Sunday, October 5, 2014

Travel lens Focal lengths - some statistics

I had recently gone on a fortnight long business trip. Before leaving, i was deciding on which lens to take with me to serve as a single multipurpose lens. I wanted a small and light lens, but with a good enough focal length range to serve most of my shooting needs. I wanted a single lens as i find it tiring to lug around a backpack full of camera gear, and fiddly and inconvenient to be changing lenses while on the move.

I have a Nikon D7000 body and for general purpose shooting i have the Nikon 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Though this lens has decent image quality and a wide enough focal length range, its size is a bit on the bulky side.

I also have the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens and its small size and light weight makes it a tempting choice as a travel lens, but its main drawback is its fixed focal length - some scenes just don't agree with a 35mm focal length.

Also recently released was the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II lens. This lens is quite small and light and its got a mechanism to make its length even smaller when stowing it in the backpack. Seemed like the perfect travel lens. The owner of my local camera shop was good enough to let me borrow this lens for the duration of the trip.

But on the eve of the trip i chickened out on my lens selection, thinking that the 18-55mm focal length range might not be enough for my needs. So i took the 18-300mm lens instead, even though its a bit bulky.

On returning back from the trip, i calculated some statistics from the shots i had taken, which are shown in the table below. I have grouped the shots into four different scenarios -

General: Regular 'touristy' kind of shots viz city/street shots, group photos, shots from vehicle windows.

Gliding: Shots at the airfield (not from inside the cockpit) where i did a spot of gliding. Mixing business with pleasure as usual :)

Airside: Shots of the apron and runways from inside the airport terminal during a layover stop.

Birding: Some (very few) shots of the local bird life.

18-35mm 36-70mm 71-140mm 141-300mm
General 90% 4% 2% 4%
Gliding 50% 0% 14% 36%
Airside 19% 19% 0% 62%
Birding 0% 0% 0% 100%
Overall 65% 6% 4% 25%

The above table indicates that (for my style of shooting) for general scenarios, the 18-55mm lens would have sufficed, but for the other scenes, i used the short as well as long ends of the 18-300mm range.

Short end of the focal length range - 18mm (Hong Kong skyline from Central Pier)
Long end - 300mm (Glider Tug Piper PA-25 Pawnee departing  into evening sun with ASK 13 in tow)
Somewhere in between - 100mm (Schleicher ASK 13)

I'm sure if i had taken the Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 lens, i would have used its long end quite a bit, but its size and weight preclude it from being used as a travel lens, for me at least.

So for my next trip, i'll again be taking the 18-300mm but i think i'll also carry an 8mm fisheye lens for making 360x180 panoramas.

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