A reader of my recent post, How Much Gear Should You Take on Your Next Trip? left a comment, and asked a doozy of a question: “So assuming you want serious pics and are happy to carry one body and one lens which lens would you pack knowing you want a good mix of landscapes, wildlife and travel portraits?” (Thanks for the question, Ian.)
First, the camera. I would take a mirrorless camera to save space and weight. I use a Sony Nex7. The autofocus is terrible but I never use it anyway. I use mostly manual focus lenses and set the peaking to red on the ‘medium’ setting, and I also use the focus magnify feature. I’ve gotten very used to this setup and I’m pretty fast with it. The Nex7 is not my favorite camera ever, but there is a lot I like about it. It’s small and light, has a fast motor drive when I need that, the viewfinder is on the left side of the camera (which makes a big difference if you’re left-eye dominant, as I am), and has a tilting LCD screen. The tilting LCD screen has got to be one of the best camera inventions of modern times. It’s extremely useful for getting shots from different perspectives. Whenever I shoot with my Canon 5DII or 7D (which is not that often anymore), that’s what I miss the most.
I keep waiting for the perfect replacement to the Nex7, but so far it hasn’t come. I like the specs on the Fuji XT1, but I haven’t used it yet so I can’t offer a review. Sony’s new A6000 also looks pretty good, but it’s not on the market yet. (One thing is, it’s only half the price of the Fuji XT1.) The Sony a7 is also a good bet, although the shutter is quite loud, which can hamper your shooting if you prefer being discrete. The Olympus E-M1 is a great little camera but I like to use legacy glass (Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander, Nikon) and on that small sensor, the crop factor (2X) is too extreme for my liking. And at $1,400, I also think it’s overpriced. You can pick up a Canon EOS Rebel T5i for $570, which has a much larger sensor and even though it is a DSLR, it’s about the same size as the E-M1. That’s a difference of $830!
Now comes the hard part. Which lens? Back when I lugged DSLRs around everywhere, I would have said my one go-to lens was the Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS zoom. (Here’s an interesting link on the optics of that lens, including information on a Sigma equivalent lens.) It was my least favorite L lens, but it was the lens I used most often. Take a look at your best images. What lens were they taken with? Probably in the mid range somewhere. With my Nex7, my one lens of choice would be the Zeiss Biogon M 28mm. With the camera’s 1.5x crop factor, that becomes a 42mm lens which for me is the perfect compromise between a 35mm and a 50mm. It also turns out that 40mm is the true ‘normal’ lens and not the 50mm, as most people think. Here’s a link to more on that if you’re interested. When you think of it, it makes sense. The extremes are super wide-angle and super telephoto, but that’s not how our eyes see the world. So the bread-and-butter focal lengths will always be the most useful.
Or you could just get yourself a Fuji X100s. I’ve been tempted myself. It’s compact, silent, has a 35mm equivalent lens. The downside is it has a non-interchangeable lens. The upside of that, however, is that it has a non-interchangeable lens. Allow me to explain. Using only one focal length all the time can have very positive effects on your photography. You get to really know a certain focal length by looking through it all the time. And that helps you frame images in your mind even before your bring the camera to your eye. You can also compose more intuitively. Faster, better. And you don’t waste time by changing lenses. (Or have to worry about dust on your sensor, though that’s less of a problem these days.) David Hobby, of Strobist fame, made a video about the X100s that is basically a warm and fuzzy love letter to the camera. I don’t know whether he is affiliated with Fuji or not, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe what he says is true. He makes a very convincing case for the camera.
But regarding the original question, there is one area where I’ve let Ian down–wildlife. Unless you’re shooting elephants from not very far away, the 35mm focal length is not going to be much use. Wildlife photography is just too specialized to lend itself to a one-lens solution. I consider the bare minimum reach you’d want is a 300mm lens, and even that is short most of the time. A couple of years ago, I went on an assignment where I was going to be paddling a kayak down a river and I knew that changing lenses would be challenging so I bought a Tamron 18-200 super-zoom lens. On the Nex7 that offered the very useful range of 27-300mm. But I was disappointed with its lack of sharpness. It was also slow (maximum aperture of f/6.3 on the long end) and heavy, and simply unpleasant to use, so I got rid of it. You know, no free lunches and all that.
So there you have it. Mirrorless camera, 35mm or 50mm lens–or 42mm :). That works best for the kind of images and subjects I like to shoot. How about you? Leave your comments below.