Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I'll be travelling through China/Nepal this coming September and have been trying to figure out which lenses would suit me best during my trip. I'll be visiting many temples/ monasteries and many outdoor venues (Great Wall, Himalayas etc). Currently, I'm thinking of the following two lenses and would appreciate any feedback regarding my choice as well as any alternatives that I may not have considered:

  • Nikon 35mm f1.8 AF-S

This would be the lens I'd use in the evenings (landscapes in low light, people) and indoors (temples/monasteries, people). I'm pretty much settled on this lens, but may be a 50mm prime would be better? (APS-C camera though)

  • Nikon 18-200mm AF-S VR II

This is meant to be my "day" lens. I'm really after versatility here, would really prefer a single lens that would cover - landscapes, wildlife and in general would allow me to take shots while in a moving vehicle. I'm not convinced that I need 200mm though and, given its poor performance in the 70-135mm range, I wonder if Nikon's 18-105mm VR or even 16-85mm VR would be sufficient? I have been playing around with friend's 55-200mm VR and I'm having to crop to get nice photos of wildlife (having 16MP to work with helps).

Weight is an issue, not only because I'm travelling but because my camera is fairly light. I'd say the 18-200mm is just within my budget, so please keep that in mind. I'd also like to hear any other 2-lens combos that could potentially cover my needs.

I will also be carrying a tripod to do panoramas, video, and timelapses.

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4 Answers 4

Were I taking this trip, I would need a super wide angle lens, and would be looking at the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X or the same maker's 12-24mm f/4. Combined with the 18 - 200 VR, and my wonderful, cheap and very light 50mm f1.8, I would have most things covered, although I might be cursing having left my 70-300mm at home - oh, no, I think I'll take it too, and find a sherpa to carry it all!

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I'll second the Tokina 11-16mm. And this is a pretty good argument on how best to use it: kenrockwell.com/tech/how-to-use-ultra-wide-lenses.htm. I also find that using Lightroom's perspective adjustment allows you to get all sorts of useful results. –  acjay Jan 15 '13 at 3:04

I think those sound like good choices. A fast 35mm would be good for interiors and low light, and the 18-200mm is made for a walk around and travel lens.

I know dpreview says it's soft around 135mm, but I haven't noticed, and other reviewers (byThom for example) didn't notice it either:

Sharpness is very good throughout most of the range

Just steer clear of test charts on your travels and stick to photos of real life things.

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"Just steer clear of test charts on your travels" What does that mean? –  TheIndependentAquarius Mar 14 '12 at 3:45
    
Sorry, attempt at humor. Meant in real life situations you may not notice "soft" spots in lenses that you would notice when testing with test charts –  MikeW Mar 14 '12 at 4:38
    
don't have to say sorry, What are test charts? any examples? I have a prime lens, how I can test it for sweet spots (whatever they mean)? –  TheIndependentAquarius Mar 14 '12 at 4:42
    
Test chart is something like this: luminous-landscape.com/images/rd-figure-8.jpg You should ask about how to test as a question (if there isn't one already) - would be a good question. –  MikeW Mar 14 '12 at 5:11

Not specifically a recommendation, but:

An exercise that I found to be very enlightening was reviewing photos in Lightroom, sorted by focal length. (The focal length sort plugin proved useful.) Looking at the focal length of the photos I shot on various trips -- as well as only the photos I most liked and their focal length -- showed me something interesting about how I shoot, though perhaps unsurprising: I have favorite focal lengths. For example in 35mm-eqivalency, I found that somewhere around 35mm encompasses about 40% of my shots. That's clearly a favorite focal length of mine. Conversely, photos shot at about 50mm were a very small part of the library -- I simply don't use that focal length.

When choosing a lens or lenses, I can use this data to make some assumptions about how I'll shoot, what I may find useful, and therefore how to lighten the load. I love the idea of taking my Sigma 30mm f1.4 (45mm-equivalent), but the truth is I won't use it much so I should just leave it behind, for example.

Analyzing how you shoot could help to tell you what lenses might be useful. If comparing the 18-200 and 16-85, you'd be able to glean if you'd miss the 86-200mm range, for example. (I suspect, however, that these are all new purchases so you don't have much experience to rely on. If that's true, sorry I'm not helping!)

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Thanks for the feedback guys!

@Dan - My thoughts about the 35mm (or equivalent) exactly. Stuff I shoot with my 18-55mm kit lens falls more towards 35mm rather than 50mm. Obviously, if I had an FX camera I'd go for 50mm, which is where a lot of the confusion comes from everywhere I look. People just don't put their recommendations within proper context. I don't think I'd miss 70-135mm range as most of the stuff I'd be shooting during the day would either be landscapes or something in the distance, and nothing in between. However, after using 55-200mm kit lens @200mm I'm realising that for good results shooting wildlife more zoom is required. Lenses with longer zooms are unfortunately out of my budget and are too heavy to travel with anyway. I guess I'm looking for advice from people who have tried shooting @200mm in similar environments/conditions.

@Gillie - All those lenses look very nice, but I don't think I'm willing to lug around 3-4 lenses (or more)! One thing I forgot to mention is that I'll be taking a tripod with me. I'm planning to do videos/timelapses, but I'll also be able to take some nice panorama shots with it, so I'm quite disinclined to take a dedicated wide lens.

I'll keep playing around with the lenses I have and those that friends have lent me to help me decide (I have time till September), but any additional feedback is always welcome.

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It's best to add the above as comments under each answer. Also if you have additional information, you can add it to the original question. –  MikeW Mar 13 '12 at 9:23

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