Lenses for travel photography (New Zealand)

Discussion in 'Travel' started by stevenseelig, Dec 12, 2017.

  1. For many years I have relied on zoom lenses with my Nikon gear. More recently, I have switched to Sony 7 series and fast prime lenses.

    Feb 2018, my wife and I are traveling to New Zealand in a small group tour and I am wondering if anyone has experience or thoughts on choosing primes vs zoom lenses for travel photography in general and more specifically New Zealand. While we will experience some wildlife shooting opportunities, I suspect most of the pictures will be more landscape and/or people pictures.

    I am interested in the conceptualization around using primes in travel photography

  2. Might be useful to know which lenses you already own.
    There doesn't seem to be any native FE-mount fixed-focal-length lens that fits that bill.

    I have tried to create a travel kit around a Sony A7 - and ended up with adapted M-mount Voigtlander 15/4.5, 21/1.8, 40/1.4, and 90/2 manual focus lenses and a 28/2 AF lens. Relatively compact and with enough spread but still sufficient spacing in between. And certainly limiting towards the long end (though I could have added my 180/3.4 if need be - but then the bag starts getting full and heavy).

    The Zeiss Batis lenses (18, 25, 85, 135) make for a nice spread too - but there's at least one lens missing in the center of that range (which the Zeiss 55/1.8 would fill nicely). And 18mm might still be a bit too long for me.

    Personally, I rather would travel with 12-24, 24-105, and 100-400 (or 70-200 to keep weight down and if wildlife isn't on the agenda) then any set of primes. I already started down this path by trading all the above mentioned M-mount manual focus lenses for the 12-24/4 and a 70-200/4.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  3. With the A7, I'd prefer 2 or 3 primes and one telephoto zoom. Identify your go to lens that you will use for 70% of the time and a WA and tele zoom that you will use for the rest of the time. The FE 55/1.8 is a very nice lens if that FL meets your needs as a go to lens. Check out the FE 100-400mm for a telezoom. For an ultra wide angle, you can check out the F-mount IRIX lenses (11mm or 15mm) or Samyang lenses (14mm) or M-mount ZM or CV lenses.

    My wife and I are visiting that same part of the world in April and I've decided to go with a DSLR, although I am still undecided between the D800e and the D500 and still undecided with respect to which lenses to bring.
  4. Bodies
    Two a7RII

    The lenses I currently have are
    Sony FE 28mm f 2.0
    Sony 21mm adaptor for the 28mm f2.0 (makes the 21mm f2.8)
    Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f1.8
    Sony GM FE 85mm f1.4
    Sony Zeiss FE 24-70 f4
    Sony FE 70-200mm f4

    This collection is not too heavy.

    I tend to shoot with the 28mm and the 85mm most of the time and I find the IQ to be quite good. Generally I find the 55 a bit too long or too short so use it less often.

    Dieter, why would you prefer the zooms. I know Sony has a new f4 24-105. Have you tried it?

    But I am wondering about how to think about travel photography with prime lenses. Are primes too restrictive in terms of focal length to deal with the variable focal length needed?
  5. Nope, haven't even seen one yet. In stores only since Nov 30 AFAIK.

    More flexibility, less lens changes. I can't possibly pack all the primes I think I might need and even if I could, too often the wrong one would be on the camera. I like to react to situations as they present themselves and with primes only, the need to change lenses constantly puts me off. With primes only, I know there will be gaps in focal length coverage and there are techniques to deal with those (panorama stitching, cropping; and no, "zooming with my feet" isn't one of them); they make more work and aren't applicable in all situations. With primes I feel I have to pre-visualize even more than I have to with zooms. When looking at a landscape I need at the same time evaluate whether to use an ultra-wide, wide, normal, short, or long tele; with zooms I have at least some range always covered. In essence, I have to work a lot harder when using primes than I have to when using zooms. Primes often have the advantage of being smaller, lighter, and better performing. The size and weight advantage can quickly dissipate when I feel the need to carry too many of them. Stopped down when shooting landscape etc., the performance advantage may also be not as big as many expect or even non-existent. Fast aperture primes have their advantages too - shooting in low light, indoors, or for star-trail/milky way shots.

    Primes can work for me if I am concentrating on a particular subject, but generally, when traveling, I am open to anything. I could roam the streets with just a 35mm or 28mm doing street photography only and would not miss other focal lengths - if that was all I was interested in. But in reality, I might be shooting architecture now, then a street scene close, then one more distant. With a zoom I can react, with a prime in those kind of scenarios, I'd be missing shot after shot. Or would be swapping lenses like mad.

    While I could get a lot done with the 28, I would feel very much lost with an 85 (I do own one but it only ever comes out when I am doing portraits). Since you have the 24-70 and 70-200, I am wondering why you prefer the two primes?

    Is 21mm wide enough for you? If so, then I think you already have a very good travel rig. Otherwise, add the 12-24/4 and you are good to go. Or the 16-35/4 instead if the other is "too wide".

    They are for me. More work, requiring more discipline. All primes is just not for me; most of the time anyway. If one finds that one is shooting at either end of the zoom almost always, then it could make sense to replace the zoom with primes (adding lens changes into the mix that before only required the turn of a ring). There are people who are happy with just a 50, or a 35 and a 50. Or a small set like 28/35, 50, 85/100. Not me.

    The problem for me was that there was no one lens that gives me that percentage as most of my travel shooting so far would split about equally between the 16-35/4 and 70-200/4. I even felt the need to add a 50 to bridge the gap. And when traveling with only one body, the wrong lens would be on the camera most of the time; the two body solution adds weight and cost. When I looked at my wife: most shots taken with the 16-80 on a DX body, augmented by an 11-16 and a 70-200/4; I re-evaluated my approach and got a 24-105 for my Nikon.

    I mentioned the three lenses 12-24, 24-105, 70-200 (or 100-400) above - either three-lens set would cover about 98%+ of everything I would want to make images of when traveling. With in-camera image stabilization, I wouldn't even need fast primes - though they could come in handy on occasion (mostly playing with shallow DOF).
  6. Hi Dieter, Your note is consistent with my dilemmas and thinking. BUT, I would still love to use my primes if possible....Just trying to understand how to do that well, if it is at all possible.
  7. Pick a set, be aware of the limitations that set imposes on you and then just do it. A lot has to do with your mindset - don't fret the ones that got away but enjoy the ones that you do get. Make the decision on which primes to go with and then don't ever question it.

    I currently don't have a full set of primes that I would be happy with. The manual focus M-mount lenses I owned came pretty close to a set I could have worked with: 15 to cover the ultrawide, 21 for wide, 40 for the normal stuff and 90 - would be better if it had been a 135. And the 28 to have at least one AF lens.

    You said you like the 28 and 85 - so you could put them on your two bodies and be ready to shoot with either. You didn't answer my question about the 21 being wide enough - so I assume that you are happy with what you have. 21, 28, 85 (the 55 seems not to suit you so leave it home). Do you feel you need to get something longer than 85? Within the Sony system, there doesn't appear to be anything longer than 135mm primes.

    I don't seem to be the right person to answer your question - maybe someone who primarily or exclusively shoots primes will come along and explain their approach.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  8. It would be as useful to try to pick your travelling companion or wardrobe - you are the photographer who will be there and have the equipment you already have, you will be taking the pictures with your own style. :rolleyes:
  9. Agreed. This is my travel mindset vs maximizing coverage when traveling. I have found that I do have a go-to lens when traveling; from the time that I have acquired them, that go to lens has been either my 35/1.4 ART or my 50/1.4 ART, with the 20/1.8 AFS or 24/1.,4 ART as my WA, respectively, when using my D800e. It's on the long end where I have flip-flopped between primes and zooms. For the upcoming trip, I may opt to bring my recently acquired Sigma 150/2.8 although if I had $$$$, I would love to get an 80-400mm AFS.
  10. I used standard length zooms for a LONG LONG time, and have gotten used to them.

    When I shot 35mm my travel kit was 4 lenses: 24mm, 43-86/3.5, 80-200/4.5 (not the larger f/4 or f/2.8 zooms), 105/2.5.
    The reason for the zooms vs. primes was simply convenience. I did not have to move to change the image crop (I was shooting slides), nor did I have to change lenses (if I was shooting primes).
    The 105/2.5 was carried simply for it's f/2.5 speed, vs the f/4.5 of the 80-200 zoom. But was otherwise a duplicate lens, and was not used much, and could have been left out.
    When I was younger, the weight of this 4 lens kit was not a problem to carry.

    Today for 35mm, my travel kit would be smaller, 2 lenses: 24mm, 35-105 (or 35-135).
    Again the standard lens is a zoom. But one with a wider range than the 43-86.
    The kit is smaller because as I get older, weight has become an issue. And by using a standard zoom with a little more reach, I can avoid carrying a longer lens.

    For Nikon DX, it is 2 lenses: 18-140/3.5-5.6, 35/1.8
    The 18-140/3.5-5.6 is a decent GP lens, with it's only fault being that it is a slow lens, hitting f/4.5 at 40mm and f/5.6 at 100mm.
    The alternative is the 16-80/2.8-4. Shorter range, but a faster lens.
    I could actually shoot with only the 18-140, but I've been in enough places where I wanted a faster lens, so I would not have to raise my ISO to 16,000. And the 35/1.8 does not add much space/weight.
    If I wanted additional focal length coverage, I would add a 10-20 wide zoom, rather than a longer lens.

    For Nikon FX, I would take a 24-120/4, 50/1.8.
    The 24-120 range fits my idea of a good general range. I used to shoot with a 24mm on my film cameras, so I am used to having that on the wide end.
    Similar comment about the 50/1.8, it is there for shooting in dim light, but can be left out if weight and space was an issue.

    Now, as for an all prime GP kit for 35mm or FX, I would do: 24, 50, 135

    Unless I KNOW that I need a longer reach, like for shooting distant wildlife, these lenses are generally adequate.

    In your case with your lenses and what you said, I would do: 28 (with the 21mm adapter) + 85.
    But for wildlife, your only long lens is the 70-200, which depending on what kind of wildlife, may not be long enough. But longer zooms are bigger and heavier.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  11. Thanks Sandy. I do understand that.

    Dieter... generally 21mm is wide enough for me. If I need wider, I will shoot a panoramic, either on a tripod or handheld. I have have had a fair amount of success with handheld panoramics.

    Beyond the lense question, I am trying understand how a prime lense photographer thinks about travel photography. How do they think, what do they consider, how do they look at scenes, etc.
  12. When I look at a scene, I think about what focal length I will need, and what is on the camera.
    Even with a zoom, I may immediately decide that I need to switch to the wider or the longer lens for that particular scene, and what I want to do with it.

    Similarly I may decide after looking through the lens, that the lens on the camera (zoom or prime), is not giving me the image that I want, and I need to change to a different lens.

    The other thing is that I may and have shot the same scene with a wide, normal and tele lenses. Each lens or zoom position to get a different image. If I do this often, it could be a hassle with primes. But I view changing lenses as something that has to be done, to get the image, not something to be avoided. And that is what the SLR was designed to do, change lenses.

    My only issue with changing lenses was the lens mount. My first SLR had a Pentax screw mount, which made changing lenses slow and tricky, so I did not want to changes lenses as much. So my next SLR I went with a bayonet mount, and changing lenses was so much easier and faster.

    For me shooting primes (including fixed lens cameras) means that I have to use my feet to crop the image, vs. using the zoom, moving towards or away from the subject. So getting the image as I want it takes a bit more work with a prime.

    Maybe the fact that I started with fixed lens cameras then prime lenses on SLRs, a long time ago, makes it easy for me to shoot both primes and zoom.
  13. When capturing an image on travel, I generally look for 3 attributes in a scene, in this order: 1) What is the primary subject of interest? 2) What are the supporting elements that support the primary subject of interest? and 3) Are there other peripheral elements?

    I can usually imagine what lens I need for a given subject (wide / normal / tele), constrained by the primes that I have in hand. Would I be able to do the above with zooms? Of course, but I have a personal affinity toward fast sub-f2.0 lenses (which is why the f1.8 Sigma zooms are sooooo tempting). I am not always successful with this approach, but that's how I instinctively compose a scene.

    Here's an example from a trip from a couple of years ago. I had my usual 35/1.4 and a 20/1.8, and I opted to capture this with a 35mm. Applying the above approach to this image, the primary subject is obviously Mt. Fuji; the secondary elements that support that subject are the blue sky and water. Peripheral elements that provide additional support are: 1) the fisherman and 2) the treeline, small buildings and everything else closer to shore.

    One other thing: I also seem to have an affinity for the rule of thirds. In the image: the mountain, the sky and the water. I think this kind of vast scenery would be comparable to scenery in Aus and NZ.

    Info: D800e with Sigma 35/1.4 ART. ISO 100. Exposure: 1/1600 at f/8. -1 EV

    Last edited: Dec 13, 2017
    jon_djon likes this.
  14. "Shoot what you have, as good as you can"?
    Dunno, I have been messily shooting primes for a while. Somehow I tend to end with zoomless kits. For 6x6 B&W film it was a Mamiya with 55 &135 mms plus a 75mm folder. I like Leica. APS H & FF, the usual line 21, 35, 90 + 15, 50, (135). - I don't feel having enough bodies; i.e. 3 would be more desirable than my 1.5 ones to get closer to complete coverage instead of just shots of things that happen to fit the mounted lens' frame. Clarifying: Yes, I do change lenses, while I have the time. to do so, but assuming I am hiking in a group, I'm under pressure. I lack the strength to jog cycles around my co travelers and need time to frame and take shots, so I am too slow, period. - Depending on the terrain I am supposed to master 3 bodies out would probably not always be an option. In an urban environment with paved even paths I'd be fine with them. So I try to anticipate what I'll face next and mount lenses accordingly.
    I also travelled with APS_C; either Pentax / Samsung: 2 bodies, 135/2.8, (50/1.4), kit zoom, 12-24/4 or a pair of Fujis & consumer 16-50 & 50-230.
    Back to Steven:
    I'd suggest trying to ask yourself:
    1. What is this, that I do have? - (The answer should includes a lot of adjectives! )
    2. What am I after?
    3. What am I expected to deliver?
    4. What am I willing and (or?) able to carry?
    Example: 1. I have a line of heritage wides for my Pentaxes. -14/3.5 bad & bulky, unspectacular 20, 24, 28 /2.8s, 24 bulky AF f1.8, 28, 35, 50 f2s, decent 50 & 100/2.8 AF macros which are on the heavy end and the shorter one suffers from lack of a focus range limiter. crappy 70-300 AFs, heritage cheapo 300, 400 & 1000. All that stuff stays at home. The long zoom isn't worth bringing, the long bottle bottoms would require a tripod, and the wides are too unspectacular to pack them instead of the dedicated APS lenses. When I toss a 2x converter into my 12-24, 18-55, 50, 135 mm kit, I am even sufficiently backed up; i.e. I could enjoy the rest of the trip with one lens lost.

    I have a 90/2 for Leica. It stays at home; I'm packing an f4 instead. - Much lighter, way more compact and still hard enough to focus for a wide open shot.

    IMHO a travel / landscape picture is more likely to benefit from DOF, sharpness, either IS or maybe tripod usage than from insane lens speed. - Yes, I am lusting after a stabilized 85 mm for my Canon but such a lens is meant for the opposite of travel pictures. - If you shoot a full length person in a landscape with a 50mm, isn't f5.6 and focus on your subject providing sufficient background separation and still an idea of the environment?

    I don't feel a huge difference between zooms and primes. With both we become conscious of the too short long end's reach, or
    I hear him; that was the reason why I brought the 75mm folder between my TLR lenses.
    So with 2 bodies I'd prepare the best and 2nd bet, to approach subjects. My first look would always be for the available light's demands. Darkness might rule out the 90/4 and demand 50 or 35 mm on Leica. Same about 135/2.8 or zooms and 50/1.4 on Pentax. Movement of my group might also suggest shorter focal lengths, loitering longer ones, Boredom around monuments triggers my 15mm selfie mood.
  15. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    I just take something simple when traveling. On my last trip, I took just a Fuji X100T with its fixed 35mm lens. Never had a problem, just found the photos instead of struggling with carrying more stuff or changing lenses. You can see how this worked here - My 2017 Travels in Spain and Portugal – Jeff Spirer (The airplane photo at the beginning was taken with a phone.)
  16. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    haha! Jeff beat me by a few minutes. I was about to link to his Spain and Portugal Photos. My opinion is there are some real gems in that Portfolio..

    To address your question - I travel about every 12 to18 months: I used to diligently take two DSLR bodies and four lenses: one/two Zoom and three/two Primes. Long story short: now I (still) take a 5D Series and my 24 to 105/4L IS USM, (but I forget the fast 35, fast 135 and Fisheye / or a 16 to 35) .. back in 2013, I bought a Fuji x100s, subsequently, on my last trip, March 2017, the Fuji was used for about 80% of my images.

    If I were as dedicated as Jeff, I would categorize and upload a comprehensive file of my Fuji x100s Travel Photos - but I am not so organized as he, but a couple of additional points aside from weight, pocketability and fun of use the Fuji is also great with and R72 filter on - so here is one:



    If I had Sony 7 Series - I'd look at a Sony Distagon T FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA, (and maybe one other Prime - in the range 85 to 135), that would do me for my Travel requirements.

  17. I had a similar photo trip to to a distant place I had never been before, Iceland. The scenery is fantastic, as would be New Zealand. I carried a mix of primes and zoom lenses, but my mainstay proved to be a Sony 24-70/2.8 GM. My second most used lens was a Sony 70-200/4, which is light and very sharp. I also carried a Sony 16-35/4, but used it in only one situation, mud pots where you had to stay on a walkway.

    In urban settings, a big zoom lens is heavy and obtrusive. A good wide angle prime seemed the best choice. I have a Loxia 35/2 and a Batis 25/2. The 35 was a little long for my last, so preferred to use the Basis 25.

    I carried, but did not use a Loxia 50/2 and a Sony 90/2.8 Macro. As it turned out, the 24-70/2.8 focused close enough for any closeups I wanted.

    As important as camera gear, I carried a laptop with a card reader, disc burner and a wallet full of Blu-Ray discs for daily backups. Most US electronics can use any voltage, but wall adapters are a PITA. My brother brought an outlet strip with US sockets and a European plug, rated for 120-240 VAC. You risk a fire or minor explosion if you use a 120 VAC strop with 240 volts, and any case, the voltage protection circuit vaporizes the first time you use it.

    The only wildlife in Iceland were horses, sheep and foxes. Foxes are very shy and live in remote places. Horses come to you begging, and sheep ignore you completely. I hear there are sheep in New Zealand, and some unusual native birds.
  18. I forgot to think about wildlife: Isn't today's budged-birder pretty much limited to a long slow zoom like 100-400 by Sony / Canon (Tamron) or Nikon's 200-500? Combining such with a prime based 35mm FOV might work.
  19. Thanks for all the input. I really appreciate it. I enjoyed Jeff's webpage. Not only because of the wonderful photography, but also it demonstrates what one can do with a single lens. It reminds me of the old saying 'The best camera in the world is the one you have in your hand at the moment.'

    Keith and Gary...thanks for reminding me to think about the fundamentals with whatever lens I have with me.

    One of my concerns is this is a small (10 people or so) group trip so flexibility in shooting may be restricted some. We shall see. My bias at the moment is to start with the 28mm (+21mm adaptor) and 85mm primes. But I will have the 24-70 f4 (or the new 24-105 f4) and 70-200 f4 in the bag just in case. The new Sony 100-400 is a good lens and might be considered as an alternative to the 70-200 f4, but it is very heavy. Not sure I can convince myself of the value of the extra weight for this trip.

    When we went to Peru a few years ago I took my 14-24 f2.8 Nikkor lens and never took it out of the bag. Instead, if I wanted a wider perspective, it was faster and easier to shoot a hand held panoramic with my 24-70mm f2.8 (not a perfect solution, but practical).

    I will add to this my GoPro for our zip line adventures.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2017
  20. If I had the Sony 100-400 (on my short list), the 70-200 would have said home. Many times, a long lens makes rugged terrain more dramatic in a photo, especially if a recognizable object is in the foreground.

    Sony A7Rii + 70-200/4 @ 200 mm
    _DSC2864 HDR-Edit.jpg

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