Friday, July 03, 2009

Your Next Photo Holiday: My Lens Choice

photographyIn my last article I covered nine different possible lens combinations for your holiday kit, ranging from single primes to a super-zoom to multiple lens setups. Each has its own advantages and limitations. Today I'll discuss one final configuration, my current choice when travelling with two camera bodies and two photographers. First I'll make some general points, then I'll reveal my lens line-up and finally I'll present a handy table summarising all the possibilities.


the bell towerSome will notice that I've restricted this discussion to Pentax brand lenses. There's no mention of popular Sigma offerings, nor even of older Takumars, Vivitars, and so on. That's for two reasons. First, I prefer the Pentax IQ and rendering; their coatings are superb. Using contemporary Pentax lenses ensures a commonality in the resulting images.

Second, for this application (holiday photography) I want auto-focus and auto-aperture as features. Although I use manual lenses on a day-to-day basis, I don't necessarily want to do the same when on vacation. With modern lenses I can stick the camera on Programme mode and hand it over to another family member who simply wants to take a snap without a lot of bother.

And lastly, I just don't like the plastic build of Sigma and other contemporary third-party brands. Often those lenses are much larger and heavier; I prefer the Pentax emphasis on usability and small size.

One proviso: I do not own all of the lenses under discussion, though I am quite familiar with their reputations and the images they take. But when I put together my own holiday package I obviously had to restrict myself to those lenses I actually own.

10. Hybrid Solution

I now reveal what I think is the most flexible line-up. You'll no doubt recognise two zooms and two primes; a hybrid solution.

travel gear: lenses

I derived this kit by starting with solution 6, "Two Mid-Range Zooms", namely the DA 12-24mm and DA 55-300mm. But rather than add a general mid-range zoom, to get solution 7, "Three Mid-Range Zooms", I instead added the two FA Limiteds from the "Multiple Prime" section. The FA 43 covers the gap between the zoom lenses. The FA 77 provides longer low-light excellence.

In short, I am giving up the general walk-around zoom for the benefits of compact, excellent primes. This enhances my ability to take photos in low light situations. If I instead restricted myself to maximum aperture of f/4 I would need to carry flash or tripod or both. Instead I will forgo those items and carry less.

This configuration covers the widest focal length range of any I have proposed. And it does not compromise on the optics. Remembering that I will have two bodies, I can choose the two lenses I most expect to use on a given outing, carrying a third in a pocket or small bag. This cuts down on both changing lenses and hauling gear. There is no reason to take four lenses on a given day's outing if you don't think you'll need them.

Whither Macro?

mauve and blueIn fact, I can be very happy with only the FA77 for an entire day. The secret to my happiness is the mysterious circular object I pictured in the first article, Your Next Photo Holiday: What To Take. It's a macro "filter". I use it on the Limited lens to provide a facility that is otherwise missing from my kit. It's much smaller than carrying a dedicated lens and has proven its worth.

The only other filter I would consider is a polariser for the DA12-24. I have one, but consider it too fiddly for holidays.


Pentax lenses have been a bargain for some time, but unfortunately, due to the inflated value of the Yen, prices have just jumped up considerably. Canada, UK and the rest of Europe have so far been hit with this increase, though the USA has seen only slight rises... so far. For the next short while you might be able to find some lenses at old prices in the EU, but I will use the new amounts in this comparison in all cases, to be consistent.

These are not full list, but instead the selling price at a major online vendor. The super-zoom appears to not be in general stock, so I got that price elsewhere. The relative price column shows the enormous range these configurations cover. The most expensive solution costs twelve times the cheapest.

1. Super Zoom
Prosflexibility, price
Consimage quality, low light
Relative Price$$
2. Fast 50
Prosimage quality, low light, price, weight
Relative Price$$
3. Thrifty 35
Prosmacro, image quality, price, weight
Relative Price$$
4. Kit Zooms
Prosprice, weight
Consimage quality, low light
Relative Price$
5. Professional Zooms
Prosimage quality, environment seals
Consweight, price
Relative Price$$$$$$$$
6a. Two Mid-Range Zooms: Coverage
Coverage12-24, 55-300mm
Proswidest range
Conslow light, gap in focal length
Relative Price$$$$$$
6b. Two Mid-Range Zooms: Price
Coverage16-45, 55-300mm
Conslow light
Relative Price$$$
7. Three Mid-Range Zooms
Prosfull focal length coverage
Conslow light, changing lenses, price
Relative Price$$$$$$$$
8. Four Primes
Coverage15, 21, 43, 77mm
Prossize, build quality, image quality, low light
Consprice, changing lenses, telephoto lacking
Relative Price$$$$$$$$$$$$
9. Three Primes
Coverage15, 35, 77mm
Prossize, build, image quality, low light, macro
Consprice, changing lenses, telephoto lacking
Relative Price$$$$$$$$$
10. Hybrid: Three Lenses
Coverage12-24, 43, 55-300mm
Prosimage quality, low light options, flexibility
Consprice, changing lenses
Relative Price$$$$$$$$$
10. Hybrid: Four Lenses
Coverage12-24, 43, 77, 55-300mm
Prosimage quality, low light options, flexibility
Consprice, changing lenses
Relative Price$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Which solution should you choose? Well, that depends again on your priorities, your budget and what lenses you already have in your kit. All I have tried to do here is formalise the possibilities.


Africa Day: Ghanaian drummer 3
Do not forget to take lens hoods for all your lenses. Always use a lens hood! It'll make you as happy as the drummer in the background of this picture.

My gear picture shows a lens pouch that can hold one of the Limited primes and a larger bag that can hold one of the zooms. I always pop an unused lens into one of these, to provide that extra bit of cushioning in the bag.

2011 Update

When travelling alone I take only one body and slim the line-up further. I find that a telephoto is mostly useless on holidays (but then again I don't go on safari). I can travel with just the DA 12-24mm and FA 77 Limited quite happily, but pack the FA 43 Limited as well since it is so small I may as well.



robin said...


The kit of DA12-24, DA55-300, FA43 and FA77 worked well for us. Next time I'll drop the FA43, perhaps substituting the DA35 Limited macro.

This time I instead used a macro adapter for the 77mm. This turned out to be very important as some of my best shots were macros.

robin said...

If this article has helped you, please donate the price of a coffee using the PayPal logo in the right column. Caramel macchiato... yum!

Anonymous said...

The travel kit I currently favour is a DA15 f4, FA35 f2 and a Sigma 50-150 f2.8 - all relatively fast (even the 15, given its width), and optically excellent. I rarely need anything beyond 150mm, and the 35 is excellent for low light. The Sigma's heavy, but worth carrying around for the IQ and what I find a very versatile range. I also occasionally pack a DA10-17, another good Pentax lens in a small package.

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