Make me a super-photographer
August 23, 2012 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest a Canon lens for a trip to Yellowstone. Long story.

So, I am going on a trip to Yellowstone in 2 weeks. Yippeee. Now, I need a lens for that trip. My current equipment: Canon T3i, 18-55mm kit lens, 50mm f/1.8

I am seeing so many opinions on the internet that I am confused what additional lens I should take. I can't buy a new one now, but am going to rent from I am currently leaning towards the Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 for wide-angle views or the Canon 100-400mm L series one.

In general, what kind of lens would be useful? I am looking for photos like these:

1. Beautiful long-distance shots like this one or this one

2. Breathtaking Landscape+sky shots like this one or this one

The thing is I am going to be in a large party and hence cannot walk around a lot - so the real question would be - what kind of photo opportunities would be available most - wildlife or landscapes? Also, will I need a graduated ND filter or any other filter?
posted by theobserver to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Go for landscapes. Wildlife photography takes a lot of patience, stalking in the bushes, and a lot longer lens than you have right now. I have the Canon 17-35/2.8 and with film (or, if I had the budget, a full-frame sensor) it's an amazing perspective on things. I got it on a lark when I was flush with cash back in the day, and I highly recommend something really short. Everybody wants a long lens, but the 10-22 will be much more generally useful than the 100-400mm. You'll end up finding out that you can take pictures of groups of people inside (hey, everyone at this event in this tiny room, on that side of the table!), you'll get those sweeping landscape shots, etc.

And yes, get a graduated ND filter and/or a tripod, bracket your shots, and HDR. yes, you can HDR without making it look tacky. That Castle Geyser shot definitely used a polarizing filter to see through the water and darken the sky. The graduated ND filter is relatively cheap (once you've bought the filter holder, 'cause you want to be able to adjust where the line is), the polarizer is pretty expensive but if you're landscaping you'll be really glad you had it.

Summary: get the 10-22, a polarizing filter, a light tripod or a monopod, and if you've got some left over grab the graduated ND.
posted by straw at 12:43 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The 10-22mm is a stunning lens, truly great for wide angle and landscapes and is probably better for walking around the wilderness. Wildlife takes time and patience and is not a good mix for a group unless they are all shooting wildlife.

If you do go Telephoto, the 100-400mm is showing it's age a bit. If you don't need 400mm, look at the 70-300L which does a great job.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:45 PM on August 23, 2012

Its a weird thing - in some instances, you need a longer lens than you'd think. When I was there last year (for the whole month of August) I used a 5DmarkII body with the 24-70 (occasionally the 15mm fisheye instead. This was my main landscape tool. I also used a 7D with the 100-400mm for most of the wildlife shots. You'll be able to get really close, but for safety you'll want the distance.

I considered the 100-400/7D combo to be merely "adequate" but it may serve a non-professional well.

I've got a set of shots on flickr here and here if you're interested in seeing what these lens/body combos can produce.
posted by blaneyphoto at 1:08 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

LensRentals offers the "Street Sweeper" - a 28mm-300mm L lens. That and the 10-22 will pretty much cover you on a crop body camera. Fair warning, that lens is a beast.
posted by inviolable at 1:11 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You probably want the "Street Sweeper" mentioned above, or else an 18-200.

In uncontrolled situations like this, versatility should take precedence over everything.

Which would you rather do:
a) Tell people you almost got an awesome wildlife shot, but you were crouching down in the dirt trying to get the perfect lens on

or b) Get the amazing shot, but have it be maybe 1/100th less sharp than it might be with a different lens?

I love fast prime lenses in situations I can control, like shooting models or a movie. But 95% of "uncontrolled" photography is being ready to get the shot of the thing you want when you get the chance. Keep it simple.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:22 PM on August 23, 2012

Wildlife photography takes a lot of patience, stalking in the bushes, and a lot longer lens than you have right now.

Wellll, not entirely true in Yellowstone, depending on what kind of wildlife you want to shoot. Bison will practically be coming into your car, and the elk around the Mammoth area are plentiful and do not easily spook. You will get some lovely shots without venturing far from your vehicle; you will probably even get some great shots without even getting out of the vehicle. Moose, bears, and eagles are rarer to see, so patience and the luck of being in the right place at the right time will be handy.

That said, I'd suggest a wide-range zoom. My (Nikon) 18-200 did everything I needed, but if you can go longer, it will be worth it. It allows you to get some nice wide shots, then zoom in for details.

Have fun! I've been to Yellowstone countless times (I live a few hours away) and it's always fun to shoot there!
posted by The Deej at 1:36 PM on August 23, 2012

(Sorry... some of my photo links may not have worked. Thanks facebook!)
posted by The Deej at 1:38 PM on August 23, 2012

Also, I forgot to add - BRING A MONOPOD if you're going to work at those long focal lengths. It will make a world of difference. I also found that setting the self timer on the camera while mounted on the monopod let me use a wide lens (24mm or so) and hold the monopod WAY overhead - allowing for high angle views of mudpots, springs, geysers, etc that you just can't get from eye level. Additionally, you probably should put a clear filter on your lenses. The air/water/debris from those springs are very acidic and could potentially do damage to your lenses with repeated exposure.
posted by blaneyphoto at 1:41 PM on August 23, 2012

Thanks for the responses. After reading what's been said above, I am wondering if taking heavy lenses would be practical, since there seems to be some trekking/walking involved.

Or, can I use the telephoto from the car, while using the 10-22 while walking? This is gonna be my first trip to Yellowstone, so not sure how people visit the different spots
posted by theobserver at 4:38 PM on August 23, 2012

If you're in any sort of reasonable shape, you should have no problem carrying a couple lenses (including the 100-400) in a bag while you walk. I maybe more used to it, but I'm in no great shape and was able to carry 3 full size dslrs and the accompanying lenses+gear on my back everyday for 4 weeks. And you WILL be walking if you want to actually see anything in Yellowstone. DO NOT leave your gear in your car. DO bring some sort of telephoto lens... you will wish you had. That 10-22 might be fine for landscapes but you'll be disappointed when you can't get even a reasonable photo of that bear or huge elk or wolf that is too fast/far/dangerous to approach.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:48 PM on August 23, 2012

Have you considered renting a second body? Put a telephoto of your choice on your crop body, and rent a 5d or 5d2 with a 16-35L for your landscape work.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:28 PM on August 23, 2012

I would use the 50mm/1.8 for everything: portraits, action shots, night shots, vistas. It's so light and versatile.
posted by zippy at 6:44 PM on August 23, 2012

I highly recommend a polarizing filter.

The advice that a lot of people give is to get a fast, wide prime lens and zoom with your feet. With 18 megapixels, you will have plenty of resolution headroom to crop shots that you weren't able to get close enough to.

Don't forget about the sensor size crop factor. If you rent a full frame 10-22 lens, that's really a 15-33 lens as far as your camera is concerned (or whatever the crop factor is). Which practically duplicates your kit lens.

You might also get a really fast wide lens and use an extension tube to "telephoto" it.
posted by gjc at 6:51 PM on August 23, 2012

Don't forget about the sensor size crop factor. If you rent a full frame 10-22 lens, that's really a 15-33 lens as far as your camera is concerned (or whatever the crop factor is). Which practically duplicates your kit lens.
posted by gjc

That won't be an issue since both the kit lens and the 10-22 are EF-S mount lenses, which are not usable on a full frame Canon camera, so no duplication just a tiny bit of overlap. The 10-22 is the equivalent of 16-35mm (1.6 crop factor) and the kit lens is the equivalent to 28-88mm.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:14 PM on August 23, 2012

I own both of the lenses you are looking into, and heartily recommend them both. They are both top-rated lenses and deliver beautiful results.

In particular, the 10-22 is magnificent with clouds. It's a wide angle lens, so be careful taking pictures of people. People on the edges of your image will appear distorted (esp the 'bulbous big head' effect). But for trees and especially for clouds, this is a wonderful, beautiful, sharp lens.

I also recommend bringing an ND filter - assuming you have a tripod, then you can hold the filter with your hand in front of the lens if you don't have a filter-holder. I have the Cokin P-series system (holder, and filters)
Don't just limit yourself with neutral density filters however. If you truly want to be the super-photographer, then also get some colour filters (graduated blue and tobacco/orange are beautiful in nature).

Some people grouse a bit about filters ("eh! I can do all this with photoshop, why burden myself with a filter in the field?") but I prefer to bring the filters than to spend hours futzing with photoshop once I am back home. I prefer to create the image on location, then work on perfecting it (not building it) at home.

Be mindful that the 100-400 weighs a lot, and not only will you need good strength to carry it (I was popping it into my backpack while traveling in Greenland and Iceland) but you will also need a good tripod to keep it stable. Remember that a good tripod is only as good as your heaviest setup. Make sure you bring the tripod that can support the lens+camera that you will bring with you on your travels.

Do you have a tripod with a quick-release (QR) which attaches your camera to the tripod? I have a manfrotto head on my tripod, and use the manfrotto QR on my camera bodies. I bought an extra one just for the 100-400. So when you rent your lenses, if you do get the 100-400, ask for an extra QR for that lens. You will attach your camera+lens to the tripod, using the lens, not from the bottom of the camera as you would otherwise.

Having the 10 - 22, 50mm and 100-400 is a good travel kit. If you had more space in your bag, I'd also add the 24-70L as a walkabout lens. And a cool 15mm fish-eye for some interesting effects.

And if you are renting all these lenses, then it's little extra expense to add a few more to the kit.

Enjoy your trip !!
posted by seawallrunner at 9:18 PM on August 23, 2012

seawallrunner: Gosh, that is a bit too much equipment for a 2-3 day visit, considering that I will be travelling with a large group whose definition of photography is to stand in front of a tourist spot and get the "I was there and you weren't" type of picture.

I know, I know - I am planning to go to YNP alone or with a suitable group, but humor me this time. I am not carrying a tripod this time, but will try to place the camera + lens on a stable spot with the timer when I can (over the car, maybe).

Thanks though for the assurance with the lenses. I am leaning towards both of them right now.

blaneyphoto: thanks for the multiple responses. One question - I am thinking the 10-22 would give me a wider field of view than the kit lens and much sharper images with a polarizer. Is this tru or is the overlap too less on the crop sensor?

gjc: Do you have a recommendation for the fast, wide-angle prime?

[Do not want to threadsit, but the responses deserve a conversation. Thanks]
posted by theobserver at 10:59 PM on August 23, 2012

The 10-22 with the reduced sensor will give you about the equivalent of my 17-35 with film. It will change and rock your world. And except for indoors and natural light and praying I get a shot, I rarely use my 17-35 wide open. With that 10-22 stopped down to F8 or F11 for landscape, it'll be light to carry and give you dramatic shots.

I would recommend getting a pocket tripod. Yeah, it'll barely hold up your camera, but barely is better than not at all, and beats the hell out of trying to balance the camera on a rock.

I have the 70-200/2.8 and the 75-300/4.5-5.6IS. The former is a very sharp lens that covers most of the range I care about. The latter is a soft consumery lens. I still carry the 75-300 because it's light. I can't imagine carrying one of the "do everything" lenses because zooms are always compromises, and those suckers are heavy.

From what you describe, I'd say carry the kit lens, you'll get some herd shots, get the 10-22 and you'll get some amazing landscapage, and you'll be able to do both without being "that guy who's always stopping the group to set up his camera gear".
posted by straw at 8:22 AM on August 24, 2012

MeFi has so many great photographers that it's easy to get info-overload. I rarely even add to photo/camera threads because there are so many other people with excellent information, and I don't like to add to the noise. But I'll offer this, in addition to my lens recommendation above:

Don't overthink it. It's nice to be prepared, but you really can't anticipate every possible eventuality and have a lens for that. The reality is, you can get excellent photographs regardless of what lens you take. You simply use your skill to work within the limitations of what you have. Carrying a ton of equipment, or carrying equipment you are not familiar with and struggle to use, takes all the fun out of the craft.

I often go on photo excursions with only my 35mm prime (or even just my iPhone!), understanding that I simply will not get the close view of the distant object/animal/person; but I can capture the feeling of the place. Maybe you won't be able to capture the texture of the velvet on an elk's antler, but you might capture his silhouette on a rise in the distance.

Keep it fun!
posted by The Deej at 2:09 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks folks. I am gonna try out the 10-22 with a polarizing filter and the 100-400 mm for the only reason that both of them are 77mm and I can use a single polarizer for both. I am still trying to find out if the filter can be screwed on directly or if I need a filter holder.
posted by theobserver at 9:16 PM on August 24, 2012

If you're going 77mm anyway, get the Cokin P filter holder system: You'll want vertical adjustment for the graduated ND that you're going to get anyway eventually. Trust me [grin].

You might have to cut away the outer filter slot (the Cokin system can hold 3 filters at a time, you'll only ever use 2 max) to reduce vignetting on the 10-22 when wide. It's quick and easy to do.
posted by straw at 10:42 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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