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01-25-2015, 12:06 AM   #1

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Looking for Advice - lenses for ruins & ancient architecture

Yes, it's another one of these "which lens" questions. While I do love reading all the "which lens" discussions, because it exposes me to a broad cross-section of opinions, experiences, knowledge, and often links to even more reading, I never thought I'd be writing one. But this recent January sale event has started me wondering ....

I want to spend some time at archeological sites in Yucatan trying to see if I can get some crisp, clear, and maybe even artistic impressions of the Maya ruins. Places like Uxmal, Dzibilchaltun, Xtampo, maybe Tulum in the off season, Ek Balam, Acanceh, many lesser known sites. And similar work in the cities and villages of the old colonial churches, monasteries, mansions, haciendas, etc.

So far, I've taken fairly causal shots while showing friends around (not spending much time), but I've got a nice tripod now and I want to really work at it, mostly for my own satisfaction, to see how "good" I can get at finding unique illustrations of these places.

My equipment most likely to be on the field trips would be: K200D, K30, DA 18-135mm WR, DA 12-24mm (one of my favorites), DA 35mm f/2.4 (plastic wonder), DFA 100mm macro WR, DA 40mm XS (same optical formula as the DA 40mm Ltd, I understand).

But I keep reading about and seeing wonderful pics from the DA and FA limited lenses and wondering if maybe, just maybe, I could create better captures with different & better glass, especially with the sale prices right now.

I want to capture clear visions of structures, maybe isolated and maybe with a bokeh vision of other structures behind the focal point.

I'm considering a Sigma 8-16mm to go wider. I do favor wide for these types of things, although I like detail shots as well.

But mainly, I want to get "sharper" than my past casual shots have been. I've read and read PF and lens reviews. I've looked for others shooting similar types of subjects and the closest seem to be medieval cathedral interiors and exteriors, but there aren't many of those (or I haven't found them on PF yet).

It seems fairly unanimous that Macro lenses are among the sharpest out there. But are they sharp for distance shots or mainly (as I already know) for close-ups / macro shots? I want to render the fine detail as well as the massive forms. Does that make sense?

Which are the best lenses for comprehensive medium to distant sharpness - good depth of focus? Say, 50-100 meters from a 30-40 meter high edifice, trying to capture base to peak in focus and sharp? (as one example) Or from 20 meters, to capture a 15 meter structure with the sun blasting through the doorway on the Equinox?

So, that's basically my question: Can I improve on my options listed above with Limited lenses (esp those on sale!) or even with legacy lenses (manual is ok) which could be picked up at reasonable prices? Would the DA 15mm Ltd be as sharp choice? Would the FA 77mm Ltd give me a better perspective? Would they be worth the investment in terms of changing the capabilities of what I already have? Would the DA 35mm Ltd macro be sharp at distance as well as for macro work? (P.S. I do love the look of those silver versions)

I know this is yet another of the "I'm wondering" types of questions, but this time, I'm really wondering which way to go, (if any), or if to just try to get the best with what I've got. The thing is, the time investment is large and at certain times of the day only. (the tropical sun is murderous through the mid-day, both harsh lighting, plus seriously wilting to life forms like humans). At least at some sites in more inaccessible locations, it won't be possible to repeat the experience.

Is there anyone done much of this sort of thing with lens suggestions? Thanks in advance.
(example photo, not mine, no it's not sharp, but it's an example of one of the types of structures)

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Last edited by yucatanPentax; 01-25-2015 at 12:12 AM.
01-25-2015, 12:15 AM   #2
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You definitely need some wide angle lens. The DA15mm Ltd comes to mind. The DA12-24mm is another. Another good focal length is about 30mm,like FA31mm Ltd for doing panoramic.

The above works well in Roman and Greek ruins,

On the other hand, if you want to shoot from far away (eg access issue), you will need something much longer (200-300 mm). The DA18-250mm would be goo compromise.

Hope that the comment will help.
01-25-2015, 12:29 AM   #3

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Thanks for your thoughts. I don't believe I'll have access issues. Have some good contacts... And because most are surrounded by jungle or scrub forest, distance shooting is generally not an option. There may be some opportunities for longer telephoto, like from atop pyramids.

There's one in Izamal that defies belief that it is man-made, being so enormous in circumference and height and barely restored. It seems like a large, steep, high hill, with a little pyramid on top. In fact, the entire mound is man-made by a people without the wheel or pack animals.

---------- Post added 01-25-2015 at 01:47 AM ----------

Here's a thread where I think Crewl1 has done great work with a DA18-135mm. As well as wanting detail shots, I also want to try getting up higher (on one of the structures) and taking wider shots establishing relationships among the structures. So far, for "wider" I have the DA12-24mm and am considering a Sigma 8-16mm to go wider in rectilinear (not interested in fisheye on this occasion).

Would a DA15mm Ltd be significantly different/better for distance sharpness, color, rendition than either or both of those two?

Last edited by yucatanPentax; 01-25-2015 at 01:00 AM.
01-25-2015, 01:11 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by yucatanPentax Quote
K200D, K30, DA 18-135mm WR, DA 12-24mm (one of my favorites), DA 35mm f/2.4 (plastic wonder), DFA 100mm macro WR, DA 40mm XS
QuoteOriginally posted by yucatanPentax Quote
But mainly, I want to get "sharper" than my past casual shots have been
QuoteOriginally posted by yucatanPentax Quote
So, that's basically my question: Can I improve on my options listed above with Limited lenses (esp those on sale!) or even with legacy lenses (manual is ok) which could be picked up at reasonable prices?
This might actually be the rare situation where upgrading the body would do you better than buying new lenses, mainly because of the second quote. I love my K-30, but the K-3 is a pretty obvious upgrade over both of those bodies. You'll gain base sharpness with the AA-free sensor, and gain resolution from the bigger sensor, as well as a host of other "pro" features compared to both of your current bodies.

Otherwise, I think you've got a mild to bad case of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) unless you were trying to shed weight from your bag. A good lightweight alternative to what you have would be a DA15, DA20-40, DA70, while keeping the DFA100 Macro, but I wouldn't necessarily say that it's an improvement in terms of the final image product.

In particular, the 15 vs the 12-24 and 8-16. The 15 obviously requires compromises in composition compared to those lenses since it's a prime and you may not be able to "zoom with your feet" on the summit of a 3000 year old pyramid.

As far as rendition, colors, etc... what kind of post processing do you do? Minimal to straight OOC, or are you willing to put as much time in to creating your final image as you did crawling through the jungle to get the shot in the first place? I think a good a way to approach digital images is to expose them like slides, but process them like negatives i.e. you've got to get the shot right then spend some time creating the final image.

01-25-2015, 02:14 AM   #5
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If sharpness is your objective, you'll have a reasonable amount of light, and carrying a few lenses is not a problem, I'd take the following: a Sigma 8-16, the new HD 16-85, the D FA 100 WR, and a *300. I've had all but the 16-85 - I was sour on the idea of it until I saw some recent photos from it. My preliminary impression is it's significantly better than the DA18-135 in both sharpness and overall IQ.

With the Sigma 8-16, make sure you shoot around f/6.3 most of the time, and manually set focus to infinity for most shots after verifying the infinity marking is truly the sharpest on your copy (it was exact on mine). While the rendering/colors aren't as nice as the DA12-24, it's very sharp (did I mention sharpness?). Outstanding from 10-16mm. 8-9.5mm is a little weird/wide/maybe too distorted, but no one else even goes that wide on rectilinear anyway!

The alternative to the 16-85 is the good old standby DA*16-50 (or Tamron 17-50/2.8) plus a DA*50-135. Fantastic lenses, and you'll find them terrific for all kinds of purposes when you get back as well. But you will have to change them or keep one on each body.

As you already know, the D FA is very versatile and great for most any type of shooting that needs a focal length anywhere near 100mm.

And you'll have no idea how useful a *300 is until you have one.

The DA35/2.4 is useful because it's very good wide open and will help in low light. The FA77 is outstanding, but I don't think it will help you here. In fact, the D FA 100 WR macro covers well for both it and the DA35/2.8 macro. The the 100WR is hard to beat for macro, and the FA77 is more for characteristics other than sharpness. The DA70 is probably actually better for sharpness than the FA77 - but again, the D FA 100 WR has you covered here already. And the DA15 is fantastic in rendering and color, and good on distortion as well. But it sounds like you need the zoom more. The only K-mount zoom that beats the DA12-24/4 is the Sigma 8-16. But you still have to like Sigma rendering (I never got to liking it quite enough to keep it, though it was the only thing I could find 'wrong' with that lens).

If you replace a body keep the K200D, though I really think you need the lenses more. The K-30 is quite good already - only upgrade if you're already comfortable you have an appropriate and outstanding lens kit. And the K200D gives nice colors and rendering with its CCD sensor, as well as being a very sharp 10MP camera (I believe it has an intentionally-weak AA filter).

BTW, just noticed this a few minutes ago - I'm really fond of mine:

And I happened to have seen this (with many photos) within the last hour:

Finally, you may find Capture One is especially good for post-processing these kinds of shots when you get home. But try it with your cameras before you leave, because it generally does better with PEF than DNG for RAW files, and you'll want to have your camera set up right for what you're going to do. I shoot JPG+PEF using sRGB for the camera's color space (really only applies to the JPGs anyway - what good is an AdobeRGB JPG?). I prefer the camera's Portrait pre-set JPG colors, which I've slightly tweaked to my liking. But everyone has his own preferences here.

Last edited by DSims; 01-25-2015 at 03:02 AM.
01-25-2015, 03:31 AM   #6

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My equipment most likely to be on the field trips would be: K200D, K30, DA 18-135mm WR, DA 12-24mm (one of my favorites), DA 35mm f/2.4 (plastic wonder), DFA 100mm macro WR, DA 40mm XS (same optical formula as the DA 40mm Ltd, I understand).
Let review you gear:

-DA35, DA40 XS & DFA 100 macro are very sharp.

DA12-24 is resonably sharp and DA18-135 is soso.

Basically you'll mostly go for wide, and the DA40 & DFA100 would complement if different need arise. I would not buy more on that side without good reason.

If I where you I'd try that DA12-24 on some architecture shoots already. This is a great lens. It is sharper overall than DA21 and DA15 and the rendering is quite good. The prime win on flare resistance and contrast/clarity. Not sharpness at all. So go out with your tripod and DA12-24 and look how it goes

If and only if it look like there a problem and you are not satisfyied, it can make sense to upgrade. There no many very sharp lenses on wide angle (<31mm in pentax land). DA15 and DA21 are not that sharp even through DA21 is good. But Samyang does some very sharp and nice, full manual (not AF) lenses. There a 12mm I think, a 14mm, a 16mm and a 24mm in the range. You could think of buying one if the sharpness of DA12-24 was a problem. If the problem end up not being sharpness but more flare resistance, clarity and constrast, that's more DA15 or DA21 or DA20-40 you need. No lense beat DA15 & DA20-40 for clarity, constrast, flare resistance and back light. DA35 f/2.4 is also very good in this regard.

To choose the focal length, no other solution than to use this 12-24 a lot and see what you use and not use.

But really, I'am not sure you need anything more than what you have. You don't need speed (tripod), you don't need the focal, you cover it already. You have some sharp lenses already and except if you plan to print them in huge size nobody would ever see the difference.

You might have GAS syndrome, we all tend to have it in some occasion.

So go out, take some architectural shoots with your tripod and see how it goes. See if you are satisfyed
01-25-2015, 06:37 AM - 2 Likes   #7
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Good Morning,

This sounds like a real fun project. I think that you have received some excellent advice from everyone. However, it has been somewhat limited to mainly glass. The suggestion about considering a K3 at 24MP is one that does add resolution, and that in an overall sense is where I will be going also - but in a slightly different direction.

Before I start - let me say, I have done something similar - to a degree. I was able to gain after hours access to the shipyard around the USS Constitution (square rigged sailing ship) and shot the sunrise (4am to 7am) and sunset (6pm to 10pm). I went out and picked up a 8-16 for this since, I wanted to shoot waterline to the top of the main mast in one shot. Note that the ship moves with the tide and wind, so stitching was not a real option here. I also shot with the 12-24 and 28, 31 and 85. There were also piers and docks obstructing the views that needed to be shot around.

Also, I am a systems engineer during the day. There is more to all of this than just camera and lens. As you have said, large size and scale, potential dense overgrown surroundings (jungle) are also limiting factors in all of this too. Distortion, aperture, lighting, dynamic range and mechanical support - in terms of how you are going to take the images, along with post processing are all going to play a part here to varying degrees.

When using a body and mounting various lenses, you have a fixed sensor of some size - let's say 3000 x 2000 for the sake of argument. Each lens is going to take a different view (wide, normal, whatever) and fold it on to this FIXED set of pixels. So an 8-16 @8mm is going to pull in about 9 times as much area as a 35mm lens and put the view on the same pixels. So, just considering a single pixel, the 8mm view is going to have to represent 9 times more area (remember area is length x width, so its about 3 * 3 = 9) that the view from a 35mm lens. That is just plain physics at work here - no way you can change that fact.

So, what are your options here. You can upgrade one of your bodies to a K3. That is one path as has been pointed out by folks. The other approach is to add pixels through stitching - effectively taking panorama. The third option is a combination of these two - better resolution (K3) and stitch.

Let's also address the glass aspect too. There are various advantages and disadvantages that also need to be considered. I think that you will probably have plenty of light - and if not, shutter time can overcome that for the most part (these structures are not going to be moving any time soon). Sharpness to a degree is going to be a function of depth of field. You are probably going to be at f8 to f11 also. Most wide angle lenses have tremendous depth of field also. Using a low ISO will help in terms of overall image quality - which will provide a good dynamic range. I don't think that darkness will be a problem, but shadows may. The K30 and newer sensor will help with pulling detail out of the shadows. The CCD sensor of the K200 should be very rich with the colorings and saturations.
  • 8-16 - I really do like this lens. That said, at 8mm at time it can be toooooo wide. Its colorings and saturations are rich and wonderful. Even with a lens this wide, it is sharp. You do get distortions at the edges. Even with a lens this wide, you can stitch with it, which tends to mitigate the distortions at the edges. With stitching, and up in the vertical or portrait orientation, you do get a full 109 degree angle of view top to bottom. This works for up close things - since it has a very deep depth of field for focus. At 16mm it is wonderful, sharp, colorful and renders beautifully.
  • 12-24 - For a wide angle zoom this is bankable all the time. As you probably know, it does have some CA when the shot is backlight. Its distortions are well controlled. I personally really like this lens. I use it much more than my 8-16. It also stitches exceptionally well.
  • 35 - I have a 28 and 31. I have not shot with the 35. Having said that, and for architecture, this may well be your most used lens - probably equal in use to the 12-24, since it will have no distortion, is relatively fast, and with stitching will provide even better sharpness and detail than either the 8-16 or 12-24. I was real happy with my 12-24. I would stitch with it and was wonderfully happy with the detail and sharpness. When I got my 31 and stitched the same exact scene, the detail and sharpness blew away the 12-24. Not because of the 31's pixy dust, but because of the focal length.
Let me toss in one more lens here into the mix, that has not come up. The 10-17 Fisheye. I know what you are thinking - the fishness and the bending. Yes - you can get that effect, and architecture has lots of straight and square lines. But, if you shoot LEVEL with the lens, it is very possible to get the best overall natural view possible - even better than with the 8-16 and 12-24. Yes, it is also wider than either the 8-16 and 12-24, and you are stuffing a lot more view on to the sensor, but it can be valuable. Corner to corner its 180 degrees wide. Side to Side its 135 degrees wide (compared to the 8-16 which is 109 degrees). Take a look at this link (and especially the roof lines between the various lenses).Now let me transition to the topic of stitching and mechanical support. You can stitch with any lens. There is FREE software that will stitch the images for you (Microsoft ICE). It does work well. You can stitch hand held too. So, go pick up your camera, pop on the 12-24 and go out side and shoot your neighborhood (remember you want to overlap the image by about 25 to 30%), house next door, what ever. Come back in and drag the images (JPG or TIFF) into ICE and let it stitch them together.

How did it go? Welcome to the world of spherical geometry or taking a spherical world and laying it on to a 2D flat sheet of paper. It can go wonderfully well, or it can bring up some interesting angles, and everything in between. The key here is in the way the camera is held and aimed. You need to keep the camera level and pivot around a fixed central point. So, go try it again - with that thought in mind.

Also, pop on the 35mm lens and go try this again. With the 35 or 50 or 85mm, or whatever - you will have a lot more shots to take. The longer the focal length, the more detail and sharpness you get, but at the cost of the number of shots - AND you might have holes. As you are shooting, you might move a bit too much and not have enough or any overlap (shooting handheld). I do think that the 35 will provide sufficient resolution, sharpness and sufficient coverage to possibly shoot hand held.

The tripod and head. If you are going to stitch - especially architecture, you will probably what some sort of pano head. This will allow you to put the pano head on top of your tripod and head, level it out, and shoot around a fixed point - and allow you to tilt up to get the entire structure - do it in a standard pattern, thereby getting full coverage with out holes and gaps. Yes, it is a lot of work and you can (depending on the lens and its angle of view) shoot 3 or 5 or 9 or 10, even perhaps 30 or 40 shots per "stitched image". Its a good thing that you have large SD cards (and several of them) along with a number of fully charged batteries. The result can be incredibly detailed and sharp images. A panohead like the Panosaurus is relatively cheap. A Nodal Ninja is a bit more money.

Processing a lot of stitched images together can be a lot of work. Also, fixing some straight lines, and various views from stitching (projection distortions, etc.) and be additional work. Take a look at this site and the video - it give a good illustration of the process from beginning to end.So, overall -
  • Lenses -I think that the lenses you have cover everything (more than just the basics) that you might need to do. Yes, you can always get more lenses for specific perceived needs. I have not been down to the area that you are going, so I can only just go by the pictures on the web and then think of the problems and views that you will be dealing with.
  • Bodies - I think that with the K30, you have an excellent K5 type of sensor. 16MP should do real well. 24MP may do better, certainly 50% more resolution.
  • Stitching and how you might stitch - its a personal call as to what you want to do. Go out around town and give it a try. Shoot handheld and then stitch with ICE, to see if this appeals to you - before you go out and spend any money.

You are going to want to also consider work flow here. Both when taking the images and the processing them. Together they all need to tell a story. A single wide angle shot will give context, a stitch around a corner - say 270 degrees wide will give more of a relationship between the structure and its surroundings. Another stitch will give an overall view the the structure itself, and then the longer focal lengths will provide additional details.

Last edited by interested_observer; 01-25-2015 at 06:43 AM.
01-25-2015, 06:48 AM   #8
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Here's my take.
1) I'm assuming this will be "thoughtful" photography, on tripod, carefully composed;
2) the Sigma 8-16 is an excellent super wide, really unbeatable and even unmatchable stopped down to f6.3~f9,5;
3) a possible alternative, less expensive, would be a Samyang 10mm. Because you're doing architecture, from a tripod, AF is unnecessary;
4) I would STRONGLY recommend considering a Samyang 24mm TS. It's fussy and a little awkward to use, BUT it works well for correcting converging verticals, AND if you have at least basic understand the Schiempfluge principle, you can get enormous DOF, from paving stones a few feet in front of the tripod to background mountains on the horizon. No classic photographer would consider doing architecture without the tilt & shift mechanism of a view camera.
5) IF you want enormous DOF but don't want the set-up complexities of a Samyang 24mm TSS, be sure to learn (if you don't already know) how to do image stacking by refocusing between images. If you don't have an image stacking program, Combine CZM is available as a free download - - but Zerene Stacker (under $200) gives cleaner stacks (less ghosting & fewer artifacts).

FYI: The image below is a scan of a chrome taken with a Canon 24mmTSS back in the 1990's. Notice the DOF, from flowers at the bottom to mountains in the far distance. Images like this seem "ordinary," but there's no way to get such DOF and IQ* by stopping down to f16~32.

*IQ in this scan, in all scans I have, always suffers compared to the original chromes. The daisy at the base is significantly sharper in the original.

Last edited by WPRESTO; 03-24-2015 at 12:16 PM.
01-25-2015, 06:58 AM   #9
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I'd be tempted to get a high quality ~30-35mm to do the majority of shooting with

-So that's probably FA 31mm or DA 35mm macro

-A small/lightweight wide... the DA 15mm deficiencies are more than made up for by its small size IMO... one of Pentax's strengths is small lenses

-Then a WR zoom of some description, for bad weather... 16-50, 16-85, 18-135mm etc

So probably

31/15 as primary lenses and wip out the WR zoom for bad conditions or on the move

The Samyangs look good.. but if you are travelling a lot.. their size might eventually be noticeable over their Pentax equivelants 15/21/35/40 etc... all going to be smaller than Samyang

An alternative lineup might involve just:

DA 20-40mm (yes this lens takes a sledging from some quarters... check the real world user photos though, great lens IMO).
DFA 100mm

You've got good range and WR with that.. and only 2 lenses!
01-25-2015, 07:09 AM   #10
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I would suggest something that has the qualities of wide, reasonably fast and rectilinear, otherwise you could end up spending hours in PP.

I would use my “Mistress" (SMC Pentax-A 15mm F3.5) for such work or my "Good Lady” (SMC Pentax-A 20mm F2.8) if I wanted to keep the weight down.

P.S. I suppose that I could just use my SMC Pentax Shift 28mm F3.5 in the first place and be done with it.

Last edited by Kerrowdown; 01-25-2015 at 03:12 PM.
01-25-2015, 07:16 AM   #11
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Another comment V-A-V extreme wide. I have both a Sigma 8-16 and a Pentax 10-17 and have used both from the same position to record expansive interiors (eg: a cathedral). The 10-17 set at 10mm, records slightly more than the 8-16 @ 8mm. Much of the extra recorded is in the corners, and devoid of significant visual interest. If I remove as much fish-eye distortion as Lightroom will allow, I lose only those no-interest corners, and the resulting image covers only a little more than the 8mm image, but there is substantially more distortion remaining. The best use of a fish-eye is for fish-eye effect, NOT for recording more of building, inside or out. Look up images posted by Todd (many in the "I Spy" and "Alphabet Race" threads). I think he is a master at proper use of a fish-eye lens.
01-25-2015, 04:56 PM   #12
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DA 15 is all you need to add

The 12-24 is certainly a good lens, but if you will be crawling around and want something sharp and small, the DA15 is the item. Don't worry about the bodies you have. Lenses make more difference than bodies. The K200 and/or the K30 are just fine. The DA 15 doesn't flare very easily, especially if stopped down, and it's very small and light. In Bhutan I took the K200 and three lenses: DA15, M28/3.5, DA40, and DA 70 and didn't miss too many photos. I knew I wanted to travel light and knew that in Asia there would be many narrow streets and small museums where I would need a wide angle. Most of the lenses you have are sharp enough, with the possible exception of the 18-135. Take you tripod and use'll get sharper photos that way than the guys with $2000 super-sharp glass that shoot hand held.

Attached is a photo made in Bhutan with the K200 and DA15.

And have a great time! I'm envious.

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PENTAX K200D  Photo 

Last edited by BAB; 01-25-2015 at 05:01 PM.
01-25-2015, 05:24 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by WPRESTO Quote
The best use of a fish-eye is for fish-eye effect, NOT for recording more of building, inside or out.
Unless you do 360 degree panoramas, then a wide fisheye such as the Samyang 8mm is useful since you only need six shots
01-25-2015, 06:00 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by kh1234567890 Quote
Unless you do 360 degree panoramas, then a wide fisheye such as the Samyang 8mm is useful since you only need six shots
Never tried such panoramas, but I'm surprised there's a way to overcome the opposite curving distortion along frame edges that must be matched.
01-25-2015, 06:32 PM   #15
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I don't really have advice on lenses as I don't do a lot of this type of shooting.
On my trip I just took what I had that was WR with me so the 18-135 is what I used and all were quick hand held shots.
I look forward to your photos - there is great advice here that I wil note as well for my next trip to the Yucatan.

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