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.
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.
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.
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.