLR. Before you call me an idiot; yes, SLR's focus and shoot faster, they have better dynamic range with less noise and more manual controls. But you cared about that, you would just grab your camera, a nice lens and deal with the weight.

    DPS needs to start screening their posts a little more carefully. The past couple months, articles have been very controversial in what you need or should be doing or should be using or how your using it. Although I do read these with a grain of salt, it seems that you guys are getting more desperate for posts.

    Back to the title of this post.
    My best lens? its a battle between...
    70-200mm f/2.8 IS
    85mm f/1.8
    17-55mm f/2.8 IS

  • Radityo Pradipto November 29, 2009 01:01 pm

    I have to admit that I'd go with bjorn
    Carrying 2-3 lenses when travelling is not that heavy and I still love my 18-200 despite it's low optical quality.
    And if you're really want to travel light, 35 1.8 might be the best option available on the market for Nikonians right now... For me, carrying a single lens might push you to be creative, but multiple lenses will open more possibility in your shots later on

  • Scott Smith November 29, 2009 12:30 pm

    I find that I use my 35mm and 18-55mm lenses the most. The 35mm being the sharpest, I use for portrait shots and the odd landscape/cityscape shot. The 18-55mm mainly gets used for landscape and product (wine bottle) shots.

  • Bjorn November 29, 2009 11:24 am

    I'm not sure how much I agree with the article.

    First, I shoot a D300 and choose between the 18-200VR, 35 f1.8, 50 f1.8 and Sigma 10-20 (old version). I've never found that to be a very heavy setup to carry around.

    Second, _what_ are you going to shoot? That determines your lens choice. If you're on vacation and have no clue what you need, something like the 18-200VR is hard to beat. It's not great at anything, but you're pretty much set for whatever you may see and can produce very nice results stopped down a bit. The 35 is hard to beat on a DX body as a normal walk around if the light's low or you need to really ditch some weight. Leave the zoom at home if light is the issue.

    Final thought: The "best" lens is the lens attached to your body, shot correctly. Not my thought. Thom Hogan's. But very accurate IMO. Know your lenses and get the most out of them. Even better, find shots suitable for the lens you have mounted. They're out there, you just need to approach the shot the right way.

  • Verdoux November 29, 2009 10:10 am

    Paragraphs would make your (Paul K) text a heck of lot easier to read.

  • Mat Packer November 29, 2009 09:22 am

    In Australia we do pay a massive premium for camera lenses, and that's sort of the point I think Kim is trying to make. For example I can pickup a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II lens for about $1,600 AUD out of Hong Kong, whereas if I buy it locally it's closer to $2,400.00 AUD retail.

    Anyway, I just went through a 'lightening' experience myself recently. I cut my kit back from 7 lenses to 4, I sold my 50mm f/1.2L, 100mm f/2.8 Macro, and my 85mm f/1.8. Lens wise I kept my 16-35mm f/2.8 II, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, and my 15mm f/2.8 fisheye. It was pretty easy to cut the kit down, and I managed to get some decent dollars on ebay which allowed me to also pickup a new Canon 7D...

    I also sold my 5D

    My bag is so much lighter and I feel like I haven't really lost much with cutting back my lenses. I pretty much only carry my 24-70mm f/2.8 on my 7D for everyday shooting, and the others come into play whenever I'm shooting portraits.

  • Paul K November 29, 2009 09:14 am

    I have to weigh in on the side of the article's contributor. Although the prices quotes may be a little off, depending of course on where you live (and we're guessing here), the claim that the 35mm f/1.8 is not much sharper/better than the kit 18-55mm is not that far fetched. The two lenses compared at same apertures are marginally different and not field relevant. The fast prime is just that, excellent, when you need to use a lens wide open. If I were going to shoot in a situation where light is of no issue and didn't need f/1.8 or 2.0 for creative purposes, I reach for the inexpensive but nonetheless super kit lens. The issue of VR also brings many opinions to the table. In my experience, VR is a nice gimmick, it really works. The lenses however get larger, heavier and more expensive. Unless you shoot posed images, architecture or brick walls, or test charts, VR makes a big difference. In the real world, however, where kids fidget and run around, birds only give you a fleeting glimpse at them, and foliage sways in the wind, VR is useless. In fact, I must admit that I own a lot of different glass and some is of the expensive VR kind, but my favorites are the old 35mm f/2 prime that fits in my pocket, and the heavier but unbeaten 80-200mm f/2.8. I shoot digital and DX on top of that. The reasons are performance for the size and weight. The tele goes on my camera and the prime goes in my jacket pocket. Sometimes, I do end up hauling a lot of gear, especially where I expect to meet a variety of subjects (ex. never know when a macro opportunity might pop up) but my best images have been done with a lightweight setup. Simply, you can get into more places, and fatigue and lack of comfort do not distract you from the photographic process. Lastly, the criticism of third party lenses may be well founded, I've yet to meet a Sigma lens that does not front focus on a Nikon body, and Tokina suffers from chromatic aberrations, but we can't make that a rule. There are exceptions, and I'm thinking of examples like Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 as compared to the Tamron 17-50mm f.2.8. Yes, the Nikon is better built, but suffers from performance "holes" throughout its range (ex. around 24mm) and is expensive. The Tamron is yet to disappoint me, and having shot RAW with it, I've yet to see a problem with color fringing. Most importantly its lighter and smaller. I don't throw my gear around, and I don't think real photographers do or should do. A self respecting violinist after a concert doesn't throw their instrument in the back of their car's trunk. The next time you see a photographer throw their camera or lenses around without caps on, they are not a "I'm too busy cause I'm so successful" pro, they are just a careless slob. So what I'm trying to say is that although brand name and built quality do matter to a small degree, they should not be the over riding rule when selecting a lens. Size and performance are very important, and sometimes when the compromise is acceptable or minimal, size and weight may be the main factor. A shooter that primarily works in the Serengeti has different needs than one that does a lot of climbing. All in all, lens selection has no definitive rules and is a very personal matter. If you don't know where to start, yes, do ask someone that shoots in a style that you might consider. And if you don't know anyone like that, reading K.Rockwell and Thom Hogan might give you important insights. Still take them with a grain of salt and don't forget to use your own head. After all, its not that difficult to try a lens for a couple days, and if you don't like it, return or exchange it. Do remember though a good lens doesn't make a good photographer.

  • Matjaz November 29, 2009 08:38 am

    I guess that DPS is so desperate for articles that they will let anyone write down anything. I have to agree with the comment before me.

    "Write for Digital Photography School - Are you a digital camera owner with a photography tip to share?... If so we'd love to feature one or more of your digital photography tips here at DPS."??????

    At least have someone from your staff check what these "tips and stories" are about...

  • Sam November 29, 2009 07:37 am

    We really get screwed for prices here downunder. Eg. Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 at B&H is $434 (USD) and here it's $740 (AUD which is around $666USD). Hopefully Nikon follow Canon and drop their prices soon

  • OsmosisStudios November 29, 2009 06:34 am

    I'm sorry, but what?

    If your 35mm f/1.8 was no sharper than the 18-55, then you were either doing something wrong or it was dropped from the top of the Empire State building.

    I also don't know where you're pricing lenses. The Nikon 10-24 is nowhere near the $1500 price tag you assign it: It's JUST over HALF that at present in US stores. Exchange rate be damned, you're way off. Same goes for the 70-300 VR you quote. Don't quote prices in one currency at one point then in another at another point, especially when, after the exchange rate, it's not as bad as you make it sound.

    There's also no use in comparing the Tamron 70-300 with the NIkon with VR: while the Nikon is close to twice the price, it comes with some other plusses besides just VR. It's optically better, retains value better (when you invariably come to sell it, by the looks of things), it's also not that much larger/heavier. The Tamron is ~450g, 3.5x4.5". The Nikon VR is, admittedly, ~750g, but is only an inch longer. The comparative (non-VR) model is almost exactly the same size as your Tamron.

    Sorry, but I'm not buying it.