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02-14-2014, 10:54 AM   #1
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Best lens for wildlife using Pentax K-5 IIs on a photography tour

I will be availing some photography tours of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Churchill (Manitoba for polar bears), etc.later this year and in 2015. I have recently bought a Pentax K-5 IIs and a18-135 mm wr lens (after seeking advice on these forums). I also have a pentax K-r with kit lenses that now my wife is using with her newly bought K-50 (in rather a girly colour for me, unfortunately).

I am sure that these tours offer different photography experience than what we get on our own accord. For example, when I am hiking with my dog, any encounter with a bear is short and fleeting. Also, if you are exploring on your own, perhaps you need long telephoto prime and zoom lenses like a bigma. But those of you who have taken such a tour before may be able to advise that in this case wildlife may not be located that long a distance.

My basic interest is in observing nature in depth, hence leaving the dog behind and availing photography tours. Photography comes as an excellent by-product. Other tours have made me run from pillar to post in fewer days and I get few chances to take detailed notes.

For a wildlife tour, what should I carry as a wildlife photography lens for my Pentax K-5 IIs?

Any advice / suggestion will be most welcome.

02-14-2014, 10:58 AM - 1 Like   #2
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I know for bears, birds, and other wildlife my Sigma 150-500 has been great. I would take it in addition to your 18-135 and you're going to have most everything covered.
02-14-2014, 11:14 AM - 1 Like   #3
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You might want to ask the tour leaders what they recommend.
02-14-2014, 11:15 AM - 1 Like   #4
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DA300 and the coming 1.4x TC?

02-14-2014, 11:27 AM - 3 Likes   #5
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which brings in the question of budget

and btw, for wildlife you will still need all the reach you can get

for polar bears, you will want a zoom, because you won't leave the vehicle but they may approach you

my personal bucket list wildlife lens is the Sigma 500 F4.5 but that's 5k

I have a sigma 100-300 f4 and a 1.4 tc

the next step down, but still a 1200 lens is the sigma 50-500 ex dg hsm and a buncha other letters. you want the newest 2013/2014 version because the 2011-12 really wasn't as good at 500 as it should have been, but the filters are 95mm and they cost a ton, the lens weighs 2 tons

the da*300 is a great lens too, but again, I prefer zooms because with wildlife, you never know where they will be.
you could go with the DA*300, the TC and something in the 70-200 class, but that's buying 2 lenses.

bottom line is budget and get as many mm as you can. 300 is good, 500 is better, but get it early and practice practice practice. at those focal lengths technique is essential, including learning how to breathe. it will take several months to get comfortable with the process, so don't wait until a month before the trip(s)

a further note, in Yellowstone it's illegal to get within I 50-100 yards of an animal (and distance depends on animal) if I remember correctly, so the tours won't get you any closer. they (the animals)will still be a ways away. and there will always be rangers stalking the street telling the 1000 photogs scattered about to get back, get out of the road or get in your car. and they won't put up with anything. tours often have the advantage of local knowledge and some have radio tracker inside information, so they can get you in the area, but you aren't getting any closer, just increasing your chance of actually seeing something

Last edited by nomadkng; 02-14-2014 at 11:33 AM.
02-14-2014, 12:31 PM - 1 Like   #6
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We did Yellowstone last fall. No hiking, all road site seeing. For wildlife, you will need as long as you can get. I wish I had had the Sigma 500 f/4.5 and a heavy tripod. Anyplace there was wildlife to be seen you could tell because of all the cars pulled over and all the big tripods setup. Lots of 600mm f/4 glass. One place where a wolf was rumored to be feeding had at a conservative estimate $100,000 worth of photo gear sitting along the road with people in lawn chairs waiting for a shot. That's for wolves, bears, and moose. More common animals are not hard to find. Bison and elk are like rabbits, after awhile you just ignore them.

I had the DA*60-250 the Pentax-A 400mm f/5.6 and the Sigma 50-500. The 60-250 saw the most use with the Bigma second. I tried both the Bigma and the A 400 with my 1.7x tc but I was not happy with the results, I think my technique was not good enough for that focal length. I am happy with the shots from the A 400 (at least those in focus) and those with the Bigma were good but noticeably softer at 500mm, again likely my technique.

For hot springs and pools I shot almost exclusively with the DA 12-24 f/4 and that was barely wide enough in some cases.

If you are going to be hiking maybe the 60-250 or da*300 and the new TC, assuming it delivers the IQ we hope.
02-14-2014, 12:59 PM - 1 Like   #7
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Sigma 150 - 500 is a great advice for your circumstances, methinks. Personally, and for lone photography, I would pick the arch-sweet DA* 300mm with some converter, but in your situation I would grab that Sigma and should really really be happy with its versatility and flexibility
02-14-2014, 02:18 PM - 1 Like   #8
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The absolute best lens for wildlife for pentax K mount is the FA*250-600mm f/5.6 ED [IF] however they are extremely expensive and rather rare. The next best thing is the Sigma 100-300mm f/4 APO EX DG - which is discontinued.



The DA300mm f/4 is easily available and presently best thing going for wildlife photographers in pentax land, and with the 1.4X rear converter a 420mm f/5.6 lens should have a required amount of reach to make distant subjects more visible.

02-14-2014, 02:43 PM - 2 Likes   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Suhail Quote
when I am hiking with my dog, any encounter with a bear is short and fleeting
Not in Mississauga, I assume? If you encounter a bear and you aren't inside a vehicle, don't bother trying to get a picture, even if your dog isn't with you. If you encounter one on a hike, go the other direction. In Yellowstone, if you are reckless around bears, the park rangers would prefer to shoot you and leave the bears alone. Realistically, unless the bear is too busy eating or too lazy, you won't be close enough to get good shots even with a 300mm telephoto. Inside the tundra buggies around Churchill, if the polar bears are out, they will probably let the bus come close, and you won't need a long lens. If you encounter a polar bear outside of a tundra buggy, look for another person who can't run as fast as you. For elk, moose, deer, wolves, coyotes and birds in Yellowstone, a 300mm lens on your K-5 will come in handy. On the other hand, you will want the wide end of your 18-135 lens to photograph the geothermal features and the bison that block the roads.

Really serious wildlife photographers observe their prey in advance to find out where they travel, and then set up blinds or triggers to get the shots they want; if you want to photograph wildlife on guided tours, you need to be ready for those unpredictable occasions when you happen to be in the right place at the right time. Sharpness and IQ are secondary concerns. There will be many occasions where 135mm isn't enough reach for wildlife, so I would recommend the DA 55-300 which has the advantage of being compact and light enough to leave on your camera while you walk about. If you are lucky, you have enough time to get your camera out of your backpack, you will almost never have enough time to change lenses. The amount of human traffic at Yellowstone and Yosemite is mind-boggling, and if you want photos that are out of the ordinary, you have to be quick.
02-14-2014, 03:00 PM - 1 Like   #10
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I have a whole raft of different options for wild life , but the current GoTo lens is my now somewhat old Sigma APO 70-200/2.8 EX (non DG Non macro version) along with either the sigma 1.4x or 2x TC

Sharp, light enough to hand hold, and you can add the TCs as necessary but keep the fastest options available when you don't need the reach
02-14-2014, 03:16 PM - 1 Like   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Suhail Quote
For a wildlife tour, what should I carry as a wildlife photography lens for my Pentax K-5 IIs?
Well, first of all, you're going to be carrying 2 lenses. One will be on the K-5 IIs, and one on the K-r or K-50.

I would get a DA*300 ASAP (F* and FA*300 are also just as good - personal preference). I think you'll find that when you shoot it near wide-open (e.g. f/4.5-5.6 on the DA*300), the images come out so nice that not being able to control the FL isn't a problem. You just accept the FOV you've got, you frame within it, and you get something interesting. Perhaps the subject comes out bigger in the frame than you envisioned. But it often seems I get a better photo than what my brilliant mind would have come up with on its own, had I been able to zoom where I wanted to.

So get one ASAP (and try to prove me wrong!). Take advantage of the time you've got now to hone your skills. If you later disagree that a prime is better, then sell it. But I can assure you you'll get some nice photos with it, and unless you've had lenses like it before, you'll learn most everything you need to know before the tours. If you still decide you need a zoom afterward, then go ahead. But the skills you will have gained (or refined) will apply to whatever lenses you finally acquire. In any case, time is your most precious resource right now, so make a choice now and then allow yourself enough time to switch up your gear again before the tour, if necessary. But I think it's better to err in favor of getting a prime first, rather than a zoom, because primes tend to force you to get better. Plus, they give you nice shots right out of the camera, without post processing (which I believe is what you're looking for).

You can skip the TC for now. At least wait until Pentax releases the new 1.4x TC, so you can decide whether you want it. And some people don't end up using TC's that much anyway.


I'd recommend you also pick up a D FA 100 WR Macro. Since you want to slow down, it'll let you look at wildlife from another angle as well. Plus it's a good 100mm non-macro lens - better than your DA18-135 (which is a great overall lens, but it's not something spectacular either).

Last edited by DSims; 02-14-2014 at 03:32 PM.
02-14-2014, 04:45 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by VoiceOfReason Quote
I know for bears, birds, and other wildlife my Sigma 150-500 has been great. I would take it in addition to your 18-135 and you're going to have most everything covered.
Thank you VOR. Sigma 150-500 is being used by a friend who does bird photography in OK state and comes highly recommended by others as well.

---------- Post added 02-14-14 at 06:46 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by johnyates Quote
You might want to ask the tour leaders what they recommend.
Johnny,

That is a good suggestion. So let me write them too. In the meantime, I just don't want to come out as totally uneducated when I ask those guys lol.

---------- Post added 02-14-14 at 06:49 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by VisualDarkness Quote
DA300 and the coming 1.4x TC?
Visual Darkness,

I was looking at DA*300, but with a 1.4 x TC it touches $2,000 in Canada, plus tax. It is lightly an expensive proposition for me.But this combination will surely be different from other members of the group and I may stand out hahaha.

---------- Post added 02-14-14 at 06:57 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by nomadkng Quote
which brings in the question of budget........ tours often have the advantage of local knowledge and some have radio tracker inside information, so they can get you in the area, but you aren't getting any closer, just increasing your chance of actually seeing something
nomadkng,

I think my 18-135 mm will work with polar bears, but I will need bigger lens for other national parks. I have visited the national park before, but previously it was just a cruise through it. This time I get more time to observe main features and have an option to do some serious photography. although there are people like me who get registered in photography tours to learn more rather than take photos.

---------- Post added 02-14-14 at 07:05 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
We did Yellowstone last fall. ......I had the DA*60-250 the Pentax-A 400mm f/5.6 and the Sigma 50-500. The 60-250 saw the most use with the Bigma second. ....... da*300 and the new TC, assuming it delivers the IQ we hope.
jatrax,

I am now wondering how will DA 55-300 mm wr compared to DA*60-250? Wouldn't that allow me more flexibility?

---------- Post added 02-14-14 at 07:08 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by Dariusz Quote
Sigma 150 - 500 is a great advice for your circumstances, methinks. Personally, ... versatility and flexibility
Dariusz,

If I go the route of Sigma 150-500 mm, it will definitely rid me of any worries to carry any additional long distance lens.

---------- Post added 02-14-14 at 07:12 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by Digitalis Quote
The DA300mm f/4 is easily available and presently best thing going for wildlife photographers in pentax land, and with the 1.4X rear converter a 420mm f/5.6 lens should have a required amount of reach to make distant subjects more visible.
Digitalis,

The only thing as I mentioned earlier is that it will cost me in the range of $2,000 plus tax in Canada. Although that was the first thing I looked at (at least for bringing a different type of gear to the tour lol). The price of the TC as of now put me away.

---------- Post added 02-14-14 at 07:26 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by RGlasel Quote
Not in Mississauga, I assume? If you encounter a bear and you aren't inside a vehicle, don't bother trying to get a picture,.......The amount of human traffic at Yellowstone and Yosemite is mind-boggling, and if you want photos that are out of the ordinary, you have to be quick.
RGlasel,

That is a great reminder on wildlife. But I literally grew up hiking alone in various national parks of USA and national parks and provincial parks of Canada. Some provincial parks of Canada have IUCN's national park designation. So I am well versed with nature and wildlife. However, it will be first time I want to do some serious wildlife photography just for myself. So I want to know what equipment should I minimally have. I want to learn some fine points of photography, as well as learn from the guides, and in a safe and secure environment.

---------- Post added 02-14-14 at 07:31 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
I have a whole raft of different options for wild life , but the current GoTo lens is my now somewhat old Sigma APO 70-200/2.8 EX (non DG Non macro version) along with either the sigma 1.4x or 2x TC

Sharp, light enough to hand hold, and you can add the TCs as necessary but keep the fastest options available when you don't need the reach
Lowell,

So my question again is how will your lens situation compare with DA 55-300 mm wr with 1.4x TC?
02-14-2014, 05:52 PM - 1 Like   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Suhail Quote
jatrax, I am now wondering how will DA 55-300 mm wr compared to DA*60-250? Wouldn't that allow me more flexibility?
Both excellent lenses with different characteristics. The 55-300 is small, light weight, inexpensive and has a little more range. Might be the best value pound for pound of any Pentax lens. But it is relatively slow and has a tendency to hunt for focus in some situations. With practice you can take excellent images with it. I used one for years and my wife now carries it along with the 18-135, which makes an excellent light weight kit. The 60-250 is a step up in image quality, faster @ f/4 and surer to focus although maybe not quite as fast. In other words it takes a smidge longer to lock but rarely if ever misses so the net average between it and the 55-300 is about the same. Although when the 55-300 misses it will rack all the way out and back so the shot is completely missed.

Besides the IQ difference I think the other factor to consider is that the 60-250 can use a TC. The 55-300 can also, theoretically, but in practice it is an exercise in futility.

Bottom line you won't go wrong with either it just depends on what your priorities are. Weight and cost? Go 55-300. Image quality and use with TC? go 60-250.
02-14-2014, 06:09 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by DSims Quote
Well, first of all, you're going to be carrying 2 lenses. One will be on the K-5 IIs, and one on the K-r or K-50.....
I would get a DA*300 ASAP ...........
I'd recommend you also pick up a D FA 100 WR Macro. Since you want to slow down, it'll let you look at wildlife from another angle as well. Plus it's a good 100mm non-macro lens - better than your DA18-135 (which is a great overall lens, but it's not something spectacular either).
DSims,

Now that is very learned but at the same time expensive recommendation, but it does make lot of sense now that you have explained it. The thing is that if I get DA*300 mm now, by the time my Churchill tour comes in October, I would be investing in 1.4xTC. I know it already. My wife doesn't call me a spendthrift for no good reason hahaha.

Practicing is what Nomadkng has strongly recommended also.

I will look into 100mm wr macro in the database now..

I use DA 18-135 mostly in the range of 18 to 60 mm max, mostly 24 mm for some odd reason (keeping ISO at 100 with max possible aperture # to get max DoF, at a manageable shutter speed). I bought it on January 2 and because of my hiking and trekking, it has already taken so much punishment from elements (the wet, wind, ice, snow, deep freeze, slips, falls, etc) that I am just proud of having it. I carry my camera with this lens on in Lowpro weather resistant sports bag.
02-14-2014, 08:02 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
Both excellent lenses with different characteristics..........Bottom line you won't go wrong with either it just depends on what your priorities are. Weight and cost? Go 55-300. Image quality and use with TC? go 60-250.
Jatrax,

OK I checked out the lens database and now know what you mean. This lens 60-250 mm is not available at the largest retailer in Canada. The quality is exceptional, but the price is also high.

Too bad that the soon to be in the market 1.4x TC is a costly accessory too.
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