I have been doing a lot of backpacking recently, and the more I do, the more I feel the need to carry more focal lengths. One problem is that backpacking is never compatible with carrying more than a few lenses.

My usual combo comprises a Zuiko 28/f2.8 + Zuiko 50/f1.8 + Zuiko 100/f2.8 (with an Olympus OM-2N 35mm SLR); I am particularly fond of the 28mm right now. These make an extremely light combination since all of these lenses weigh around 200 grams each. Even though I am happy with this combination, I have always wanted to have an ultra-wide angle for landscapes and other dramatic effects (I am considering to buy a Zuiko 21/3.5).

Thus my main question is:

Is a 21mm + 28mm a useful and worthy combination for backpacking purposes?

I mean, these lenses are all very lightweight, and I am willing to carry them all if worthy; but so am I, so the slightest extra dead-weight will definitely slow me down, or make me suffer on the long run (especially for an upcoming 40-day backpacking trip that I am planning).

Also, the Zuiko 21/3.5 is not cheap, so I want to make a smart investment. I ask all of these questions because I have never used an ultra-wide angle and I know no-one around me who has (so actual testing and comparison is impossible).

Are 21mm + 28mm too close of focal-lengths to carry around together? Will I end up using only one of them on the long run? Or do they each serve their own particular purposes?

I am looking for experienced feedback and advice on the matter.

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    I don't think we can answer for you. I am sure you'd find it useful, but every little bit of weight does add up, especially on a long trip. – MikeW Apr 19 '16 at 20:03

The difference between 21mm and 28mm doesn't sound like all that much. But as focal lengths get shorter the difference per millimeter in focal length gets larger. In theory a 21mm lens should yield about a one third wider field of view than a 28mm lens. For a 35mm film camera that would be the difference between a 75º diagonal FoV for the 28mm lens and a 100º diagonal FoV for the 21mm lens.

Look at it this way: If you had a 37mm lens it would be the same amount wider (1.33X) than your 50mm lens, and your 28mm lens would be the same amount wider than the 37mm lens. So compared to the three lenses you currently carry: the 21mm lens would be a half step wider than the 28mm whereas your 28 is a whole step wider than your 50mm which, in turn, is a whole step wider than your 100mm.

Whether the cost and extra weight is worth it to you is a personal choice that should be based on how often you wish you could go wider than the 28mm lens you now use. You might also consider replacing the 28mm with the 21mm. You'll never really know which you prefer until you've used both.

  • This is very useful information that I did not fully understand before. This may be asking too much, but do you perhaps have a practical example of a subject/situation that cannot be taken with a 28mm but needs a 21mm to compare? Or even a simple shot with both focal lenghts? – Meclassic Apr 20 '16 at 1:40

It really is a personal decision. Myself, I would bring the 28mm only and stitch together multiple images to get a wider shot if necessary. While backpacking I'm much more concerned with weight than the few extra minutes a stitch will take to capture and create later in post.

  • But that would mean scanning the prints or negatives/slides. An extra step and expense. – Chris H Apr 19 '16 at 19:55
  • @ChrisH - In backpacking you will find that everything you put in your bag(or not) is based on a series of trade offs. I scan all of my film so it's not a concern of mine. – dpollitt Apr 19 '16 at 20:47
  • @dpollitt Well, the stitching option would get rather messy for wet work in the dark room... But I get what you are saying about the compromise when backpacking. In any case, I am happy to see that I am not the only one obsessed with weight in the bag. This renders your advice more interesting to me. – Meclassic Apr 20 '16 at 1:46
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    @dpollitt I don't dispute that (I've been there), but in the context of 35mm, assuming a digital workflow seemed odd. – Chris H Apr 20 '16 at 6:15

Leaving the 28mm behind seems more useful than leaving the 21mm. If you're hand printing you can crop much more easily than stitching (I could crop in printing when I did my own years ago). While you do magnify the film grain this way, that's only an issue if you were printing almost as big as possible anyway.

The down side of this approach is that your 28mm is faster than your 21mm. Do you plan to shoot in low light (either handheld or with moving subjects). The wider angle means this isn't as bad as it might be but it's worth taking into account.

  • Although I will definitely find myself in low light situations, I do not work much on moving subjects in low light. Good point though on the cropping solution because I guess that the only pictures I would end up enlarging in large format (taken with an ultra-wide) would be landscapes; the rest could be cropped. – Meclassic Apr 20 '16 at 6:36

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