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07-20-2013, 04:45 PM   #1
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Rafting the Grand Canyon and a DSLR Rookie

The thread title says it all...WHAT DO I DO!?!?!?!

Didn't know where to post this as it's quite general so let me give you an idea of where I'm coming from. I'm new in the world of SLR photography. I'm a little over a year out of college and photography has always interested me but I've never quite taken the dive. For the last 5 years my photography experience has been with a hand-me-down Canon A560. A nice little point and shoot camera but it's time to take that dive as I'm no longer a ramen eating college student with a poorly paying job. I've purchased and am waiting for my K-30 and it couldn't have been at a better time (or worse...if you think about it).

I have a rafting trip on the Grand Canyon coming up in September. For those of you who don't know this is the holy grail of rafting trips. I grew up rafting and kayaking and have never had the chance before. 20 days completely cut-off from the outside world in the some of the world's most beautiful and striking scenery (not to mention the awesome whitewater). It's an exciting opputunity but one that doesn't come around a lot. I don't want to screw it up from a photography standpoint. Take a look at the google search I did below...

https://www.google.com/search?q=grand+canyon+rafting+photography&bav=on.2,or...BeH8iwK6nIDoCQ

The opportunity to take fantastic photos will be at every bend of the river. So here I am asking the experts what to do. Here is my equipment I've purchased so far...

- Pentax K-30 Body
- SMC DA 18-250 F3.5-6.3 ED AL
- Extra Battery
- 2x 16GB Sandisk SD Cards

My strategy from talking to some other rafters about photography thus far is this. You want an all-purpose lens for on the boat. You don't want to be switching out lenses on a boat and you'll want a good amount of zoom since you won't always be next to something you want to capture...hence the 18-250mm lens. I'm quite certain on this purchase as a good lens to have equipped at all times on the raft but that is about all I'm certain of. An extra battery for obvious reasons though I will have AA batteries ready should I need them as a back-up. Not sure if I'll need more storage or not. As I experiment with the camera I'll purchase more if necessary. And that's about it so far...

So here I ask for your help. The range of shots available to be taken on this trip is vast. Action shots of other rafts going through rapids...huge landscape shots...normal day to day shots of the group...artsy shots of whatever I can dream up...and so I'm a bit overwhelmed. Below are some specific questions I have...

- Additional lenses? I'm sure I'll use the 18-250 a lot and by all reviews it's a great all-around lens. How about a dedicated lens for certain shots when I'm off the boat...specifically landscape and action shots? I don't want to spend a ton more money than I have so if there are some good used lenses for jobs like this I'd like your opinions.

- Trip considerations? Always be prepared...so what else should I consider? Additional batteries/SD cards? Accessories?

- Techniques? This is a broad subject but anything in particular you think may be of help in this specific case? Good books to read on the subject?

- Post processing? Haven't looked into it much but anything to consider while on the river about this? Should I have avoid over/under exposing shots in that it will ruin them for messing around with?

I could go on for days and I could scour these message boards for months and not even scratch the surface. So essentially, what I'm asking is this...what would you do in the same situation?

Ready for 2 months of homework (never thought I'd say that). Let's do this!

Cheers!

07-20-2013, 04:56 PM   #2
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I would suggest a "WR" lens - and the R means resistant not proof. Something like the smc PENTAX-DA 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR - so as to limit the amount of lens changes. Also, a water tight storage container of some type.

Have fun!!

07-20-2013, 05:02 PM   #3
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Lucky you. I've been rafting down the Grand Canyon twice with my Pentax K200D. Although you have the 18-250, which I don't believe is WR, I would recommend the 18-135 WR, which is a wonderful lens and the range was very useful in the canyon. If you don't want to buy that one, which is understandable since it would duplicate range with your 18-250 then I would recommend picking up a good used 18-55 WR. You'll want a WR lens on your WR body. It's a fantastic feeling to be on the river and not have to baby your camera and lens every second worrying about a little spray of water hear and there, and mine took some pretty good hits and came through fine (you don't want submerge them though, don't push your luck). If I were to take another lens it would be the 12-24 or Sigma 10-20. In terms of cards, that might be enough, although it depends how much you shoot, RAW or not, how much you edit, etc.
Have big fun.
07-20-2013, 05:14 PM   #4
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Although I don't do rafting--I do a lot of photography from my canoe/backpacking. If you want digital (as opposed to a underwater Nikonos film camera) I suggest:
1. forget rechargeable batteries--take Lithium AA .
2. A long FL lens is impossible to use from a boat--suggest you concentrate on about 50mm and below.

07-20-2013, 05:24 PM   #5
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I would have gone with the DA 18-135WR instead of the DA 18-250 but you have it now so no sweat. I would second everyone else in that you need a WR lens to go with that camera. Maybe the DA 18-55WR if you can swing it. A good travel kit would be the DA 18-135 WR, DA 55-300 and FA 50mm f/1.4 that covers 18 to 300 with the 50mm for low light.

The most important thing you will need is practice. A dslr is not a point & shoot. The first month I had my k-x I almost returned it and went back to my P&S. My pictures were lousy compared to the P&S ones. There is a learning curve and the only way through it is to take pictures. Shoot every day you can and in all kinds of conditions. Learn the camera front to back, when you are floating down that river there will be no time to figure things out. You need to be able to change settings without even looking at the camera.

Other gear: I would get some kind of waterproof container or bag, just in case.
You should also take along cleaning gear, a rocket blower and some lens cloths, the fuzzy microfiber ones that look like wash cloths are my favorite.
You should have a CPL (circular polarizer filter) it will cut down on the reflections from the water. I would have it on almost all the time on the water. You will need one to fit each lens you have.
Batteries, and for the k-30 I would get the AA battery holder so you can carry AA's just in case.
2 x 16 gb is plenty of cards if you are shooting jpeg.

Post processing is a whole nuther topic. I would suggest you get a copy of Lightroom if you are serious about this and plan to stick it out. You will thank me in a couple of years when all your pictures are nicely organized. Shoot to expose as correctly as you can in the camera. That makes post processing much easier and simpler. And if you are serious about Post processing consider shooting in DNG rather than jpeg. But that will burn up a lot more card space.

Technique: no way anyone can give you a four year course in photography in a couple of forum posts, but I cannot emphasize enough that you need to practice and learn. I strongly suggest a book by Brian Peterson: "Understanding Exposure". Get it read it, practice it, then read it again. Maybe read it another time or two.
07-20-2013, 07:37 PM   #6
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If you can, return the 18-250 and get the 18-135. If you stick with the 250, don't take it on the raft. With the 18-250, your camera is no longer WR. With the 18-135, you should be fine. Even then, it's not a good idea to rack the zoom in while it's wet. I usually dry mine off with a towel I keep in my bag if I need to zoom to the wider end. I really don't want to suck water up through the seals while zooming. On the raft, decide what focal length you need, and stick with it.

I'd invest in a black rapids sport strap so you don't loose your camera over the edge. I love mine. It has clips to keep the camera from sliding around the strap when you're not shooting, and that keeps the camera from swinging around wildly and banging you in the head.

As far as technique, I'd suggest practicing shots while someone drives you around in a car on a bumpy road. I'd go around 20-30 miles per hour or whatever speed you think will be the fastest you'll travel on the water. Use TAv mode, set the aperture around f8, set the shutter speed at 1/500 or higher. You really want to keep your shutter speed way up to avoid motion blur. I don't think I'd look through the view finder. I'd set the drive mode on high, point it in the general direction and blast away while waving the camera around a little. Your keeper rate will be 1%, but it's better than smacking yourself in the eye with your camera! Just delete the bad ones.

The real answer, though, is that for this specific thing, I might just take one of the Optio water proof cameras. They are much more durable, and the IQ isn't too bad really.
07-20-2013, 08:01 PM   #7
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Thanks for the ideas guys. Lot of strong suggestions for the 18-135mm WR. I'll look into it. I'm not too concerned about shutter speed as most of the pictures I will be taking will be in very slow water. Apart from the rapids a large portion of the river is essentially a moving lake...

Good idea on the strap as well. I'll look into it. I'm planning on getting a pelican case for my camera for on the river. You can custom pad them and they are about as water proof as they get and pretty easily accessible. Though there are probably a lot of options to go with.

I'll look into polarizers as well for the river. That's an area I haven't looked into at all yet.

How about prime lenses for specific shots like landscapes? Good used lenses that would work?
07-20-2013, 08:04 PM   #8
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The DA18-250mm is not WR but it is very, very sturdy and well-suited in my opinion. There are numerous reports (in this forum and elsewhere) of the DA18-250mm in snow, mud, sand and wet conditions. Like any zoom lens (except possibly the DA18-135mm), you will need to wipe the extended zoom before you zoom out, to prevent water moisture to enter.

However, let us remember that a WR lens is not waterproof. Please read the fine prints. I have both DA18-250mm and DA18-135mm. I take slightly more care of my DA18-250mm because of the zoom pumping action, but both lenses are very sturdy. And I would take both to the trip. (I have not done rafting but boating incl. chasing tidal bores in very wet conditions. I was all the time in wet suit with a rain coast over, that I use to cover the camera when I did not use it.


*Batteries: take a lot of lithium batteries as pointed by dms. A lot!

*Consider a filter to protect the lens glass. (Valid for any lens.)

*Have a water proof container to store your camera. And a smaller pouch to carry around your neck, possibly inside your rainjacket when you do not use it. This neoprene protection works nicely for a K-30+DA18-250mm:
OP/Tech Neoprene soft pouch D-SLR Mid-size reviews - Pentax Camera Accessory Review Database

*Also take some wipes to clean regularly your camera and lens. The body may be WR but it is not waterproof!!! A swim sport towel which can be squeezed easily and packed in a pocket.

Hope that the comment may help and enjoy your ride...

07-20-2013, 10:42 PM   #9
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If you are going rafting, then go rafting! Why take a heavy, big, two-hand operated DSLR?
Can you answer: What will the DSLR system do for me that a compact WATERPROOF (instead of just "weather resistent", IF you buy a WR lens) camera wonīt?
Do you intend to print very very big? Are you shooting a very high dynamic range scene when rafting? Need 3 sec continuous drive mode? Is light changing really fast and you need direct, inmediate access to controls? Will you use long lenses and an OVF is a must?

I am not saying you shouldnīt take the DSLR but consider what you are shooting for and if there is a specific need for it.
I agree that focal lengths longar than 50mm are very hard to use while moving.

And most important of all, enjoy rafting. Donīt let photography get in the way of having fun, make it part of it (despite the tool you choose to take)
07-21-2013, 12:14 AM   #10
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QuoteQuote:
If you are going rafting, then go rafting! Why take a heavy, big, two-hand operated DSLR?
Can you answer: What will the DSLR system do for me that a compact WATERPROOF (instead of just "weather resistent", IF you buy a WR lens) camera wonīt?
Do you intend to print very very big? Are you shooting a very high dynamic range scene when rafting? Need 3 sec continuous drive mode? Is light changing really fast and you need direct, inmediate access to controls? Will you use long lenses and an OVF is a must?
Though it is a rafting trip it's much more than that in truth. The hikes in the grand canyon and the scenery is spectacular. It truly is a once in a lifetime trip. If that isn't a reason to take a DSLR I don't know what is. If I have good enough pictures they'll certainly be printed and will go on my walls. One of the reasons I started this thread is to ask what do I need to learn in the next two months that will turn ordinary shots into extraordinary shots...because there will be plenty of opportunity for the latter on this trip...

QuoteQuote:
And most important of all, enjoy rafting. Donīt let photography get in the way of having fun, make it part of it (despite the tool you choose to take)
I wouldn't worry about that...when I'm oaring through the rapids the K30 will be tucked away in my pelican case...

QuoteQuote:
The DA18-250mm is not WR but it is very, very sturdy and well-suited in my opinion. There are numerous reports (in this forum and elsewhere) of the DA18-250mm in snow, mud, sand and wet conditions. Like any zoom lens (except possibly the DA18-135mm), you will need to wipe the extended zoom before you zoom out, to prevent water moisture to enter.

However, let us remember that a WR lens is not waterproof. Please read the fine prints. I have both DA18-250mm and DA18-135mm. I take slightly more care of my DA18-250mm because of the zoom pumping action, but both lenses are very sturdy. And I would take both to the trip. (I have not done rafting but boating incl. chasing tidal bores in very wet conditions. I was all the time in wet suit with a rain coast over, that I use to cover the camera when I did not use it.
That was one of the reasons I went with the 18-250mm as it was described everywhere I read as a sturdy, reliable all-around lens with excellent IQ for it's range.

I don't want anyone to get the impression that I'll be pulling this camera out while going through a rapid. It will be brought out during flat water, hikes and video/pictures of rapid runs from the bank. I don't plan on bringing it out in wet conditions as I'll be oaring a raft during the times when getting wet is an issue.

QuoteQuote:
Also take some wipes to clean regularly your camera and lens. The body may be WR but it is not waterproof!!! A swim sport towel which can be squeezed easily and packed in a pocket.
Excellent idea. Will do.
07-21-2013, 04:18 AM   #11
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A waterproof Point and Shoot will not take up much space. If you have the cash, get one of those or even last years models. There is plenty from pentax, olympus, nikon etc. That way you can use the p/s in one situation and the dslr in the other.

Re: "the river is essentially a moving lake for the most part"
Its still moving and you are going to get blurry pictures if you are not careful. More so if you use a long lens. As someone else said you would be better off with a shorter lens.
07-21-2013, 04:26 AM   #12
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Buy a WG-3 and relax.
07-21-2013, 05:56 AM   #13
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Having been to the Grand Canyon and done some white rafting elsewhere I am sure your trip is going to be something to remember!
The 18-250 is certainly a good all-rounder providing a fair amount of reach. In the slow-moving parts of the route it will work fine.

The critical question here is whether you intend to shoot in the rapids.

If not, the 18-250 with a waterproof bag will be just fine.
If yes, it gets a bit more complicated. Under most circumstances I consider WR to be mainly a marketing instrument for the sales people. However, white rafting in rapids is one the exceptions, as sooner or later you and your gear is going to get wet. I do not know how difficult the rapids on your route will be, but most likely at some stage there will be water not only under the raft, but just about all over you.
After doing some shooting in rapids there are two things I would raise here:
- Under these conditions WR definitely does matter. If it really gets rough it is quite possible that your gear gets soaked, and may still be damaged despite the additional protection provided by the extra seals. But you are definitely better off with WR gear. My K-5 with a DA*16-50 WR survived through this

-Long focal lengts are useless in the rapids. There is no way you are going to use anything longer than ~50mm during a roller-coaster ride like that. If anything, you will probably be using the wide end almost exclusively.

The other thing is whether your group is big enough to handle the raft on its own and allow you to concentrate on shooting. For sure you will not be doing them both...

If you intend to shoot in the rapids you might consider getting a WR kit lens for the rapids. These lenses are rather inexpensive, and the 18-250 could stay in the watertight bag when coming through rapids.
07-21-2013, 06:17 AM   #14
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Well as an old dog who did the canyon twice... (without dlsr) but with P&S and video cameras.

Get more 'fast' memory to also allow you to shoot some video. And shoot RAW+jpeg as the light in the canyon is ever changing. This will give you more ability to save any "once in a lifetime" photos where you or the camera did not get it right.

Part of the shots will be getting out ahead and shooting others going thru the rapids. After shooting those a few times, go ahead and video those too. Too often we forget the video function on these cameras... Some of my fave memories of the trips were captured on video, yells and screams as my friends went thru the rapids, the cheering, supporting them on, and videos shot at the beaches / camps each afternoon. That canyon will be the same in 20 years when you and your family float it... But those people you meet and the friends you are with on this trip... those moments really are once in a lifetime... So practice with the video function as you are learning your camera pre trip.

I too, recommend you really consider the 18-135... the weather sealing is not just for water, but also helps with dust... and the side hikes can get dusty and a bit windy. Weather can be crazy in the canyon, In my two trips there was one freak flash flood in the side canyons that wiped out the beach we were setting up camp on. We lost a lot of stuff... So because of that, I would always keep my camera stuff in one location when camped... You may need to grab and go in an emergency. No matter what, after a few days everything is damp... you end up putting dampish stuff in weather proof bags, so having the weather sealed lens on the camera gives you one less thing to worry about.

I did not shoot a ton of long zoom stuff... a couple of bighorn sheep along the banks, and some longer zoom shots of the faces of the people on the rafts before they dropped into the rapids... but mostly it was wider to mid shots. The majesty of the canyon is BIG AND TALL...

Oh, and a few hits of acid and some s'rooms if so inclined... 8^) - and drink lots of water... you are in the freakin' desert down there on the river

Some of my greatest memories are from those river trips... Dont get too stuck behind the lens!

Last edited by Billy Joe; 07-21-2013 at 06:29 AM.
07-21-2013, 06:20 AM - 1 Like   #15
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I have an Optio WR that i use where I'm going to get wet for sure, and a WR 18-135 that I use in the wet. I lost my original 50-150 to mould years ago. The mould became noticeable more than a year after the trip, and it was never in the wet, it must have been condensation due to dew, so I'm going to say, the fact that someone used their 18-250 in wet conditions and doesn't have mould, well, it doesn't have mould yet.... and while an 18-135 is WR not WP, it increases your odds of not having a fungus infection. This is pretty much beyond dispute. I carry my 18-135 in a water proof Pelican case on the water, and take it out when needed. It's a pain, but, the Optio WR is always in my hand. You might think you'll get better pictures with a DSLR on a moving platform, but you might be wrong. Selecting the best tool for the job you are doing may be costly, but it may also prove to have benefits. You only know what happens to the lens on your camera. You don't know what would have happened with another lens. It's all about playing the odds. And for me, I've decided the Optio WR and DA 18-135 are my best bets. But I can't prove it. That's just what gives me confidence that I'm made the best choices for the conditions at hand. The other great thing about the OptioWR is the carabiner that clips onto my life jacket. If I'm paddling, it's not in my way and not in my hands, yet it's still easily acceptable. Just for that reason, it's my boat camera.
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