Words and images by John Gravett - www.lakelandphotohols.com
We've just taken our annual family Summer holiday – a couple of weeks in Florida. With parks, towns and watersports in the first week (in Orlando), and the chance of wildlife – alligators, manatees, osprey, vultures, banana spiders and so on – in the second week in the Everglades; I planned my kit for the fortnight and the list I'd like to take came out as:
- Nikon D700
- 70-200mm f/2.8, plus 1.4 and 2x convertors (useful for wide apertures, for bird work)
- 400mm f/3.5 (manual focus) plus 1.4x convertor (again for the birds)
- Possibly 105mm Macro.
- Couple of heads (ball & socket, and gimbal for the larger lenses)
- LowePro Vertex bag
I then noticed that we were flying Virgin Atlantic, and their restrictions on hand luggage (like so many flight operators these days) was a miserly 6kg, the list above (excluding my tripod and heads, which fit in my suitcase) still came to almost 15Kg! So something had to be done about it.
The revised checklist was a revelation: The Lowe Pro went in favour of a Domke F2 bag, first designed in 1976, it minimises padding, and weighs in at a full 1Kg less than the Lowe Pro, weighing only 1.3Kg.
The rest of the kit was reduced to:
- D700 body
- 16-35mm f/4
- 28-300mm f/3.5 – 5.6
- 16mm fisheye
- Netbook (to download to and give me internet access)
The total weight came to 5.8Kg! (I did add filters, tripod and head to the suitcase).
I've had the 28–300 for just over a year, and love its versatility, but it's rare for me not to back it up with fast glass as well. At check in – they did weigh my hand luggage, and for the first time ever – it was underweight!
But could I really do a wide range of America armed with only one major lens? The answer, a resounding yes. I am so impressed with the sharpness of this lens; any wide-range zoom will suffer some distortion at the extremes, and it does, but nothing that can't be easily adjusted in Photoshop.
The lens is the full-frame equivalent of the DX 18-200mm, and although slightly larger than the DX lens, it comes complete with a good length petal shaped lens hood, and takes the almost ubiquitous 77mm filters. It features Mk II VR, which Nikon reckon is good for 3 – 4 stops, and has a handy lock on the side of the lens to stop it drooping as you carry it. With a close-focus of 0.5m (from the sensor) – which equates to about 200mm from the front element, it does a pretty good job in the semi-macro stakes too, as can be seen on the photo of the tiny frog on the swimming pool tiles.
The week in the Everglades included a good deal of nature, and pictures included the dolphin, following our boat, the Snowy Egret, which in Florida will let you get close enough with a 300mm lens, and the Osprey, which flew overhead at a beach, staring intently down the lens!
The greatest revelation was that I never had the wrong lens on (and how many times have we all suffered that problem). A quick twist of the zoom ring and I could go from an all-encompassing wide-angle to a decent telephoto. I found in cities – like Orlando city centre (it's not all parks and rides) it meant I could work quickly, easily and unobtrusively, not waddling around with a massive bag of kit drawing attention to myself, esily switching from 28mm (interior of shopping centre) to telephoto to capture details, and candid photos. Needless to say, zooms are also perfect for everyday photography and family portraits.
Whilst I did use the 16–35mm and the fisheye, I reckon over 90% of my photos over the fortnight were taken on just the zoom lens. Some days I took just the camera and the 28-300mm. No disapproving looks from other family members – just the one lens – no issue (they seemed surprised I was travelling so light). Add to that the Floridian heat (about 35 – 40 degrees) and it wasn't too much to carry.
Has it changed the way I photograph? To some extent, yes, it gives me the opportunity to be ready for anything. In other ways … let's say I'm keeping my 70–200mm f/2.8, I love the shallow depth of field and ability to shoot easily in low light, but a 28–300mm is a great piece of kit, and what travel (and street) photographers have needed for years.