The Perfect Sunrise

by NULLZ

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I want to upgrade from compact (Sony 24x superzoom) to more enthusiast-style camera.

After extensive search and comparison (dpreview.com and elsewhere) I have selected Sony SLT A55, Lumix GH2 and Nikon 5100 to be the best cameras for me. So I'm looking for lenses for Sony Alpha, Nikon F or Micro 4/3rds. The final decision about the camera depends on the lens that I can mount on them.

I travel a lot and I'm fascinated by nature, people and cities when traveling. I want to use the new camera with the lens to shoot those things.

I estimate I will shoot following types of shoots at this rates with the lens:

  1. Landscape: 30% (includes natural scenes, different kinds of human creations/architecture, travel mates on in different situations and environments).
  2. Wild life: 15%.
  3. Faster action: 15%. Not Olympics, but shots like birds, my travel-mates jumping over rock gaps, locals playing football, etc.
  4. Indoor/Low light (late evening): 15%.
  5. Portrait: 15%.
  6. Macro: 10%.

I don't want to play for photographic safari, so the lens should give good results in all six situations and should still be portable (under 650g).

I prefer faster auto focus so I can take picture in right moment and one after another. Especially when shooting wild life (#2), faster action (#3) or portrait (#5). It should not be too noisy and should provide some kind of image stabilization (not necessary if camera itself has good enough stabilization — if I remember it right only A55 is the case). Other than that, the only criteria is best photos quality given those six scenarios above.

I understand all the disadvantages of having single lenses for all these purposes. I'll definitely buy some lens to use when not traveling later. But for traveling I can only carry one lens with me. I'm technically skilled, I have some experience with DSLC and I understand the terms. Please, do not hesitate to suggest high-end solutions and be technical in your answer if you prefer.

If appropriate, please also comment my choice of cameras or suggest another one. My final goal is to achieve best photo quality in the six situation (above) in with equipment of travel-enabled size and weight (given the fact that I'll not carry tripod and I like fast AF).


EDIT: As the first scenario (Landscape) will do around 1/3 of all my photographic activity with this lens, I think that the one sure requirement for the lens is that the wide end should be 28mm equivalent to 35mm film (typically 18mm or 14mm for Micro 3/4).

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Do you think some "superzoom" like 18-200, 3.5-5.6 with optical stabilization and some faster AF could do the trick? Is there some good available for Sony Alpha or Nicon ? –  drasto May 20 '11 at 16:44
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Or some shorter zoom would be better? For example 28-150 equivalent for 35mm? –  drasto May 20 '11 at 16:53
    
I have a Sony SAL18250 - same as Tamron 18-250 with a few tweaks. Tamron now make an 18-275 instead. Try one of these - it meets most of your requirements well enough - arguable as well as any single lens is liable to do. I'm not sure exactly why Itai says it 'will not cut it' for wildlife. Sure - focus can always be faster, aperture bigger (f/3.5-5.6) focal length longer - BUT it's as good as any for the $ and better than most. For low light the in body stabilisation is a vast asset. And you can add a cheap f/1.8 at some stage for really low light work. –  Russell McMahon Dec 2 '13 at 9:56
    
Many of these were taken with the 18-250 as above. Random Musings –  Russell McMahon Dec 2 '13 at 9:58
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7 Answers

The problem with your prerequisites is that you've painted yourself into a corner.

First you asked for a single lens suitable for landscape (generally wide) and wildlife (long or very long). This restricts you to the few super-zooms around.

Then you've asked for that same lens to be good for fast actions and low light, both of which require bright lenses. Even ignoring Macro, you will find exactly ZERO lenses that satisfy your needs.

You need to give in somewhere. If the range is most important, then you will find that each of those brands has exactly ONE barely-adequate current option:

Yet none of these will truly cut it for wildlife. Since weight is an important factor you may want to consider that two Micro 4/3 lenses will weight the same as one APS-C. If you cut the long end out of the requirements you will have much better options, particularly with Nikon (Nikkor 17-55mm F/2.8 or 24-70mm F/2.8).

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+1 I have done some search before so I know that there are NO lens that would satisfy at any price or weight. That is also true when I forget about having really good tele for wild life. But that is also main point of my question: What should I cut ? That is beyond my experience and no study of reviews can answer that... I have provided rates for what I want to shot and I would like and advice what to cut to get best possible quality. Well to have tele end longer then 200mm is will be useful only for wild life. So I should probably cut that as so huge zoom will probably further degrade... –  drasto May 21 '11 at 0:09
    
...optics quality. But then what else should I cut? I have seen some good fast action shoots done at 5.6 aperture at 200mm. So may it be that I can shoot fast action with something like NIkon 18-200mm provided it will not always be perfect (higher ISO required)? And do I need fast lens for portraits shoots? If not and I can shoot some action with 3.5-5.6 than I should probably just cut low light requirement and hope that higher ISO and longer shutter at 3.5 will do... Is it right? Otherwise, I should probably consider cutting the telephoto. –  drasto May 21 '11 at 0:22
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The fact that your top two are landscape and wildlife point to two lenses, at least one for each end. I know weight is important but if you can anticipate the need for wildlife then you know when to bring the big one. That problem never goes away, I travel with 2-3 cameras and 4-7 lenses and I still have to choose which ones to leave behind! The Micro Four-Thirds system is great for keeping weight and size down, I blogged about it a few months ago: blog.neocamera.com/?p=1192 –  Itai May 21 '11 at 0:26
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ISO compensates for speed but it does not for optical quality or depth-of-field. The truth is you can always manage with what you have but will you be happy with it? Classic portraits are taken a wide apertures to blur the background. Lenses whose widest aperture is F/5.6 are generally soft there and need to be stopped down, sometimes to F/11 which is very dim. Honestly I would certainly rather shoot less often than with less quality. –  Itai May 21 '11 at 0:57
    
Yes that might unfortunately be the point where I'll end up: I'll just have to shoot less - I'll just not be able to shoot some situation. So wild life seems to be a most problematic one... Can I find a better solution when I give up wild life ? The other way is to consider something like @mattdm suggested in combination with super zoom: the one from sony that you linked is quite light so I might be able to carry one more small (rather pancake like) wide-aperture lens for portraits and low light. –  drasto May 21 '11 at 2:25
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First, for your fast focusing requirement: skip any camera that must do contrast-detect AF (which pretty much knocks most m4/3rds out of the running). You'll end up with a camera that is great from a portability perspective, but will be consistently frustrating as it hunts through its zoom range to find the best contrast.

Second, for your lens requirements:

  • No one great lens will do it all, and no one lens that does it will do it well.
  • A 18-200mm or 18-270mm might work for you. I'd look at Tamron/Sigma.
    • These lenses are consumer-level lenses intended to get back to a 10x+ zoom experience.
    • The lenses, when compared with their shorter zoom and prime counterparts, are significantly less sharp and more prone to distortions and chromatic aberrations.
    • The lenses are often slow; they may start out nice (e.g., f/3.5 at 18mm) but they will quickly end up at f5/6 or f6.3 well before you've hit the end of the focal length.
  • If you can live with two lenses, I'd suggest a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm + 1.4x TC or even a 100-400mm.
    • Neither are light lenses. My 24-70mm f/2.8 is nasty heavy and could have been used for weight-training. But it's fast to focus, fast wide open (f/2.8), and has gorgeous optics. My 70-200 f/4 is lighter than my 24-70mm f/2.8 and I can say the same things about it: fast focuser, good light performance (though not tops; the f/2.8 obviously wins), and fantastic optics.
  • If m4/3rds is absolutely required, try the Panasonic 45-200mm plus either a pancake prime or the kit 12-42mm lens. The 45-200mm is bulkier on the m4/3rd body, but is a reasonable performer, though slower at focusing. (Forget chasing animals with this one.)
  • Finally, let's go through a few more things:
    • IS (optical stablization) always makes a lens heavier and more expensive. If you can drop the IS, you can usually get the next stop lower lens for the same price at a similar weight.
    • Fast glass always makes the lens larger, heavier, and more expensive. Further, fast glass isn't always better. (Case in point: Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 -- not as sharp as the 1.4 through most of the aperture settings. So much so that some wedding photographers love it simply due to the "dreamy" effect it can produce.)
    • A nifty-50 is never a bad thing to have in your camera bag. They are almost universally cheap, light, and have high-quality optics (even if the Canon 50mm f/1.8 feels disposable -- it is --, but it has great glass). Put it this way, My 50mm f/1.8 goes with me, period. Low light, check. Decent focal length, check. Weight, next to nothing. May as well go in the bag along with everything else.
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Thank you for your answer, it looks like a considerable opinion even thought it did not give me new information or suggested new solution. Contrast AF in GH2 is not super fast or super precise but I have tied it in the shop as much as I could and it compares really very well to Sony's and Nicon's phase shift AF. In the fact I'm much more concerned about image quality: especially skin colors it and poor JPEG straight from camera (I cannot see myself shooting RAW really). If there wasn't these GH2 would be the clear winner because of portability. –  drasto May 21 '11 at 12:17
    
Another great think with GH2 is that it removes practically all chromatic aberration and distortion in the camera right before it even reach you eye, so even with 14-150 superzoom quality is at both ends is very comparable to lens with much less zoom. But that is still not quite going to make for murky photos and bad looking portraits... 24-70 are not suitable for me if they are heavy, the other problem here is that for Landscape I really need 28mm equivalent. The last think you suggested might actually be the solution - superzoom for most cases and very fast small prime lenses for bad light. –  drasto May 21 '11 at 12:30
    
The E-P3 supposedly does very well with contrast-detect. That technology is improving rapidly; I don't think it's useful any more to exclude it wholesale. Pay attention to individual cameras just as with any other focusing technology. –  Reid Jul 27 '11 at 14:57
    
Until contrast detect can tell which direction it should go to achieve focus, I'll personally rule it second to phase-detect. That said, the E-P3 looks like a gorgeous camera, and if it wasn't that my E-P1 was in fine shape (and still love it), I'd be seriously tempted. –  Kerri Shotts Jul 28 '11 at 4:42
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Your narrowed-down camera choices are still pretty far from each other, and suggest a certain price range more than they suggest a particular feature-set or usage preference.

You're right to be looking at lenses for the decision, though. The question How much do lens lineups vary across platforms? might be helpful.

However the six scenarios you give don't really narrow things down much. Mostly, that's "I'll do a bunch of general stuff", in turn that suggests that you'd be fine with anything from either of your three choices (or from a dozen other options, really).

I know you've said that you want only one lens while traveling. Take a look at Matt Grum's answer to What are some common gotchas and missed capabilities migrating from compacts to DSLRs, which someone just asked a few hours ago. The first two points are "overreliance on zoom" and "being afraid to change lenses." I agree whole-heartedly. Superzooms are so full of compromises that you're really not getting much advantage in going to a larger-sensor camera. Once you get used to it, it's much less hassle to transport and change multiple lenses than you might imagine.

So at this point, my advice is to consider what your heart is telling you to get, go with that, get the several lenses you need, take pictures, and don't look back at the brand choice. It's pretty much all good.

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Some parts of my question (After extensive search, I'm technically skilled, I have some experience with DSLC and I understand all the disadvantages of having single lens) where meant to stress that although I'm upgrading from compact and a beginner in that respect I really understand that due to physical limitation it is necessary to use different lens to take good photos in different situation. But it is just a fact that I can have only one lens and because I'm a beginner I don't know which one should I chose. Why I can have only one lens: Next summer I might be traveling... –  drasto May 21 '11 at 0:50
    
Yeah, I got that. But you can be traveling and have more than one lens. –  mattdm May 21 '11 at 1:02
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Pentax DA Limited 15mm + 21mm + 40mm + 70mm = 573g. Fit them all in this: photo.net/equipment/pentax/da-limited-lens-case –  mattdm May 21 '11 at 1:13
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The four lenses I listed above are all not just good, but excellent. The heaviest of them is 212g, and that's wider-angle than you strictly say you need. Leave that off and you're down to 361g — lighter than the one lens you're considering. Pair it with the K-5 if you can (660g), and you're still less than 1kg. Or shave another ~ 100g and go with the K-r (which is one sensor model back from the cameras you're looking at but still good). The K-r also takes AA batteries, which may be a plus for travel. –  mattdm May 21 '11 at 1:22
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On the side question (which is really broad enough to be its own question — photo.stackexchange.com/questions/11641 hits some of it), it really depends on your lighting. Many portraits are taken quite stopped down to ensure sharpness. If you shoot at f/1.4, you risk having the ears and tip of the nose both be blurry. I usually shoot portraits either wide open with the DA 40mm f/2.8, or at f/5.6 if I have a nice background and artificial lighting. –  mattdm May 21 '11 at 13:04
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A superzoom fits the bill in terms of travelling light while covering most eventualities. As for buying advice, simply get the best you can afford!

Given your choice of cameras, I would choose the Nikon. The Lumix isn't a true SLR, and I've heard differing opinions on the SLT system of the Sony. Nikkor lenses are almost universally excellent - they have an 18-200mm VR lens which is supposedly very good.

As with all new camera purchases, don't buy based only on online reviews. Go to a store and try out several models (and lenses if possible). Only then can you be sure of a happy purchase.

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Hands-on is great, but think the try-at-the-store advice gets more repetition than it should. You can't really get to know a camera in a few minutes at the store. There may be things that seem important (either amazing or annoying) in a short time that turn out to be no big issue once you're accustomed to the camera; conversely, important pros and cons may not be readily apparent. So, sure, handling at the store is nice, but don't oversell it. I'd rather borrow, rent, or buy from somewhere (local or online) that will let me use the camera (lightly) for a few weeks and then return if necessary. –  mattdm May 20 '11 at 18:06
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@mattdm: Or you can simply buy something based on the reviews, use it for several years, and then you will really know which features you miss in your current choice. And then you can make a more informed choice when you are upgrading the camera. I don't believe anyone can really learn the full capabilities and limitations of their first DSLR in a few weeks... –  Jukka Suomela May 20 '11 at 18:29
    
+1 One of first thinks that I did (even before reading all the review carefully) was trying in the shop: I tried HG2 and A55 but Nikon one could not be switched on. At least I know how big they are and I learned that Nikon's lens correction is not enough for me. I liked HG2 controls and steady grip of A55 but it did not tell me anything about quality of photos indeed. Anyway I really like mattdm's comment, I should not overestimate this short and limited hands on experience. –  drasto May 21 '11 at 1:53
    
No, but you should nevertheless do it. Renting can be expensive, you may not know anyone who owns a DSLR, and the chances of a store letting you return any used camera is slim IMO. –  ElendilTheTall May 21 '11 at 7:54
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A lens like 18-200mm would suite you best. Just to be safe you could pick up a 1.4x converter. With a spec like what you have in mind its difficult to do it with a single lens because it will either be very expensive or there definitely will be a quality loss. I suggest you look at Canon 550d or Canon 60d also because Canon has more range of lens.

Also for traveling a Battery grip (the one below the camera which can hold a extra battery also) will be helpful not only to provide the extra juice but also by helping you shoot vertical with ease. This would help you in your portraiture.

For macro work you could buy extension rings. This is very light but very effective and also don't cost a much.

As for low light photography you could pick up a Gorilla Pod. Its handy and can be easily stored. And you can literally fix it anywhere.

Just to conclude, a lens with a f-stop 2.8 or lower would suite your needs but its difficult to get it cheap and moreover it wont be light. So I am guessing something like

  1. A 18-200mm lens
  2. Extension tubes
  3. 1.4x Teleconverter

would do the trick for you. Hope this helped.

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Well if I understand it correctly then what you suggest is not posible: There are no lens 18-200 that has f-stop 2.8. If there was, that would be easy solution to my dilemma. And I would buy it instead of asking here. Anyway, your answer was were useful at least for that extension ring and Gorilla Pod. I might not use Gorilla Pod for serious traveling (it is quite heavy - few grams more and I can have fast prime lenses for that) but it is useful to know about this option. So +1. –  drasto May 21 '11 at 5:12
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Since you'll be doing landscape mostly and you value portability, I'd suggest a µ4:3:

  • More depth of field than APSC (which is good for landscape)
  • More compact lenses (which is good for portability)
  • The body itself is smaller too

and a camera with a quite fast AF could be the Olympus OM-D (but it's quite expensive though).

about the lens, the Panasonic/Leica 14-150mm is like a 28-300mm on FF and the OIS is very handy on the long side:

http://panasonic.net/avc/lumix/systemcamera/dslr/lens/zoom_lens03.html

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Buy the fastest zoom you can afford 14-150mm f-3.5 or better and when you need to shoot wildlife put a tele-converter which are very cheap and turn your zoom to a 300mm maintaining optical quality.

For my telescope I use 3 small bags filled with beach sand to stop vibration at high magnification (stars & planets), the bags are placed in the middle of each leg of the tripod.

other choice is a 500mm mirror telephoto lens for about 250 dollars at 6.5 f-stop ( about 300 grams), good for most wildlife in daytime!

Other lenses which are available would include prime lens 50mm f-1.8 for about 100$ or a 40mm f-2.8 prime lens is also good for architecture and wide angle photography - from 150 to 200 $, or f-1.4 for about $400-500

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Could you confirm whether you are the seller of the items you've linked to? –  Philip Kendall Mar 20 '13 at 12:02
    
hmmm, yeah, looks suspicious to me... –  Paul Cezanne Mar 20 '13 at 13:43
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In any case, please don't use link shorteners. There's no need, and they obfuscate the target. Let's not make our visitors follow mystery links. –  mattdm Mar 20 '13 at 14:22
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@john: Please add a disclaimer if you are the seller. Generally speaking, answers that are used solely to sell personal items are not very useful in the long term, and will be deleted. Second, if you are linking to a legitimate item on the net, please use full URLs. Shortening them also obfuscates them, making it unclear what the links actually point to and increasing the risk for anyone who clicks on them. –  jrista Mar 20 '13 at 15:52
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