Lighter Load: Gear for Hiking

I just returned from another adventure in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, and I am excited to say that the trip was a complete success.

In my last entry I talked a about what kind of gear I would select if I needed to assemble a bag for my professional work, which involves a lot of low light situations, fast-moving subjects, and the need to respond quickly to meet my journalistic needs. Big lenses. Heavy cameras.

The Tamron 18-250mm lens is a perfect solution for Abby's photographic needs, and an excellent choice for my own adventures in remote and wild places.
The Tamron 18-250mm lens is a perfect solution for Abby’s photographic needs, and an excellent choice for my own adventures in remote and wild places.

As my years of prowling some of the wildest places in the American Southwest have progressed, however, one of my goals has been to lighten my load. I’ve tried several schemes over the years. For a while I was carrying two cameras, one with a wide angle and one with a telephoto, like I do at work. It was a heavy and cumbersome setup, and prevented me from climbing or scrambling on some trails.

The first step in reducing this load was to shed one camera and carry one of my lenses in my pack or vest. This has the decided disadvantage of forcing me to have to change lenses in what can be some of the dustiest and sandiest environments a camera can face.

For a while, and still sometimes, I carried a so-called prosumer camera, the excellent Fuji S200EXR. I love that camera, but being a prosumer model, it uses a very small imaging sensor, and despite all my tricks, the image quality just wasn’t as good as a digital SLR.

My compromise for my latest hiking trip was to borrow my wife’s AF 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3 Di-II LD Aspherical (IF) Macro Zoom Lens. I know that’s a lot of alphabet soup to use in a name for a lens, but I sometimes think manufacturers believe that more letters equals more sales. The lens is what we call an all-in-one or a walk-around lens, and literally takes the place of all the lenses, at least in theory, you might need. On my Nikon D80 at 18mm it provides a fairly wide angle of view, and at 250mm it gives me a fairly tight, or telephoto, view.

One reason for giving this lens a try on my latest trip was that I was hiking in The Maze District at Canyonlands National Park, Utah, and The Maze is among the most remote and inaccessible places in the lower 48. The hikes we made from our base camps lasted for eight hours or more, and carrying enough water, not a lot of camera gear, was a top priority.

Lenses in the all-in-one class are, of course, built around optical compromises, not specializing in wide angles, not specializing in telephoto performance, not specializing in close-up quality, and so on. The 18-250mm doesn’t focus particularly fast, and isn’t all that sharp at the telephoto end. Yet this lens allowed me to travel light enough and still shoot the scenes.

Nikon just came out with an 18-300mm lens, and it will be interesting to see how good it is. If initial price estimates are any gauge, it should be spectacular. In the mean time, with the proper discipline and technique, the 18-250mm got the job done, and I am happy with the product it produced.

You can see some of the images I made with this lens here.

Dennis Udink photographed me making pictures in The Maze District at Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Dennis Udink photographed me making pictures in The Maze District at Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
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4 Comments

  1. Glad you liked the Tamron superzoom. I haven’t tried that one in particular, but have been happy with several others — all used with the knowledge of their optical sacrifices.

    I still have a Sigma 18-125mm that occasionally gets some work.

    I’m glad you mentioned the optical sacrifices and AF speed. I think many beginners see only the “12x Zoom!” and don’t realize what they’re getting into.

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