Galapagos and Ecuadorian Rain Forest -- with new twists and special considerations

Discussion in 'Travel' started by larry h., Apr 14, 2012.

  1. As seems to be my habit lately, this is a long post. So, it won’t bother me if you close it now without reading further. Also, I hate the "What camera/lens should I get for a trip to XXX?" questions as much as the next person. But not only do the options available always increase, but I've added some specific requirements and personal twists. I also know the adages that "Only you can decide for yourself," and "Never take a new piece of equipment on a big trip without getting used to it." What I'm looking for is a myriad of opinions to consider in advance.
    Background: My wife and I went to Ecuador for our honeymoon in 1990 and LOVED it. We are planning to return sometime this summer as a huge present for our twins’ high school graduation. The itinerary I've sketched out is 19 days, first a few days in the rain forest, then a week cruising the Galapagos, ending with a few days in the central highlands. Before you start drooling, we’ve scrimped and saved for years for both a big trip like this and our kids’ college education. For a variety of reasons, I don’t expect to make a trip of this scale ever again.
    We did essentially the same trip in 1990. My equipment then was a Minolta X-700, Ektachrome ASA 400 (?) film, a Tamron Adaptall 60-300mm/3.4-5.4 zoom (surprisingly good for the time), and I really don’t remember what I used as a lens wider than 60mm. It would have been either something like a Tamron or Tokina 28-70 (or 135mm)/3.5-4.5 zoom, or a pair of primes (probably 28mm & 50mm).
    Ironically, my daughter wants to take my beloved SRT-102, a 28-85/3.5-4.5 zoom, a 70-210/4 zoom, and maybe a 50/1.7 (all Minolta brand) plus a Vivitar 2x macro teleconverter, and loads of Tri-X. I’ve suggested to her that that’s a mistake, but try telling that to an 18 year old girl who thinks anything her father suggests is dumb. ;-) BUT, I’m incredibly proud of her in every way, thrilled pink that she has caught the photography bug after enduring years of traveling with ‘picture boy’, and has surpassed her father’s eye for a photo (by far). But I digress.
    When I recently showed the kids my slides from 1990, I realized many of them are pretty good, but many suffered from my and my equipment’s limitations. In particular, AF, IS, digital RAW files and being able to use higher ISOs (maybe even faster lenses) opens up a world of possibilities. The other big change is my use of a (Canon) 1.6x crop camera. In myy picture of a pair of waved albatrosses ‘bill fencing’, the birds were tiny (@ 300mm), out of focus and suffered from camera movement.
    Here are my specific requirements and personal twists:
    1. I want to cover, at the VERY minimum, the range from 18 – 250mm (29 – 400mm full frame).
    2. Fast lenses in the Galapagos are irrelevant, except for being able to limit DOF. The rain forest is a completely different matter. Many photos I took in Costa Rica required 1/250s, f/2.8 and ISO 2000 in order to prevent exhibiting subject movement. I do plan to use a monopod and IS almost all the time.
    3. I’m not looking for the ultimate in image quality. Time, money, family nagging, size & weight, and interest (personal satisfaction not ‘publishable quality’ is my goal) will preclude that. However, I’d still like to do substantially better image-quality-wise than the Tamron 60-300mm was capable of, even under ideal conditions (tripod, etc.).
    4. I’d like to limit the number of lenses to the fewest possible, but preferably 2 or 3, 4 if ABSOLUTELY necessary as long as the 4th is small & light. Keeping everything at the same filter size would also be nice.
    5. Personal physical limitations are MAJOR considerations. Three recent operations on my neck to reduce pain in my arms and hands, reduce muscle fatigue, and improve a tremor holding cameras/lenses have not been entirely successful. Carrying a backpack is now problematic and I am strongly considering some sort of waist-carry system (any suggestions on that would also be welcome).
    6. Size and weight considerations are thus important. Because some of the landings on the Galapagos are wet landings, a big advantage would be the ability to shove everything into a dry bag that my son hopefully will be gracious enough to carry ashore for me.
    7. Finally, money is not a terribly big consideration. Not because I am a moneybags but because I expect to either sell anything I buy for this trip almost immediately (thus I prefer used options) or, if I like the new stuff, I’ll sell some old stuff that has become impractical because of my relatively new physical constraints.
    So, here are lots of the combinations I’ve thought of, in no particular order. I own some of the lenses already, but as I’ve explained, that’s not my biggest consideration. All lenses are Canon, unless otherwise specified. The options range from small, light and cheap to frankly too big, heavy and expensive. Again, I am simply looking for opinions, and especially options I have not thought of.
    Thanks for reading this far! – Larry
    1. 18-55/3.5-5.6 IS + 55-250/4-5.6 IS (58mm filter)
    2. 18-55/3.5-5.6 IS + 70-300/4-5.6 IS USM (58mm filter)
    3. 17-55/2.8 IS + 70-200/2.8 IS (Mk I) + 1.4x (Mk II) teleconverter (77mm)
    4. 17-55/2.8 IS + 100-400/4.5-5.6 IS (77mm)
    5. 10-22/3.5-4.5 + 17-55/2.8 IS + 70-200/2.8 IS (Mk I) + 1.4x (Mk II) teleconverter (77mm)
    6. Sigma 17-70/2.8-4.0 OS HSM + 70-200/4 IS + 1.4x (Mk II) teleconverter (67mm)
    7. Sigma 17-70/2.8-4.0 OS HSM + 70-300/4-5.6L IS (67mm)
    8. 10-22/3.5-4.5 +28-300/3.5-5.6L IS (77mm) – Don’t Laugh!
    9. 17-55/2.8 (77mm) + Sigma 50-500/4.5-6.3 OS HSM – Don’t Laugh! Squared!
    10. Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 VC PZD (USM) (62mm)
    11. 10-22/3.5-4.5 (77mm) + Tamron 28-300/3.5-6.3 VC PZD (USM) (67mm)
  2. Hi Larry,
    I'd do option 3. I'd throw in a set of Kenko extension tubes too as the 70-200 makes a very good macro lens with tubes.
    For waist carrying systems take a good look at the ThinkTank system, I have lots of their gear, but no waist style stuff, and it is superbly thought out by photographers. I credit them with the considerable increase in quality from several other manufacturers too.
  3. 3 will be better in dark rain forest, 4 better otherwise. Both about the same weight. 7 would be similar and somewhat lighter. 8 is viable too, though the 28-300 L is a very heavy lens.
    Only other lens I would suggest is the EF-S 15-85. Personally I'd probably take that and the 70-300 L and a 50/1.8, and just live without telephoto in the rain forest. Fast telephotos are heavy. You don't want to tire yourself out with gear.
    Can you rent the gear? Might be simpler, though taking it out of the country does complicate rentals.
  4. Hi Larry,
    before answering the equipment question I have a BIG question mark in context with your "personal twist" No 3. You are visiting one of the most exquisite countries on this planet concerning bio diversity. So, I think you should be concerned with IQ. Besides, some of the equipment you list is "serious" gear. I live in Ecuador and always have the opportunity to go back to the jungle, the páramo, even the isles if I am not satisfied with the outcome. I would bite my behind if I spent so much money on a "memory lane holiday" in a beautiful country only to come home looking at the pics and say "I wish I had taken ...", you finish the sentence.
    Anyhow. I suggest option 4 (but you would need something to fill the gap between 55 and 100. The 100-400 is a very versatile lens and for bird shots it is pretty good. It is lighter than the 70-200 + 1.4 combo and gives you more reach. You could catch birds in flight on the galapagos and/or the mountains (condors, eagles, hawks etc.). 280 mm is just not enough. If you do not want to use a tripod, leave also the monopod behind. In the jungel it is so dark that a monopod does not help. IS and monopod usually does not give you good results. Depending on where you go in the jungle, taking pics of moving animals in the trees is dificult. Some lodges take you around on kajaks. They are unstable and even a fast lens does not freeze movement enough. Just in case you are interested in macro, DO take a light tripod. The light ones give you enough stability for a combo for close-ups, though not for the 100-400 + 1.4. On the wide end you should consider something wider (maybe a FF camera?), because 29 mm is pretty narrow for these breathtaking mountain sceneries. I often take pics with a FF camera and my 17-40 cranked to its widest.
    For your highland visit keep a tag on the Tungurahua volcano near Baños. He's been quite active lately making for wonderful pics (and film clips when you record the deeeeeep rumbling).
    A last note on the Galapagos. Your decision to go on a boat is wise. You will have a shock about the state of the isles when you hit the shore. Building activities, too many people (tourists AND islanders), rubbish everywhere and an appaling attitude of the locals in context with environmental issues.
    Still, Ecuador will make your heart beat faster! Enjoy your trip!
    Cheers, Stephan
  5. From a size/weight standpoint, I like your #1. That said, it's nice to have a bit of overlap in focal length range, so it's worth considering the 15-85 instead of the 18-55. Of course that also gives you more useful range on the wide end and gives you a better built lens. However, it is admittedly more weight. I'd stick with EF-S lenses, as the EF lenses are unnecessarily heavy for a crop camera (which I presume you have to go with all of your crop lens possibilities). Just be aware the 18-55 is an optically-pretty-good piece of junk, so it might fall apart on you. (It hasn't happened to me yet, but just saying...)
    Scott's recommendation of ThinkTank systems is good, although I've never used their gear. I have a LowePro toploader holster bag I love. I have an extra long one for tele zoom lenses. I will often pocket a small lens deep in the bottom, with a camera and main lens hovering above it. I sling it over my shoulder bandeliero style. While you might not be able to sling a holster over your shoulder the same way, perhaps a similar ThinkTank solution (i.e. pocketing an extra lens in the holster with your camera and main lens) would work for you. You would then be able to hang the bag around your waist.
  6. I would never make that trip without my 100-400L. The quality and versatility of that lens is amazing. I also think your
    option #4 is the best, but would agree that you need to fill the gap between 55 and 100. Maybe pick up a used 28-135?
    There are a bunch of new/used ones available on Craigslist from people who bought a kit and didn't need the lens.
  7. If I were to expand on my answer of option three, it would be to point out a couple of things.
    In your point 2 you say that even at f2.8 you were using iso 2000, the 70-200 gives several advantages over the 100-400, principally speed, but also focal length coverage in the more useful shorter lengths. Don't forget with the 1.6 crop the 70-200 is an effective (fov) of a 112-320mm on full frame, all at f2.8, put a 1.4 TC on it to get a 448mm equivalent fov, but at a very respectable f4. But for me the final selling point is you are carrying two lenses and a small TC instead of a third lens to fill your 55-100 gap.
    My travel experiences have been the more lenses I have the more I mess about changing lenses, when I don't have a choice I knuckle down and take my best pictures, because I am not second guessing myself or over analyzing the situation. I have whittled my travel kit down from three f2.8 zooms and several primes to often just one zoom lens and maybe one specialty lens, it has been very liberating.
  8. The lens combo I suggest is not on your list:
    Canon 18-135. Light, sharp, great range.
    Canon 100-400. Others have already raved about it.
    Have fun!
  9. I would go with one of 3, 4, or 5. It really depends on you. The 17-55 f2.8 seems like a great idea, the 10-22 is a matter of
    personal choice- I like wide angle so I would add it, some people are annoy with28mm equivalent. For a longer lens you
    have the 70-200 and 100-400. I would also suggest you consider the 70-200 F4 IS which is a lot smaller and lighter if you
    do not need to shoot birds in flight.
  10. Three lens option: (pretty weighty)
    17-55/2.8 you seem to own and like it, it's pretty fast, stabilized and sharp.
    70-300, maybe the L, for reach.
    135/2 for speed at tele range.
    Extension tubes for macro. Maybe a small flash too.

    Two lens option
    15-85 pretty wide, good IQ, nice range.
    70-200/4 IS small(ish)
    X1.4 extender (to reach 280 though I prefer cropping myself)
    Maybe a small flash

    One lens (or two)
    The Tamron 18-270/3.5-6.3 VC PZD is a nice one lens solution. Maybe throw in a fast fifty for low light and portraits. Plus
    a 12 mm tube for macro.

    The "off the wall" suggestion: (based upon my personal style translated to crop)
    Just bring the 10-22, the 60/2.8 macro and the 70-300 L.
    And don't mind the gap.

    (I love going out with my 5Dii plus 17-40 and 100 L combo...)
  11. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    For whatever it is worth, I went to a 14-day cruise in the Galapagos in May/June 2011 plus a couple of additional days in the forest. Attached is the equipment statistics for that trip from LightRoom.
    I brought 3 Nikon DSLRs: D7000, D300, and D700 plus 8 Nikon lenses. The 18-200 lens I borrowed from a fellow traveler for a couple of quick snapshots. Apparently I also have a few Canon images from other passengers. All the "unknown camera" are video clips.
    Clearly you want some long lens as the most used lens in my case is a 200-400mm/f4 zoom, followed by a 70-200mm zoom. The 28-300 super zoom I mainly used during Zodiac (inflatable boat) cruises. The 105mm is a Nikon macro and the 10.5mm is a fisheye.
  12. Personal physical limitations are MAJOR considerations. Three recent operations on my neck to reduce pain in my arms and hands, reduce muscle fatigue, and improve a tremor holding cameras/lenses have not been entirely successful. Carrying a backpack is now problematic and I am strongly considering some sort of waist-carry system (any suggestions on that would also be welcome).​
    I just thought I'd throw that back out there. I see increasingly heavy recommendations coming Larry's way. Any other thoughts about how he can lighten his burden? Pain in arms and hands, muscle fatigue and tremor when holding cameras and lenses are factors that scream to me, "Go light!" Also, "Go with IS!" I don't know the crop format lenses very well, but it seems to me those are the ones he should be considering exclusively, owing to their lesser weight/bulk.
  13. Larry could lighten his burden by having someone else help carry the gear - he did write that he was travelling with his wife and twin daughters. But then the question becomes are they willing to help and to help how much? Too much info, too much indecision ... Larry will just have to figure some things out for himself.
  14. If I were buying used and selling after, for a 1.6x body, I would take a Canon 10-22, Canon 17-55/2.8 IS, and Canon 100-400. The only one I might keep if it proved itself would be the 100-400.
    There is nothing to "fill" between 55 and 100. That's about 90-160 on full frame, so nothing to fret over.
  15. I was on a Galapagos photo trip in June 2011 for 7 days. I had two Nikon D 300's, the Nikon 70-200mm f 2.8 AF-S VR , Nikon 300mm f 4.0 AF-S and the Nikon 16-85mm AF-S VR DX, a tripod, and a dry bag with a backback harness and a 1.4x tc. I took about 60-65% of my images with the 70-200mm, 20%-25% with the 300mm, and the balance with the 16-85mm. I forgot my knee pads, and regretted it every day! That volcanic "rock" is hard and sharp. I used the tripod a lot on Genovesa, Fernandina and Santiago. Joe Smith
  16. Ultralight, very good image quality: T3i, Tamron 17-50/2.8, Canon 55-250/4-5.6 IS
    Light, excellent image quality, more expensive. T3i, Canon 15-85/3.5-5.6 IS, Canon 70-300/4-5.6 L
    Heavy, more expensive, versatile. 60D, Canon 10-22, 17-55IS, Canon 100/2.8 L macro, Canon 100-400L
  17. WOW!!! Thanks everyone! Lots of great ideas and considerations. I'll be back tomorrow to comment on specific answers, but in the meantime, Shun's statistics leads me to ask...
    10-22mm + 24-105L + 100-400L. What do you think?
  18. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    10-22mm + 24-105L + 100-400L​
    That would be an excellent set of lenses if you don't want to carry a lot of weight. I would bring at least two Canon DSLR bodies and one backup long lens. Just in case you damage the 100-400, at least there is some alternative, which you don't need to carry around all the time.
    My rule is that for these trips, I bring a minimum of 3 DSLR bodies, but I am well aware that I am not the average traveler. Not that many people bring 8 lenses onto these trips.
  19. 10-22mm + 24-105L + 100-400L. What do you think?

    High quality threesome.

    Not really light, not really fast. However if you think that's not a problem I'd say: "Go for it!"

    Otherwise... see my earlier post for options.

  20. I second Matthijs' view. Iown the 24-105 and the 100-400. I do not know the 10-22 but you need the wide angle. Also, what Shun Cheung said is partly correct. Cameras, especially when they are not weather proof like the 1-series, could fail you in the rainforest. So, taking your weight concern into the equation, You could leave the 10-22 at home and take the 5D, 5DII or 5DIII. All three are excellent cameras, leightweight, high resolution, video capability AND you would have a back-up lens. With 24 mm on the wide end you should be okay.
  21. That is my exact lens setup. The only downside is the lack of speed (and I have a couple of primes to cover that).
    Needless to say, that's exactly what I would be taking if I were going on your trip.
  22. 10-22mm + 24-105L + 100-400L. What do you think?​
    Weight could be an issue with the 100-400. When I travel, less weight is a major factor for me. Thus I'd consider the 55-250 instead. I recently went to India with 10-22, 17-55 and 55-250. It proved to be a great combo with great IQ and very reasonable wight.
    Happy shooting,
  23. WOW!!! Again. I feel like it seems that I have abandoned my own thread. As with everyone else in the world, though, there are other things going on in my life, like a major kitchen renovation (insurance money, thank god) and a foolish desire to start a PhD program at age 52! So, I was in Athens, GA for a few days, but forgot my computer's power adapter at home. But of course, blah, blah, blah.
    Anyway, I am leaning toward the 10-22, 100-400 and either the 17-55/2.8 or 24-105/4. About the same size, weight, etc. So, the decision boils down to a faster lens vs. better focal length coverage and better build quality. I just learned about the forthcoming Tamron 24-70/2.8 VC PZD (or whatever) lens. It sounds great, similar size and slightly more weight. But, even if it had been released yet, I wouldn't want to pay such a high new toy premium on a third party lens that wouldn't hold its value.
    If anyone happens to still be following this thread, TOMORROW I will respond to some of your great ideas individually. Briefly, before I head to bed after a busy week, I just want to say THANKS to all of you. I'm tempted to name a few in particular now but I don't want to commit a sin of omission while I am dead tired. ;-) -- Larry
  24. Good morning, Larry!
    I hope you slept well. You seem to have narrowed down your choices. I think you cannot go wrong with this choice. There is one last IF. Sharing the same passion - photography - and sharing the same age bracket, I dare assume that you might not want to change gear too frequently in the future. If that were so and if you were to end up loving the lenses you are going to use extensively on your trip and if some time after your trip you might want to improve the camera quality and go for a FF-camera and drop the 1.6 factor camera altogether... you might want to keep the FF-lenses. In short, I would go for the 24-105. Then, you would be left with just the 10-22 mm as a "crop-camera-lens". One lens is a bit easier to replace and getting used to a new on (e.g. a good prime lens). What do you think?
    Cheers, Stephan
  25. (First Installment)
    As promised, I finally have some time to thank people individually and explain how they’ve helped me decide. BTW, I realize this thread has basically been worked to death and probably few people are still following it after my own delays. As a 14-year member, though, I deeply value the archival nature of and hope my responses may help someone else in the future. That's the reason my responses here are so detailed.
    Quickly, I have a couple of general comments. First, a few people have suggested a second body and backup lenses. Point well taken. Part of the reason I mentioned my daughter is that for purely selfish reasons, she’ll take my 40D plus 18-55 IS and 55-250 IS lenses. Even my wife said she might consider it. But I personally would not be able to carry them. Second, I find it a bit surprising how few people some sort of uber-lens or combo. I expected more support to just take something like the Tamron 18-270, or the super heavy Canon 28-300 or worse Sigma 50-500 lenses simply because one lens could basically do it all. But considering we are all aficionados, I guess it’s not too surprising.
    So, taking responses in order, so as not to offend anyone by prioritizing, here’s how you have helped me.
    • @ Scott - I like the extension tubes idea. However, I find that they’re not great with zooms. I do have the 77mm Canon 500D (2.0 diopter) close-up lens. That also works well, but many of the lenses I’ve considered already do pretty well in terms of max mag. Checking out the Think Tank system comes next.
    • @ Alan – I agree, but the 70-200/2.8 is already heavier than the 100-400, then throwing in the 1.4x… Also, I thought about the 15-85, but its 72mm filter, size, weight and slow speed just don’t do it for me.
    • @ Stephan – You’re absolutely right about IQ, and I definitely want to do better than my old Tamron 60-300 could do. But from what I can tell, even the Tamron 18-270 should surpass its old brother. I just don’t fancy myself getting publishable quality photos. I’ll follow with more from your continued follow-ups, but your perspective as an Ecuadorian resident has been incredibly valuable. Ironically, the PhD program I mentioned may allow me to return to the Mindo Cloud Forest area at some point visiting the University of Georgia’s ecology research station there. Tungurahua would be great (I’ve been lucky enough to witness about 5-6 actively erupting volcanoes). Would it be visible from Ambato as we pass through on the way to Simiatug? Finally, the monopod is more to support the weight of the lens than for stability purposes. (BTW, where do you live?)
    • @ Sarah – THANKS! You’ve been great at helping the ideas focus on my physical constraints. (More on that later.) I like your characterization of the 18-55 IS as an optically-pretty-good-piece-of-junk. I’ve never heard it called that, but it nails the lens completely!
    • @ Mark – I used to own the 100-400 and really liked it. I then essentially traded it for a faster lens. In this case, comparing my 300mm reach in 1990 and the possibility of an equivalent 640mm reach in 2012 is amazing. The weight is the only (big) issue. I also wish it had a more up-to-date IS system.
    (Continued tomorrow)
  26. Hi Larry,
    I am glad my information to you was helpful. My wife and I live in Cumbayá, close to Quito. You can contact me under If the weather is nice you should be able to see the plumes of the Tungurahua from Ambato. Unfortunately, we've had lusy weather in the last months: solid grey skies and rain, rain, rain. They say ist's "La Niña". From Simiatug the view could be blocked by Chimborazo and Carihuairazo which are both in a direct line with the Tungurahua.
    Good luck with your final decisions and your purchases.
    Cheers, Stephan
  27. I did essentially the same trip last summer. I took the 15-85 and 70-200 F4. I used the 15-85 the majority of the time. The couple extra mm the 15-85 has over the 17-55 and 18-55 does make a big difference. A lens longer than the 70-200 would have been useful occasionally in the rainforest to get birds and monkeys, but we were often close enough that I could just crop the photo a little bit and it still looked good. The two lenses together is a pretty compact package and is not too heavy. I used a Think Tank Speed Demon bag to carry the camera (an XSi) and the 15-85. When I wanted to brink the 70-200 also I had a container just for the lens that could attach to the bag's strap.

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