Good "travel zoom" for Nikon DX Cameras?

Started 4 months ago | Discussions thread
PHXAZCRAIG Forum Pro • Posts: 17,473
Re: Good "travel zoom" for Nikon DX Cameras?

This always gets into the focal-range-versus-IQ argument along with price and weight.

On the one end of the continuum is a cell phone with prime lens. On the other end is a gripped DSLR with a superzoom interchangeable lens - all the range and all the weight. In between are lots of intermediate steps.

Anyway, it would help to know where you draw the limit for IQ as it relates to prime/short zoom/longer zoom/superzoom.

For instance, 18-400 OK with you if the price was right? Or is that just a bit too much zoom and not enough IQ?

Here's my experience followed by my recommendations, which are of course colored by my experience.

I was always one of those 'get the best IQ you can' types, sort of leaning towards shooting mostly primes if I could. (Back to my film days). When I started shooting, zooms were fairly new (1960's), and poor quality. I think those early days still hang on with us as an echo in the constant 'which lens is sharpest' debates here. As if there is a huge difference in sharpness between brands and lenses. The differences are nothing like they used to be, when you could get a real stinker of a lens. These days if you shop by price you'll find similar quality at similar price ranges.

So in my early history, there was good reason to be concerned about lens IQ. Things are a lot better and more consistent now, but for a long time (80's, 90's?) a short zoom (35-70, 24-50, 80-200) could be decent, but kit lenses were still suspect. Superzooms didn't really exist yet, beyond the 28-300 slow zooms that were around then.

Now you have some really reasonable choices, in that IQ isn't all the bad even for an 18-300 or 18-400, especially with a lot of pixels behind it. (More resolution helps even poor lenses).

My own story goes back to a D200 and an 18-200. When the 18-200 came out, it was in so much demand you couldn't find one, and everyone raved about it. Better IQ than one should expect for such a lens! I got one, and for a while I was very happy with it. (And it has both strong and weak areas for IQ). But one day I was trying to coax all the landscape detail I could out of it, shooting at F8, on a tripod, 43mm - just mostly playing at the lens' strong points. Except I couldn't get it quite as sharp as I wanted. Here is the shot that I thought just wasn't sharp enough.

It's not really large enough on that web page to see, but I was working with the NEF files and just couldn't be quite satisfied. For me, the IQ wasn't good enough.

So I proceeded to build my own travel kit, soon based around a D300. Here's what I ended up with, including the bag to use:

This kit has been working for me, with updated lenses and cameras, for D300, D700, D800e, D810 and now D850.   It's definitely got something going for it.  I've been in a lot of countries with this bag, stuffed with similar lenses.

For DX, I started with a normal zoom and built around that.  My choices then were 17-55F2.8 DX or 24-70F2.8g.    You may have though about this too, if you were planning on moving from DX to FX at some point.   I chose to build around the 24-70 F2.8 (Nikon) a lot in part because I knew I was going to get an FX camera and the 17-55 would be obsoleted.

Then I needed more focal range.   I chose the 12-24DX zoom then because the 10-24 wasn't out yet or I would have bought that.  When I did move to a D700, I had to replace this lens, and I chose the 16-35.  (My 14-24 wouldn't fit in the bag).

For the long end, you might be surprised.  I carry the 80-400, AF-D version at first, G version later.  I could have taken my 70-200F2.8 instead as it is the same size in the bag.  But the 80-400 has proven more versatile.   And it's got a lot better IQ than an 18-400, and a lot more range than an anything-200.

Is that a fair amount of weight?   Yep!  But it's also carried efficiently in that bag, putting most of the weigh on my hips and not my shoulders or spine.  I also can carry it with both hands free, I can run as needed, I can slide it to the front to sit down, and I can work standing up with it in front.   Even with less weight in it the bag would be extremely handy.

So - to really guide you, we need to know at what IQ point you draw the line, and how much weight you are willing to consider as well.

A note on the 18-200vr.   This lens really went from having a stellar reputation to one of mediocrity.  Some of that is due to going from 6mp cameras to 24, but also people don't understand where it is weakest, to avoid those areas.   In generally, the lens is best at short distance on the wide side.   It's weakest when you try to zoom in on a distant object (like wildlife).   If you have a lens like this and can simply avoid shooting it at its weak points, it becomes a viable travel lens again.

So - DX camera, travel zoom.  By definition needs a focal range and light weight.  Only you can say how much range is enough, how much weight is too much, and especially how much sharpness you require.

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Phoenix Arizona Craig
"I miss the days when I was nostalgic."

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