Alan's Blog




Gear that changed my (photographic) life:

Canon EF 17 mm to 40 mm f4 L USM

Under normal circumstances, I have a wide range of lenses available to me. However, a few years ago I was forced into being only able to take one lens with me. The trip was a bicycle ride that I made with my 11-year-old son at the ripe old age of 68 – for five weeks, following the course of the River Rhine from near its source in the Swiss Alps to where it flowed into the sea at the Hook of Holland. I hadn't even ridden a bicycle for about 16 years, let alone toured on one.

A trip like this means a zoom lens is a good choice. But, which one to take? I almost took my Canon EF 24 mm to 105 mm f4 L IS USM which is a good 'all-rounder', but needed to keep weight (and size) as low as practicable. I was a little concerned about my wide-angle zoom not having image stabilisation but hoped that it was something I could live without, as well as only being able to shoot only with a wide-angle lens for 5 weeks. My camera body was an old Canon EOS 5D (Mk I) which was rather heavier than I would have liked but I knew it was a tough old work-horse which could withstand the abuse it was likely to receive on a trip of this nature. Indeed, so it proved, having crashed to the road surface a couple of times from a height of about 1 metre without breaking or failing in any way. My son took his Canon EOS 1000D and a couple of lenses – much lighter kit than mine. However, I must own up to cheating – but only two times. One to photograph some Black Kites (day 13), the other a European Beaver (not 'Otter' as written in the blog – day 17) which, quite obviously required the telephoto zoom lens that my son carried (Canon EF 75 mm to 300 mm) and which he would have photographed (and did) anyway.

My choice of lens proved to be a brilliant decision; one which taught me just how useful it is to have the extra wide-angle focal length available at all times. I've always found wide angle lenses to be the most useful for my type of photography as one of my favourite focal lengths has always been 35 mm – fixed, semi-wide-angle, but for this trip I just knew needed a very wide-angle zoom as well as the 35 mm it includes.

This trip was a great adventure both for me and my son. I wanted to share some of the experience with my wife and other family around the world who thought we were completely mad and, probably, thought we'd never last the course of five weeks on a bicycle carrying all our camping equipment, photographic equipment and a full-size laptop computer (and external hard drive). So they could share something of the trip with us, I wrote, and uploaded a blog ( as we travelled, showing them the places we visited. The 17 mm end of the zoom was used extensively in the narrow streets, palaces, cathedrals and landscapes through which we travelled. The other end of the zoom lens was great for the details but that 17 mm was the most amazing focal length to have with me.

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