Lens Kit for Grand Tour of the Rockies 3: Primes

Grand Tetons SP12-305

For travel photography, zooms make more sense because you can cover a variety of focal lengths. You can take one lens instead of four or five. However, primes deliver better quality, so there's always a temptation to take a few primes to get those special shots. Primes also would seem highly desirable for those of us who are not satisfied with our zoom lenses.

On my last trip to the northern Rockies, I took six primes:

  • Pentax DA 15 f4 Limited
  • Pentax K 28 f3.5
  • Pentax K 35 f3.5
  • Pentax M 50 f1.7
  • Pentax DFA 100 f2.8 Macro WR
  • Pentax DA* 300 f4

The rationale behind each lens is as follows:

Pentax DA 15 f4 Limited. This is my best wide angle lens. It may be the best wide APS-C lens ever made. It's been compared favorably to Zeiss and Leica R glass. It's an exceptional lens, and it will always accompany me on longer trips. Although I do have a fairly capable 16-45mm zoom lens, the DA 15 is capable of shots no other lens can take, such as the following:

The DA 15 produces the celebrated starburst effect, and often does so with little if any flaring. This shot of the sun over the Moulton barn is something pre-visualized months before my trip. This is a shot that my 16-45 zoom lens could never capture.

Pentax K 28 f3.5. There was a time when this lens accompanied me everywhere I went. It used to fill a hole in my zoom kit between 24mm and 35mm. Since that hole no longer exists, this lens is not as important to me. Nonetheless, I did take 165 shots with it on my Rockies trip. I sometimes call it my waterfall lens, because it is often perfect for shooting waterfalls. It was the only lens I used when I hiked out to St. Mary Falls, near St. Mary Lake. I also made use of it at Many Glacier, Wild Goose Island Overlook, and Schwabacher Landing.

Pentax K 35 f3.5. I used this lens quite a bit on my trip to Colorado in September of 2011. I was blown away by the quality of the images it produced. Despite being only an f3.5 lens, the K 35 f3.5 is sharp lens with outstanding color rendition. I thought I would be able to make use of it in Yellowstone, where a normal focal range lens is often quite useful. But I was wrong: my FA 24-90 zoom proved far more versatile, because of the need to quickly change focal lengths.

Pentax M 50 f1.7. This lens was attached to my Pentax K200D, which I had taken along as a backup camera, just in case I had trouble with my Pentax K-5. In a sense, I was using the lens as a cap for the camera's mount. The lens remained attached to that camera and was never used.

Pentax DFA 100 f2.8 Macro WR. I took this lens with me because I wanted to have something I could shoot in the rain other than my long telephoto. June is the rainy season for the northern Rockies. If it rained a lot on my trip, I thought I could use this lens to do macro work while I waited for the weather to change. Although I did not use it in the rain, I'm glad I took it with. I found it useful at the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center and at Angel Lake in Nevada:

Pentax DA* 300 f4. This is my critter lens. It's a big, heavy lens. I only take it with me if I expect to photograph critters. I made extensive use of the lens at the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center. Other than that, I rarely used it on the trip.

In the future, I will rely on my zooms for generic landscape work on longer trips. Lenses like K 28/3.5 and K 35/3.5 will likely stay at home. The only primes I will take will be speciality lenses, like the DA 15 and the DA* 300. On shorter trips, however, I'll rely more on primes. On a recent trip to Crater Lake, for example, I left my DA 16-45 at home, replacing it with the DA 15, the M 20/4, and the K 28/3.5.