Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Travel Kit, Part I

Nikkor AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-EDTravel photography has many challenges. Among them are unpredictability, luggage weight limits, number of luggage pieces permitted, locations with unknown restrictions, bad weather when you least expect it, and many others.

When planning for a trip photographically, one of the most important decisions anyone must make is what lenses to include in your travel photography “kit.” Destinations usually have a variety of photo opportunities which may require a variety of lenses to meet their challenges.

There are two major factors which militate the amount and choice of gear you choose for your photo travel “kit.” The first is travel weight and volume restrictions, and the second is the varying conditions, limitations and circumstances of your destination's photographic opportunities.

Traveling requires you to haul all your equipment regularly as you move between destinations and locales. That restrains the amount of gear you take on any trip. Your mode of transportation can make a substantial difference too. Traveling by air, in particular, can place major restrictions on the amount of photo gear with which you can travel.

Generally air travel limits you to a maximum of two carry-on bags in which you can put your camera, lenses, and other photo gear. At times your carry-ons are subjected to weight limits as well as the standard size limits. For some flights, you're only permitted a single carry-on bag. Note, I didn't mention checked-in luggage. With few exceptions, you don't want to put photography equipment in checked-in luggage.

These limitations, in turn, restrict the weight and volume available for your travel photographic equipment, and sometimes, according to your destination and airplane, that limit may be severe.

There are three major factors which make stowing camera gear in your checked-in luggage a major mistake; rough baggage handling, airline liability limitations, and lost or delayed luggage.

I don't know about you, but I've seen my bags dropped on the tarmac during loading and unloading. I've witnessed luggage being tossed about by baggage handlers. It's not the kind of handling cameras and lenses normally survive. You don't want to arrive at your destination with a broken camera or lenses.

The airlines define their rules and regulations which govern the relationship between passengers and the airlines, and their responsibilities in their “Contract of Carriage.” All the airlines, with which I'm familiar, state they won't accept liability or responsibility for any valuables or breakables packed in checked-in luggage. Some specifically mention they won't accept liability for camera equipment. So, if your photo equipment is lost, stolen, or damaged, the airlines won't pay a dime for your loss, and the gear won't be available for use during your trip.

Even if your checked-in luggage is merely delayed, it's possible it won't be returned until you're home.

While traveling, I have one camera body with an attached lens carried over my shoulder, and I use a backpack for the remainder of my camera gear. My backpack is small enough for the airlines to consider it a “personal item.” I use a roller carry-on to transport my other valuables, electronic gear, a complete change of clothes, medications, and toilet articles. If I have an extra piece of camera gear which won't fit in my backpack, it's in the roller carry-on.

The sole piece of photo gear I put in my checked-in luggage is a tripod. I rarely have room for it in my carry-ons, and it can withstand the rough handling checked-in luggage sometimes endures. I take the chance the tripod legs will arrive with me.

I must digress to discuss the merits of some of today's new DSLR cameras, as your choice of camera can affect the choice of lenses to a significant extent.

Whether you're using a DX/APS-C sensor based camera, or a full sized (FX) sensor camera makes a significant difference, especially when choosing a wide angle lens, due to the crop factor.

For travel photography, I recommend using a camera which has a high ISO/low noise capability. While traveling there are many times you have a wonderful photographic opportunity, but the available light is low, and the use of a flash and/or a tripod is not permitted. Using a DSLR with a high ISO/low noise capability allows the photographer to increase the ISO allowing reasonable shutter speeds so the photographer can hand-hold the camera/lens and get sharp, well exposed photos.

No matter where you travel, even to a destination where the photographic opportunities may seem homogeneous, there still will be enough variances you'll need to have lenses which offer you versatility. Versatility is important with regard to both focal length and speed (large aperture availability).
NOTE: For this article I'm discussing ideal lens choices. I understand that camera and lens cost is always a factor, and will limit anyone's final choice. Nevertheless everyone will want to make choices as close to the ideal as possible.
When we add up all the factors, travel weight and volume, versatility, and the wide variety of photographic opportunities we may encounter at our travel destinations, it adds up to often choosing fast zoom lenses to fulfill one's travel photographic needs.

I recommend lenses which are f/4, or better yet f/2.8 capable. If at all possible, each lens should have VR (vibration reduction) available, and certainly the ones at f/4. This will give you lenses with adequate speed for most low light conditions.

I recommend lenses which cover the range of focal lengths from 24mm through 200mm, at a minimum, for all travel, preferably in two lenses, not one, to provide quality optical performance.

Next week my article will follow-up with specific recommendations for three travel exemplars.

1 comment:

Amy in Abington said...

Ned, I want to make sure I'm clear about what you've said. If I pack my camera in my checked-in suitcase, and the airline damages my luggage and the camera in it, they won't pay for my camera, even if it's not expensive and my whole claim is less than their allowance?

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