Lens Choice

22/05/2011

 
Last weekend, after paddling at the Tryweryn for the day, Screamer from Warwick Uni asked me "Which focal range do you find you use the most for UK paddling?" My initial response was that I didn't always get to choose the focal range - often it's dictated by the light and the nature of the river (low light, or narrow dark gorges often force my hand into using a prime lens with a wider aperture).

It's got me thinking though. For the last season I've had the following lenses to choose from:

- 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5
- 100-200mm f/4.5
- 28mm f/2.8
- 50mm f/1.7
- 135mm f/2.8
- 28-70mm f/2.8 (which I sadly broke in January...)

Which have I used the most in the last year for paddling photography in the UK?
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100-200mm f/4.5
At the end of October, the weather was still pretty good, and on our beginners trip I was able to use a combination of the 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 and 100-200 f/4.5 lenses for a combination of portrait style shots (above) and more scenic shots (below).
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35-105mm f/3.5-4.5
At a similar time of year, with reasonable lighting conditions I was forced into using my 28mm f/2.8 prime lens when we paddled the Tawe gorge in South Wales. The Tawe gorge is very narrow in places, with overhanging trees and dark rock - not the ideal conditions for getting lots of light into the camera. At the same time I knew that 50mm would probably be too tight for many of the shots I wanted, so compromised with the 28mm.
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28mm f/2.8
I bought a 28-70mm f/2.8 lens shortly after this, and (until I broke it) I thought it was going to be my go to lens for UK paddling - f/2.8 to allow a good amount of light in, but still with a good zoom range for a variety of shots.
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135mm f/2.8
Another new lens this year for me was my 135mm f/2.8  MF which I picked up for about £15 on ebay. This lets me get closer into the action from a good distance (allowing me to get a good angle, or change the perspective) and still enjoy the benefits of more light hitting the sensor. Unfortunately, since it's a manual focus lens, I often overlook it in favour of an easy (and quick) to use auto focus lens.
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50mm f/1.7
More often than not, the first additional lens that people buy to supplement their "kit lens" is a 50mm prime, and this is why. Mine is f/1.7 and even on a horribly overcast and miserable day in the Lake district it allows you to keep the shutter speed fast without introducing lots of noise from having to bump up the ISO.
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100-200mm f/4.5
This years NSR proved tricky for me - I wanted a series of close up shots on a variety of features. Whilst the 100-200mm f/4.5 initially fits the bill, when it's overcast and miserable a wider aperture would be better. Still, until the day when I can afford an expensive professional f/2.8 zoom lens to cover the long distance, I'll make do with what I have.
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100-200mm f/4.5
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50mm f/1.7
So, looking back at which lenses I've used for the past year in the UK, it looks like I mainly use a range around 28-50mm or 100-200mm, but often my choice is dictated by what aperture I feel I need. If I could have just one lens for UK paddling I think it would probably be a 28-70mm f/2.8 to give a reasonable aperture, and allow the flexibility of zooming. But there are days when you'll be glad to be able to widen the aperture further (using a 50mm prime).

Hopefully that has shed a bit of light on my lens choice - of course once you go abroad to the Alps, Corsica or anywhere else that the sun shines you can afford yourself more freedom to take the lens with the focal range you want, knowing that you can stop down to f/6.7-8 and still be able to use a fast shutter speed.
 
 
There's no better way to get through a long term at Uni than to book a holiday to look forward to at the end of it, so that's exactly what I did. Nigel Markey, Ben Saxby and I headed to Corsica for the Kayak Session week in search of respite in the form of some steep creeking.
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Arthur Norton enjoying one of the many slides on the Rizanesse. Sony A500, Minolta 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5, 1/3200s f/6.3 ISO 200.
For the last few years Kayak Session magazine have been organising and promoting a festival week on Corsica, so everywhere we went there were vans and cars full of people from all over Europe - Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Belgium, Austria, France and the UK. All of them had come for one reason; to run the islands famously beautiful and high quality rivers.
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Nigel Markey on the iconic drop on the Rizanesse. Sony A500, Minolta 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5, 1/2000s f/7.1 ISO 200.
We were a bit late for the best of the water this year, but we still found plenty to do and a few days of rain helped put some water back in the rivers towards the end of our stay.
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Jamie Conn on the Fium Orbo. Sony A500, Cosina 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5, 1/1250s f/6.3 ISO 200.
Nigel has put together a video of the trip, which can be found here. The full set of my photos can be found here.
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