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I'll be trekking in the Nepal Himalaya for 3 weeks in December, in a variety of conditions, but predominantly cold (-5°C to -30°c) , clear and dry, at altitudes of up to 6000m.

I'm trying to travel light so would prefer to take the minimum of paraphernalia; if I can stick to a single lens, that would be ideal. I predominantly shoot landscapes, but I'm hoping to do some wildlife and portraits whilst I'm out there too. Which lens would you take?

In terms of budget, I'm not overly converned, although if I can keep it under $1500 (£1000) that would be nice.

edit: thanks for the answers so far, I've been reading through them all and checking out the specs, but I keep finding myself drawn toward a 24-105mm f/4L (possibly with a nice and light 50mm f/1.4 for low light), or possibly a 24-70mm f/2.8L. Any thoughts on these options?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The 17-55/2.8 should suffice for both landscapes and portraits; wildlife is a little more tricky, since 55mm on a crop is still a little short. Since weight is always a concern while trekking, I would recommend either a 70-200/4 IS or a 135L.

Edit: Just to respond to your question about the 24-105 or 24-70, both are excellent options on a full-frame camera, but the focal lengths are sort of "neither here nor there". 24mm on a crop body gives you a FOV equivalent to 38mm, which is not that wide. If you can live with that, then the 24-105 is a great travel lens to bring along. THe 24-70 is much heavier and I won't recommend it since one of your primary considerations is weight.

I used the 24-105 on a 50D for about a year, and it served me well, but I don't usually shoot landscapes wider than 35mm so it made very little difference to me. This is something to keep in mind.

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Agree with the exception of the 135 - that f/2 glass isn't light at all. –  ahockley Oct 29 '10 at 19:01
    
The 135L and the 70-200/4L IS are both in the 750g region; I will say though, the zoom offers greater framing versatility. I suggested the 135L primarily because I prefer shooting primes. –  ctham Oct 29 '10 at 19:26
    
I agree about the 17-55mm F/2.8, that would be my first choice too. In case you find this too short, it might be worth it to consider the Tokina 16.5-135mm which lets you reach long without losing on the wide-end. –  Itai Oct 30 '10 at 1:41
    
Just found a 16-35 f/2.8 L USM II for under £1000, could be a winner there... –  ninesided Nov 1 '10 at 14:43

For APS-C the Tamron 18-270 provides a great range of focal lengths. It also has stabilisation (Tamron calls it 'VC')

I own it, very happy with it. The IQ isn't as good as the 17-50 f/2.8 but you can't beat the versatility. I used it as a primary lens on a 4 week holiday, and was very happy with it.

It is a little slow, so it works best when there's plenty of light (thought the 7D has better ISO than my 405D). Also the zoom mechanism is a bit loose, except in the middle where it's tight. You do need to use the zoom lock to stop it sliding out.

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We seem to have a rogue down-voter in our midst. If you down-vote, please tell the Answerer why. I gave this a +1, as I think the Tamron 18-270 is a great option. It offers a very wide focal range that should allow both wide-angle landscape and telephoto wildlife shots. –  jrista Oct 30 '10 at 18:04
    
I'd love to hear from people who have used this lens. The range is best-in-class. I tried one briefly at a local camera shop, and the zoom mechanism didn't impress me too much, but for traveling light, this sounds like a tempting choice. This lens obviously isn't going to compare to a backpack full of L glass, but when you're already carrying 30-40 lbs of camping equipment, food, and water, I think you have to consider the reality that you're not looking at comparing better glass to marginal glass, you're looking at comparing marginal glass to no glass. –  D. Lambert Oct 30 '10 at 19:10
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@D. Lambert - I own it, very happy with it. The IQ isn't as good as the 17-50 f/2.8 but you can't beat the versatility. I used it as a primary lens on a 4 week holiday, and was very happy with it. It is a little slow, so it works best when there's plenty of light (thought the 7D has better ISO than my 405D). Also the zoom mechanism is a bit loose, except in the middle where it's tight. You do need to use the zoom lock to stop it sliding out. @jrista thought it was strange that my answer was downvoted without reason. –  Daniel O Oct 31 '10 at 12:20

I think I would want a fairly wide angle lens, because even if you can't zoom farther, you can always crop. I would also want a weather-sealed lens, since the conditions are a bit crazy.

That said, I'd lean towards the 24-70 f/2.8 L or the 17-40 f/4 L.

The 24-70 is a great mid-range zoom, and weather sealed, but it's a beast (950g).

Mostly because of that my first choice would be the Canon EF 17-40 f/4.0 L USM.

  • Apparent focal length on a 7D is 27–64mm, which is great for landscape or portrait.
  • Weather sealed (as long as you use a UV Filter, which you'll probably want at altitude anyway)
  • light weight (lightest L lens at 475g)
  • Good price at amazon

Also, if you were to take a second lens, I would suggest the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM , which is also weather sealed, and at 760g isn't too heavy for a telephoto.

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1  
17-40 f/4L is a bit slower and "shorter" than 17-55 f/2.8, but it might make sense if you plan on going full-frame some time in the future. –  che Oct 30 '10 at 0:31

Regarding 24-70mm as the all-purpose lens on APS-C.

24mm is gives you field of view equivalent to 38mm on full-frame. In terms of my local landscape, this gives me something like this: 38mm equivalent

On the other hand, 18mm or 17mm lens would allow you to capture this (28mm equivalent): 28mm equivalent

24-70mm f/2.8L is a very good lens, and I can highly recommend it as a walk-around lens for full-frame camera. What kind of focal lengths you'd miss more is up to your style. If you really prefer portraits, wildlife and neat-looking landscapes you might be ok with this range, although it probably won't work that well for capturing what's generally around you, as it might be difficult to fit in stuff you're close to.

One thing that might be helpful is looking at pictures from the area that you like for example on Flickr, and checking focal length used.

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Excellent advice to have a look at Flickr! –  ninesided Oct 30 '10 at 19:14

I'm going to presume you don't want to lose ability to shoot wide, as it would be a pity if you wanted to capture something like your camp or friends on a peak without going 70 meters away.

Then, you have basically two options for one-lens solution:

  • you can go with standard range zoom, best of which is probably the mentioned Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS
  • or you can get an ultrazoom lens like Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS which will allow you to take tight shots of mountain peaks, distant yaks etc. This advantage will cost you image quality and maximal aperture, as there are no f/2.8 ultrazooms.

The choice is up to you.

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Bit of a tough call here. Landscapes generally need wider lenses, and wildlife generally needs telephoto lenses. Portraits could work at either end of the spectrum, really. If you don't want to have to get very, very close to wildlife, a telephoto lens would be ideal.

Single Lens + Extender or Two Lens Options

A lens that might do the job is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM lens. This is one of Canon's more popular lenses, and prices in at about $1300, which is well within your price range. It has a rebate right now that takes it down to about $1200. Combined with a 1.4x Canon Extender, you could extend its focal range to 98-280mm. That would bring cost up to about $1700-$1800. You would be lacking on the wide end, but telephoto landscapes can be stunning and unique (and often more interesting) than their wide-angle counterparts.

If you go the 70-200+1.4x Extender route, you might also want to bring one wide angle prime lens as well. The Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 lens is super cheap at $200-$250, decently sharp at f/4, and super light weight. You would hardly (if even) notice it in combination with the 70-200mm. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 is even cheaper and lighter, at $99.

If you don't mind buying an EF-S lens (short-back focus lens that only works on APS-C Canon bodies, not the APS-H or Full-Frame bodies), then there is another option that might do you well. The Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens is a decent lens that prices at $500-$600. It has an 11x zoom range from 18mm to 200mm, but it is not compatible with any extenders (due to the short-back focus), so you wouldn't be able to extend that to 280mm with the 1.4x extender. A 200mm telephoto focal length isn't bad for wildlife photography, but won't really get you in close. Given the super cheap cost of this lens, you might also want to grab the Canon EF 300mm f/4.0 L IS USM prime lens for wildlife work if you think you need it. It costs about $1200, making the total cost of both lenses about $1700-$1800, close to your price range. The 300mm prime is an excellent lens with GREAT optics and quality, ideal for wildlife photography.

Single Lens, Do Everything Options

There are a couple single lenses that will do the job. They cost a fair amount, more than you are looking to spend, at $2400. The two lenses are the Canon "Do-Everything" 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, and the Sigma "Bigma" 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 lens. Both of these lenses cover a very long zoom range, and are pretty large and heavy to do so. The Canon covers 10.7x, and the Bigma covers 10x zoom. Both would work for landscape, portrait, and wildlife. The Bigma has better reach, and would be better for wildlife and particularly bird photography. Optically, these two lenses are pretty equal, although I think the Bigma is a little softer. Both lenses offer image stabilization, which offsets their tighter apertures a bit, allowing them to be used hand-held in a lot more situations than they would otherwise be.

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I'm sorry, I have to downvote this. I wouldn't be very happy with 28-300 as my only lens on an APS-C camera. (Not to mention taking 50-500mm f/4-6.3 Sigma monster on a trek.) –  che Oct 29 '10 at 20:52
    
@che: I wasn't particularly recommending them, they are monsters. But they are the two lenses that cover the full focal range in a single lens, which was what was asked for. (Weight was not mentioned as a con.) It was just one option out of several, its up to the OP to decide what might work for him. The tough part is getting a single lens that can handle landscapes (wide) as well as wildlife (telephoto). I would say 200mm is about as "short" as you could go to get decent wildlife shots, and you would have to be pretty close. –  jrista Oct 29 '10 at 21:03
    
weight is most certainly a con, hence the "I'm trying to travel light", but thanks for the input anyway –  ninesided Oct 29 '10 at 21:31
    
@ninesided: Read the rest of my answer. There are some other options that don't have the weight problem. –  jrista Oct 29 '10 at 21:33
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@jrista: The main issue I have with your single-lens recommendations is the focal length. 28mm on APC-S makes 44mm equivalent, which isn't really a wide angle. So the only lenses which cover full focal range are those 18-to-somethings, so what you're recommending would really be the best thing only if OP wanted to focus on the wildlife exclusively. –  che Oct 29 '10 at 22:00

The answer depends on what kind of photos you are seeking to take, and what your shooting style and creative approach is.

If you like expansive, wide shots, I would suggest something wider than 24mm, especially on a 7D. I would say that the 17-40 f/4 would serve you very well.

If you are photojournalistically inclined, 35 f/1.4 or 50 f/1.4.

Consider whether the weight of the lens matters. If each 100g does not make a difference, the 17-40 f/4 and 70-200 f/4 is a very good combination. If you are already spending the money to get there, ask yourself whether taking two lenses is a viable choice.

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I used Canon 28-135 USM on my 400D as my standard lens and for travelling for around 3 years. I did get a Sigma 10-20 HSM because I did miss some wider range on it but I ended up rarely using it.

The truth is that if you really only want to carry one lens on the camera and none in the bag, then no matter what you choose, there will be something you cannot do. But it doesn't really matter. Whatever you bring, you will take the shots that work with it and they will be amazing. Canon 28-135 is pretty cheap, but you can afford it 24-105mm L does sound like a better choice as it can get tighter on the mountain.

Superzooms may be tempting but the IQ is going to be disappointing and you might be better off cropping a 105mm shot from the L lens.

Here are examples of landscape shots (28mm) vs tele-range for wildlife (135mm) with Canon 28-135mm.

Yosemite, 28 vs 135

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