The walk-a-round camera kit

Written by Gary on December 7th, 2008

Camera equipment is always a compromise on price, quality, weight, size and versatility.

When it comes to going out in the city with no fixed goal in search of photographic opportunities or ideas, I personally prefer the 2 camera approach – one with a wide angle zoom and one with a telephoto zoom. Sometimes I will take a 3rd special interest lens such as a ultra-wide, a tilt-shift, or a 1:1 macro with ring flash.

Each camera and lens should weigh less than 2kg in total to make it comfortable – a Canon 1DMIII with EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L lens weighing a total of over 3kg is NOT my idea of a walk-a-round kit!

What about a single super-zoom?

Although you can get superzooms with 15x zoom lenses on small sensor digital cameras, generally I am not prepared to sacrifice the image quality as a result of the tiny sensors and 15x zooms.

Of interest, is a new super-zoom from Tamron for Canon and Nikon cropped sensor cameras which has just been reviewed by here. This Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO lens provides a remarkable 28-420mm coverage on a Canon APS-C dSLR with image stabilisation and up to 0.29x macro, all in a relatively light 560g lens.

Whilst it promises to be a very useful lens for the Canon/Nikon cropped sensor users, it is not perfect – suffers from barrel and pincushion distortions as well as CA, AF is slow and thus not ideal for action shots, and the macro images are quite soft.

You can get better performamce with other long zooms but you sacrifice range with most giving a 28-200mm range – which is adequate for a large percentage of situations, may leave you a bit short.

The Micro Four Thirds system may be best placed to address the super zoom AND provide high optical quality as aberrations can be much better controlled in lenses designed for smaller image circles.

It will be interesting to see how the Panasonic 14-140mm f/4-5.6 OIS lens (which gives 28-280mm with image stabiliser) performs – of course, one would not be expecting a contrast detect AF system to be the tool of choice for action shots but it may be the BEST walkaround camera kit for those needing the lightest, smallest kit with high image quality and a 10x zoom range.

In the meantime – the two camera kit:

The options I prefer have been a cropped IS sensor telephoto zoom combined with either a ultra-wide zoom or wide-standard zoom, or a full frame or near full frame dSLR.

Olympus E510 with ZD 50-200mm SWD giving image stabilised 100-400mm f/2.8-3.5 in 35mm terms at less than ~1.7kg which can be further extended with either a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter, and it gives reasonable macro performance at 1.2m working distance.

  • see the lens comparison table here which compares this lens against comparable angle of view zoom lenses from Canon or Nikon
  • the Olympus E-30 with its much improved AF for action shots may be the best option instead of the E-510 but it is heavier and more expensive

Olympus E330 (perhaps now I would prefer an E3 or E30 instead) with ZD 7-14mm (ie. 14-28mm ultrawide zoom) or the 14-42mm kit lens or, if I had one, the excellent ZD 12-60mm SWD lens which gives 24-120mm coverage.

  • when using a ultra-wide angle, a flip out live LCD is EXTREMELY handy, and the E-30 (and E-3) will have this and IS so I can hand hold a 14mm eq., focal length at 0.5sec for creative effects

Canon 1DMIII with EF 24-105mm f/4 ISL lens
– given that I don’t have a ZD 12-60mm lens, I use this kit in conjunction with either the 50-200mm Olympus kit or the 7-14mm Olympus kit even though the 1DMIII is very heavy as a walk-around camera. As a walk-a-round kit, my preference would be the lighter Canon 5DMII with perhaps the heavier 24-70mm f/2.8 as I am not a big fan of the image quality of the 24-105 and the f/4 aperture is a bit limiting in controlling background blurring, while the 5DMII allows the full 24mm wide angle and one can bump up the ISO to partly address the lack of IS.

  • given that there seem to be few lenses to match the sensor resolution of the Canon 5DMII, my ideal lens to mate with it at present would be the new EF 24mm f/1.4 MII which should give far better image quality than the 24-70 or 24-105 lenses and give you a nice wide aperture when you need it – the geometric distortion of the 24-105mm at wide angle makes it very frustrating
  • when shallow DOF is needed, a EF 85mm f/1.8 (or f/1.2L if you have it), or 135mm f/2.0L are nice alternative lenses, and if you are really wanting to be creative, then the EF 45mm or 90mm tilt-shift lenses
  • alternatively, the Nikon D700 would rate highly on my list if I had Nikon

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