Wind-blown grassesWind-blown grassesDry grass blowing in the wind near Canberra.

One lens to do it all

October 20, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I recently did a five week trip to Britain and Europe. As always, luggage is a problem and so on this trip I decided to take my Nikon D800 with a single lens: my 24 - 120 f/4 Nikon zoom.

In the past, I've tended to travel "heavy" on such trips: carrying most of my gear in a Kata backpack that runs to 8 or 9 kilos. The problem has been that firstly, that's a lot of weight - especially for someone in his late 60s. Secondly, the backpack is bulky and while it conforms to airline carry on dimensions (just), it's a problem when travelling on crowded public transport. (One time, it got caught in a closing Tube door in London.) Thirdly, I only used some of the gear on any trip.

My first big trip involved my Nikon D300 DX crop frame camera and because of its crop factor, I found I made about 90% of my shots using the brilliant Nikon 14 - 24 f/2.8 lens. Of course, with the D300's APS-C sensor and hence a 1.5 crop factor, that lens was effectively a 21 - 36mm lens. That's great for shooting landscapes and in cities, although it's a little short for some shots, which is why the other 10% of images were made with other lenses.

Canary Wharf station, LondonCanary Wharf station, LondonCanary Wharf station, London Nikon 300 with Nikkor 14-24 at 14mm (21mm effective)

On the full frame D800, that lens is too short for most photography - at 14mm you can get your toes in a shot if you're not careful. The 24 - 70 f/2.8 is a better option on an FX camera, but 70mm is a little short for some situations.

Cambridge streetCambridge streetCambridge street Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24 - 70 at 38mm

Enter the Nikkor 24 - 120 f/4, which is in the right focal length range for a trip, and is also stabilised - which can be helpful in low light situations. At f/4, it's a full stop slower than the 24 - 70, but since I tend to shoot at f/8 or smaller (to provide some depth of field) this wasn't an issue.

By the Seine, ParisBy the Seine, ParisBy the Seine, Paris Nikon D800 with Nikkor 24-120 at 70mm

Glen Coe, ScotlandGlen Coe, ScotlandGlen Coe, Scotland Nikon D800 with 24-120 at 24mm















So I took away the one lens, and I'm happy to report that the combination worked well. Very well in fact. The focal lengths available covered almost every situation I wanted to photograph, the aperture was fine, and the stabilisation system worked very well. If you're looking for a "walking around" lens for your Nikon and you have a full-frame (FX) body, I suggest you look at the 24 - 120, which is a bargain compared with their f/2.8 range. If you're shooting Nikon crop frame, the venerable 18 - 200mm works well - I know.

Canon shooters would do well to check out the 24 - 105 Canon lens. Like the Nikon 24 - 120, it seems to be a ridiculously good lens, especially for the price. No doubt, Sony and the micro four-thirds manufacturers have equivalent lenses.

The bottom line is that one lens can do it all - or nearly all. If you're travelling for photography, obviously you'll want more than one lens. My advice would be to take a wide lens for landscapes, streetscapes and close-in work, and if you can accomodate it, a longer lens - maybe a 70 -200. You could also carry a "nifty 50" 50mm lens which weighs practically nothing, or if you have a crop frame, a 35mm might be the go. 

One thing I missed on this trip is a  tripod. Something like the Sirui T-025X would be useful, but at a pinch, even a good tabletop tripod such as a Sirui 3T-35K Table Top Tripod would be useful. (I had meant to take my Manfrotto tabletop this time but forgot!)

Mind you, a little innovation goes a long way. This image was made with the Nikon more or less level on a park bench and the lens lifted by resting the lens hood on my reading glasses' case. You do what you have to do.

Dresden.Dresden.Dresden Nikon D800 with 24-120 at 24mm ISO 5000, f/10 at 1/10 sec


One area where the D800 was caught out a little was ISO. The fact is that in Australia, we're used to lots of light and as such, the D800's maximum ISO 6400 isn't really needed. I usually have auto ISO engaged and limit it to 3200 to avoid noise, but on this trip, due to small apertures (for more depth of field) and limited light indoors, I had to crank the camera up to the full 6400. The fact is that the noise was quite acceptable - unless I planned to print large (which happily I don't). That said, I don't normally concern myself too much with maximum ISO performance, but this trip brought it to mind. The additional couple of stops provided by the delectable Nikon D850 raised my level of gear lust.

Mind you, I could have simply taken my flash, but I'm (a) not a fan of flash and (b) didn't expect to need it.

So there you have it. Next trip - if there is a next trip - I'll take my current Nikon body, the 24 - 120 and some kind of tripod. That will cover me for around 90% of shots and for the others? Well, I'll just have to think.




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