Field use is incredibly helpful for gear evaluation. As you likely figured out through the newsletter and the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE Lens review, I was able to spend some time in Shenandoah National Park last month. While wide angle landscapes were on the to-capture list, wildlife photography was my primary purpose for this trip.
To be more specific, I wanted to know which of three following big white lenses was my favorite for wildlife photography.
And my answer, as you may have predicted, is "It depends." Each lens has its strengths.
From an image quality standpoint, all of these lenses deliver very high pro-grade results. It doesn't matter which lens you pick in this regard. From a "look" perspective, I prefer the more-blurred background, more-compressed look of the longest focal lengths. Again, all of these lenses have very long focal lengths available, but the 600 f/4 has the advantage. The 200-400 L's long focal length comes with the built-in 1.4x extender moved into the optical path, which sets it back one stop in the max aperture comparison. The two primes also did less focus hunting in low light, peripheral AF point scenarios.
If you can get closer to your subject and there are obstructions (trees, branches, weeds, etc.) in play, a longer focal length quickly becomes a liability. The farther away you are from the subject, the more likely that these obstructions will factor into your results. The first problem is that obstructions detract from your final image. A branch across your subject's head is not going to be welcomed. And an even bigger problem is that the obstructions can catch the attention of your camera's autofocus system, resulting in a subject that is not even in focus. Such images are throw-aways – if you can even get the photo. In SNP, I had a black bear cub run past me in the thick woods and I was not able to even capture a memory photo as the camera could not lock focus.
Because the white-tailed deer in Shenandoah National Park are relatively tolerant of humans, I was able to get closer to my subjects (at least some of the time) on this trip. And because I was shooting with LOTS of obstructions (often in relatively thick woods), getting closer was typically desirable. The 200-400 L quickly became my go-to lens on this trip and has earned permanence in my kit. Having the very long range of focal lengths immediately available when needed/desired, this lens was the ideal choice for this type of photography.
I had been pursuing a pair of buck for two hours when the larger of the two finally and suddenly walked out into a clearing. And at the perfect moment, it stopped and became alert. I had diffuse sunlight at my back. The deer's head was framed between the closest background trees and the foreground was uninterrupted. In the very short duration of time that the ideal picture remained available, I would have been very fortunate to get one acceptably-framed picture with a prime lens (due to the sneaker zooming required). But with the 200-400 L, I was able to rapidly capture a number of framing variations.
I used the 500 L IS II and 600 L IS II during the trip and they performed excellently, but when the shot really counted, I found myself going with the 200-400 L IS in this location.
Check out some images in the Shenandoah National Park gallery.
Since many of these images were captured with the big white zoom lens, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens sample pictures are also now available.
I posted a gallery of Hawaii Pictures with at least a little commentary for each.
This image collection is probably not what most are expecting to see. The Hawaiian Islands have extremely diverse climates and landscapes - within individual islands. Temperatures can change from mid-80s to upper 20s within a 2 hour slow-speed drive. And wind can drive home the particular temperature you are in. The average annual rainfall within these small islands can range from over 460" annually down to 10-12" annually.
The variety of subjects available in Hawaii could occupy my photography interests for a very long time.
I selected a batch of images captured on my Florida photography trip to share with you. This gallery is mostly water and birds, two subjects that Florida is well known for:
The range of bird species encountered on this trip was quite diverse. A diverse range of lenses accompanied me on this trip, but the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens along with the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens & Canon EF 2x III Extender combo took care of most of the bird action.
It only took me 8 months to process and post pictures from my September 2011 Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Park photo trip. Better late than never. I had more time in Glacier and the Glacier gallery reflects this.
Images were selected because I liked them - or wanted to share something about these incredible parks. Many images have tips and information shared below them.
The first Glacier image is my favorite:
To answer some of the questions I'm receiving, I'm sharing my 2011 Central California photography trip itinerary below.
I planned my trip for this time of the year for a few reasons. First, I wanted to be in Yosemite before schools let out for the summer - so that the crowds would be light. I also wanted the Yosemite waterfalls to still be flowing strongly. And, I wanted Glacier Point and Tioga roads to be opened.
I was very successful with all but the last goal. While Glacier Point Rd opened the day we arrived, a 200% of normal snowpack (most in 70 years I was told) meant that Tioga Rd over Tioga Pass did not open until mid-July or so.
Wed 5/25: Big Sur
Flew into San Francisco. I planned to arrive in time to shoot the sunset from the Monterey area, but a late flight meant that I drove into Big Sur around midnight. We stayed in a small cottage at Ripplewood Resort.
Thu 5/26: Big Sur
Explored the Big Sur area south to a road slide-out below Gorda.
Fri 5/27: Big Sur
Explored the Big Sur area north including Monterey and Carmel. Arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Paso Robles around midnight. The original plan was to explore the southern Big Sur area on day two, making Paso Robles a nice stop-over point on the way to Sequoia National Park. With RT 1 being closed, I adjusted the schedule. Flexibility is always important when traveling.
Sat 5/28: Sequoia National Park
Drove from Paso Robles (after having the front license plate on the rental SUV "reinstalled" at the local GMC dealer), through the Central CA valley (sampled the excellent fruit growing there), through Visalia and into Sequoia National Park on RT 198. Note that RT 189 entering Sequoia National Park is an amazing road. Spent the rest of the daylight hours exploring Sequoia National Park and drove to Kings Canyon National Park after dark. We stayed in the John Muir Lodge for two nights.
Sun 5/29: Kings Canyon National Park
Explored Grant Grove and the entire Kings Canyon.
Mon 5/30: Yosemite National Park
Left Kings Canyon National Park. Drove to Fresno - did laundry, got food (including more fresh fruit such as oranges). Drove to Yosemite National Park. Checked into Yosemite View Lodge. Yosemite View Lodge is located just outside of the Yosemite National Park entrance - it is at an ideal location for photographers concentrating on the Yosemite Valley.
Tue 5/31 through Sat 6/4: Yosemite National Park
Lots of driving and hiking around Yosemite National Park. On Sat, drove to Cavallo Point in Sausalito, CA. Cavallo Point is a few notches above the lodging quality I'm used to, but a winter deal made this ideal location for photography available to me.
Sun 6/5 - Tue 6/7: San Francisco, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods, Point Reyes National Seashore
Explored these areas until flying out of San Francisco at 11:20 PM Tue night.
List of Central California Photo Galleries:
Big Sur, California Pictures
Sequoia National Park Pictures
Kings Canyon National Park Pictures
Yosemite National Park Pictures
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Pictures
Point Reyes National Seashore Pictures
Hopefully you find some of these pictures inspiring. I intended to give you somewhat of a tour of the photographic potential of these areas.
Weather does not always cooperate with those of us with only a short amount of time to spend in an area. More time in an area increases the chances for great images, but the competent, passionate locals will always get the best shots.
I posted two more small galleries to finish off my 2011 Central California trip:
I added a new gallery to the site: Yosemite National Park Pictures
Kick back and enjoy a photographical tour of the beautiful Yosemite National Park valley as well as some of the areas south of the valley.
I added a few location-specific galleries to the site:
These were short-duration trips.
When I scheduled my photo trip to Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks nearly a year in advance, my plan was to shoot both landscape and wildlife images. With Canon's Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens and Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens scheduled to arrive before my trip, I planned to take one of these long lenses with me.
The arrival of these lenses was of course delayed by the tragedy in Japan, so I decided to take both the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens and the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens with me - along with both Canon Extender IIIs. Carrying these large lenses along with a full landscape kit including three Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III bodies (and a smaller telephoto zoom lens) onto an RJA (Regional Jet Aircraft) is of course a challenge.
To meet this challenge, I packed the two super telephoto lenses into my Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW Camera Backpack using a creative padded divider layout. I squeezed two 1Ds III bodies into the pack along with a variety of other supplies including 5 spare batteries, filters, memory cards ... This pack was my "carry-on" - and I know from previous trips that it fits under the aisle seat of an RJA.
This meant that my "personal item" was going to have to carry many lenses and the 3rd camera body. Think Tank Photo provided me with what they thought was their largest available "personal item" -qualifying bag - the Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 60 V2.0.
The Urban Disguise 60 V2.0 proved to be the right choice. I loaded my laptop, 3 mid-sized lenses, a 70-300 L, an EOS 1Ds III and many other items including a pair of portable backup drives into it. It tightly fit into the RJA overhead compartment. Note that filling the middle section of this bag and adding bodies in the front pouch makes this bag too large to fit into the overhead compartment of the RJA I was on (4 seats wide).
I packed some additional (backup) lenses into my checked luggage along with a pair of tripods (you can sometimes nearly double the take-home from a great sunrise or sunset with two cameras ready) and a monopod. I was carrying about 70 lbs through the airport (yes, I belive that was over the weight limit). Carrying 70 lbs through airports is of course not fun - especially when I had to run 89 gates to catch a connection in Denver. But, these bags worked out very well.
In hindsight, I would have left the 300 II and 400 II at home. The targets I found for these lenses were not within reasonable carrying distance - most were 4-5 miles up into the trails. I carried the 70-300 L along with my 24-105 L on separate bodies until my own body could not take the weight of both bodies any longer. The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens on a 1Ds III once again proved to be my go-to combination. Yes, there were times when I could have used wider and longer lenses, but with nearly 50 miles of hiking up into mountains on my schedule, panoramas and cropping were the options I elected for much of this trip.
I arrived home from 8 intense days of shooting (plus two travel days) in the incredible Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks at 3:30 AM yesterday morning. It was an awesome trip - I will eventually get through all of my pics and will post some of my favorites (I still need to post pics from my California trip earlier this year).
At this point, I have most of the news posts caught up and have replied to all emails sent through Thu night. Note that I receive between 300 and 400 emails per day and use 3 layers of spam filtration to eliminate the garbage. I bulk-deleted over 3,300 filtered email messages today as the list was simply to long to thoroughly scan. Occassionally these filters generate a false positive - if I have not responded to your email, please send it again.
My trip had a rough start. I had an early AM flight scheduled from an airport just over an hour away, so I set the alarm on my Droid X for 2:30 AM and went to be early. The phone rang and I pushed my wife to get up. After more than a little pushing, she turned over and said "It's 12:30!?"
Half awake, I realized that the alarm had not gone off - I had an actual phone call - from the airline - notifying me that the first flight (of three legs) had been canceled. By 1:30 AM, after a long phone call, I had a new set of flights scheduled - from an airport 3.5 hours away. I was fortunate to get to the St Mary Lodge by 1:00 AM the next day (there are not many flights into Kalispell, MT - and fewer with seats available).
The weather for the week was mostly excellent (warm for late Sep) with great cloud patterns on some days. The crowds were very light (most services were shutting down for the season) and the leaves were just starting to change. The week+ was a great experience - I highly recommend the trip!
Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon T* ZE Lens Sample Pictures have been added to the site.
You will recognize many of these images from the St. John, US Virgin Islands Gallery. Many of the additional photos were taken in Ricketts Glen State Park - for which a Ricketts Glen State Park Gallery now exists. If you like landscape photography and are anywhere near north-central PA, make this park one of your destinations.
Sharing some pictures from a recent photo trip: St. John, USVI Photo Gallery
I was in the area, so I had to check out Rock Run in the Loyalsock State Forest.
Well, nothing is really in the area of this location, but it doesn't take much of an excuse to pull me to places like this. Prior to this trip, I did not find many Rock Run photos online, so I thought I would share a few of my Rock Run Pictures (Ralston, PA) with you.
New to the site: American Southwest Photo Gallery
In this gallery, I share some of my favorite images from my recent American Southwest "Grand Tour" trip. Of course, camera and lens settings are included along with some commentary and tips.
I increased the size of the photos in this gallery relative to what I have been posting. Please let me know if the larger size causes you problems - and remember that "CTRL-" and "CTRL+" decreases and increases viewing sizes in most browsers.