Tag Archives: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

Lenses: Primes vs. Zooms

Introduction

In the photography world, the topic of prime lenses vs. zoom lenses is one of those enduring debates.

As someone who has used both types of lenses extensively over the years, I will offer my views both for and against both types.

Let me preface by saying that I made a conscious choice to use prime lenses only; but before explaining why, this article will examine the strengths and weakness of both lens types.

Photography is all about trade-offs, and it is no different with lenses.

 

Prime Lenses

A prime lens, otherwise known as a fixed focal lens, is a lens which has only one focal length.

 

Advantages of Prime Lenses

Because a prime lens is optically designed for a specific focal length, it is therefore specialised.  It does one thing, and it does that one thing well.

With a prime lens, it can be the case that the optical formula is simpler, and therefore the types of adverse optical effects the optical design needs to counter, are reduced in both number and nature.  The use of less lens elements or groups of lens elements contributes to this ability.

Prime lenses are generally (but not always) sharper than their zoom lens counterparts at equivalent focal lengths.  Depending on the lenses compared, the sharpness difference can be substantial, or barely noticeable.

Zoom lenses have come a long way in recent years, with their sharpness in some cases able to equal or exceed the sharpness of prime lenses at equivalent focal lengths.

Newer lenses may introduce optical designs and lens coating processes which are superior to those of older lenses.

On the other hand, some quite old lenses are legendary for their sharpness despite substantial development as digital photography has become widespread.

Prime lenses tend to be available in wider apertures than zoom lenses, with f/2.8 commonly being the widest aperture in which zoom lenses have been available.  In recent years, zoom lenses have become available with maximum apertures of f/2 and even f/1.8.  Sigma in particular has been at the forefront of lens innovation and breaking of traditional boundaries.

In the Canon EOS/EF product lineup, the lens with the widest aperture ever released was the Canon EF 50mm f/1.0L USM, which has long been discontinued, and which is somewhat rare and expensive, earning it a position as a ‘cult’ lens.  Currently, the widest aperture Canon offers is f/1.2, in both a 50mm lens and an 85mm lens.

Incidentally, despite its cult status, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.0L USM is notoriously soft at f/1, and produces a strange rainbow effect in the bokeh in some situations.  This lens is more desirable for its specifications than its abilities.

In the 1960s, Canon offered an S-mount 50mm f/0.95 lens.

The f/1.4, f/1.8 and f/2 apertures are common maximum apertures amongst prime lenses.

Generally speaking, lenses with very wide or very long focal lengths tend to be somewhat limited in the widest apertures in which they are available.  This limitation is due to physics, in that it requires a lot of glass — particularly with long focal lengths — to produce a lens with a wide aperture.  This increases the optical complexity, production cost, size and weight, all of which are inherently negative attributes from both the manufacturer’s perspective as well as the end user’s perspective.

Because prime lenses are generally available in wider apertures than zoom lenses covering the same focal lengths, this makes them advantageous and desirable on several fronts.

The first benefit is low light ability.  Lenses with wider apertures can more easily capture images in low light.  This means that a faster shutter speed and/or lower ISO sensitivity rating can be used, which has the benefit of hand-holdability and a cleaner image.

The ability to use a faster shutter speed is particularly important when capturing movement — specifically when there is the desire to freeze subject movement.  It is difficult to achieve this objective by using lenses with narrower apertures.  There are ways around this, but there are invariably trade-offs.  Increasing the ISO sensitivity rating increases noise, and using artificial lighting is not always practical or even possible.

The second benefit is bokeh, the Japanese word for the quality of the out-of-focus highlights.

A lens with a wider aperture means that it is possible to achieve a narrower depth of field, which obfuscates the background with pleasing blur, and isolates the subject from the background.  Both effects are visually appealing, particularly for portraiture.

Depth of field is, of course, affected by not only the aperture, but the focal length and the distance between the camera and the subject.  The extent to which the background is blurred is also affected by the distance between the subject and the background.

The third benefit of lenses with wider apertures is the ability to autofocus in low light.  Modern lenses with electronic apertures leave the diaphragm wide open when composing and focusing, and then close it down to the user- or camera-specified f/stop when exposing.

This means that even when shooting at f/11 with an f/1.4 lens, the lens’s aperture is opened to f/1.4 when composing and focusing.  This results in more accurate, reliable autofocus.

One final benefit of prime lenses is a reduction in size and weight, compared to zooms offering the same focal length.

While this can be the case, it is not always the case.

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens is physically large and heavy relative to its focal length.  It is physically longer than the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens, which itself is a monster of a lens, weighing over 1kg.

Other prime lenses are smaller and lighter than the general-purpose zoom lenses which provide the same focal lengths.

So, those are the advantages of prime lenses; but what are the disadvantages?

 

Disadvantages of Prime Lenses

For all the positive benefits prime lenses provide, they also come with some negative attributes.

As discussed in the previous paragraph, prime lenses can be larger and heavier than zoom lenses which provide the same focal lengths.

This is particularly true with longer lenses, such as those offering the 200mm or 300mm focal lengths.  Prime lenses in these focal lengths — even those not offering the widest apertures available in those focal lengths — can be larger and heavier than some zoom lenses which cover those focal lengths, albeit at narrower apertures.

A photographer who makes use of prime lenses may find that the size and weight increases, and this must be considered when travelling, as it does not take much effort to consume a lot of space or exceed airline cabin baggage weight restrictions.  Having carried large and heavy prime lenses to far away destinations, I am all too familiar with these challenges.

Cost is another consideration when using prime lenses instead of zoom lenses.

Some zoom lenses cover a broad range of focal lengths, and to cover a number of those focal lengths with prime lenses can mean not only an increase in the number of lenses one needs, but a higher cost, depending on the specifications of the lenses.

One general-purpose zoom lens can easily cover four, five or even six common focal lengths for which prime lenses are available, in a single package which costs and weighs less than a bag full of primes.

By far the most significant disadvantage of prime lenses is the lack of flexibility to change the framing.  With a prime lens, the only way to change the view of a subject is to move — or change lenses.  In some cases, this is not particularly problematic; but in other cases, there may be circumstances which limit or eliminate the ability to move.

Someone photographing action, such as wildlife, sports or performances, may not have the time to switch lenses.  These subjects are very time-dependent, and a moment missed can never be re-visited.

It may not be possible to move positions to change the view.  When photographing any of those above-mentioned subjects, you may be limited to the very position in which you happen to be, as it is not safe, practical or permissible to move closer to the subject, or further from the subject.  To that end, prime lenses can be quite limiting.

 

Zoom Lenses

A zoom lens, otherwise known as a variable focal lens, is a lens which offers a range of focal lengths, which can be changed by rotating a ring on the lens barrel.

 

Advantages of Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses offer a number of advantages over prime lenses.

The most significant is the ability to change focal lengths without moving, or changing lenses.  As discussed in the preceding section on prime lenses, sometimes timing may be critical, or the shooting position may be fixed.

If one is shooting a subject which moves, an appropriate focal length can be selected by rotating the zoom ring in either direction to zoom in or out of the scene to achieve an ideal composition.

In addition to the often highly desired ability to change focal lengths easily, is the reduction in size and weight.

One zoom lens can easily cater for the focal lengths of five or six prime lenses.  This means that the size, weight, cost and quantity of lenses is significantly reduced.  In some situations, this can be essential, as well as desirable.

This can be advantageous for someone on a budget, or with limited ability or desire to carry a bag full of lenses.  Convenience is the result.

One other feature zoom lenses offer is the ability to introduce motion blur by zooming during exposure.  Admittedly, in my opinion, it is a gimmicky effect which has limited practical application; but occasionally, if done sparingly and with a suitable subject, the motion blur caused by zooming in or out during exposure can result in an interesting image, which no prime lens can capture.

What zoom lenses offer over primes is predominantly convenience.

Some people do not wish to change lenses, which in my own opinion defeats the purpose of investing in a camera system designed for the ability to change lenses; but in some situations, changing lenses is not practical or sensible.

So, what are the disadvantages of zoom lenses?

 

Disadvantages of Zoom Lenses

Naturally, zoom lenses come with disadvantages, too.  Remember, photography is all about trade-offs.

Image quality — particularly sharpness — is one of the attributes often cited as a disadvantage of zoom lenses.

One must be cautious when making claims about the sharpness of images captured with zoom lenses — specifically, less sharpness — as it is not quite so simple.

As described earlier, some zoom lenses can rival or exceed the sharpness provided by zoom lenses at identical focal lengths.  Modern zoom lenses have come a long way, and the current generation of professional-grade zoom lenses offers image sharpness which would satisfy all but the most fussy, pixel-peeping photographer.

In practical terms, very few people could look at an image captured with a modern, professional-grade zoom lens and identify, purely visually, that it was captured with a zoom lens.

Of course, not all zoom lenses offer outstanding image quality.

The challenge zoom lenses have, which prime lenses do not have, is the need to optically cater for a spectrum of focal lengths and associated optical characteristics.

Zoom lenses generally have more distortion than prime lenses, particularly at the widest and longest focal lengths provided in the lens.

The widest focal lengths tend to experience more pronounced barrel distortion; and conversely, at the longest focal lengths, pincushion distortion is not uncommon.

The broader the range of focal lengths a zoom lens offers, the more challenging it is to avoid adverse optical effects.

This is why professional-grade zoom lenses offer a narrower range of focal lengths than entry-level or mid-range zoom lenses.  Professional-grade zoom lenses typically do not exceed a zoom ratio of 3x.  Entry-level ‘super-zoom’ lenses can offer zoom ratios in double-digit territory.

The zoom ratio of a lens is calculated by dividing the longest focal length by the widest focal length.

A 24-70mm lens has a zoom ratio of 2.92 (ie, 70 divided by 24 equals 2.92 with rounding).

An 18-200mm lens has a zoom ratio of 11.1 (ie, 200 divided by 18 equals 11.1).

One of the other disadvantages of zoom lenses is the maximum aperture available.  Added to this is the fact that not all zoom lenses have a constant aperture across the range of focal lengths.

Until relatively recently, whether the aperture was constant or variable, zoom lenses did not offer a maximum aperture wider than f/2.8, and zoom lenses which could open to f/2.8 were typically professional-grade lenses, which cost a lot more than consumer-grade lenses offering similar focal lengths.

As discussed earlier, some lens manufacturers — notably Sigma — have recently offered zoom lenses with maximum apertures wider than f/2.8.  Major camera and lens manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon, at the time of writing, have still not yet offered a zoom lens with a maximum aperture wider than f/2.8.  Perhaps the third-party vendors, or even other major players, will challenge that and result in wider-aperture zooms becoming available.

Other than professional-grade zoom lenses, mid-range and entry-level zooms typically have variable apertures (eg, f/4-5.6).  This means that as the focal length increases, the maximum aperture decreases.  The main problem with this design is that if one is shooting at the widest aperture, and zooms in to a longer focal length, the exposure will need to be adjusted, as the aperture will automatically stop down as the focal length is increased.

With zoom lenses offering narrower apertures than prime lenses of an identical focal length, the ability to isolate the subject from the background is reduced.  It should be remembered, as discussed earlier, that depth of field is affected by more than aperture; but all else being equal, a narrower aperture results in a less blurred background.  Depending on the focal length, camera-to-subject distance, subject-to-background distance and aperture difference, the resulting background blur and subject isolation may not be substantially different.

 

My Choice of Lenses and Preference for Primes

As mentioned briefly in the introduction, I shoot with prime lenses only.  I have owned a number of zoom lenses over the years, up to the year 2017, when I offloaded my remaining zoom lens, which a prime lens replaced.

I have had zooms and primes for a long time.  When I bought my first SLR, I had a pair of cheap, slow kit zooms.  When I bought my first DSLR, I also had a kit zoom, and I bought a number of zooms over the years since.

I also bought and sold a number of prime lenses.

I owned a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens for over nine years, and I extensively shot with it until early 2017.  According to my lens usage statistics, it is my most commonly used lens.

What I observed, and what my focal length usage per lens statistics confirm, is that the 16mm focal length was by far my most used focal length on that lens.  I used the lens like it was a prime, and I recall being on one shoot, disliking the composition, and then moving the tripod forward to re-compose.  It did not even occur to me to simply rotate the zoom ring!

Now, I like the 16mm focal length, and I already owned more primes than zooms, so perhaps it was two factors which unconsciously affected my behaviour.

In early 2017, as much as I liked my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, I decided that I wanted a wider focal length, and I wanted to move to a prime for my ultra-wide lens, so I replaced this lens with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM.  More details about this lens change can be read here.

A few months later, I decided to replace my long-serving Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM.  Like my 16-35/2.8L II, my 70-200/2.8L IS had brought me many pleasing images, and had travelled abroad on several occasions; but again, I wanted to move to a prime-only configuration, and gain an extra stop in the form of the lust-worthy 200/2L IS.  More details about this lens change can be read here.

Even more recently in 2018, with the addition of a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens (story here) which bridged the significant gap between my 16mm and 35mm lenses, I have covered all focal lengths I want, in prime lenses only.

While I had only two zoom lenses for a period of nine years, I made a rapid transition to exclusive use of prime lenses in 2017.

Why did I do this?

I like prime lenses.  I am used to using prime lenses, and ‘zooming with one’s feet’ is not something I find to be an obstacle.

I also like lenses with wide apertures, and primes give me that.

I like the look the use of a wide aperture provides, and I like the ability for low light to be of little or no challenge.

All of my lenses have the widest currently available apertures offered by Canon in those focal lengths.

While there are some excellent zoom lenses, the advantages zoom lenses provide are not necessary in my pursuits.  I do not need the convenience one or two lenses offers over six or seven lenses.

My photography is mostly planned.  I do not carry an SLR rig as a matter of course; I go out specifically to shoot, and I take the lenses I know from years of experience that I will need.

The use of prime lenses suits my planned, controlled and specific photography.

It just works for me, and I am very accustomed to it.

Sure, I sometimes end up with a heavier bag than other photographers may like, but for the images I seek, and the capability I want, I can work with this.

With my current array of primes and telephoto extenders, I now have 14mm at f/2.8, 24mm at f/1.4, 35mm at f/1.4, 85mm at f/1.2, 135mm at f/2, 189mm at f/2.8, 200mm at f/2, 270mm at f/4, 280mm at f/2.8, 300mm at f/2.8, 400mm at f/2.8, 420mm at f/4, 560mm at f/4, 600mm at f/5.6 and 800mm at f/5.6.

I cannot complain!

Where is the 50mm prime, you ask?  Not in my bag!

 

Conclusion

As this article has discussed, both prime lenses and zoom lenses have their advantages and disadvantages.

Both types of lenses have their place.

Some people, such as myself, choose to use prime lenses only, as they like the capability and specialisation primes offer over zooms.

Some people choose to use zoom lenses only, as they like the flexibility and convenience.

Some people — many, from what I have seen — like to use both, and therefore have the best of both worlds, with more flexibility being the key benefit.

There is an enormous range of high-quality primes and zooms available, and many of today’s zooms can rival or exceed the image quality traditionally provided by prime lenses.

It is all a matter of choice, based on the individual photographer’s needs and wants.

Hopefully this article has provided plenty of information about both lens types which will help people decide whether one type of lens, or both, is the most suitable choice for the job.

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Latest Lovelies

I rarely capture photographs of the gear I use to capture photographs, but this year has seen some changes to my camera and lens rig.

These are two of my latest ‘lovelies’: a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, which I purchased on 12/01/2017 to replace my long-serving Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM; and my much newer Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which I purchased on 23/06/2017.

Latest Lovelies

Latest Lovelies

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is a substantial upgrade to my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, a 2008-vintage camera which I have been using since 2010. I will keep my 5D2, but the new 5D4 will be my main camera.

I am looking forward to taking advantage of the increased dynamic range and reduced high-ISO noise of this latest generation of full-frame Canon sensors.

New NiSi Filters Ordered

Having recently replaced my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, my Lee 100mm filter system was rendered obsolete.

Unfortunately, 100mm filters are not wide enough to work with the 14mm lens.  What I now need is 150mm filters, and I decided to invest in the NiSi 150mm filter system, which seems to be popular with landscape photographers.

Yesterday I ordered a filter holder specifically for my lens, a 150mm x 170mm 1.2 (four-stop) soft graduated neutral-density filter, a 150mm x 170mm 0.9 (three-stop) reverse graduated neutral-density filter, and a 150mm x 150mm 3.0 (ten-stop) neutral-density filter.

This lineup should nicely cover my needs.

Fortunately I was able to sell all of my other filters in one go (including some screw-on filters which were also surplus to my needs).

I am looking forward to picking up my new filters next week and putting them to use for some landscape photography and long-exposure cityscape photography.

Farewell, Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM

Today I sold my Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens.

For a month or two, I had been thinking of offloading it, and once or twice previously, I had entertained the thought of selling it.

I was recently put into contact with someone who might be interested in it, and today the buyer collected it.

According to my lens utilisation statistics, it was my least used lens apart from my one-month-old Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM.

Looking at my images, I have only shot 10 images with it in the last five years. Two images per year is not much, and I only published a total of 36 images during the time I owned it.

I am just not a macro shooter at all, and I find macro photography too frustrating for my liking.

It is a stunning lens and is in near-mint condition, but it just is not the kind of lens I use much or really need (despite having owned it for over nine years), so it is better for it to be in the possession of someone who will exploit its capabilities.

I will use the money from its sale to fund my NiSi 150mm filter system.

My original intention was to replace the lens with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, but as nice as that lens is (I inspected one), it makes no sense at this point in time.

If I ever want a macro lens in the future, I’ll go and pick one up; but for now, the lack of a macro lens in my rig is not a hindrance.

With this most recent sale and last month’s replacement of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, that amounts to two lenses gone from my lineup in less than two months!

I have optimised my lens lineup in several ways, and I am content with what is now in my rig.

I would still like to replace my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, but for the foreseeable future, that notion will remain confined to the realm of wishful thinking.

New Lens: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM

Today ushered in a new chapter in my photography, and simultaneously closed another.

A new lens joined its brethren here in my photography den; and an old friend parted ways.

Now, I am not one to buy gear very often.  My days of ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome’ (GAS) are well and truly behind me; and I have settled on a photography rig which allows me to achieve what I want to achieve.

Being in a position whereby gear is not a limiting factor, is indeed a good position.  Sure, there is always something that would be nice to have; but something that is nice to have, as opposed to something that is necessary for my photographic objectives, is quite a different matter, particularly when it comes to spending money to placate a want rather than a need.

However, every now and then, a new piece of equipment joins my rig, often unexpectedly and rather suddenly.

Today, the spectacular Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens found its way into my rig under those very circumstances.

For some odd reason, I had read The Digital Picture‘s comprehensive review of this lens (amongst others) quite recently, and I had pondered, both recently and a number of times throughout the years, the possibility of replacing my beloved Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with the wider, 14mm prime lens.

For years it was one of those “it would be nice…” scenarios, but today it became a reality.

At 4:16pm I declared that I was actually thinking about doing this.

At 5:33pm, l declared that I had actually done so.

I have never progressed from “I’m thinking about…” to “I just bought…” so rapidly.

The plan I had was to visit my main photographic supplier on my way elsewhere to see what kind of a deal I could get.  When I visit (which is maybe once every year or two), the guy there always recognises me, talks to me for a while, and gives me a good deal on anything I buy.

The visit was purely for research, but it went a bit further than that, as the lens was there (which I did not know before visiting), and the price was right.  I solved two ‘problems’ in one hit.

Firstly, he discounted the listed price of lens for me; and secondly, he gave me a good trade-in deal on my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM.

As the 14mm prime was intended to replace the zoom, I did not want to spend a significant amount up front and then need to sell my nine-year-old Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, which has recently been superseded by a Mark III version.  A trade-in was perfect.

The salesman was surprised at the remarkably good condition of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, to which I responded by stating that I take good care of my gear.  Indeed, I do.

The combination of the initial discount and the trade-in value put the price firmly in the “I can do this right now” category rather than the “tempting, but I cannot justify the expense now” world of misery.

So, the deal was done.  My beloved Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens stayed in the shop, and a brand-new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM departed with me.

I honestly did not plan any purchases this year at all, and while I periodically think about lenses and cameras I would like (there is always something), there is a massive difference between the wishful thought, and the cash-depleting reality.

So far, 2017 has started off quite nicely in the photography department, with two pleasing shoots having taken place.

Tonight, I had plans to expand upon that.  And now I was armed with a new lens and all the kid-in-a-candy-store excitement a new toy brings.

Some people’s photography becomes re-invigorated upon acquiring a new camera or lens; some people’s photography becomes re-invigorated as a result of shooting a pleasing image.  In my case, a combination of both scenarios was achieved tonight, and my initial impression of theCanon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM is that it is a brilliant lens.

I have shot extensively with my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens over the past nine years, and according to my lens utilisation statistics, it is my most frequently used lens.

However, I wanted an even wider lens for a more expansive view, and I also wanted to switch to a prime.  Most of my lenses are primes (now seven out of a total of eight), and even though the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM is a zoom, I rarely ever used its zoom capability, sticking fairly religiously to the 16mm setting, and at times forgetting that the lens’s focal length could be changed, which I realised after moving my tripod rig to a slightly different position.

So, now I have a new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens which opens up new possibilities and has given me a psychological boost.  Additionally, I took it for a shoot only a few hours after purchasing it, and I landed a pleasing series of images (about which I will post separately).

I hope my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM finds its way into the home of someone who will love it as much as I did, and that it will bring years of rewarding images.

I look forward to getting back into photography, and a new lens may just help do that.

It’s Official: Kenya African Wildlife Photography Trip

A few months ago we booked another trip to Africa.

It’s been something we’ve wanted to do again since our first life-changing visit in October of 2012.

This time we are heading to the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, for some incredible wildlife encounters on an eight-day private photographic safari.

We are again going into the wilderness with our friend and guide Mario Moreno.

Also a few months ago, I bought 400mm f/2.8 lens for wildlife photography — actually, for this trip.  On the last trip, I took my 300/2.8, which was comfortably accommodated by my Lowepro Mini Trekker AW backpack.

Unfortunately, the 400/2.8 is a much larger lens, and the Mini Trekker AW cannot accommodate it.  Well, it can (barely), but there’s insufficient room for everything else I need.

In researching camera bags, I had two criteria:

  1. it had to accommodate the gear I need and want to take; and
  2. it had to be airline cabin-friendly.

I was pointed in the direction of the Lowepro Vertex 200 AW, and looked into this bag.  When I contacted Lowepro to enquire into whether it would accommodate a 400/2.8, I was told it would not.

Fortunately, that answer was wrong, as it very comfortably accommodates such a lens.

Today I headed into town with the lens and tried it out.  It was a perfect bag for my needs.

I brought it home and packed it with the gear I’m taking to Kenya:

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark II;
  2. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM;
  3. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM;
  4. Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM;
  5. Canon Extender EF 1.4x II; and
  6. Canon Extender EF 2x II.

It all fits!

My 17″ MacBook Pro even fits into the laptop compartment, albeit somewhat snugly.  This means I will only need one bag, whereas last time I had a camera backpack and a laptop bag, which isn’t ideal when travelling internationally.

I am very pleased with the Lowepro Vertex 200 AW.  The build quality is excellent, as indeed it is with all Lowepro bags/cases I’ve owned; and the padding and straps in the waist area really make the fully-packed bag seem much lighter.

Here is a photo of the bag, packed with the bulk of the gear I’m taking to Kenya:

Lowepro Vertex 200 AW Packed for Africa

Lowepro Vertex 200 AW Packed for Africa

This bag will certainly make travelling internationally with bulky and heavy camera gear a much more pleasant experience.  It will also serve me well locally and on domestic trips, as since having the 400/2.8, I’ve not had a suitable method of carrying it.

I cannot wait for the Kenya trip, and to being in the wilderness for some incredible wildlife experiences.

New Camera Bag: Lowepro Nova 190 AW

After having ‘Lowepro bag for light travel’ on my list of things to buy for a year or two, today I finally purchased said camera bag.

Hitherto, my camera bag rig consisted of a Lowepro Mini Trekker AW and an often-used 12-year-old shoulder bag which needed replacement.  I also have a Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home (Canon EOS edition) which came with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, but it’s way too small to be practical, and being bright red, stands out from a thousand miles away.

The Mini Trekker AW is a fantastic backpack, and even accommodates my Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM along with camera, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM and both the 1.4x and 2x tele-converters (even with smaller equipment, I can fit a lot into it), but I’m long past the point of wanting to carry a large-ish backpack around, and particularly when I travel (flying especially), I want a smaller shoulder-carry bag for my camera gear.  It was not unusual for my camera backpack to weigh 10kg when flying inter-state.

Today I brought home a new Lowepro Nova 190 AW.  Oddly enough, this was the bag I was considering the last time I looked into this issue and looked at bags.  I looked at the Lowepro Nova 200 AW, which is longer and deeper, but I found it to be too large, and in terms of size, it wasn’t a great deal different from my Mini Trekker, so I went back to the Nova 190 AW, which is more pleasant to carry around.

While the Nova 200 AW will hold more gear and would undoubtedly be a great bag, I wanted something smaller and less bulky.  The Nova 190 AW will easily hold the camera and three or four fast (ie, f/2 or faster) primes or two f/2.8 zooms.

Important to me was the bag’s ability to hold my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM.  The salesman in the store grabbed a 5D II and 70-200/2.8L (non-IS, but close enough in size), and the Nova 190 AW easily accommodated that rig, plus had plenty of room for another couple of decently sized primes or zooms.

For those unfamiliar with Lowepro nomenclature, AW designates ‘all-weather’, meaning the bag has an integrated rain cover.  As a seascaper, and one who tends to get rather wet, it’s important that my gear is protected, and the integrated rain cover will easily keep splashes and rain at bay.

I’ve just packed it, and it very nicely holds a good rig of equipment without being too heavy, or increasing in bulk due to the gear I’ve placed inside it.

At the moment, it contains my:

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark II;
  2. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM (including hood);
  3. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM (including hood);
  4. Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote Controller;
  5. Lee filter wallet containing GND4, GND8 and two ND8s;
  6. Lee filter holder and 82mm adapter ring;
  7. Hoya 82mm circular polarising filter;
  8. Hoya HMC 82mm ND8 filter;
  9. hotshoe-mounted spirit level;
  10. spare SanDisk Extreme III 4GB CompactFlash card;
  11. Princeton Tec FUEL headlamp + spare batteries;
  12. Lenspen;
  13. neoprene lens cleaning cloth;
  14. plastic bags and ziplock bags; and
  15. business cards.

Quite a lot of gear!

All in all, I am very happy with this bag, and I will keep it packed as above for the most part, as it contains my seascaping rig, plus my 85/1.2L II, which I don’t normally carry on ‘scape shoots, but which will give me extra reach when needed.  I can easily swap that for my Canon EOS 135mm f/2L USM if I want even more reach.

It’s just as easy to swap out some gear for a bag of fast primes and flashes.  It’s very versatile, holding a decent rig of equipment without being bulky or too heavy, and when it comes to flying, it consumes a lot less room in the overhead luggage compartments, or could just as easily sit under the seat in front of me.

My Lee filter wallet and the case for the filter holder both consume considerable space.  If I needed more room or wanted to take a 70-200/2.8 as well as my 16-35/2.8L II, I could find an alternative way of transporting the filters, as they are flat sheets of resin, measuring 6×4″ at the most, and could be stacked together with tissue paper separating them, and a ziplock bag containing the lot.

The Nova 190 AW offers plenty of options for configurability and holds a surprisingly large amount of equipment for its size.

It was definitely a good purchase; all I need to do now is head out for a shoot.  With my state of mind over the past three or four months, that’s proven to be more challenging than finding a suitable camera bag!