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02-11-2009, 04:17 PM   #1
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Hiking Lens Kit

I know there are 30,000 of these threads asking for advice with lenses. I just got a K20D and, after a lot of research on a good walkabout lens with a limited budget, a Sigma 17-70 2.8-4.5 DC Macro. It's a start, but I can tell already I need more range. It also has a bit more barrel distortion than I expected until you hit 30mm or so, and by then you're already out of F2.8 range.

Almost all the photos I've ever taken that have been worth framing have been taken on hikes. I think the 17-70 will do fair daytime landscape and macro for flowers, etc., but I am trying to decide which lenses to go for next. For wildlife shots, I think I would ideally want the Sigma 70-200 2.8 II EX DG, but I don't feel I am at the point where I can invest that much in a single lens. I've read a lot of good reviews on the Sigma APO 70-300 4-5.6, but wanted input to see if I'm overlooking something obvious. I think for now I should try to stay around $300 for a telephoto until I am more accomplished behind the glass, unless people have a very good argument to spend more now.

I've also been struggling with which if any primes I should invest in. The two most tantalizing have been the 35/2 and the 50/1.4, but I don't know if I would use them enough on hikes over the 17-70 to warrant picking one of them up. Thoughts?

02-11-2009, 04:37 PM   #2
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I would say to go for the sigma or tamron 70-300. They're not top-notch lenses, but they're cheap and can give you experience with telephotos. They'll get your foot in the door, so-to-speak, and let you learn what you really need in a future upgrade. Imagine your dismay if you spent $800 on the 70-200 only to find that it's not long enough for your style of shooting. Wildlife photography seems a particularly difficult area for budget-limited photographers. I've looked a lot, and it seems you really only have two options, low-end cheap lenses like the 70-300's mentioned, or $800+ lenses like the 70-200 or the sigma 100-300/4 (oh how I'd love to have that lens)

Another option may be some older manual focus lenses. The SMC-A 70-210 is superb (I hear, don't own it). I have a quite old M42 Super Takumar 200 f/4 that does well for wildlife, as long as they aren't quick movers.
02-11-2009, 04:48 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by mutedphotos Quote
I would say to go for the sigma or tamron 70-300. They're not top-notch lenses, but they're cheap and can give you experience with telephotos. They'll get your foot in the door, so-to-speak, and let you learn what you really need in a future upgrade. Imagine your dismay if you spent $800 on the 70-200 only to find that it's not long enough for your style of shooting. Wildlife photography seems a particularly difficult area for budget-limited photographers. I've looked a lot, and it seems you really only have two options, low-end cheap lenses like the 70-300's mentioned, or $800+ lenses like the 70-200 or the sigma 100-300/4 (oh how I'd love to have that lens)

Another option may be some older manual focus lenses. The SMC-A 70-210 is superb (I hear, don't own it). I have a quite old M42 Super Takumar 200 f/4 that does well for wildlife, as long as they aren't quick movers.
The A 70-210/4 has been a mid range favourite of mine for many years now. I tend to use the DA* 50-135/2.8 these days on the K10D, but the A goes on the film bodies for the same field of view. The constant aperture is a big plus, and the image quality is great.
02-11-2009, 05:42 PM   #4
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Re. the 70-300, I can't give you any direct feedback, having never used one, but my advice would be to keep your eye out for a used copy in the marketplace here (even put a want-ad in the wanted section), that way when and if you do decide to upgrade to something like the 70-200/2.8 you can probably get most of your investment in the used lens back when you sell it again.

Re. the primes, you should have 'em even if you don't take 'em hiking . Though since you've noticed barrel distortion which mellows out around 30mm in the sigma 17-70, you might consider getting a wider prime than the 35/2, maybe something in the 20mm or 24mm range. Of course if you intend mostly to shoot landscapes and flowers, the barrel distortion won't be too noticeable (except when shooting tall straight trees).

If you're trying to save money, one I'd recommend is the Sigma 24mm f/2.8 "Super-Wide II" which focuses close (1:3.5 macro ratio if I remember correctly), and is sharp even wide open though does tend to flare a lot if you let a strong light hit the front element. These come in all varieties, manual aperture/manual focus, auto-aperture/manual focus (the flavor I had), and auto-aperture/AF... You ought to be able to find one with auto-aperture and manual focus for $100 or less, but the AF models sell for too much and are really hard to find (I've been lookin' half-heartedly for several months and haven't found one). I'm sure there are other economical wide primes, but I don't know 'em - maybe someone else will chime in.

The 70-200 is actually pretty short for wildlife shots (even on a aps-c sensor like we've got) so it would be good for you to try out the range up to 300mm to find out if you'd be happy stopping at 200mm or if you might end up wanting a 300mm prime or a 50-500 or similar (though I doubt you'd backpack with the Bigma often ).

Edit: Check out this thread for a big discussion about backpacking lenses...

02-12-2009, 10:33 AM   #5
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I hike and backpack a lot and cross country ski also. Since I have gone digital I bring the kit lens and a Sigma 70-300 and that covers just about everything. The Sigma also has the "macro" feature. On occasion I do the "crap, I wish I brought the ------ lens" but the extra weight and all justs takes too much out of my legs and back. When going to familiar places I try to anticipate what I am going to need and bring only that. At my age my body is telling me to buy a bridge camera with an 18x zoom.
02-12-2009, 11:35 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by reeftool Quote
I hike and backpack a lot and cross country ski also. Since I have gone digital I bring the kit lens and a Sigma 70-300 and that covers just about everything. The Sigma also has the "macro" feature. On occasion I do the "crap, I wish I brought the ------ lens" but the extra weight and all justs takes too much out of my legs and back. When going to familiar places I try to anticipate what I am going to need and bring only that. At my age my body is telling me to buy a bridge camera with an 18x zoom.
It's tempting to go the super zoom route, but I still prefer to drag a bunch of stuff around. My mountain hiking pack is the LowePro 100 AW with the K10D, grip attached, plus DA* 16-50, DA* 50-135, DA 12-24 and M 100/4 macro. That covers almost anything I am likely to meet at altitude.
02-12-2009, 12:32 PM   #7
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The Pentax 55-300mm lens is noticeably lighter and more compact than the Sigma/Tamron 75-300mm lenses - as I found out when choosing one to take on holiday last year.

The 70-200mm F2.8's are bloody heavy - I would not take my Sigma anywhere I had to walk very far and carry it on my back!

You also probably want a really wide angle, and the latest Tamron 10-24mm is supposed to be lighter than most - although I would not swop my 10-20mm Sigma for it (unless someone is giving one away!). It stays on my camera most of the time when I am on holiday because it is SO useful, and is not TOO heavy.
02-12-2009, 12:46 PM   #8
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Try out some old manual lenses...

If you are on a budget, you should definitely try some old manual lenses. You can get a whole collection of fast, manual primes for half the price of one of these modern zooms. They are somewhat heavy for their size because they are all metal, but they are very durable and tiny. For hiking/backpacking photography, you generally have plenty of time to manually focus.

These are my favorite hiking lenses, they are all M42 screw mount, so you will need an adapter ($20):
  1. S-M-C Takumar 35mm 3.5 - for scenery/landscape. A very tiny lens with excellent sharpness and color. You can get faster 35's, but this is my favorite. It fits in my front pocket and can be had for under $50.
  2. Super Takumar 55mm 1.8 - low light scenery, people pictures. This is a very tiny lens also. Very sharp and well made, but under $50 also. Can bring along some extension tubes to get some nice bug macro shots.
  3. Any inexpensive 135mm or 200mm lens - There are plenty to be had in our marketplace. Takumars, Sears, Vivitar (Kiron or Komine), etc. These are great for wildlife.
Another good thing is if you accidently drop, lose, or smash a lens, you aren't out hundreds of dollars.

The only problem is I hate changing lenses when conditions are poor (cold, rainy, dirty, etc.) Plus, when my wife is carrying a full backpack, she starts whining and complaining if I take too long metering, setting the aperture, and focusing. Also, you will inevitably end up missing a shot of the elusive Replendent Quetzal while you are frantically trying to change lenses.

Buy a cheap lens and try it out. If it isn't for you, you can always resell it for about what you paid for it.

02-12-2009, 04:03 PM   #9
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I'd go relatively small, light and cheap until your confidence in your skills grows to where you want to spend $500+ on great lenses.

So, take the more-than-adequate and versatile Sigma. I would also recommend finding a Pentax 135 f. 3.5 M lens. They are very affordable, small and the optical quality is very good. That focal length is quite useful too. If you want more length consider a decent Kenko 1.5x telephoto. With a good prime the optical degeneration is not too bad, especially if the light is bright enough.

Alternatively, the Tamron 70-300mm is available used for close to $100. I've taken it on long x-country ski trips and have always been surprised at how decent the images are. Really, that and your Sigma should be enough.

I'd then put any leftover money into a packable tripod. I'm not a big fan of monopods, though I take a nice Klomperdell monopod/trekking stick on hikes because I like the stick as a stick. I find that an Ultrapod 2 chest-supported mini-tripod is more stable for macros. REI sells them very reasonably.

One more thing, if you can bring a small flash do it. You can create amazing shots with a flash at dawn/dusk on the trail.

M
02-12-2009, 06:26 PM   #10
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I appreciate everyone's feedback so far. I live in a small town, so my only avenues for used lenses are ebay or a few other online retailers (adorama, b&h etc), and I'm finding the retail prices or closing prices on most of the lenses on ebay are higher than what people tend to quote in here. Am I missing some great place to get used lenses?
02-12-2009, 07:02 PM   #11
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Check the used departments and the clearance at various retailers. KEH has an on line presence, and I am told they are good people to deal with. Personally, I have had excellent results using Vintage Visuals Photographic in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They have a lot of Pentax gear there. Prices are in $Cdn, so take off the exchange.
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