Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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Newbie photographer here and really hoping for some expert advice! I go to Alaska on honeymoon in July and really need some advice on lenses.

My camera is the Canon EOS 1100D (told you I was a newbie!) and it came with the following lenses:

  • EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 (I've read it's pretty poor)
  • EF 75-300mm f 4-5.6 III USM (again, read it's not great)
  • EF 50mm f1.8 II (read it's a pretty decent performer, if on the cheaper end).

We are having four days in and around Anchorage before embarking on a cruise from Juneau. I have read that non-specific questions are hard to answer, so here is what I want:

  • I would love to take some memorable landscape shots (I am relying on the 75-300mm as our telephoto, though I am expecting it not to perform too well). I have it in my head that I need a wide angle lens for these landscape shots, but to be honest I am not sure how wide I need. The only decent lens I have at the moment is the 50mm, so I don't know if I should be looking at a 24/28mm prime or if I should get a more versatile zoom.

  • Price wise, I don't want to blow a huge hole in the honeymoon fund on something I am probably not good enough to get the best out of. But I also don't want to buy a crap lens that won't be worth the investment.

  • I don't mind taking a few lenses, as we have a pretty large travel bag that can accommodate them if we need to, but again is the inconvenience of swapping lenses outweighed by the benefits of having a good prime?

  • Is it worth me even taking the 18-55mm or will I be better off without it?!

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4  
Have you considered renting rather than spending a load on a lens you're not sure you want? –  ElendilTheTall Apr 11 '12 at 10:01
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At the risk of attracting the ridicule of the aficionados, if your budget stretches to it I'd recommend the Tamron 18-270 mm, f/3.5-f/6.3. –  Russell McMahon Apr 11 '12 at 10:21

5 Answers 5

I know this isn't a relationship advice site, but that's the route I'm going to take anyway.

In my experience, family trips and serious photography do not mix — and I think it's at least double-true for honeymoons. This isn't an anti-spouse or anti-family concept; in fact, it's probably even stronger if you're both into photography. While some rare photographers may both photograph their experiences and be of them, for the large part, photography is an activity of observation, and almost by necessity an activity which puts you at some remove.

I have a photographer friend who won't shoot weddings anymore, because he wants to be a part of such celebrations, not an outsider. This is like that, except even more because it's your own celebratory time.

When you're on a vacation — especially your honeymoon — you should appreciate the experiences you are having, not focus on the recording of them. Even if photography is a passion and something which you are able to experience in the moment, that participation is a very different thing from enjoying your trip. New places should be adventures, not potential photographs; people you meet, new friends, not new subjects; new experiences, actual experiences right then, not possible captures for future reflection.

Taking amazing landscape photographs requires significant time and effort — preparation, scouting, watching the weather, following the light learning the location, deciding on what to say and how to say it. If you want to travel for the sake of photography, that's awesome. I'd suggest, though, that it's best separated from the vacation trips. If you want to make great landscape photographs and don't have the budget for remote locations, that's okay: concentrate on what you are able to return to again and again. Ansel Adams spent years at Yosemite; those famous photographs aren't from a trip there, but from spending his life's energy on knowing the place.

I'm not saying you shouldn't bring home some nice snapshots as memories of your trip. There's nothing wrong with snapshots — despite the sneers one might picture on hearing that term, they are after all the primary purpose of most photography. But I suggest putting your DSLR away for this trip. Don't bring more lenses, and especially don't bring a big, bulky zoom. If you've got a nice compact camera, bring that, and if you don't, borrow or rent one. (You can rent a Canon G12 for a week for less than $50.) A high-end compact will let you get high quality images if a moment comes up, and as a bonus, you'll be more comfortable handing it to a fellow tourist to take an occasional photo of you and your new spouse together.

You'll be able to bring home including some memorable landscape shots, which won't rival those from National Geographic, but which you'll be happy to look at in years to come. More importantly, you'll be able to leave the camera in your pocket, and concentrate on bringing home memories of an experience that won't repeat.

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Thanks Mattdm - not the advice I was expecting but nevertheless welcome! My fiance is also a budding photographer, and so hopefully it will be an important part of the honeymoon, but I absolutely appreciate what you are saying about investing time in finding the right shots. Thanks for the response! –  Jonathon Craig Apr 11 '12 at 12:28
    
This was going to be my answer. Before our honeymoon, my soon-to-be wife bought me a Nikon 35Ti. If we were getting married today, the idea would be similar: a Fuji X100. Take something small that will capture great images. And then make it all about being together and capture that. You have an entire lifetime to go for traditional landscape shots. You only have a week or so in order to capture honeymoon shots. :) –  Eric Apr 11 '12 at 20:26
    
-1 from me, because I took a whole lot of photos on our honeymoon (though it's probably worth mentioning that it wasn't our first photo vacation together, so we both knew what to expect; not even the first where I rented a lens). –  drewbenn Apr 12 '12 at 7:16
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I do agree to a certain extent, when I'm out taking pictures I'm in a very introvert mode, and trying to both take good pictures and spend time with my girlfriend I end up doing neither of them well ... –  SoftMemes Apr 12 '12 at 16:33

I agree with mattdm - honeymoon and photo tour don't mix

But, even if you decide to ignore his advice you really don't need any new lenses.

The kit lenses aren't as bad as people say - they aren't as good as the L lenses obviously but they are pretty good compared to anything other than pro gear (just compare pictures from your "bad" 18-55 to any point and shoot)

Your lenses will not produce pictures that are to the technical standard of National Geographic or high end fashion commercial work - but you are not on assignment from National Geographic - pictures from the kit lenses look just fine on screens and printed at sizes that fit into albums

The impressive landscape (and wildlife) pictures you see in books and magazines are taken after an experienced photographer spent days or weeks scouting and planning and than returned to the same spot again and again and again (sometimes for years) until the weather is completely perfect - no lens will let you bypass all the hard work.

And most important - enjoy your honeymoon.

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Thanks Nir. Sounds like investing in a new lens for honeymoon is not the plan! Follow up - you said the 18-55 lens will still stand up to any P&S and will print fine on small scale - what about if I wanted to blow one up? Had a vision of putting a panoramic landscape onto 3 pieces of canvas to mount (just in our home). Read wide angles need a big canvas to capture their size, but not sure the sharpness of the lens will really allow me to do this? Whats your opinion? –  Jonathon Craig Apr 12 '12 at 9:24
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@JonathonCraig - they blow up just fine - when normal people (that is, not photographers or printing experts) look at pictures they stand at a distance that let them view the whole image, so the bigger the image the farther away they stand - that means that at comfortable viewing distance the picture will always look just fine. also, you can always shoot the picture as a panorama (shoot multiple pictures of parts of the scene and stitch them together in software) that technique will let you simulate a better and wider lens on a bigger sensor with better resolution without any extra equipment –  Nir Apr 12 '12 at 18:41

At the risk of attracting the ridicule of the aficionados, if your budget stretches to it I'd recommend the Tamron 18-270 mm, f/3.5-f/6.3, or older 18-250mm second hand.
Sony have lightly modified the 18-250mm version (iris petal shape and focus gearing ratio) and sell it as their SAL18250.

I'll risk saying that you'll never regret buying this lens. There are few lenses that do more for you as a general purpose lens for the money and it will happily be the single lens solution to most of your holiday needs. It more than replaces your 19-55 and 70-300 (30mm on the top end is unlikely to be missed). The 50mm f/1.8 still has an occasional place.

Here's an 18-270 on ebay "manufacturer refurbished" for $US425. Seller has 4289 sales and 100% positive feedback. That's probably as cheap as you'll get an as new one. Used, anything can happen.

Wide range zooms were always well down the range for quality - until Tamron produced their 18-250 and this is the next model on. The prior 18-200 were rather inferior optically. No one lens with such a wide range will do everything and it cannot match $3000 lenses (of course) but results are very very good for the $ and very very good by many absolute standards.

Here is the Dyxum site user evaluation of the Minolta / Sony mount version. Essentially the same lens optically.
The older 18-250mm version averaged 4.36/5 from 34 user reviews.
The newer 18-270mm rated 4.45/5 from 2 user reviews.
Ratings are based on 5 parameters and the 18-250 ratings were
overall ratings: 4.36
sharpness rating: 4.46
color rating: 4.62
build rating: 4.32
distortion rating: 4.03 flare control: 4.38
total: 34 reviews.

New price is officially a tad under $500 but ebay has them for somewhat less than that new. Th factory refurbished one should be as good as new.

Actual 34 x reviews here

As a walk around lens this is very hard to beat.
250mm or 270mm will about match your 300mm.
18mm matches your 18-55mm.
You have 2 stops less light gathering capability than your f/1.8 50mm which is an excellent lens despite the low price. (Good quality largish aperture 50mm primes can be built cheaply as they are relatively simple and were largely perfected optically decades ago.)

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Russell thanks so much! I had read that Tamron had some optical compatibility issues with Canon, but I take it from this that the Tamron 18-250 range has eliminated this? –  Jonathon Craig Apr 11 '12 at 11:55
    
@JonathonCraig - I am not a Canon user - my advice as re the lens optically and I was not aware of any brand specific compatability issues. There are no doubt Canon sites equivalent to Dyxum (Dynax / Maxxum = Minolta = Sony) that can comment. I see them for sale on ebay but that does not mean that they don't have problems. That said, Tamron are very experienced and have much Canon experience, so I'd be surprised if there were major compatability issues. That said - surprises sometimes happen :-(. –  Russell McMahon Apr 11 '12 at 12:55
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The advice re leaving the SLR home MAY be sound :-). The Tamron would give you one camera and no fiddling with lenses etc BUT while the lens is small for what it does it's still large relative to a point and shoot. You could ask your fiance. eg "I was thinking that just maybe I'd leave the SLR home and just take a ... - the photos won't be as good though. What do you think ...?" :-) –  Russell McMahon Apr 11 '12 at 12:56
    
I'd agree with mattdm, that you don't want to have a bagful of lenses and a bulky camera to drag around on your honeymoon, and that it's probably better to aim for high-quality snapshots. That said, the 18-270 lens does work on a Canon body (I know; that's what I use, albeit on a 500D rather than an 1100D), and it's really not very bulky or heavy to carry around... that's what I've taken on holiday for the last several years, and not having to change lenses or carry masses of kit is a real boon. Enjoy your honeymoon! –  Matt Bishop Apr 11 '12 at 14:01
    
"On trip" I carry the 18-250, a 50mm f/1.8 and a 500mm AF mirror (lightish, compact 500mm!) The 18-250 stays on the camera 99% of the time. –  Russell McMahon Apr 11 '12 at 14:20

That's a pretty good setup. I would bring it all plus a tripod, shutter release and ND + CP filters. And definitely bring the wide angle with you (18-55) to shoot grand vista landscapes.

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You have a pretty good set of lenses. They'll cover everything you need for the trip. The 18-55 is a good wide-angle lens, the 50/1.8 will get you good pictures indoors, and the 75-300 will get you those long shots. So you're not really missing anything.

The only lens upgrade I'd recommend, until you've gone out and taken a couple thousand pictures with those lenses to learn for yourself what you need, is to get a long lens with image stabilization (IS). If you're new to photography (and even after you're not!), IS helps you keep a lot more pictures by making up for your poor form or the fading light. So if you have $250 that you absolutely must spend on camera equipment before your honeymoon (and you already have extra batteries and memory cards!), you could look into a lens like Canon's 55-250 IS (which I've gotten some great pictures with, despite it being criticized as not very sharp). It's not optically any better than the 75-300 (and may even be a touch worse, I don't know), but the IS will turn a lot of otherwise-bad shots into keepers. Sigma's image stabilization is called OS (Optical Stabilization, I believe) and Tamron's is called VC (Vibration Compensation?), if you want to look at third-party lenses.

You don't need to buy another lens, though: just stick with your 75-300 and keep that shutter speed really high! I haven't been to Alaska, but I hear they have long days and lots of sun during the summer: having lots of light helps you keep the shutter speed up, so the 75-300 should be just fine. The rule of thumb for sharp pictures is 1/(focal length), and some will tell you to use 1/(1.6 * focal length). So at 300mm (zoomed all the way in), you need a shutter speed of 1/300 or 1/500 or faster (1/1000, 1/2000, ...). If you can't get that shutter speed (probably because it's too dark), you'll want a tripod, or some other way to steady your camera. You can also try turning up the ISO until you reach those shutter speeds. Good form will help a lot, too: feet shoulder-width apart, steady breathing, and press the shutter gently (don't stab at it!).

I really would not recommend a wide-angle lens for you. They're a lot of fun, and you can get some great pictures with them, but you have to pay a lot of attention to your composition. You generally need to get something interesting in the foreground (as in, within a foot or two of the camera). Taking a picture of the ocean and some mountains by leaning over the railing of a boat is not going to give you an interesting picture if you use a wide angle lens. Besides, 18mm is nice and wide already and will get you plenty of good pictures if you use it right (remember: objects in the foreground and background).

Before you spend any money on lenses, though, make sure you have the basics covered:

  • spend as much time as you can with your camera and lenses. Get to know them. Understand how far you can increase ISO and get pictures you're happy with. Understand when to use the flash and when not to. Know what picture modes (auto? Av? P? portrait?) you like to use that will get you good pictures. The standard advice is to not buy new equipment right before a big trip, because you won't be able to use it well. If you take (and review) a thousand photos before your honeymoon, you'll take much better pictures on your honeymoon.
  • Bring extra batteries and memory cards. If you only have one of each, get another one, or better yet, two. Running out of battery power or filling up your memory cards is going to do a lot more to prevent you from getting good pictures than bringing the wrong lens. If you shoot RAW, get even more memory cards.
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Thanks drewbenn! Great advice from everyone here, I really appreciate it. Sounds like I might not bother buying anything yet as it would be 'wasted' with our abilities. Sounds like I need to invest some time before hand getting to know my camera and lenses first - cos I'm sure I will have LOADS of free time before the wedding... :-) –  Jonathon Craig Apr 12 '12 at 9:20
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Totally agree. The kit wide zoom you have is fine. For best photo quality shoot it at about f/8 where this is feasible. Don't forget to bring some kind of thing for backing up your photos (if they are precious, don't let the SD card be the only place where your photos live). –  James Youngman Apr 12 '12 at 23:59
    
@JonathonCraig I wouldn't say that new lenses would be wasted, no. But the more expensive lenses tend to be specialized for certain tasks. It's best to learn your style first and figure out what about your current lenses is holding you back, so that you will get the best-for-you lens next. –  drewbenn Apr 14 '12 at 6:53

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