What Lenses I Carry and Why

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As a landscape photographer, I like to shoot a wide range of focal lengths in the field, from super wide-angle to telephoto. Because I hike a lot when shooting, I like to keep my pack as light as possible. This was one reason I started shooting with the Sony A7r. I may also invest in an even lighter system in the future.  I see a lot of workshop students carrying 30-40 pounds of camera equipment. I understand that when starting out it’s hard to anticipate what lenses you’ll actually need. I did the same thing when I was starting out. Over the years I’ve learned to strip away excess gear and focus on the gear I use most often. Typically, I limit the number of lenses I carry to three or less. Over the years I’ve developed several strategies for which lenses I carry depending on what subjects I think I’ll encounter and how much hiking is involved.

Backpacking and Long Hikes – Essential Lenses Only

On long backpacking trips, weight is the enemy. I have an ultra lightweight tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad; but with food and other essential survival gear, my pack still gets pretty heavy. I carry a very minimal photo kit when on backpack trips. I take one camera body, my ultra lightweight backpacking tripod, and my two favorite lenses. The two lenses I typically take are my 16-35mm ultra wide angle and my 70-200mm telephoto. This combination covers a wide range of focal lengths. Sometimes I take only one lens  to save even more weight. If i know I won’t be shooting anything ultra wide, I take my 24-70mm.

Backpacking Example

Backpacking Example

Light hiking – The Holy Trinity of Lenses

For day hikes,I stick with my essential three lenses and standard tripod and ballhead. This is still a pretty lightweight kit. My holy trinity of lenses consists of the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm lenses. Aside from a macro lens or long telephoto lens, these cover just about anything and everything I may encounter. Most major camera manufacturers have high quality lenses covering these focal  length ranges. When I’ve analyzed my shooting habits, I discovered that I use two lenses 80% of all my shots. The 16-35mm and the 24-70 are the workhorses of my lens arsenal which makes sense since I primarily shoot landscapes. I like having the 70-200 with me though; it gives me the option of isolating far-away scenes and gives me some reach for any close encounters I may have with wildlife.

Light Hiking Example

Light Hiking Example

Specialty Shooting with Some Hiking – Macro and Long Telephoto

If I think there may be macro opportunities or an image that requires more than the 70-200mm can reach, I take one of my “specialty” lenses. If there is hiking involved, I usually trade out one of my standard lenses for a specialty one. The two specialty lenses I use most often are a 90mm macro lens and a 400mm telephoto lens. The Palouse region in Washington is a great example of an area I like to shoot with my 400mm. I also rarely shoot ultra wide angle, so I leave that lens behind and pack the 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and the 400mm lenses.

Good example of a scene I like to photograph with a long telephoto

Good example of a scene I like to photograph with a long telephoto

Car Access – No Limit

Areas where I have easy car access are fantastic!  I can carry any and all the lenses I might want or need. This is a luxury I get about 30% of the time. I still try to be selective to avoid leaving expensive gear unattended in my car while I’m out in the field but if I’m on a multi-day photo trip, I usually take my full kit and disguise any gear I leave behind in the car.

So next time you are planning your trip thing about what lenses you want to carry to make most of the photographic location.

About Author Zack Schnepf

I love photographing the landscape. I seek out these type of locations to experience true wilderness, away from crowds, cities, and the stress of everyday life. Visiting these wild areas is a form of meditations for me, where I get to completely relax and appreciate the incredible beauty of nature. I try to convey the emotion I feel and the sense of wonder I have when I see such beauty in nature. That expression through my images, is what photography and art in general is all about for me.