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

Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.

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.

promo logo