Hello all fellow phototravelers, I'm planning to go to Hawaii next month and also planning a trip to Europe next summer. I'm excited to purchase my first digital SLR (Nikon D90) when it comes out soon. I've been looking into lenses, bags, and accessories. I want to travel lightly but also would like to make the best use of my money. I've heard the Nikon 18-200 is a good all around lens for traveling but not great at anything particular. It's also pretty expensive ($650) so I'd like to get your guy's and gal's opinion on which combination of lenses you would recommend and what worked for you. If you can be specific in the make and model of which lenses to get, I'd greatly appreciate it. I've thought about getting a good wide angle lens such as the Nikon 50mm and a good zoom lens. Also, what's the consensus on third party lens manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron lenses? Are Nikon lenses considered superior to Sigma and Tamron? I have a Northface Recon backpack which I thought about using to travel. If I get a camera case, is this ok to travel around with or should I get a camera backpack? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated! Thanks!!
What to recommend lenses-wise depends greatly on your budget, and on what kind of photos you imagine yourself taking.
What I personally travel with (I have a Nikon D200) is the 18-200 VR you mentioned, because it's a great all-around lens which is just insanely useful in covering pretty much everything "decently", the 50mm despite hardly ever using it, because "why not?", and then the 12-24 because the biggest weakness of the 18-200 is the wide-angle side of things, and I shoot a lot of landscapes. I purposefully waited with buying the 18-200 until I could also buy the 12-24 (before those I had the 18-70, which is far superior at the 18mm side of things), as that wide-angle weakness really mattered to me, and I knew I couldn't resist using the 18-200 anyway otherwise.
The 18-200 is also somewhat weak on the long end (the 200mm), but as I hardly ever shoot that long, this matters less to me.
Now, the D90 is going to come with the 18-105 VR lens as its default kit lens, and you get that lens for rather cheap (compared to buying it standalone), so if you'd ask me if the 18-200 VR is good enough to pay the premium over that 18-105? Not knowing anything about the new lens yet, my gut feeling is: "probably not". Basically you have to ask yourself if you'd take all that many photos from 105 to ~160mm. If you think you would (or if the 18-105 is even weaker than the 18-200 around 18mm), then the 18-200 is definitely worth considering after all.
For $650 or less, there isn't a whole lot available which is going to be really useful. The 50mm f1/8 is obviously a complete steal at ~$100, and it's an awesome portrait lens (not wide-angle; you probably meant to say "prime"?). It's also very lightweight, so taking it along is usually an easy decision, although it's a hard lens to actually get much use out of while travelling.
However, for just a "bit" more than $650, you can look at lenses like that 12-24 f/4 (~$900) I have myself (which is the most awesome lens ever for landscapes and often even manages to take non-distorted photos of annoyingly tall buildings like churches and temples, as long as you can get just enough distance to not have to tilt your camera.)
Or, if you know that shooting on the long side of things would be more your thing, the 180mm f/2.8 (~$700) is surprisingly affordable and lightweight with reportedly absolutely excellent optics (it should totally blow away anything the 18-200 can produce).
If you really don't know what you want yet, probably the best recommendation I can give you is to save your money and stick with just the 18-105 VR. Using that is probably the best way to learn what you're really missing.
As for Tamron and Sigma lenses: quality varies much more with them than with Nikon lenses. Some are just as good, some are noticeably worse. It's hard to find good reviews of them, though, which has for me been the main reason not to buy any (yet).
On lens reviews in general, the first place I always look is naturfotograf's website, and then Thom Hogan's website as a distant second opinion. (Don't bother with Ken Rockwell, and hope that dpreview hurries up with rounding out their newly started lens reviews so that they might actually start to be useful comparisons.)
Finally, I've always carried my camera plus 18-200 in a triangular toploader (I'm pretty certain it's this one), which goes in my daypack when I'm not actively using the camera - the 12-24 is wrapped in a pouch and fits in the backpack underneath the toploader, though I always worry ever so slightly about how safe it is like that. As both the zippers on my toploader have recently come off, I'm now pondering a sling bag as a possible replacement, but I'd have to go size it out to see if it could still fit in my daypack when I'm not using it.
[ Edit: Edited on Sep 3, 2008, at 4:12 PM by Sander ]
Sander, thanks for your thorough response!
I'd like to take these types of photographs (in order of priority):
- Photojournalism / current events
- Astrophotography (very low priority but eventually)
Thanks for your review on the Nikon 12-24mm lens. I'm seriously considering it to cover my interests in landscape and architecture shooting. However, photojournalism seems to require a versatile lens with general shooting capabilities and I was thinking either the kit lens (the Nikon 18-105mm) or the Nikon 18-200mm VR you also have. Do you think the kit lens will produce better quality than the 18-200mm VR? Is there a lens that might better suit my "photojournaling" purpose?
If the Nikon 18-105mm or the 18-200mm VR can cover "photojournaling," I'll take your recommendation to start off with either of these lenses and save up for the Nikon 12-24mm lens. My budget for camera, lenses, case, and memory is approximately $2500. How big of a difference is there between SanDisk's Extreme II and III?
Thanks again for sharing your expertise,
[ Edit: Edited on Sep 5, 2008, at 3:58 PM by iyamlegend ]
Thanks for your review on the Nikon 12-24mm lens. I'm seriously considering it to cover my interests in landscape and architecture shooting.
As I mentioned, it's perfect for landscapes. For architecture, I've often seen it reviewed as being "nearly good enough". That is, you'll take great architecture photos with it for almost any purpose except making your living with architecture photography.
However, photojournalism seems to require a versatile lens with general shooting capabilities
Nothing in photojournalism is "required". I suspect there's an awful lot of photojournalists who'd prefer to shoot with nothing but something like that 50mm prime. (Or alternatively, the 17-55 (at $1200) would be something frequently considered for that.)
and I was thinking either the kit lens (the Nikon 18-105mm) or the Nikon 18-200mm VR you also have. Do you think the kit lens will produce better quality than the 18-200mm VR? Is there a lens that might better suit my "photojournaling" purpose?
Whichever lens you feel most comfortable with. This is definitely a field where the (observational) skills of the photographer matter far and far more than the equipment.
I don't think the decision between the 18-105 and 18-200 will ever be a simple one. I've looked a bit more into the 18-105 since my last post, and if you look purely at the quality of the optics, it appears to have a slight edge over the 18-200 (but only a very slight one). However, Nikon cut every corner in all other places, and so it's VR system is far weaker (the 18-200 has an "active" VR mode for when you're in a moving vehicle, which the 18-105 completely lacks), and the build quality of the lens isn't nearly as good either. Still, is that - plus the extra 95mm of reach - worth $300?? Actually, I think it would be - but probably not if I could also decide to spend those $300 on the 12-24.
My budget for camera, lenses, case, and memory is approximately $2500.
Hmm, so let's see how that'd fit....
$1300 for a D90 + 18-105, or $1650 for a D90 + 18-200. $100 will get you 16GB of SD cards. (Having a memory tank for backup would be useful, but not essential; burning to DVD is the way to go.) Maybe another $100 for a carrying case, though that already sounds excessive to me. What's left after that? Maybe $40 for an extra battery and $60 for a UV filter, but even with that you should be able to still make the 12-24 fit in alongside the 18-105. Or get the 18-200 as the more useful lens first and save up the remaining $350 as soon as you can.
How big of a difference is there between SanDisk's Extreme II and III?
Enough that it's worth paying $5 more for Extreme III so that you can transfer your photos to your computer in noticeably less time - but not enough to worry about otherwise, unless you shoot sports or wildlife and need to be able to take 4 frames per second continuously for more than 20 seconds at a time.
All really great advice Sander. You've simplified my search and now I'm just waiting for the D90 to be released already!! Any hunch when that will be? I don't know much about UV filters, how do I choose one? Is there one you could recommend to me?
If you are absolutely certain you want one, I'd recommend pre-ordering it from your local camera store (maybe call a few to ask how many preorders they already have and how many cameras they expect to get). It should go on sale "by late September", but if experience from previous Nikon cameras holds, if you don't preorder you can expect it to be nearly-continuously sold out for a month or two after that.
I must run, so I'll answer UV filters later. (Don't know that much about them myself either.)
Ok I just ordered the D90 with the kit lens for $1,294 which includes free UPS ground shipping, 4 GB sd card (probably no name brand), and Nikon promo case. Apparently, the body only version won't be released for another 45 days. I'm still deciding on whether to get the 18-200mm lens or the 18-105mm lens but I'm pretty sure I'm set on the 12-24mm lens. So I'll probably sell the 18-105 lens on eBay and use the 12-24mm lens for my trip to Hawaii and I might also buy the 18-200mm lens before then also. In the end I want my entire system to be: Nikon D90, 12-24mm Nikon lens, and the 18-200mm VR Nikon lens. Do you have a photo website, Sander?