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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gadget Bag: Travel Zooms

These “do it all with all-in-one zoom lens” solutions can be ideal travel partners when you want to minimize your gear

Labels: GearMore GearGadget Bag

This Article Features Photo Zoom

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Whether you call them “travel zooms,” “walkabout lenses” or simply your “go-to glass,” zoom lenses that cover the 18mm to 200mm range (or thereabouts) have a place in everyone’s gadget bag. On a typical D-SLR like the Canon EOS Rebel XS, that focal length translates to roughly 28-320mm. And that range handles most situations, including landscapes, portraits, sports and wildlife.

All-in-one zooms are light and compact, and that’s a major advantage when you’re packing a full load of camera gear. By one way of thinking, a single all-in-one zoom can replace three or even four other lenses—at a fraction of the bulk. The Tamron AF18-200mm XR Di II ƒ/3.5-6.3, for example, is touted as the world’s lightest, most compact 11.1x zoom made for D-SLRs. It tips the scales at a scant 14 ounces and measures but 3.3 inches long. Amazingly, the 18-250mm version of this lens is exactly the same length and still weighs less than one pound—and it offers an incredible 13.9x zoom range.

All-in-one zooms have other advantages. Because they can be used at any focal length, from moderate wide-angle to serious telephoto, they encourage the photographer to carefully determine exactly the right composition. That means the cropping occurs in the viewfinder, not on the computer screen. They also allow photographers to add some lens flexibility to their arsenal at a reasonable price. Even if you’re on a tight budget, it’s possible to expand applications way beyond the kit lens that came bundled with your camera. And if you own more than one brand of D-SLR, you can equip each system with a versatile all-in-one zoom without breaking the bank.

But all-in-one zoom lenses aren’t without limitations. Aside from some noteworthy exceptions, they’re not for use with 35mm film cameras. They’re designed specifically to transmit a circle of light that’s just large enough to cover a digital imager, but too small to cover a frame of 35mm film.

Also, it’s important to note that, as with many modern zoom lenses, the aperture changes as you extend the zoom. At 18mm, a typical travel zoom lens has a maximum aperture of ƒ/3.5, but at 200mm it becomes ƒ/6.3. That puts two issues into play. A smaller aperture means longer exposure times. Equally important, even outdoors where shutter speed may not be a factor, a smaller lens opening means a darker viewfinder.

As with all long telephoto zoom lenses, you’ll need a tripod or a steady support to shoot at shutter speeds slower than 1⁄500 sec. when you zoom all the way out to the maximum focal length. Slight camera movement is exaggerated and magnified and can cause images to appear unsharp. You can counteract this phenomenon by using a fast shutter speed—which may require increasing the camera’s ISO setting. A D-SLR with built-in image stabilization, like the Olympus E520 or one of the Sony Alpha models, will minimize camera shake. With other cameras, employ a tripod or other form of support for low-light telephoto shots.


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