Orquid "Phoenix"

Orquid "Phoenix"

by ceinmart

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I'm flying soon to Mongolia for a few weeks and I'm still somewhat of a beginner to photography, at least equipment-wise! So, I'm looking for equipment advice mostly. I currently have a Canon EOS 400D with an 18-55mm lens, and I recently purchased a 50mm F/1.8 prime (can't wait for it to arrive!), but I realize that to properly capture the open plains and skies of Mongolia, I'm going to need a wide angle.

I don't have a massive budget to spend, and to be honest, I've been a bit rough on my camera in the past and don't want to bring a long an expensive lens while I'm backpacking. Is my 18-55 going to be good enough? I'm definitely willing to purchase a new lens to take with me, and I would prefer something that would stay useful to me after Mongolia when I move to a city for a bit (heading to Sydney, Australia!).

Also, what would be the right filter to bring along? I don't know much about those and only have a UV filter at the moment.

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Nat, please can you be a bit more specific about your budget - how much would you prefer to spend, and how much is your maximum? –  Maynard Case Aug 8 '11 at 9:45
    
Im looking to spend about $500ish max on a new lens at the moment.. though maybe a bit more.. but I'de hate to see it get ruined out in the desert! –  Nat Edmonds Aug 8 '11 at 10:53
    
Hi Nat. Welcome to Stack Exchange! This works best with questions with single answers, rather than threads with multiple topics mixed together. You'll find a lot of good existing information in these questions tagged 'landscape' — or if there's areas (or best, specifics!) that you don't find covered, please ask in new questions. (And if you find areas where you have experience please contribute what you know as answers!) –  mattdm Aug 8 '11 at 13:12
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I spent a while in Mongolia and frankly I think that what you (will) have is fine, with some minor tweaks.

I'd add a good quality circular polarising filter for your kit lens as well (cheap ones have weird colour casts, good ones are colour-neutral at all angles).

For super-wide shots, I was quite happy with stitched 17mm shots. I don't think wide lens is a must. MS has a free stitcher that does a fair job if you make an effort to rotate your camera sensibly close to the lens' nodal point.

Night-time photography is also possible and with the crystal-clear skies I'd heartily recommend it. Watch out for the sharp temperature changes to night-time and the resulting condensation on your equipment. Also bear in mind that your batteries will have a significantly lower charge at low temperatures so it's worth keeping your spares close to body heat. A tripod isn't absolutely necessary if you find convenient resting places for your camera.

Unless you're in Ulaanbataar you might not find convenient charging points, so battery-saving measures make sense (disable review, lower lcd brightness, keep batteries out of camera unless shooting...) and I'd consider packing some spare memory cards too.

If you've got a point+shoot camera, bring it with you - you won't always have the time to whip out your dSLR ;-)

Lastly, I'd strongly recommend lots of practice of the various shots you'll be taking so you can spend more time enjoying the experience and less time setting up shots; having a list to hand of the shots you know you want is also quite helpful.

Oh yes, and expect your gear to get fairly dusty, no matter how much care you take to keep it clean. Dust spots can be removed after the fact fairly easily in any case.

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Thanks so much for your advice! Yes, I have a point+shoot which I bought to accompany my dSLR and I always make sure to bring them both! I'll definitely invest in a decently filter, and I'm glad to hear that I wont have to bring another lens, I wasn't looking forward to bringing 3 with me! I have a nice (ish, in my opinion) travel tripod, a Weifeng WT-3110A, which is really lightweight and gets the job done in the past! Looks like what I really need to invest in is a good bag and some more batteries and memory cards! –  Nat Edmonds Aug 8 '11 at 12:04
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I think 55mm is quite limiting for landscape photography. It is common for beginning landscape photographers to think that wider is better, and just hit the 18mm focal length over and over, or stitch images together for even a wider shot. Detail shots that can only be achieved with something above 100mm are just as important to the story in my opinion. –  dpollitt Aug 8 '11 at 15:45
    
Whilst I agree that there's no need to go very wide, I don't think 55mm is an issue in this instance. Accurately stitching 100mm or longer panoramas is an exercise in patience, perseverance and experience producing such panoramas at that focal length. I would also add that travelling light is important unless you're specifically going just for a photography. –  StephMW Aug 10 '11 at 11:42
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Personally I would stick with the 18-55 as it will be good enough, and instead invest in A) a good camera bag B) a good tripod C) a polarising filter D) a set of full and graduated neutral density filters

If you're travelling around you want a well-made bag to keep your stuff safe, preferably one you can lock with a padlock.

Any self-respecting landscape photographer needs a good, solid tripod. Don't bother with a cheap and cheerful one, they're just a waste of money.

A polarising filter is great for deepening skies and reducing glare and reflection from the long Mongolian grass, enriching the colour.

Finally, full neutral density filters can be used to make long exposures (think dreamlike clouds in the massive Mongolian sky), and graduated ones will let you get properly exposed shots when the sky is significantly brighter than the land. See this question for more info on them.

If my budget was $500, I'd spend $100 on the bag, $300 on the tripod, $70 on the ND filters and $30 on the polariser.

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Thank you! Yes, I've been wondering about getting a camera bag and now I think I will! I have a tripod, a Weifeng WT-3110A which is pretty lightweight and I've been travelling with for a while. Looks like it's a bag and filters for me! I commented on another answer that I'm glad I don't have to buy another lens to lug around, I prefer to travel light :) –  Nat Edmonds Aug 8 '11 at 12:08
    
Lightweight isn't necessarily a virtue when it comes to a tripod, but if you're happy with it, that's up to you. Seeing as you've freed up $300, you could get yourself a couple of spare batteries and memory cards just in case. –  ElendilTheTall Aug 8 '11 at 12:14
    
Well, I've never had any other tripod! And so far I havent used it that often and did get it as a gift. I just don't think I would buy another seeing as I have this I guess! I don't really know what makes one tripod better than another. –  Nat Edmonds Aug 8 '11 at 12:29
    
I just googled this tripod and saw how cheap it was! What should I be looking for in a better quality one? –  Nat Edmonds Aug 8 '11 at 12:35
    
@Nat: see photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2505/… for tripod info. –  mattdm Aug 8 '11 at 15:28
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For that price range, your best bet is to upgrade to a single lens that has a wider range then your 18-55mm kit lens. Landscape photography typically requires a wide angle as well as a telephoto lens, so by having only 55mm as your longest focal length right now, you are going to be limited in what you can achieve. Canon offers two great options: Canon EF-S 18-200m f/3.5-5.6 IS EF-S($600USD) or the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6($400USD). The 18-135mm is less expensive and has comparable image quality to the bigger and more expensive sibling.

While its focal length range is shorter than the 18-200's, the 18-135 is less expensive and has image quality that is similar or slightly better in sharpness and distortion.

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what about fish-eye lens? I have Samyang 8 mm for few weeks and found it absolutely fantastic for stitched panoramas and also for those "planet" panoramas.

Ken Rockwell wrote a nice review about this lens here: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/8mm-f35.htm

the lens is not so expensive, costs about 360 USD.

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Fisheye is great for about 1% of special photos. Or if you are really into action sports. Other then that, the effect is really limiting in my opinion. –  dpollitt Aug 8 '11 at 15:46
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