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01-25-2009, 06:28 PM   #1
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Which lens for backpacking?

I'm planning a few backpacking trips this year and want to pick up a new lens to go along with me. I plan to use an Op/Tech system that will allow the camera to hang from my pack, tight against my stomach. Depending on my gear load I may bring other lenses in my pack, but in some cases where weight is an issue this will be the only lens for the trip.

I expect most of the pictures to be vistas with some group shots or candids mixed in. It is impossible to find a single lens that will handle it all, but given that my priorities are light weight and wide enough perspective for the vistas I've been considering the following:
  • DA 21mm f/3.2
  • FA 31mm f/1.8
  • FA 35mm f/2.0
  • DA 35mm f/2.8
  • DA 40mm f/2.8
  • FA 43mm f/1.9

I'm leaning towards the FA 43- great reviews, light, fast, not too expensive- but I'm concerned about the focal length. The FA 31 seems ideal, but it is pushing the limits of my budget (maybe you can convince me it is worth it). The width of the DA 21 might be nice, but it is slowest and I definitely won't have a flash with me.

I'd appreciate any advice about which of these (or any others that I've missed) is my best bet.

Thanks in advance!

01-25-2009, 07:43 PM   #2
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This is when the gap between 21 and 31mm becomes a problem. You might consider the Sigma 24mm or 28mm f1.8 lenses. I would be afraid I'd fall on the FA31. The FA35 is a very good performer but maybe not wide enough. Those would be my top 3 choices if buying new.

From my current motley collection of legacy glass, I might go with the F28/2.8: AF so I don't have to stop and focus every time, a good "wide-enough" compromise, crank the ISO at night.
01-25-2009, 08:00 PM   #3
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I'll tell ya what I've done, and this has worked pretty well for me so far.

I gave up on the idea of skimping a half-pound of so and went for the gusto- picking up a DA* 16-50mm. This lens can handle it all- you've got the entire regular focal range covered, you're quiet, and you can stand in the rain and snow and keep shooting. Plus, it's fast- fast enough at least.

This thing can take a BEATING too. I've considered going different directions with my lens line-up for a variety of reasons, but the fact that I backpack at least every other weekend really makes it an impossibility for me. I just wouldn't be able to trust them out there on the trail. There's plenty of other stuff to worry about while you're out there too! Don't keep yourself from being able to bush-whack through rain and dust just because you need to protect that precious prime lens of yours, know what I mean?

I don't know what kind of trips you're planning, but I need something rough and tumble since mine are typically between 10-20 miles per day in both light and dark, with a couple thousand feet in elevation gain/loss, and the potential for rain, dirt, dust, snow, sticks, water (from stream & river crossings) and all sorts of other debris blasting the lens.

I'm VERY careful to keep my pack weight down (I'm an Eagle Scout after all, and I've been doing this for 15+ years now- more than half my life!), so I only carry about 20 lbs total for 2-3 night trips (not counting camera gear).

Trust me- if you go with a prime, you'll not only miss out on some shots, you might also destroy the damn thing in the process, and that won't be fun for anyone...
01-25-2009, 08:16 PM   #4
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I think the DA* 16-50 should stay in consideration also - heavy, but weather-sealed, and it's really nice to have 16mm with that much sharpness available.



01-25-2009, 08:40 PM   #5
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You've only listed primes, are you considering zooms? Even a farily small zoom range would still give you more flexibillity. Although perhaps you are worried about speed. I've got a 20-35mm FA zoom that is pretty small and definitely light; and I've heard at least one very experienced hiker recommend a 24-50mm zoom as an only lens for a hiking trip. Isn't the DA 16-50 pretty big? But weather sealed, which would be nice if you have a weather-sealed DSLR.
01-25-2009, 08:51 PM   #6
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When I go hiking, it's for a 3-6 hour outing, so I can pack heavy. I tend to take the 16-50 and the 50-135 zooms. When hiking, I ask myself if I'm going to be seeing wide open vistas or dense undergrowth. These will determine what lenses I'll have on the camera most of the time I'm walking.

I've been glad to carry both most of the time that I'm walking, as having the flexibility to shoot is worth it.

When I travel on a road trip, I still take these lenses and maybe the 50mm 1.4 for low light and the DA 14mm for special shots.
01-25-2009, 09:07 PM   #7
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I usually have the 21 on the camera when backpacking/ hiking. If I go into slot canyons I'll also bring the Zenitar.
01-25-2009, 09:10 PM   #8
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JamieP: Which lens for backpacking?

I'm planning a few backpacking trips this year and want to pick up a new lens to go along with me. I plan to use an Op/Tech system that will allow the camera to hang from my pack, tight against my stomach. Depending on my gear load I may bring other lenses in my pack, but in some cases where weight is an issue this will be the only lens for the trip.
Jamie: I hike year round and usually carry several lenses, but there is no way I can do without the Tamron 17-50mm. It is not weather sealed, but it sure does meet my needs up in the mountains. I'm sure the Da 16-50mm would be a great choice too--I couldn't afford it though. I would go with a wide to normal zoom if I were you, Here is a sampling of the Tammy.

Last edited by Jewelltrail; 09-25-2009 at 08:59 AM.
01-25-2009, 11:01 PM   #9
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Frequentl the only lens I take backpacking is the 16/45 f4. I don't like the narrow DOF you get with a 2.8 lens shot wide open and although the 16-45 isn't as sharp as the 16-50 wide open it is pretty great stopped down to increase DOF. It is not sealed of course but I have had it out in pretty extreme weather and it works fine. Really it doesn't matter what lens you bing as long as you know how to use it and know it's strengths. Your eye is far more important than the lens.

01-25-2009, 11:11 PM   #10
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I had similar needs and ended up with the 18-250 superzoom, massive reach winning out over other priorities - thread is here.

So far, I love it modulo some asymmetric vingetting, for which it's heading to Colorado for warranty repair... but I think my copy being subpar doesn't speak to the lens' quality in general.
01-25-2009, 11:28 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by arbutusq Quote
Frequentl the only lens I take backpacking is the 16/45 f4.
And with shots like those, I can see why - great!

To the OP: I don't know why the speed of the lens would be a big concern backpacking, unless you plan to take lots of pictures of people around the campfire. During the day, you'd normally be wanting to shoot stopped down anyhow, and besides, for landscape pictures, you can use a tripod (or makeshift support like a rock). I think most people in your shoes would recommend a zoom if you're taking only one lens. I might go for a prime personally, but much as I love my DA40 for certain types of landscapes, there are just too many scenes it is not wide enough for. On the other hand, I don't normally need as wide as 21mm for landscape. Of the lenses you list, I'd probably be going for the 31 if I could afford it. But I'd be just as happy - happier, even, since it is slightly wider - with an old MF 28. The m28/2.8 is my go-to lens for hiking these days. I'll take my 40 and maybe a 100 too in a bag, but the 28 is the one that gets used the most.
01-25-2009, 11:31 PM   #12
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For my trips I pack light and usually just a couple of zooms. Thats quite a collection you have but to try bringing them all....well its your back and legs. I hiked for years with just my Sp 1000 and a 55. When I could finally afford a zoom I thought it was the greatest thing ever. Just my 2 cents worth. If I was to choose 1 of those primes you list I would bring the DA 40, a wide angle zoom, and a telephoto zoom for wildlife shots.
01-25-2009, 11:39 PM   #13
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Backpacking optics

I would think with backpacking you would want the sharpest and most compact lenses.
The 31mm, 43mm, and 50mm are all film lenses and are larger than their digital counterparts. Personally I would opt for two lenses, the 21mm and the 40mm for a more normal view. These two lenses are together smaller and lighter than the 50mm lens. And will cost less than a 31mm.
Great lenses and enough speed to capture anything no matter how dark it becomes.
After all 3.2 is less than 1/2 an F:Stop slower than 2.8.

Just my opinion.

Art Ketchum
01-26-2009, 12:06 AM   #14
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"Is impossible to find a single lens that will handle it all, but given that my priorities are light weight and wide enough perspective for the vistas"

I disagree. I would suggest leaving a bag full, of primes at home and travel with one lens. Something like the Pentax 16-50* or the Tamron 17-50. Both are sharp, wider than the primes with listed, fast and produce excellent photographs.

01-26-2009, 12:20 AM   #15

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I know this is blaspheme but speaking only for myself - If I were going to back pack a camera into the back country I'd leave the DSLR home and take a good quality PS and leave it at that.

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