Gear Guy

Do lighter camera components detract from performance?

I do quite a lot of bushwalking in the Japan Alps and have been carrying my Canon SLR with standard lens, and occasionally an extra telephoto lens—all told, a hefty load. I'm not such a serious photographer to need all that extra weight, but I would like better photos than a disposable or compact can produce. After some research I had decided to splurge on a Contax T3, but then I saw a new Pentax SLR—the "*ist"—that weighs only 335 grs (presumably that's the body only). So, with a matching lens, it still comes in at about half the weight of my current camera. I presume the optics are plastic, hence the low weight. Which would you choose? Excellent fixed lens or zoomable plastic? Dian Tokyo, Japan

Well, that’s a difficult choice. The Contax T3 ($750;, with its incomparable Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lens, is a very sexy camera. And its weight of 318 grams (just over 11 ounces) makes it a good choice for weight-conscious packing. My own view is that a good lens, even if non-zoom, trumps nearly all other considerations.

But, I understand the utility of a zoom lens (I own several myself), and the new Pentax *ist (yes, that really is the name) is an interesting choice. As you note, it’s also very light—335 grams (about 12 ounces, body only). Pentax sells the camera in a kit with two Pentax zoom lenses, a 28-90mm and an 80-320mm, for about $600. That’s a pretty good deal. But do the lenses compare to the Zeiss on the T3? In a word, no. They just can’t, not for that kind of money. They’re slow, fairly heavy, and probably contain, if not plastic, a fair chunk of lower-grade optical glass. I’d probably opt, at the least, for a Sigma 28-105mm f/2.8-4.0 Aspherical Autofocus lens. Weighs a little more than the camera body, so still quite a bit less than your current setup. Cost is about $200. For the longer zoom, you could try the Pentax 80-320mm for another $200.

Face it, adding zoom lenses adds weight, so there’s no way to featherweight the deal. Unless you’re a real serious shooter, I’d stick with your original homework on T3. A fabulous camera.