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 Post subject: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 29th, 2016, 3:54 pm 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
Hello All,

I'm going to be taking a herping trip to Australia in November, starting in Broome and working my way down to Coral Bay. Varanids are my particular drug of choice and have been my entire life, so I've been dreaming of going to Oz since I was a kid. This trip came up pretty short notice, but when opportunity knocks you've got to jump on it.


Anyways, I'm hoping some of you can help me with camera equipment suggestions, as I have been doing lots of reading and as you all know, the options for lenses and equipment are overwhelming. I thought I might tell you what I’m working with and what I want to achieve and see if anyone would be willing to help guide me to some decent options.


My current equipment: Canon EOS rebel T5 with EF-S 18-55mm IS II


What I want to do:
I'm assuming my first time out I will have very poor catch rates, so I'd like to have a lens that will allow me to capture decent closeups of goannas from some distance. I’d like to do some close up pictures too for anything that I’m actually able to catch, but most of the creatures I’m hunting are going to be a good size/flighty/dangerous so I don’t know that I actually need a macro lens to get super close. I'd like to have one or two lenses that will allow me a good range of versatility options out in the field.

Skill Level: This has more effect on quality shots than anything, I know. I am a proficient photographer at best. In my youth I took classes and displayed and sold some work, but this was all B&W film photography and the last time I was actively into photography was probably a decade ago. I am not extremely proficient with my current DSLR, but I'm good enough with a standard SLR to know what's what and I'm not technologically impaired so I can work my way through. That being said, I know literally nothing about the equipment itself or lenses and terminology.

Budget: I'd like to keep my photography budget at or bellow $400 for this trip.

I took this rebel T5 to Nicaragua with me last year and it was almost comically useless. I thought the 18-55mm lens was going to be ok for basic shots since this wasn't really a herp centric trip anyway, but I found it bad at even touristy level photos. I tried to use it to set up some pictures of herps I found and it just wasn't useful.

I was thinking for this trip I'd like to get at the very least a capable zoom lens, I thought I might buy a low budget external flash or flash ring. My camera stuff is almost exclusively used for trips like this, so I am not going to put a whole lot of wear and tear on it. Or at least when I do it's in very short bursts. I'm also a big fan of getting "last years" equipment at a discount, for the reason mentioned before, my stuff just doesn't get used enough for me to care about having the latest gear. I would also say that my skill level is not high enough for me outperform a decent camera/lens/etc. I just want to take decent shots, I have no expectation of greatness in my photography, just decency.

Anybody willing to help a fella out?


Thanks!

Jon


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 29th, 2016, 4:45 pm 
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Joined: June 10th, 2010, 5:45 am
Posts: 87
Location: wherever poikilotherms can be found
For a trip such as this I would look into renting a lens...since you have canon...the 300f4l might be something to look into for rental of the trip. It is a fast lens that would allow you to reach out and capture images from a distance!


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 29th, 2016, 6:12 pm 
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Joined: December 14th, 2015, 4:56 pm
Posts: 144
Given your budget, a rental lens is a good idea. For $400 you could pick up a used 100mm macro, but I don't think that would be ideal for what you want to shoot. However, keep in mind that a 100 macro is pretty long focally, and if you are shooting a large snake or varanid, you don't need to be that close to fill the frame. In terms of rentals, the canon 300 f4L IS mentioned is apparently able to focus to ~ 4 feet from the end of the lens, which would work well for tighter head shots or if you want to keep your distance from an animal. Another option that could work would be either a 180mm macro or a 70-200mm zoom. Those would give you a little more flexibility, but you would lose that extra 100mm or so of reach.

Lens rentals.com is awesome and I've used them before. Even if your trip was a month long, you could rent both a 100mm macro IS AND the 300mm f4L IS and have the total for the rental fees and shipping, etc still fit in your budget. Another good idea about the rentals is that you have time to experiment with a piece of gear. You might be surprised how useful or not useful you find a lens, and that could help you determine a choice for a future purchase.

-Jeremy


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 30th, 2016, 7:24 am 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
Thanks for the suggestions, I appreciate it a lot. So, I looked into the rental option (very cool by the way, I had not seen this before), but to rent the equipment for the length of my trip plus a bit more for practice before hand would eat up most of my budget and I wouldn't get to use the equipment more than this one time. I think I'd rather pay to buy slightly less quality glass that I can practice with forever rather than blow through that money on lenses that will not be used to their full potential in one trip.

With that being said, I was looking at getting a used version of a few lenses as well. What would you all think of something like this:
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens

And/Or

Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2.8 PRO D Macro Lens

I can find used examples of both for around 250 each, so I would only be $100 over my budget if I got both. though I don't know that I would even need the macro at all. Would that 70-300mm be useful enough for my purposes?


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 30th, 2016, 8:56 am 
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Joined: December 14th, 2015, 4:56 pm
Posts: 144
Those lenses would work. Both of those lenses however being older and not of the best image quality I think might be a bit of an issue, and if you don't think you will use the macro that much, it might be a waste of $$$ that I think could be better spent elsewhere.

Another option for you is a used canon 70-200f4. I believe you could pick one up used for around or slightly over your budget, and I think the lens is about $600 new. That would be a lighter and more travel friendly option then both the 70-300 and the 100mm. It would also definitely have better image quality then the 70-300 and maybe even the 100mm macro from Tokina, which I have tried and found it no where near as good as nikon, tamron, or sigma's equivalents, but they obviously are more expensive.

Because you are shooting with the t5, with a smaller "crop" sensor, the 70-200 will work out to a focal length of about a 110-320mm lens, given canon with the 1.6x multiplication factor. It focuses pretty close for what it is (canon claims 3.9 feet, but that's from the sensor, not the front of the lens), and if you were to get closer to a Varanid or a snake for example, you would get some nice tight headshots without needing to be that close. That lens would be my choice if I were in your situation and was planning to do what you are.

Do you plan on doing herping at night or getting shots of smaller insects and herps if you see them? Those would be the only areas where I think a 70-200 would suffer compared to having both a 70-300 and a 100mm. But for larger snakes, lizards, tortoises, etc, the 70-200 wouldn't be that different then a longer macro.
Best of luck,
Jeremy


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 30th, 2016, 11:44 am 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
You know, I was thinking of that very same option with the 70-200f4. I do plan to shoot at night though, I will be doing a good amount of road cruising in between treks out in the bush. I will pick up a used example of the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS lens and play with that one for a few days to test out the capabilities. I've never used any sort of macro though so I think I'm a little unfamiliar with what situations would call for one. I don't do insects at all, nor am I a skink or gecko guy, so the smallest thing I'd be shooting would be dwarf monitors at ~ a foot in length. If I can catch and pose some animals with reasonable effort and also reach out and get some in situ shots with the 70-300mm then I think I would be just fine with the one lens. I've picked up a monopod too just in case I have stability issues with this older lens.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 30th, 2016, 11:45 am 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
By the way, I really appreciate the help. I am fairly lost with all the lens options and possibilities out there.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 30th, 2016, 11:48 am 
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Joined: December 14th, 2015, 4:56 pm
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Sounds good! The 70-200 might be a bit better for close ups, but both should be okay.
Your trips sounds awesome! I hope you have good luck and see a lot.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 30th, 2016, 4:41 pm 
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Joined: June 10th, 2010, 5:45 am
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Location: wherever poikilotherms can be found
Sounds like you have some good options going through your mind already. The 70-200 will definitely give you more options. Too bad you are a Canon guy (said with love and a smile) I am a Nikon guy...the only reason I say too bad is I have a Nikon mount Tokina 100mm macro I would part with lol!

Macro is definitely its own thing, especially at night...where lighting becomes more of an issue (but sometimes really cool images happen with only a 2 dollar cheap LED flashlight to use because the batteries in your flashes died)

Image
I look forward to see images of Australia from you when you return!


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 31st, 2016, 4:18 am 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 5:46 am
Posts: 612
Location: Albuquerque, NM
I'll go ahead and add my 2 cents here. I think your choice of a 70-300 is a good one. I have a Nikon 70-300 vr that I like. Its fairly portable and good optically, except perhaps at the longest focal lengths, (that seems to be typical for this genre of lenses). The one thing you may find you don't like about it though is the minimum focusing distance which will probably be something like 1.5 meters. I would suggest buying a good two-element diopter to go with the lens. Does Canon still make the 500D? If so, or if you can locate a used one in the correct filter size, that would give you some coverage for smaller herps that you might otherwise consider a macro lens for. (I know you said you're not really interested in those, but hell, how often do you get to go to Australia? You just might decide you want to take some pictures of smaller species after all). You could by the 70-300 and diopter and still have enough left in your budget for a small flash perhaps.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 31st, 2016, 12:18 pm 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
Hi there,
Thanks for the reply, I actually read the thread you made some time back on diopters and thought that would be a good option too (thanks by the way, for such a thorough explanation of diopters. that's been the most straight forward post on them I've seen anywhere). I looked into the canon 500d, but it is a bit more expensive than I'd have expected at ~ 150 dollars. Is that the norm for these things?
I found the canon 250d as well, which is 50 dollars cheaper, but I'm not sure I would want the +4 factor of that.
I've also come across this 50 dollar achromat: Kenko Close-Up Lens 58mm AC No.3 Achromatic-Lens, with the only caveat being that is ships from japan and would probably not get to me until october or so. Have you had any experience with these brands? would a +3 diopter be useful with the 70-300 or should I just suck it up and grab a 500d?


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 31st, 2016, 12:39 pm 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 5:46 am
Posts: 612
Location: Albuquerque, NM
I don't have any experience with the Kenko +3 diopter, but Kenko is a subsidiary of Tokina and they make very well respected teleconverters, so I would expect the diopter to be of good quality. The issue is the +3. That means with the lens focused at infinity you'll have only 33 cm (13 inches) between the front of the lens and the subject. The magnification will be great for tiny subjects, I used to frequently use a +2.9 diopter for newly metamorphosed spadefoot toads and the like, but I think you'll find it a little high for most herps. I think a diopter in the +1.5 to +2 range is the best all around compromise on a 70-300 zoom for typical small, but not tiny, herps. Also, as regards the Canon 250D, if I recall correctly the 250D is corrected for use on fairly short focal length lenses, whereas the 500D is recommended for telephotos. I didn't realize 500Ds had become so expensive! Last time I checked (years ago) the big 77mm ones were only about $100.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: August 31st, 2016, 1:56 pm 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
That's what I was afraid of with the +3. I passed on that one, but found a 58mm Polaroid version of the 500D for $50.00, so I ordered on of those to play with. These achromats are surprisingly hard to find.


My next, hopefully last, equipment question is in regards to flash. I have been really interested in a ring flash, something like this: Lightdow RF-550D 48 Pieces Macro LED Ring Flash Light

Am I barking up the wrong tree trying to use one of these?


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: September 1st, 2016, 10:47 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 10:14 pm
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Location: San Antonio, TX
Just adding another thought here. I know you said you want to keep the budget to $400 and that is OK, but you might want to think longer term. Are you going to make other trips in the future? If so, you should consider buying a lens now that will meet your needs now and in the future.

I used to use the opposite approach. I had an opportunity to make a trip to southern Africa and wanted a long zoom lens to use for wildlife. I bought an inexpensive 100-400 (Tamron I think?) lens because I didn't want to shell out 3-5x the price for a better lens (back then, the Tamron I bought was their cheapest one ~$150). In hindsight, I regret it. Not only were my pictures not as sharp as the ones I get now with better gear, but I ended giving the lens away and buying better gear anyway.

If I were a Canoninte, I would probably put my money into a used older (non-IS) version of something like the 100-400 L or 70-300 L lens. Both are excellent lenses, provide tack sharp images and would certainly get you good varanid and other lizard shots. They both give decent magnification (1:5 ish) for head shots, etc. And buying one of these lenses, even used, will set you up for the next 10 years or more of quality photos.
Something like this would be perfect - http://www.ebay.com/itm/Canon-EF-100-40 ... 2257840202

For a shorter macro lens, something like an inexpensive 24-70ish off brand lens with macro capability would probably be OK. If you can afford more lens, buy it.

But you know what they say about opinions!

Chris


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: September 1st, 2016, 1:01 pm 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
Hi Chris,
Thanks for the reply, think that is a smart idea but unfortunately I have a few too many hobbies to deep dive into another like photography. I sort of have to pick and choose what to dump time and money into, so for photography I'll settle with just being able to take acceptable documentation style photos. On top of that, I really am not that artistically inclined so I am always going to be a big enough rate limiter as is, great equipment would be wasted on me hahaha.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: September 6th, 2016, 12:56 pm 

Joined: May 26th, 2012, 5:44 pm
Posts: 77
Location: Brisbane, Australia
The sigma 70-300mm f4-5.6 dg macrois popular with a lot of herpers. It isnt 1:1 macro, but will do a good job with most animals.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: September 8th, 2016, 12:17 pm 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
Hello again, thanks for all the excellent advice so far. This is the set up I've ended up with as of now:
EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens
Polaroid 500d Achromatic diopter
Yongnuo YN-14EX TTL LED Macro Ring Flash

I've only just got everything together so I haven't had more than an evening to play around with it. I will say that I really like the diopter, but will have to practice with it a lot, it has a very narrow range of use with the 70-300mm lens. When shooting something the size of a yearling boa (my unwilling test subject), I couldn't really get a good framed shot with the diopter. I actually ended up attaching it to the 18-55mm kit lens I had to see if I could get a little closer and hopefully get more use out of it with a shorter lens, and that worked, but of course I'm then using a crappy lens. I think some more reading is in order for me and this diopter, it's a new topic to me so if anyone has recommendations on where to learn more about their use i would appreciate it. If anyone is wondering too, the Polaroid version of the 500d is 100 dollars less than the Canon version, and the weight and build quality is very good. The light ring is also very nice quality and works well, but again, I will need lots more practice with it. For the first hour I played with it I over exposed almost everything with it, and there are lots of setting options that are a bit confusing to get through even with the manual. The fit and function is very nice though, especially at 70 dollars shipped.
Image


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: September 8th, 2016, 2:27 pm 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 5:46 am
Posts: 612
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Jon-m wrote:
I will say that I really like the diopter, but will have to practice with it a lot, it has a very narrow range of use with the 70-300mm lens. When shooting something the size of a yearling boa (my unwilling test subject), I couldn't really get a good framed shot with the diopter. I actually ended up attaching it to the 18-55mm kit lens I had to see if I could get a little closer and hopefully get more use out of it with a shorter lens, and that worked, but of course I'm then using a crappy lens. I think some more reading is in order for me and this diopter, it's a new topic to me so if anyone has recommendations on where to learn more about their use i would appreciate it.


The focal length of the lens should not make any difference in the focusing distance with the diopter when the lens is focused at infinity. Your working distance will always be 1 meter divided by the diopter rating. So if the Poloroid is a +2 just like the Canon your lens to subject distance should be 1/2 meter, or just about 20 inches, regardless of the lens you put it on, if that lens is focused at infinity. As you focus the lens closer then the working distance decreases. It may be that your 18-55 focuses closer with the diopter, just because it focuses closer on its own. I just did a quick and dirty test with my Nikon 5t (1.5 diopters) on my 70-300vr and I get a range from about 26 inches (at infinity) to about 13-14 inches at MFD. This holds true whether I have the lens set to 300mm or 70mm, so it must be the focusing range of the lens, not the focal length that determines the closest focusing distance you can achieve with the diopter. Magnification at 300mm ranges from about 1/3 life size to about 2/3 life size. That would easily fill the frame with something the size of a small tree frog. If I zoomed back to 70mm I'd expect to get magnifications roughly one quarter as large as at 300. That would be just about right for a medium sized coiled snake, say something the size of a typical adult prairie rattlesnake or copperhead. The best explanation I've ever seen about how diopters work is in a book by John Shaw called "Close-ups in Nature". It was written back in the film days and is probably out of print now, but if you can find it the laws of physics and optics haven't changed and Shaw's explanation of diopters is still the best I've come across.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: September 14th, 2016, 4:48 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 10:14 pm
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Location: San Antonio, TX
I might experiment with that ring flash to see if I can block off parts of it with tape or something. Although they do give even lighting, the circular highlights they cause on animals can be a bit distracting. If you cover the bottom half of each tube with tape or something, you will still get even lighting but no "doughnut" in the eyes of your subject.

Play around with it and see if you are OK with the reflections it causes.


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 Post subject: Re: Lenses for Herping Australia
PostPosted: September 14th, 2016, 8:49 am 

Joined: July 14th, 2015, 1:50 pm
Posts: 20
Location: Phoenix
Well while fiddling around with the diopter some more after reading Bill's suggestions I found an interesting little discrepancy with the Polaroid 500d. All of the online sales information across multiple sites says it's a +2 magnification, as you would expect, but the packaging actually says it's +4. If that's the case, I suppose that would account for my issues with it, but I can't imagine why they would switch the designations of the 500d/250d which is the very product they're clearly copy-catting. I haven't been able to find anything from Polaroid online to confirm what's on the packaging, but I sent them a message asking for clarification.

Anyways, as for the light ring. I've been trying to play around with attaching some sketch paper and such to the bulbs to soften the light they throw, the distracting reflection is exactly as you described it though. I'll try covering half the bulb next, great idea. I think the only big downside to that light is it's very "clinical" to me. It's not harsh exactly, but I feel like every picture I take with it has a hospital style medical brightness, if that makes sense. It's fun to play with though, maybe not for my test subjects, but for me at least.. haha


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