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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Choosing A Lens Set For Nature Photography

How to save money and find the best lenses to match up with your shooting style

Labels: LensesGear
This Article Features Photo Zoom

When putting together a lens kit for outdoor photography, there are three basic ways to do it. You can get one "superzoom," several shorter-range zooms or a number of fixed-focal-length "prime" lenses. Each offers its pros and cons, and that's what this article covers. Of course, your lens choices will vary depending on the type or types of outdoor photography you do. So we'll break down the article into four segments: landscape, wildlife, travel and sports-action.

There are trade-offs in any lens choice. The key is to identify how you shoot and determine what will work for you. Above: Sigma 18-250mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 DC OS Macro.
Most photographers take it on faith that costly pro lenses are "better" than the more affordable "consumer" ones, but where a given lens is better is frequently misunderstood. Pro lenses may produce better image quality across their entire zoom or aperture range, but that may not be as important to a landscape photographer who does most of his or her shooting at ƒ/16 or someone who works predominantly at one end of the zoom range or another. Pro lenses typically have better environmental sealing than a consumer-level lens, which may or may not be important for you. The upshot is that a pro-level lens isn't necessarily the best choice for you. You can save a lot of money by being selective and making serious evaluations based on your needs rather than blindly buying the "top of the line." Often, it's worth a dip in image quality to have the right focal length with you—you're more likely to carry a compact superzoom into the field on your DSLR body than to lug a set of bulky pro zooms or prime lenses. Also, keep in mind that not every "consumer" lens generates lesser image quality. Some manufacturers require that their pro lineup be capable of covering a full-frame sensor (i.e., the Canon L series). There are several excellent lenses that are APS-C only, and because of that, they can't be part of the "pro" line.

Lenses For Landscapes

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II; Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM; Nikon AF-S 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G ED.
Focal Lengths: Much landscape photography is done with wide-angle lenses, but very effective landscape photos can be made with "normal" and short to medium telephoto lenses, too. The budget landscape solution would be one of the superzooms: 18-200mm, 18-250mm, 18-270mm or 18-300mm for APS-C DSLRs, or 28-200mm or 28-300mm for full-frame DSLRs.

Superzooms provide focal lengths from wide-angle to telephoto in a single, compact package that's easy to carry anywhere. Most superzooms also cost no more than a good shorter-range zoom, and certainly less than two or more shorter-range zooms or prime lenses. Their great range of focal lengths means you can change focal lengths very quickly at the twist of a wrist, and there's no need to physically change lenses, which takes time and exposes the sensor assembly to dust.

That brings us to the main advantage of the three-lens landscape kit. A pro 14-24mm/16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm kit can deliver sharper images (assuming you use a tripod, focus manually and use a low ISO setting), with less distortion and better image quality (less chromatic aberration and higher contrast). On the downside, three mid-range or pro zooms will cost much more than a superzoom, take up a lot more space in the camera bag and weigh a lot more.

Aperture Requirements:
You'll generally be shooting stopped down to ƒ/11-ƒ/16 to increase depth of field and keep everything sharp from foreground to background, so lens speed (fast maximum aperture) isn't a priority. Superzooms generally aren't as sharp as shorter-range zooms or prime lenses in their focal-length range, they exhibit more distortion, and they're slower, especially at the long end. For the landscape shooter, these drawbacks may not be significant because the more you stop down, the less apparent the barrel distortion appears. A three-lens kit will give you more distortion-free options vis-à-vis focal length and aperture, but depending on your style, the advantages may not fully pencil out.


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