Zoom lens question...

Jul 5th, 2005, 10:27 AM
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Backups are such a personal thing. For me the thought of losing precious memories makes me cry!

For those who say photographs aren't memories, let me explain that whilst the broad flow of the trip sticks in my mind like magical fairy dust the details slip away when you're senile like me and it's photographs (and my diary) that transport me back and kickstart my memory index so... to me they really are part of my memory thing.

I love photographs. I won't sacrifice the experience itself to get them but I actually enjoy taking them, enjoy getting the best I can within the limits of the situation and I love looking at them (mine and other peoples).

So I do the double backups.

I could never have NO backups (just lots of CF cards). I work in IT. I KNOW how fallible digital storage can be. Store it near a radiator, pass it near a magnetic device and it can be corrupted or lost. Likewise the mechanics of the portable devices as well as the disks themselves can easily fail too. X drives don't weigh much, as I have two of the same device I only need one set of charger cables, so adding one more into the pack doesn't pose a problem.

BUT it's absolutely a personal decision.

Only YOU can weigh up and balance the cost of the extra weight compared to the cost of losing some or all of your photographs.

And no one can easily put a probability on how likely your CF cards or portable devices are to fail - too many variables.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 10:29 AM
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Lord, Tashak.... The trip alone is going to put me in debt - and I've not even bought my camera or lenses yet! I've obviously got a lot to learn. Yow. Could someone experienced in this photo stuff create a list of must have's for a trip? (As opposed to "nice-to-have's".)
You know us newbies, we just want you all to do the thinking for us. ;-) Seriously I know it's different for everyone but if anyone is game, I'd love to see what you think.
Thanks again, as always.
cooncat is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 10:32 AM
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Kavey - I apologize if this has been said elsewhere, but in the interest of keeping this altogether, what back-up system do you use? Thanks!
cooncat is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 10:58 AM
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Kavey is absolutely positively right. what I do is stupid and rather crazy. But on the last trip, travelling alone, I couldn't face carrying one more device. I would have had to check it anyway-- dangerous way to treat your backup. I've also, over time, gotten much more selective about what I photograph. Unless the lions are doing something really interesting AND the light is right, I just don't bother. Unless there is a totally awesome pose, close by, when the light is low, I don't bother. While I still love photographing, I also really enjoy the time behind the binoculars.

Also Roccco's right-- I would never buy this many cards before a trip. However you might be able to BORROW them. I borrowed cards from close friends, and was given 3 gig by a friend. (yeah, nice friend!) So I had 7 gig before the trip anyway. Then I looked at the cost of the backup harddrive at my local photo store, and they were all over $300...so I just went to Costco, where you could buy a 512 card for about $50, and I bought 6 more for a total of 10 gig. Then I would edit down the very obvious throwaways every night. I think I used only about 8 gig on the trip.

This is one of those "DO AS I SAY AND NOT AS I DO" situations. But if you can borrow memory...AND don't especially care if you lose photos, it might be feasible if not recommendable.
tashak is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 12:11 PM
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OK - bear with me here. Can all the digital equipment pass thru the airport X-ray machine or will they let you on the plane after just showing them your stuff? I'm beginning to think maybe I should just get myself a nice film camera. Film is light, compared to hard drives and everything else it sounds like I'll need! ;-)

Can you folks recommend a good book on digital photography? Digital for Dummies? Anything to get me some education before I buy?

cooncat is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 12:25 PM
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I think there is too much emphasis on the need for camera equipment on safari!

In that spirit, here are tashak's thoughts and recommendations regarding the subject:

(1) If you don't already have ("need") an SLR camera for your "normal" life, you don't "need" one for your trip to Africa either.

(2) It *might* be worth going into debt for a glorious trip to Africa...but going into debt for camera equipment for your trip? No. Personally, I'd spend the extra money on a longer trip and beg or borrow an older slr or good point and shoot with zoom lense for snapshoots.

(3) Here is my order of financial priorities:
a) trip to Africa
b) longer trip to Africa
c) really good binoculars (which by the way, don't get superceded every 6 months by newer better models. An investment here can last your whole lifetime, and if you don't want them, you can probably sell them for nearly as much as you paid .)
d) finally, some camera equipment, appropriate to your experience level with cameras

(4) Relax. You'll have an amazing time even if you don't have the longest lense at the lodge.
There were lots of people on my various trips without long lenses, slrs, digitals...even some without any camera at all. Do you think they enjoyed themselves less than those of us burdened with them? No...they enjoyed and had a life-changing experience every bit as much as those of us burdened with equipment.

(5) It takes talent and years of practice and experience to take photos as good as Kavey's. It also takes a significant investment in post-trip editing and processing. It must become a major hobby, and you'll spend hours...days on it post trip. If this doesn't sound like fun, don't invest in photo equipment. You can't buy a camera that will do this for you. I don't care how much you are willing to spend and how many megapixels it has.

(6) If you want good photos of your trip, you must be willing to invest time and disciplined study...even before you invest lots of $$$. No amount of money will buy you great photos. Get out your old camera and really learn how to use it. Take a course...if you need to, borrow an slr...lots of people still have their film cameras around, and they might be willing to lend you that camera and a beginners lense. . Do lots of practice and tests, and study the test results. Ask an friend who is a good photographer to be BRUTALLY honest when reviewing your shots, and leave your ego behind. I had several friends who were "nice and honest". That was helpful. One friend was BRUTAL. That was REALLY helpful.

(7) Buy your camera for your "real life" needs, not your safari. Once you have that camera selected, you might buy a lense for a safari. Note: for some people on this forum, the trips to Africa ARE a really substantial part of our life. If you are going on your first or second trip, you may become so afflicted (as with a recurring illness like malaria), but you don't know for sure yet. Don't buy a camera assuming that you will become an Afriholic...there is plenty of time to do this once you have slipped down that dangerous slope.

(8) Be really careful about the advice you take. (Including mine!) Photographers can be obsessive to the point of silliness about their brand or their lense choices. Be skeptical about anyone who says that what they have is what you need. You are not them...and there are plenty of superb photographers taking amazing photos with other equipment. I have photographer friends who can deliver amazing results with (supposedly) "inferior" equipment and lenses.

OK, someone else can have this soapbox!

tashak is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 12:31 PM
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Yes, all digital equipment can go through the airport X-Ray machine. I did not have any issues on my recent trip to Tanzania. Its best to tell them that you have expensive photographic equipment and they will handle it carefully. My bag was flagged off in Detroit ( because of the Lens) and I had to go through a 20 min hand inspection.

>Film is light, compared to hard drives >and everything else it sounds like I'll >need! ;-)

Agreed, but you will have to carry lots of film.

serengeti is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 12:49 PM
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I sooooooooo echo Tashak's post.

My priorities would be
Trip to Africa
Longer trip to Africa
Even longer trip to Africa
Possibly some new camera equipment
Borrow a good pair of binocs from the oldies

I really do echo every other point.

As for backups, between the two of us we take a single 2 GIG CF card each, two portable storage devices (ours happen to be X drives though the choice is much bigger now than when we bought our first one) - we back all images from both cards onto BOTH portable devices. On the rare occasions we have the laptop (certain trips, not generally to Africa), we leave one portable behind and copy all images to both laptop and portable. We don't take the laptop in order to backup but for other reasons... I wouldn't recommend it for Africa really.

We have put our stuff through hand luggage xrays without problem.

I wouldn't put it through cargo xrays as these are much stronger.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 12:58 PM
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Well said Tashak.

Avogadro is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 01:20 PM
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It never ceases to amaze me how generous all of you are with your help and replies to these questions. A million thanks, really. FWIW, I do have some experience with photography, just not digital. I had a photojournalism class in college and loved spending time in the dark room developing my pictures. Since high school, I'm always the one with the camera, recording everything! I seem to have a good eye for composition as well. When I started out researching digitals I was looking at point and shoots. The photos I saw were so great from them I didn't see any reason for anything else. BUt I do travel a bit, Europe, Central America, the Caribbean -and hopefully Africa very soon. I've got some really nice shots but they aren't crisp enough to enlarge and frame. If I go to Africa I want some damn good photos. Even if I only get 5 that are frame-able! I'm also realizing at 45 that I really need a hobby other than gardening and I've always just loved photography. That's why I started looking at "bigger" cameras. When I held the Digi Rebel and then the 20D, well... the Rebel just didn't feel as good in my hands... you know how it goes, one thing is leading to the other. I've got no delusions about a big ol camera and lens making me into a professional photographer.
So that's a little background about me and why I'm looking into a bit more equipment. I will use the camera for more than just a trip to Africa, absolutely. I feel like a broken record here, but many thanks again for your thoughful replies. Hope you don't mind if I keep the questions coming!
cooncat is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 01:39 PM
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Totally know...

Feel of camera in the hand is VERY important to me and has often been a major deciding factor... if it isn't comfortable I just won't use it as often or as instinctively.

And I'm in the same boat as you - I had been using film SLRs for years. My first foray into digital was a non SLR digital - not a point and shoot but one with a lot of features offering a lot of control but... still stifling compared to my film SLRs. I couldn't stand it and realised I had to upgrade to a digital SLR as soon as possible, which we did, starting with the Nikon and then moving to the Canon.

Both brands make great cameras and lenses.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 02:01 PM
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Hey Rocco,

I was part of the original DLSR cheerleaders that got you on this path so I feel some responsibility to check in once and awhile

All the advice about not going crazy on equipment is very good. I just want to quickly address the 120-300 vs. 80-400 debate.

The 120-300 is clearly a very high end lens and I'm sure it probably is a bit sharper than your 80-400 but it is unlikely that in the next 3 or so months you will have the experience where this will be anything but a very minor factor in the quality of pictures you end up with. Besides becoming a better photographer as others have mentioned, the other question is *functionally* how the lenses compare.

In this respect I think th 80-400 wins. First, the 120 weighs in at just under six pounds, two pounds heavier than the already heavy 80-400. If you put on the 1.4X to get the same reach as the 80-400, the lens becomes an f/4 so you have a 420 f/4 vs. a 400 f/5.6 with image stabalization - when light is an issue it will be easier to take pictures with the 80-400 because of OS. Plus, you will have *more* depth of field which is generally desirable in a long lens, as has been mentioned. Similarly, in good light, the f/2.8 is unlikely to be used much because of the short depth of field.

One thing such a fast telezoom is good at is sports, particularly indoors with artificial lighting where the extra speed of the lens helps get a higher shutter speed to freeze action - Image stabalization won't help there. This might impact some of your african pictures but at a cost of $2400 + 2 more pounds.

One final point, I'm not sure anyone responded to the autofocus speed qustion. As has been mentioned speed refers to aperture. However, on some cameras, a better focusing process takes place for lenses with a wide aperture (fast lenses). Here is what Bob Atkins has to say about your 20D:

"The 20D has a new high-precision cross-type sensor in the center position. It provides full cross-type performance with maximum apertures as small as f/5.6, yet it achieves *up to* 3 times the standard focusing precision when used with EF lenses featuring maximum apertures larger than or equal to f/2.8."

So the 20D will have focusing benefits from the 2.8 aperture. Will it be "faster"? Well, it is generally assumed that lenses with wider apertures focus slightly faster and better and are less likely to "hunt" than those with smaller apertures. Again, unless you are really into high action photography, these minute advantages are likely to be negligible. My opinion is that this extra precision is a necessary feature given the narrow depth of field resulting from wide apertures and so really only gives you the extra precision that you need to compensate.

I hesitated to include this focus stuff because it might sway you towards the 120-300 but I think full disclosure is best. My opinion is for the 80-400 (I have the Canon 100-400). I also strongly encourage you to resist lens lust! Something that is funtionally sufficient is all you need.

sunny_days is offline  
Jul 5th, 2005, 04:34 PM
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OK cooncat, you are a prime candidate for addiction!
I know you mentioned film, and I still love the look of film...sometime. BUT you will be amazed at the fun and learning that takes place when you can get the instant feedback AND all the shooting info with digital. It is awesome and enjoyable in a new way.

If you already have an SLR and lenses...you might be tied to a brand. But you mentioned comparing the Dig Rebel and 20D...And given your interest and experience, I think you would really enjoy a 20D, more then the Rebel. I agree about the way it feels in your hands...I bought a 10D back in 2003, and I'm still really happy with it. I think you can still buy them, brand new and in the box at half the price of the 20D. It's something to think about...the website www.dpreview.com has wonderful reviews and tests, as well as a good discussion forum. Their comparitive results between the 10 and 20D showed the 20D to be an improvement...but not so much when it comes to spending twice as much. And the 10D has a much better build than the Rebels (300 and 350). I actually considered buying another 10D as a backup as long as they are still available new and in the box. But if you have the extra $$ and want the latest model that will keep you happy for years...20D should do that.
Then back to the lens questions...and that is very budget dependent. (Of course, if you go for the 10D instead of 20D, you have about $700 more to spend on lenses!) I am unreservedly happy with my 17-40 L lense...nothing could make me trade this lense in...
The question about long lenses is more difficult...zoom? IS? Most people say yes to both...for convenience. And these get so expensive and heavy that there are a whole set of tradeoffs and compromises involved.

I should mention that I made my decision years ago, and a for a number of reasons decided to go with Canon. But Nikon has some killer cameras out now and many of their lenses are superb. I prefer Canon's telephotos for wildlife, but that is just my choice...there are plenty of people who choose otherwise and have good reasons. At this level, it's all a matter of tradeoffs and what works for you. When I was making my choice, I rented a comparable set of Canon and Nikon gear for a weekend, and did a whole series of test shots... It was well worth the money and time to make sure that I made the right choice. A good pro shop might even be able to rent the thirdparty lenses for these cameras. If you can do this, I'd really recommend it!
tashak is offline  
Jul 6th, 2005, 01:55 AM
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I almost bought the Sigma 18-125 lens (and one reputable on-line seller even has a used one for another $50 less than their "new" price) but I hesitate. I have another question with regard to IS. It has been said that the IS feature is not that necessary on a lens with less zoom, but if I were to chose the Canon 17-85 IS lens, would that work better in the low light situation of photographing the Mountain Gorillas (would it work better than the Sigma mentioned?)? Thanks!
wanderlust123 is offline  
Jul 6th, 2005, 05:14 AM
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Lawrence, I totally agree that different lenses offer different focus speeds and that different camera bodies are more or less able to take advantage of that...

But when people talk about "fast lenses" it's always been (in my experience) shorthand for wide aperture lenses which allow faster shutter speeds...

Oh and another thing to look for is lenses with quiet motors. Canon call these USM lenses - Ultra Sonic Motor or something like that. They focus more quietly than non USM. Other brands call this feature something else. Might be worth while when photographing birds or easily spooked animals though if they can cope with the engine sound a lens motor shouldn't have much impact!

When comparing the lenses, can you tell me the aperture range of the Sigma 18-25 (I'm not at home and can't remember) and the aperture range of the IS lens. Undoubtably, if these are similar, IS will give you 2 to 3 extra stops i.e. faster shutter speeds in low light. For me, this wouldn't be an issue for most of my usage and a bigger deal was the focal range of 18-125 over 17-85 but it depends on what the lens is PRIMARILY being purchased for.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 6th, 2005, 08:51 AM
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I would post this in a new thread with a title something like Photographing Mountain Gorilla... best if people who have actually done this answer! the woman that I spoke with said that the light was not low, because they were with the gorillas in a clearing. But perhaps you shouldn't count on that! Also they were VERY close-- but I don't know if you always manage that either.
tashak is offline  
Jul 6th, 2005, 09:45 AM
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Tash - Who you callin' an addict?! ;-) It's just that when I'm spending a lot of money on something anyway, I figure why not go all out. The difference in price for the 20D and the Rebel isn't that much really, if you're aleady spending over a $1,000 anyway for lenses, etc... If you know what I mean! I will look into the older model though, excellent idea. And no, I haven't bought a digital yet, the jury is still out for me but I'm guessing I'll end up with the 20D. That's just the way I am!!

What I don't understand is the difference between all these lenses when the numbers are so close to being the same. That's why I asked previously if there is a good book on digital photography anyone could recommend so that I could learn this stuff a bit better.
cooncat is offline  
Jul 6th, 2005, 10:29 AM
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Like I said...addict!
Just remember that with the Canon digitals you have to multiply those lens numbers by 1.6 (vs. 1.5 I think for the Nikon digitals) . Yeah, the camera question is easy compared to the lens questions.
My other "words of wisdom" (haha): camera technology changes quickly...and prices tend to go down, as with computers. In a year, there will be an even better...or equivalent and cheaper camera to the 20D. But lens tech changes slowly...and optics technology even slower than that. If you want the "best" and something that is a keeper forever, invest in the lenses. (I can only speak to the Canon lense tradeoff, not those of 3rd parties, and there are likely to be good choices there.)

But if your goal is highest possible quality, given a choice between the 20D with a basic 75-300 IS lense...or a 10D with either a 70-200L IS or a 75-300 DO IS lens, I think you'll get the better photo with the 10D, because the camera is only as good as the lens. (I can't speak for the Sigma or other 3rd party lenses, but the same point generally holds.. at some point in the $ trade-offs you'll get more bang for your buck out of the lens.
Perhaps I shouldn't have included the 70-200L IS in this equation, because it will blow the socks off the other lenses in question. Most reviews say it is the only Canon zoom that approaches a fixed focal length lens. But it is big, heavy, and leaves safari-photographers craving more at the long end (it's effectively at 320mm on a digital) You can add a 1.4 converter (even longer and heavier) without much decline in quality...or a 2x converter...but at that point you might be better off with the 100-400 L IS.

Believe me, you don't "NEED" any of these...you can take beautiful, stunning photos with the 75-300 IS. But if you really do want "the best" and plan to use the camera alot, think about the balance between camera and lens.
tashak is offline  
Jul 6th, 2005, 12:41 PM
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I've done some research and have actually found a 20D body in the $700 range. New, not refurbished. What I have a hard time with is the upgrade in megapixels, the DiGicII processing, etc... again, for me the issue is if I'm going to spend the money I might as well go for it - within reason. So are you saying that even tho the 10D has fewer megapixels, with an L-series lens I'll still get a better picture? (Showing my true ignorance here now, so be kind....) My camera store guy says the L lenses are just not necessary, esp. for a digital beginner. I also have to say that I went back onto DPreview, and some of the safari shots taken with a couple of Canon point and shoots looked really darn good. (Can't remember which ones, although the rebel was one of them, I believe.) I just think that the REbel isn't that much cheaper, and again, I liked the feel of the 20D better with the heavier lens. The smaller camera with a big lens felt awkward to me. And I'm not a big person! ;-D Any thoughts or are we beating a dead horse here?
cooncat is offline  
Jul 6th, 2005, 01:10 PM
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Just to clarify I know the Rebel is not classified as a point and shoot. One of the cameras, although not highly recommended by dpreview, was the powershot elf sd 500 or something like that. Look at the samples; the photos are dang good!
cooncat is offline  

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