Which lens for Whale Watching?

Discussion in 'Pentax' started by paul_noble, Mar 1, 2008.

  1. My wife and I are going on a cruise next month to the Mexican Riviera, Cabo San
    Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. While in Cabo, we are going to take a
    whale watching excursion. We will be on a medium sized boat (not the Zodiac

    I will be using my six-month old K10D. In addition to the kit lens, which won't
    be any good for this, I have a Tamron 28-200 zoom, a 2x teleconverter and a
    cheap 500mm mirror lens.

    Which lens do you think would be best for this? I don't want to be fumbling
    around, trying to change lenses, while a whale is breaching a hundred yards

    I expect the weather to be bright sun, so I should be able to shoot at a high
    enough shutter speed that I can handhold any of these lenses, even the mirror,
    with a fixed aperture of f/8.

    The Tamron lens is not bad, as far as image sharpness goes, but 200mm is
    probably a bit short. I'm not sure whether I'll lose more sharpness with the 2x
    TC on the Tammy, or by using the 500mm. With the 500mm, just finding the
    subject through the viewfinder can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.

    Unlike other forms of nature photography, a tripod is probably not an option,
    since we will be on a moving boat.

    Any help?

    Paul Noble
  2. Strange! I was just checking on the very same topic except I'm looking to photograph the Killer whales (Orcas) in my area.

    Try here about half way down the page is some useful info.


    Have fun on your trip.
  3. Without question I'd take both. You might get lucky and get close but most responsible operators of these whale sight seeing boats give the whales a respectful distance. You'll have time to figure out which lens you need and do most of the shooting with only one. If the boat is fairly good sized a tripod can help in a different sort of way. If you have a ball head, mount the camera and keep the tension looser than normal. Then basically the tripod becomes a support and swivel to shoot from. If you had a monopod the same would apply. I've done this myself and for a few hours of shooting, it makes things a lot easier. Monopods are not that expensive and nice and light for travel.

    I have the same 500mm lens (the Tamron Adaptall mount). When I'm trying to aim the lens in tough situations, I sort of use it like a rifle. Look over the top of the camera and aim the lens in the general direction of the subject. Then back to the viewfinder to spot what you want. That doesn't happen often and usually only in darker situations.
  4. The 28-200. You will be amazed at how close the boat gets to them when they are in the Sea of Cortez. I used my 16-45.
    The 500 is only needed if you are shooting fromt he shore. I used 80-400 with 1.4X.

    Have fun, was in Cabos for 2 wks Jan 07.
  5. Peter, in a similar situation I found that any *pod solution was worse than handheld, because boat vibrations propagate in the camera, while handheld my body dampen them quite well.
  6. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    My experience was photographing Blue and Humpback whales off California. One issue with the Blue whales was a lack of contrast on their bodies. I missed one good shot because the lens didn't have any contast to focus on (ZX-7). However focal lengths for our photographs were mostly 200-300 and that was even getting in fairly close to the whales. My wife only used a 300mm f4.5 F* and came back with the better shots.

    The other thing that was VERY helpful was that I had the camera attached to a gunstock. A tripod or monopod is pretty useless on a boat that is pitching.

    Many photographers recommend shooting shutter priority, not aperture priority, when photographing whales, something to looking into.

    I wouldn't bring a mirror lens myself. Between the focal length, the donut highlights and that mirror lenses are supper-sensitive to shake I think it would only return blurry images.
  7. My last photographs were taken off the coast of Maine (out of Bar Harbor) with my OM-4Ti w/ 50mm & 200mm.. Maybe it was the fog but, like Doug mentions, not much contrast at all. I remember it being pretty tough shooting with the boat rocking, low contrast from the fog, 200mm, manual focus.. The better shots came from the 50mm with faster shutter speeds.
  8. Oh well maybe the whale watching in Canada is different. We have some fairly strict laws and regs to guide the boats. They can't get too close and they turn the motors off when they find some whales and just drift with them. So using a Monopod or tripod if the deck is big enough, works well.

    One think I should have mention, make sure you have a Circular Polarizer for the lens(s). Even on a cloudy day the reflections off the water are brutal at times. You'll get much better results with a CPL and it should help to be able to stop down a little.
  9. Thanks for all the replies.

    I plan on taking a circular polarizer. I've been to Cabo before, albeit in April, not March, and the sunlight is quite bright. It will be especially so on the water, I'm sure.

    I will probably also use the continuous mode on my camera. Given that the whales don't call ahead to let us know that they're about to breach or show themselves, and it usually only lasts a couple of seconds, I think that firing off six or eight exposures will improve my chances of getting a good shot. Normally, I don't like the machine-gun approach, but, in this case, I think it is appropriate.

    Thanks again,
    Paul Noble
  10. You might look into getting a Sigma 70-300mm DG lens and forget the TC. The lens is VG and not expensive. I agree with using shutter priority or manual for any action shooting. Manual metering mode may do better because varying reflections may drive the meter off where it should be at times, where manual settings will stay put.
  11. I think sigma should pay us money for all the nice things we've been saying about the 70-300 ;)

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