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12-01-2009, 07:30 PM   #1
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300mm enough for Alaska?

Hello.

I have a trip planned to Alaska next year. I recently purchased a Pentax K-x with 18-55mm and 55-300mm. Will the 300mm be long enough for wildlife or should I consider renting something like the Sigma 50-500? I don't really want to spend approximately $125 bucks to rent a lens, but then again, this is a once in a lifetime trip for me. Plus that's a pretty big lens to be lugging around.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

Thanks,
Bill

12-01-2009, 07:37 PM   #2
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Money is not really the issue, i'd buy it then sell it ... you'll spend less. However that's a HUGE hunk of glass to vcart about so you bette rbe going weith photography as the sole/main purpose of the trip ...... you can't take something larger/heavier and try to do the romantic alaska vacation with the wife.

You were thinking of that weren't you.
12-01-2009, 07:42 PM   #3
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300mm IMO is the starting point for a long tele lens. To get nice up close wildlife shots, 300mm might work for some of it but certainly not all. Particularly some of the wildlife you would see there and not want to be very close to.

As you say, this is a once in a lifetime chance. The question you need to ask yourself is. Do I want the 50-500mm after the trip? Will I use it later? Or is the $125.00 as a rental a better purchase? Finally most new lenses hold their value very well if you get a decent deal on a purchase. But it is a gamble if you buy and resell later. You could easily 'spend' more than $125.00

Finally the 50-500mm is a very good lens and has a great range where you wouldn't need to change lenses often, but to add to the weight is the need for some type of support. A monopod or tripod would be advisable.
12-01-2009, 08:24 PM   #4
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Thanks guys. I did consider purchasing the Sigma for the trip and selling it later. I wasn't sure what the depreciation would be for something like that. I imagine it would be pretty close to a wash with buying/selling v/s renting. I checked Ebay and of course all of those were full price or higher.

As of now, I am leaning towards just sticking with what I have. But, I have about 6 months before the trip to get a feel for what the 300mm can do. I will probably change my mind a couple of times before the trip.

Thanks again.
Bill

12-01-2009, 10:45 PM   #5
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Well for what it is worth, we have been to Alaska twice via the inside passage cruise. In Skagway we took a bus up into Canada, and did see a lot of wildlife. There were some mountain goats up on the side of a hill, about a mile away and I really doubt that a 500 would have done a lot of good. It just depends on where you go and the amount of time you have.

I did run in to a set of twin brothers and their wifes who were doing nature photography. They shot about 1000 frames of bears over several days, their dad told me. We met them whale watching. They did have some serious glass across about 5 bodies. Between them they probably burned through another 1000 frames of the whale breeching in front of a glacier. I got one good shot on my P&S. After getting home, I started researching SLRs and moved from my 1970 Spotmatic to a K100. That was almost 5 years ago. Now, I am very patiently waiting for both of our sons to graduate from college so that we can (afford to) return.

Have a wonderful trip!!!!
12-01-2009, 11:22 PM   #6
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Since the wide end of the 50-500 isn't really important, why not just focus on the tele end? Maybe look for a 400mm or 500mm prime, or something like the Sigma 135-400mm which is much cheaper than the bigma.

Or, and I know I'm going to get bricks thrown at me, you might consider the Tamron 500mm mirror lens, if you're *really* conscious about budget. Less than $300 for the lens, hood, and auto-aperture adapter in mint condition, and it is just as sharp as any sub-$1000 prime lens. Of course, it's a little hard to use and the bokeh is a bit nasty, but that's your decision. For many shots it won't matter...

And to answer your question, 300mm even on APS-C (450mm equivalent) is NOT enough for nice pictures of most wildlife, especially not shy ones.
12-01-2009, 11:27 PM   #7
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Alaska

I do not know where you are going in Alaska but when I get to travel there a few times a year the wildlife is really close like moose on the side of the road or sheep really far away. You will need a sturdy tripod for a 500mm lens. My hand held 300mmf4 is difficult to take photos during that time of wildlife activity in the early morning or evening. Alaska is big! I find myself using my wide angle to try to encompass the vast mountain ranges or bodies of water. I think you are pretty set up on what you have. Don't get your hopes up too high on seeing a bear or moose every mile you travel. It's not always so easy. I don't mean to sound negative because I love to travel that state. Have fun.
12-02-2009, 12:10 AM   #8
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Maybe a teleconverter?

12-02-2009, 08:34 AM   #9
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I haven't been to Alaska, but I once tried out a 500 mm lens at a local Wildlife refuge...

What I found is that I could get a few more shots than the 300 mm max I have now, but I also found that I still wanted more. When I only have the 300 mm, I'm wishing I had 400. Then when I had the 500, I wanted more than that. It made me realize I didn't need more and couldn't really afford to. Covering the range up to 300 mm has really been great, and it has made me stand back and just enjoy the scenery and wildlife when 300 mm isn't enough.

I know that isn't a great answer, and I haven't been to Alaska, yet to see the wildlife it offers. However, I have found that in general, all the excitement comes when you are actually on your trip and that worrying about what you can't take a photo of can distract from enjoying those moments that are still memorable, even without a photo.
12-02-2009, 11:28 AM   #10
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You mentioned right off, a once in a lifetime trip. It's your choice whether or not you want to carry around a heavy lens and the necessary tripod. For me it's an easy one. I would get the lens as the chance of taking wildlife shots of critters I would never have the oppurtunity to see in the wild again would be worth the extra pounds and at my age I'm more inclined to be fishing and taking pictures. However 20 or 30 years ago I may have given a different answer because I would have been more concerned about weight while climbing mountains and skiing glaciers. You really have to decide what you really want to do on this trip and choose the proper gear to do it. A compromise would be a mirror lens which would lighten the load on your back as well as your wallet but the IQ wouldn't be as good. A 55-300 plus a 500mm mirror is probably close to the weight of the Bigma anyway. There have been some pretty good looking shots posted with the 55-300 with a TC.
12-02-2009, 11:48 AM   #11
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I'll put a different pragmatic spin on this:

If an animal is so far away that you can't get a good shot with a 300mm lens, chances are you won't get *that* great of a great shot with a longer lens either if you aren't accustomed to using them (and have it mounted at all times!). Unless you're an experienced wildlife photographer, chances are most of what you get at very long focal lengths won't be nearly as good as a print you could buy in a souvenir shop. The 300mm lens would give you the "I was there" experience just as well as a mediocre shot from longer lens. Crop the shot from the 300 and it will still make a great screensaver. If your goal is to come how with prize-worthy large framed prints of wildlife, then by all means, get the 50-500. But then, I hope you've also optimized your trip itinerary to make that the focus, and aren't planning on wasting your time doing any other type of sightseeing . You'll probably miss far more shots due to things like, oh, say, sleeping when you should be out at dawn, or hiking and gawking at the mountains when you should crouching in a blind for hours scanning for movement on the plains, then you'll miss because you've only got a 300mm lens. Which is to say, if you want to get your money's worth out of something like the 50-500, you'd probably need to take the wildlife aspect of the trip pretty seriously. Of course, I say this as someone who's never been to Alaska. But the pictures I've seen others come back with *never* give me the sense that a longer lens would really have been worth carrying.

So if it were me, I'd focus on enjoying the trip with lenses you are comfortable with, getting the great shots of the stuff you already know how to shoot well, and not worry about the possibilty about the possibility that you'll see something off in the distance that a 300mm lens wouldn't capture just fine with some cropping. That said, I might take a 500mm mirror just in case, since it won't break the budget or hamper my travels that much.
12-02-2009, 12:03 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Peter Zack Quote
300mm IMO is the starting point for a long tele lens. To get nice up close wildlife shots, 300mm might work for some of it but certainly not all. Particularly some of the wildlife you would see there and not want to be very close to.

As you say, this is a once in a lifetime chance. The question you need to ask yourself is. Do I want the 50-500mm after the trip? Will I use it later? Or is the $125.00 as a rental a better purchase? Finally most new lenses hold their value very well if you get a decent deal on a purchase. But it is a gamble if you buy and resell later. You could easily 'spend' more than $125.00

Finally the 50-500mm is a very good lens and has a great range where you wouldn't need to change lenses often, but to add to the weight is the need for some type of support. A monopod or tripod would be advisable.
What he said...

Regarding camera/lens support. The bird photogs in my neck of the woods use a beanbag device to cradle the lens on the window frame or window of the car.

I have some friends that were in Haines last winter for eagle photography. They rented some big Canon L glass (~500 at the long end) for the occasion. I went to their slide show and they made a point of saying that while the big lens was nice to have, it was a pain to lug around. As far as support, they also borrowed a gimbal head.

While in Haines, they also did some other wildlife shots of goats and lynx and such...at the local game ranch. Game ranches are the "dirty little secret" of wildlife photography and film making. Remember Marty Stouffer (Wild America) on TV? Most of his animal sequences were made within a fenced reserve with captive animals. (You can see the fences if you look closely at the background.) While it might not seem quite right, you could spend a lifetime attempting to get a full face shot of a wolf in the wild and might not live to tell of the experience.

Steve

Last edited by stevebrot; 12-02-2009 at 12:16 PM.
12-02-2009, 12:13 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
I'll put a different pragmatic spin on this:

If an animal is so far away that you can't get a good shot with a 300mm lens, chances are you won't get *that* great of a great shot with a longer lens either if you aren't accustomed to using them (and have it mounted at all times!). Unless you're an experienced wildlife photographer, chances are most of what you get at very long focal lengths won't be nearly as good as a print you could buy in a souvenir shop. The 300mm lens would give you the "I was there" experience just as well as a mediocre shot from longer lens. Crop the shot from the 300 and it will still make a great screensaver. If your goal is to come how with prize-worthy large framed prints of wildlife, then by all means, get the 50-500. But then, I hope you've also optimized your trip itinerary to make that the focus, and aren't planning on wasting your time doing any other type of sightseeing . You'll probably miss far more shots due to things like, oh, say, sleeping when you should be out at dawn, or hiking and gawking at the mountains when you should crouching in a blind for hours scanning for movement on the plains, then you'll miss because you've only got a 300mm lens. Which is to say, if you want to get your money's worth out of something like the 50-500, you'd probably need to take the wildlife aspect of the trip pretty seriously. Of course, I say this as someone who's never been to Alaska. But the pictures I've seen others come back with *never* give me the sense that a longer lens would really have been worth carrying.

So if it were me, I'd focus on enjoying the trip with lenses you are comfortable with, getting the great shots of the stuff you already know how to shoot well, and not worry about the possibilty about the possibility that you'll see something off in the distance that a 300mm lens wouldn't capture just fine with some cropping. That said, I might take a 500mm mirror just in case, since it won't break the budget or hamper my travels that much.
Thank you Marc for this pragmatic spin on things. Having the big lens is not the same as getting good shots with it. These things take practice and a lot of it. And even at 500mm, most subjects will still need to be fairly close to get the shot. 500mm is only about 10X...a little more magnification than a pair of binoculars and about 1/2 that of the low range of a good spotting scope.

If it really is a "once in a lifetime" trip, it is best to go with the intent of savoring the experience and treat photography as the secondary activity.

Steve

(Will make it to Alaska one of these days...)
12-02-2009, 02:25 PM   #14
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Ive always had great luck with a 200mm lens. Anything longer and you'll need a supernova to get enough light through it to shoot above stupid slow speeds anyway. I shoot film too, and its probably different with a digital, but something to consider.
12-02-2009, 02:49 PM   #15
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I'm headed for a 3 week photo safari to three different countries in Africa. My lens choices:

Pentax DA* 200 F2.8

Tamron 70-300 F4-5.6 LD-Di

Pentax FA 50 F1.4

Pentax DA 18-55

These have served me well in the Antarctic, South Seas, South America, and China. As others have observed, if you need a 500mm tele for wildlife you just might lose the shot.
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