Trading in 17-50mm Zoom for Primes for travel?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by dan_tybor, Jun 19, 2009.

  1. So I after researching primes vs. zooms on, I wanted to open up a discussion and see if anybody has any advice on using primes as opposed to a zoom when traveling. I have owned a dslr for a few years now and am finally getting a feel for and more experience with traveling and lens choice. Before I abandon the zoom I was hoping to see other's experiences with using primes, i.e. limitations, benefits, changing lenses, etc. while traveling. Do you miss zooms? Are primes too limiting? Do you put one lens on the camera for the day, or have several on hand to swap out.
    My current set up is a Nikon D80, Tamron 17-50mm 2.8, Sigma 70-200mm 2.8, Nikon 50mm 1.8, and the Nikon kit 18-135mm which doesn't see much use anymore. I have been brining the Tamron and Sigma on trips lately. I hate the Tamron, but love the Sigma. Also, I may upgrade at some point to the FX D700 so primes might be a natural move.
    My idea is to replace the Tamron with two primes to lighten my load, not look too conspicuous, and increase speed (the Tamron takes forever to focus). Looking at photos I have taken in the past I find that I have a tendency to either go fairly wide with the zoom, or use the full 50mm zoom. Occasionally I find photos that I have taken that are at about 35mm, especially of friends. I also will break out the heavy Sigma and use it as a walk around lens for people/action, especially for subjects I can not get too close to.
    I really like the 2.8 of the Tamron for low light, and it served me well recently when doing some caving. A 18-200 would have not performed very well in that situation.
    I found that there are two main ways of traveling.
    1) Traveling quickly on tours, busses, observing quickly changing action. A zoom would seem to be more ideal so as not to miss anything. Could primes work here?
    2) Traveling and spending time in one place. Primes seem like they would work well since photos can be better composed due to time not being a factor. I often revisit particular places multiple times in a city for example as light changes and I think of new ways to compose shots.
    I'm still learning so the more info the better. Thanks!
  2. No way would I travel without a "standard" zoom. No way.
  3. I live with a camera + standard prime permanently hanged on my shoulder... but when I`m going for a trip I think a standard "consumer" zoom is way more useful. Simply think on the very different "stages" you`ll find: from an small interesting bar to a distant cityscape... the hall of a cathedral, a close portrait... etc., etc. If you use primes you must give up many photo opportunities.
    You can of course be switching between prime lenses, but IMHO it doesn`t makes sense, for many reasons.
    I`d say the zoom is the perfect tool for unexpected situations, the prime is the key when you look for some previously determined results.
  4. Primes are not suitable replacements for zooms any more than zooms can replace primes. When you need versatility (travel) zooms are the best. For low light, primes can't be beat.
    I wouldn't part with my Tamron 17-50. It's a great walkaround lens for travel.
  5. Also, when I go out shooting, I rarely take more than two lenses with me. Too much equipment is a drag to haul around and all that fiddling and changing lenses wastes time I could be spending shooting.
  6. i use the tamron 17-50mm on shoots that i get paid. it serves me well. but if it doesn't suit you, try a different zoom in that range. maybe a sigma 17-50mm? i believe in travels with a short zoom and a prime in my pocket. or the prime together with the 70-200mm in a light bag. if you have the skills, the nikon 35mm dx might work for you......... or the sigma 30mm that costs a lot of money.
  7. I own several Nikon 35mm SLRs, and four Nikon DSLRs. Plus several really nice lenses.
    But for travel I normally take a good point and shoot which will fit comfortably in my shirt pocket. Heretical, but just to take travel pictures of the Coliseum in Rome, German castles, or Hadrian's Wall in England a quality point and shoot will take wonderful pictures. Really. The main thing I miss with a point and shoot is the GPS I have on the D300.
    If you are lugging around even a light weight DSLR like the D40, you are often focusing too much of your attention on getting a good shot, and not enough attention on the wonderful sights that you are experiencing at the moment.
  8. Hard to beat the versatility and convenience of a zoom when traveling. Besides, I don't know of many primes in the 17mm range - and what there is is heavy and expensive. Looks to me you might enjoy something like the new Nikon 10-24 or the Tokina 11-16 - and then fill the gap to your 50mm and 70-200 with maybe the 35/1.8 or the Sigma 30/1.4?
  9. dan, the tamron isnt an especially heavy lens. it's actually lighter than my sigma 30/1.4. seems like using two primes to replace one zoom not only would compromise focal range for no good reason, but wouldnt be all that lighter, if at all.
    Traveling quickly on tours, busses, observing quickly changing action. A zoom would seem to be more ideal so as not to miss anything. Could primes work here?​
    the short answer: no. primes and quickly changing action dont mix all that well.
    Primes seem like they would work well since photos can be better composed due to time not being a factor. I often revisit particular places multiple times in a city for example as light changes and I think of new ways to compose shots.​
    primes would work better in this situation, but i dont think there is much of an advantage over zooms here, unless it's wider max apertures.
    I also will break out the heavy Sigma and use it as a walk around lens for people/action, especially for subjects I can not get too close to.​
    you do this when traveling? and you're trying to save weight? good gosh, man. why not just use the 18-135 and shoot it at f/8, then switch to the 50 for low-light?
    I hate the Tamron​
    any particular reason, besides perceived focus issues? it's not as fast as the 50 to focus, but the 50, while inconspicuous, isnt really more than a hair sharper at 2.8. plus the 17-50 has better bokeh. so inconspicuousness is the only reason to bring the 50 instead of the tamron.
    it would be interesting to do an entire trip with just a 30 or 35. it might work well on an aesthetic level, but on a practical level, you'd miss a lot of shots.
  10. No way would I do that. My Tamron 17-50 is just too good and very flexible...
  11. Sounds like everybody is a fan of the zoom over prime. I'm only bringing up this topic to see if anybody can manage with primes when traveling and how they might do it.

    Looking back at a recent vacation I'm estimating that I took about 50% of the photos at 17mm and 40% at 50mm with the Tamron, with the rest falling somwhere between. Would I be better served with 2 primes? Use one and pocket the other?
    Thanks again.
  12. I own an embarrassing number of lenses, but always take a short zoom on a DSLR sometimes a 50/1.8, and always a pocketable P&S. The reason I take a zoom is not convenience, but for the ability to disconnect framing from perspective.
  13. As I already tried to point out before - there aren't any 17mm primes around (as far as I know), Nikon and Zeiss make a 18mm (neither is cheap) - and there is an older Sigma 18mm as well. So, which prime do you have in mind?
  14. Dan -
    I ran through a similar thought process before traveling to Disneyworld earlier this year - I ended up with a D80, Nikkor 17-55 2.8, 35 f2, 85 1.4 and a 80-200 - i only carried 1-2 lenses with me, and after a 10 days, my thoughts:
    I was never happy with the 35 - it was rarely the right length, either too long or too short. The 85 was wonderful, but swapping it for the 35 meant more hassle, so it didn't get used as much.
    The 17-55 2.8 was my workhorse, even though I was still not 100% sold on the lens, due to it's size. I discovered that once i had to carry anything more than a pocket camera, lens size wasn't a big deal - the flexibility paid off. The Tamron that you have is a tad smaller, so I think you would find it to be a good all purpose lens, and not as intrusive as you might fear.
    If you are moving around a lot, especially if you have others with you and the main purpose of the trip is not photography, grab the zoom and enjoy the trip:) Swapping lens on the run takes the fun out of things, as it makes you focus on your gear, and not the vacation:)
    However, if you do want to look at a good prime for slower-paced trips, the Nikkor 20 f2.8 is a greta performer - especially on the D80. Even with a 17-55 2.9, I use my 20 a lot due to it's small size, even with a hood. That and the 50 1.8 would be a lightweight set.
  15. I too just returned from a Disney/Orlando trip. I put a LOT of thought into what to take. For starters, the gear had to be compact & light. Good image quality was important, and I mostly look for versatility. I have the big heavy & expensive Nikon f2.8 pro zooms, but NO WAY was I going to drag those along. What if they got wet on a water ride? What if they got stolen? What if I got jostled and dropped one? I ended up putting together a very light/compact versatile travel kit. It is Nikon D80, Nikons 18-55mm VR & 55-200mm VR, polarizer, Canon 500D macro "filter," spare battery, SB-800 flash. That's it. Not one single "prime" lens. They are relatively heavy and not at all flexible. That relatively inexpensive camera kit did 99% of what I wanted it to do, including night shots. Image quality was very good. I just don't get the fascination with single focal lenses. If you are taking shots in extremely low light where f2.8 just isn't enough, then I understand it.
    I've come to think that the most versatile set up for travel would be either a Nikon D5000 or D60, Nikons 16-85mm VR and 70-300mm VR, Nikon SB-800, Canon 500D, polarizer. Like the two lenses I use, these two use the same filter size, which is great. I'm cheap though and couldn't justify buying these two more expensive lenses since they wouldn't be my first line glass. As for the Nikon 20mm f2.8, I owned that lens. Even the 18-55mm VR kit lens beats it at 20mm and f5.6, and weight is less on the kit lens.
    Kent in SD
  16. I've traveled with both zoom and primes setups. In an ideal setup, I would have a 28-105 AF-S (that Nikon doesn't make...) plus some primes to get something extra at specific focal lengths. Currently I travel with primes, though. The thing is that travel, like event photography, often features many changing scenes (at least my travel photography does, of course it's different for different people) and to make photography smoother having a normal zoom would be beneficial. Primes come out then when low light capability is needed, small size is needed, perspective correction is needed or simply higher quality at a given focal length. Of course traveling with an all prime setup is quite doable.
    For the specific questions:
    1) I don't do tours that much, especially not large tours, since they would be restrictive anyway on how I want to spend my time. If you're in a group with a couple of people with a guide of your own, then things work better.
    2) Primes are OK, so are zooms.
  17. I travel with 28mm and 50mm (and, sometimes, 20mm) primes with a full-frame body. It's certainly possible to travel without a zoom.
  18. I travel a lot on business, so photo equipment has to be minimal. Normally I carry an 18-200 VR and take a lot of snapshots. Always had a lot of pictures, but there was always something that kept them from being photos such as softness, contrasting, etc.
    On my trip to Italy last week, I switched to the kit 18-55 and tried to keep it on 35mm to see what it would be like to have a 'standard prime' (on a DX).
    It was an amazing difference. With the zoom I always took at least three photos of every 'cool thing to see'; wide, mid, and zoomed in. But treating it like a zoom had a very different effect. After one photo, what do you do next?? These were taken in situations where I could not move around (car, plane, bus, shorline, etc). So I started working harder on the composition of the photo and started getting better photographs versus a lot of snapshots. Both have their places, but simulating using a prime was more conducsive to doing photography versus tourist pictures. Make sense??
    Since the trip, I purchased a D700 with the Nikon 50 / 1.4G. Can't wait until the next trip to see if my theory works out. I'm also instrested in the original question of this post as to what primes work best, so keep the posts coming.
  19. "Both have their places, but simulating using a prime was more conducsive to doing photography versus tourist pictures. Make sense?" --Tony V.
    As I gained experience, I came to see things the opposite way from that. Creativity and better shots comes from previsualization, not what gear I use. If I can do that with a 35mm lens, I can do it with a zoom. It's a mental process and only requires experience and a little discipline. First, I visualize the shot, and then I select the gear to make it happen. I don't stick a lens on the camera and then try to make all my visions fit that artificial self imposed limitation. I start with analyzing the light first anyway, as that's 90% of the photo. With a zoom, I start off having more options to execute my previsualizations in the first place. My point is, as I gained experience over the years, the more I came to appreciate flexibility and versatility.
    Kent in SD
  20. Dan,
    Does your Nikon 50mm get a lot of use? I suggest spending some QT with that lens, and see what it can do. On a recent trip, I brought my 50mm and my 18-135mm - kit lens. I also have a D80. Now, there were a few moments I longed for my 70-300mm zoom, but that was rare, and I found that my 50mm got the most use. The 50mm is fast and sharp. It works well in low light, and is good for pretty much anything. Of course, there are times you must have a zoom lens, sounds like your 70-200 would fit the bill perfectly. Or the 18-135.
    If it were me, I'd trade in the Tameron you were thinking about replacing with a specialty lens, like a fisheye, or a macro lens. Or, I'd sell it and put the money towards my next vacation. :)
  21. I travel all the time with primes. It really isn't that difficult to do. But I also use zoom lenses. I enjoy using my prime lenses since certain ones have specific characteristics I am after. I don't have any zoom lenses that I can use to take portraits of my wife that are quite as nice as my 105mm f/2.5. I also don't have a zoom that I can use in some of the dark interior settings I go to while traveling.
    There is a role for primes and zooms - I think the selection has more to do with your style of shooting than whether you are traveling or not. Even on a bus tour, I observe 'quickly changing action' and if I do, its not something I like to take pictures of. When I stay in one location for longer, I seldom scout out a location and select the 'best' prime lens for the job. This is because of my shooting style. So ultimately it just depends on your style. (BTW most of my primes are also MF lenses, these work very well while traveling too)

    Let me give you an argument 'pro' primes. You can have a three lens kit, 17mm (Tokina has a MF and AF version) 35mm, and 85mm (all these could fit nice into your jacket pockets or a tiny hip bag. I would find this FL range more than adequate, but it depends on what you like to take pictures of.
  22. "I hate the Tamron" and "My idea is to replace the Tamron with two primes to lighten my load, not look too conspicuous, and increase speed (the Tamron takes forever to focus)."
    Strong words when you "hate" a lens, cant you moderate that a little? I mean when people say that stuff, their words have the potential to damage a companys reputation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Tamron, we have used one for a couple of years and you wont find a sharper or closer focusing zoom with out having to pay over $1000.
    You will be sorry you sold that lens because your "primes" wont focus down to even half the distance of the Tamron. As for the autofocus, its quite acceptable for a lens of this zoom range. Are you shooting high speed action or split second moments that a millisecond difference means you didnt get the shot? The Tamron is a general purpose lens for landscapes and travel to minor portraiture. Once again pay over $1000 for a lens that is fractionally faster at autofocusing than the Tamron.
  23. I wouldn't trade my Tamron 17-50 for the sole reason that similar lenses (equivalent to 28mm in full frame format) aren't readily available (seen any great, similarly fast and affordable 17mm primes recently?).
    At the moment I'm also shooting 35mm using 28mm and 50mm primes.
    Stick with the Tamron and think about all the things you can do with it rather than the few things you can't.
  24. The only reason I would get rid of my Tamron 17-50 would be if Tamron would improve the AF.
  25. it seems a lot of people here can't live without their primes, but i think you've go the right idea - less gear = less attention and weight. when i had a kit zoom, i was like you - most pix were either at 18 or 55 mm. i've traveled and lived abroad a lot in the past several years and found that having 50mm and 28mm is enough. here are pix from Rajasthan that were all taken with a 50mm 1.8 - and here are pix from Sikkim, India that were all at 28mm -
    i think those lenses are a good set up to cover many situations.
  26. I think a zoom is essential for travel. I use my Nikon AF-S DX 18-105. BUT I use my Sigma 30mm F1.4 when I need to shoot available light street scenes because I find the noise above 1600 ASA with the D300 is unacceptable. I also use my Nikon 50mm F1.4 as my prime museum lens. Great in these no flash situations and great for people photo’s too… (Effective focal length: 75mm).
  27. i'm not sure if i made this clear, dan, but an 18-135 and a 50 is a pretty good lightweight travel kit right there.
    you could add a 10.5/2.8 fisheye for wide shots and still have a fairly compact kit.
    i would hold on to the tamron if i were you, though.
  28. May I suggest a different approach--namely pick a camera bag first, then select the gear to fill it to an optimal level or weight. Optimal might mean the weight you can carry on your shoulder or back for a full 8 hours or more, without fatigue. In the days of film, that could be a Domke 803 satchel bag with a pair of OM slrs plus 4 primes (Zuiko 21F3.5, 28F2.0, 50F1.2 and 100F2.0). In my case, that's a Nikon D60, with 18-55VR, 35F1.8 and either the 55-200VR zoom or the new Tamron 60mm F2.0 macro lens--the selected bag for me being the medium (DR-467) Kata backpack camera bag.
    As for primes, the new (and still not widely available) 35F1.8 is Nikon's ONLY DX prime amid a stupendous range of DX zoom lenses. Btw, the 35F1.8 was the SOLE reason I selected the Nikon D60 over the Panasonic G1. With the D80 and it's built in AF motor, you of course have a wider choice of Nikon FX AF primes.
  29. I love primes, but for me I think it would be a hassle on vacation.
  30. I guess that zoom lenses have become so ubiquitous that many people don't even realize that there is such thing as a lens that only has one focal length, much less imagine what that might be good for. That's kind of a shame too, because I think learning to use a single focal length well hits somewhere in the top five for best ways to learn to see and to make good photography. Could even be in the number one spot. I wonder how all of those greatest of the great photographers managed to make all of those famous photographs without the benefit of a 70-200 2.8 VR AFS ED EX DG? No way could all that have been done with only a mere 35 or 50mm lens. Or could it be that one can learn to work within those limitations to the point where they no longer are?
    Yeah, zoom lenses are definitely convenient and sometimes necessary for things like sports and such, but if you think you can't possibly get by without one while travelling (okay, you might be going on safari, I spose I'd want a long zoom for that) think again. Maybe you just need to work a little more at 'seeing' photographically. Once you learn how to work well with just one or two fixed focal lengths, you will not only get most of the shots you want, you'll be spoiled by their superior speed and image quality.
    I travel constantly for work. I use one film camera with nothing but a fast 50 and that gets me probably 90% of everything I shoot for. I have a little compact digital (Canon G10) for those instances where I just have to have a little more reach (or color) and it only occasionally comes out of my bag.
    In my opinion, you should keep your Tamron, or some other zoom in the focal lengths you like, but try going for a week or two with just one prime screwed into the business end of your camera and you just might be surprised what you can do with it.
  31. When I was shooting film, I traveled mostly with primes. I never traveled with more than one zoom, Generally the Zuiko 28-48. With my Xpan, there was no choice.
    I never, never, never felt limited. Although after a trip to Italy with the D3 and the 17-35 I got some good shots, there was never a time when I wouldn't rather have had something smaller and above all, faster.
    Bill Pearce
  32. I am a fan of primes - at least for film. But, the fact of the matter is that I think that good modern zooms out-resolve my digital camera anyway, so zooms are very useful.
    last year I took the 17-50mm on vacation with me. this year I took the 18-70 (nikon) because I would be in inclement weather a lot (and it has a seal around the mount). I found my results with the 17-50mm to be much better (who knows, there are lots of explanations). A good standard zoom is a fine lens to have on vacation, unless it is a "photo" vacation. In which case take some fast primes as well.
  33. whoops - I also took a 12-24 last year - thus this photo.
  34. It also depends whether you are travelling alone, or with your family or travelling companions. If not alone, can or will they wait for you when you change lenses? Are you out all day, and want to travel lighter? The best lens is the one you have on the body when a photo op suddenly emerges.
    To be short, I'll bring the zoom to be prepared, and leave the primes home on a travel. (on a photo shoot, however, things may be different)

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