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Lens suggestions for mountain photography

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Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby waolsen » Sun Mar 28, 2010 12:54 pm

I recently bought a Nikon D90. I am a novice photographer and have a lot to learn.

I am looking to purchase a zoom lens for mountain photography and I am looking for suggestions. I want to pay no more than $600. Any suggestions?

Thank you!
"The mountains are calling and I must go"

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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby prone2jodl » Sun Mar 28, 2010 3:38 pm

Couple of thoughts... first, maybe, would be to consider what type of photography you are most interested in. Personally, I love wildlife, and it is really beneficial to have a quality telephoto lens for these sorts of scenarios. If you like wildflowers, you might want to consider a good macro lens. Those are pretty specific though, and they can be big and bulky, making this harder to hike with and prone to banging on rocks, etc. I think you will be best served by getting a good wide-angle lens, which will help you capture those scenic vistas. My canon came with an 18-55. It's not a particularly high quality lens, but the magnitude is pretty much right on for landscapes. It really ISN'T good for wildlife, sporting events, or anything else that you might want to shoot from a distance. For that reason, I picked up a quantaray 70-300mm telephoto with a macro setting. This pretty much covers me for all other scenarios... If you are interested in adding another lens, something like this might fit the bill. I think it was around $300. Of course, a quiver of two relatively cheap lenses leads to a jack of all trades/master of none situation. I'm a fairly serious amateur photographer, but I'm also a student, and therefore don't have the money to spend on $$$ lenses. The quantaray is nice because it's cheap, and it allows me to handle situations my standard lens can't. It's bad because, well, it's cheap, and god forbid you drop it. For me, it gets the job done, but it does NOT come highly recommended. My dad, who is a much more experienced photographer than I am, opted to trade in the standard lens + cash to upgrade to a very nice canon 50-200mm, which is really excellent for most uses, esp. midrange, portraits, etc, and if you have good stitching software, can still handle panoramas even though it isn't wide-angle. I really think that with camera lenses, you get what you pay for. To try and distill these ramblings into something that resembles advice:
1) Consider what sort of situations you envision yourself taking pictures in (i.e. are you sure you need a telephoto for the mountains? I'm not so sure, but if you love wildlife or flowers, might be a good call...)
2) Consider how much you like/will like photography. If you're new to it, $600 seems like a big investment to me. It may be wise to start cheap, or spartan. Make due with teh standard lens for a while, and then consider upgrading.
3) If you're going to be hiking with your DSLR, investing in a sturdy, water resistant bag is an absolute must.
4) When it comes time to upgrade, consider saving and investing in one really nice lens that covers a lot of ranges. Changing lenses on the go is a tremendous pain/waste of time, and if its raining, or if the subject is really time sensitive, you don't want to be messing with your lenses.
Anyways, those are just my thoughts on the subject.
Stünd ich, Natur, vor dir ein Mann allein,
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Nikkor 18-200 AS VRII?

Postby Howard70 » Sun Mar 28, 2010 4:58 pm

I have a Nikon D5000 that I use as a climbing / hiking camera. It came with two lenses - 18-55 and 55-200 (maybe 70-200, I don't exactly recall the lower limit of the 200 lense). I found that I liked the overall range 18 - 200, but I always seemed to have the wrong lense on the camera. I recently replaced the two lenses with Nikon's realtively new 18-200 VRII lense (they made an earlier model 18-200 VR). I'm very happy with the lense, especially with the combination of the VR and the greater sensitivity ISO sensitivity of the newer cameras - that combination means that you can use the lense in pretty low light situations even though the minium Fstop is 4 to 5.6. The lense is acceptably sharp (until you try a 200mm prime Nikon lense...), not too heavy and focuses well and quickly.

The new model is slightly more expensive that you'd like at about $700 to $750. However, the older model is often available for $400 - 500 used.

Howard Snell

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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby prestone818 » Sun Mar 28, 2010 7:04 pm

i also paid an arm and a leg for the new 18-200mm. it is the best but it is considerably heavier than the 18-55 that came with my d70. i no longer find my self having to switch lenses. when i know that i will not need alot of zoom i will take my 18-55 to save some weight.

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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby DavidK » Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:05 pm

I use a Canon camera and lenses so I can't offer specific advice on Nikon lenses, but here are a few general thoughts. I agree with previous posts that your specific photographic interests are important in deciding on what lens to use. If you are interested in a lens for photographing mountains and mountain landscape scenery, as opposed to wildlife or other mountain/landscape details, I really love my Canon 17-40mm lens for general outdoor mountain scenery photos. I find it on my camera body more often than any other lens when I am out in the mountains and backcountry. Higher telephoto lenses are more restricted in terms of what they can capture in the wide open wilderness, imho, so if that is your interest, I think you will want a wide-angle or, even better, an ultra-wide angle zoom lens. The Canon 17-40 is slightly above your price limit of $600, but you should be able to get it for between $600 and $750, if you can swing that. I'm not sure what the Nikon equivalents sell for, but, for general mountain scenery, I would suggest something in the 17-40mm range.

This topic can get more complicated if you are looking for a single lens for all uses - including both wide-angle mountain scenery and close-ups of wildlife or other details. The closest I have found in a Canon lens for an all-purpose lens is the 28-135mm. It is kind of a jack-of-all-trades lens, though, and rather old at this point. The Canon 70-300mm lens is outstanding for telephoto zooms, but not so good for wide mountain vistas.

Also as mentioned in previous posts, you may want to reconsider using a DSLR on 14er hikes. Don't get me wrong, I love my DSLR and rarely go on a hike without it. However, reading TRs and other posts on this and other sites, I get the impression that DSLRs are more the exception than the rule on 14ers. I'm no expert on the subject, but there appear to be a lot of high quality P&S camers on the market these days that are much more 14er-friendly than DSLRs. I am currently looking into that subject myself. Best of luck in finding what works for you.

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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby kimo » Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:50 pm

I started with a D40 using the 18-55 kit lens. I purchased the 55-200 VR to complement it.
http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Nikkor_DX_55-200mm_VR/verdict.shtml

The 55-200 VR is made of plastic and is light in weight but the optic performance is respectable. In hand, the 55-200 seems to weigh about half of my 10-20mm Sigma EX ultrawide.

Since then I've purchased a D90 with the modest 18-105mm VR kit lens. The 18-105 is now my walk-around lens. I hardly use the 55-200 anymore. But I still enjoy using my 10-20 ultrawide. It captures some interesting photos at the widest angles.

Samples of what a 10-20 ultrawide can do are here...
http://www.10-20mm.com/

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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby kimo » Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:26 pm

cvrti5 wrote:Do you guys shoot HDR in the mountains?


I have in the past when the process was new to me but I hardly even bother anymore. I just don't have the time to post-process and mess with images after shooting so I try to get what I want at the moment.

Here is one of my best HDRs, taken with the D40 on a tripod. And it's not that good. I remember putting 5 exposures into this, at +1 EV each. Tone mapped with Photomatix. It suffers purple fringing, dark and light areas, and mutated colors - the image needs even more PP.
Image

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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby prone2jodl » Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:51 pm

First off: Awesome image, Kimo. Really iconic rocky mountain shot.

Second: I always take my DSLR when I hike. For Class I or II hiking, it's really not a hassle, but it really depends on what you want out of the experience. Would it make like easier to just carry a point-shoot? Probably. And it's true, there are some great P-S out there with high resolution and great features that will fit in a shirt pocket. For me, I love documenting the experience in the best way that I can, by trying to capture iconic images. I don't just take pictures while I hike, I hike--in part--to find cool things to take pictures of. The range of features and control of, say, aperture or shutter speed or something like that isn't something that I am typically willing to sacrifice. I know that I am in the minority here, because I've seen relatively few DSLRs on the trails, whether on 14ers or in the backcountry, but you do what makes you happy. As Kimo noted, he toted a DSLR AND a tripod up there. It's all about what you want out of the experience.

I will say that with terrain above class II, the camera can become a serious hassle, not to mention you risk damaging it. This is why I suggested in my previous post to invest in a high quality, ruggedly durable camera bag. I certainly would consider leaving it at home if you were doing a class IV/V route.
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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby Dancesatmoonrise » Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:58 pm

In the hands of someone like Lars Leber, the HDR technique can really shine. The rest of us mortals find mediocre results and a lot of work. It is, however, the "new" buzzword, if not so new any more, and if one needs to pursue the lastest buzz.

As to lenses, one of the most important attributes of a good lens is sharpness across the lens field at various focal lengths and aperture settings. These can be seen visually with blur plots. Once familiar with blur plots, one can chose exactly what one is looking for in a lens - There is a sizable 'cost' for a lens that can span extreme focal lengths - that cost is IQ - image quality. To see this first-hand, one of the best sites for blur plots and reviews is SLRgear.com:

http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showcat.php/cat/2

Here's an example of a blur plot:

Image

This pretty much lays bare exactly what the lens is capable of - no guessing.

With the blur plots from slrgear.com, you can change aperture and focal length settings to see the actual plot for most representative settings. This has helped me a great deal, both in terms of chosing new lenses, as well as determining suitablility of existing lenses for various purposes - for example, macro work.

Hope that helps.

Jim


PS - As to SLR vs. PNS: I was surprised to see one of the foremost alpinists (who has been doing a great deal of winter ascents this year) carrying an SLR. She apparently doesn't mind the weight on even class 3/4 routes, and has some great photos to show for her mountaineering. My personal preference, while I love my SLR, is "light and fast" ... one of several small PNS cameras, especially in winter... though as the weather warms, I think I'll try taking the SLR and one or two key lenses, and possibly a light-weight tripod.

Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby Bean » Mon Mar 29, 2010 6:17 am

A little tweaking in LR or PS could get the same results. HDR is really only useful when you've got badly blown-out highlights and unsalvageable dark areas in the same shot.
gdthomas wrote:Bean, you're an idiot.

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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby prestone818 » Mon Mar 29, 2010 7:54 am

my tripod is pretty solid and heavy. i would love to take it hiking or skiing with me but 1.its super heavy and 2. the tripod doesnt fit into my 40qt backpack

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Re: Lens suggestions for mountain photography

Postby Dancesatmoonrise » Mon Mar 29, 2010 9:00 am

HDR is like anything else. It's a tool. In the hands of a poor craftsman, one gets a poor result. In the hands of a master, one gets a masterful result.

Here's an example from someone I consider masterful (Lars Leber)

Image

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