Whale Watching Lens?

ElvisheferElvishefer Posts: 329Member
edited August 2014 in Nikon Lenses
Looking for suggestions from those who've been whale watching. My parameters:
  • We'll be out in a zodiac.
  • One camera body
  • Trinity lenses to choose from
  • No rentals
I know there isn't a one lens solution in my parameters, but I'm hoping to get a sense of how close one gets to the whales and make a reasonable call.

I'm partial to the 70-200mm so far.

Thanks in advance,
Jeremy
D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, 24-70mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4G, 200mm f/4 Micro, 105mm f/2.8 VRII Micro, 35mm f/1.8, 2xSB900, 1xSB910, R1C1, RRS Support...

... And no time to use them.

Comments

  • haroldpharoldp Posts: 984Member
    If it is available, the 80-400 G is perfect for this, as the whales are usually at a distance 100-200 yards, but I have seen young whales come right up to the boat to where a long lens was useless unless you want eyeballs.

    70-300 is a good second choice, If you are using the 70-200, I would considering putting a 1.4X extender on it.

    Use active VR because of the boats motion, or high shutter speeds if possible.

    Regards ... H
    D810, D3x, 14-24/2.8, 50/1.4D, 24-70/2.8, 24-120/4 VR, 70-200/2.8 VR1, 80-400 G, 200-400/4 VR1, 400/2.8 ED VR G, 105/2 DC, 17-55/2.8.
    Nikon N90s, F100, F, lots of Leica M digital and film stuff.

  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    Ditto on a TC on the 70-200….
    Msmoto, mod
  • IronheartIronheart Posts: 3,017Moderator
    Zodiac = wet Consider using an Ewa marine bag like Msmoto uses in the surf.
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    If it is available, the 80-400 G is perfect for this, as the whales are usually at a distance 100-200 yards...
    For the weight and versatility, I totally agree with haroldp recommendation.
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 4,605Member
    The wife and I went to Alaska in 2011 and I used my 70-200/2.8 on a D300. When I got back from that trip I went and bought a Nikon 1.7x tele-extender. I really wish I had that TC with me.

    I got some great picture with the 70-200 but it was the wife who was on the other side of the boat and got the whale out of the water with her 18-105mm on a D90. For the record I got lots of whale pictures, especially great tail shots as they disappear into the water.

    If I was going back I would definitely use the 70-200+1.7 or 1.4 TC. I see you have a D700 so you won't have that 1.5 DX reach. In that case, if your flush with money then go the 80-400mm.
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • RmologicRmologic Posts: 75Member
    Alaska or Mexico? In Alaska +1 what Harold said. I used a 70-300 on a D3200 and still needed to Crop. In Mexico the boat drivers are not limited to a stand off distance and will get quite close. R Good Hunting. Auke Bay 2014-3952
    D7100,D3200, Sony RX100mk3, Nikkor Primes: DX 35 1.8, 50 1.8D, 105 2.8 VR, Zooms: Tokina 11-16 DXII, Kit 18-55 and 55-200 VR, 18-70 VR, 70-300 VR. SB-800, Induro CT 214, RRS TA-2-LB, BH-30 Pro2, MC-L, BP-CS
  • tcole1983tcole1983 Posts: 981Member
    If you use Rmlogic's pictures as an example...lots of 200+mm pics on a DX. So as with all but the tamest animals...the longer the better. Looking at 300-450mm on your FX.
    D5200, D5000, S31, 18-55 VR, 17-55 F2.8, 35 F1.8G, 105 F2.8 VR, 300 F4 AF-S (Previously owned 18-200 VRI, Tokina 12-24 F4 II)
  • Benji2505Benji2505 Posts: 517Member
    At Stellwagen bank between Boston and Cape Cod the boats do get rather close. 70-200 plus teleconverter as option. As Ali mentioned be aware of the humidity coming from the spray in a zodiak.
  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 4,605Member
    edited August 2014
    For your reference:DRM_8465
    The 70-200 works for almost all your shots off a boat. the 1.4 or 1.7TC just gives you more range. This is one of the shots from a series. I was shooting at 3 fps and the series is just beautiful.
    |D300|70-200F2.8| 1/160 @F/13|ISO 400|at 200mm|
    Post edited by Photobug on
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • BabaGanoushBabaGanoush Posts: 252Member
    It's one thing to shoot with a heavy telephoto lens like the 80-400mm from the deck of a boat, but an entirely different matter to be shooting from a zodiac that's moving and rocking in the water with other people on board, in which case you can't stand up, and you can't move around...not if you are practicing safe boating. I know; I've tried it. Light gear is better in those circumstances. A super zoom camera or MFT camera would be my first choice on practical grounds, probably the D7100 (which I don't own) + 70-300mm (which I do own) for better IQ. The IQ of the action shots I get with my 70-300mm on my D800 is "comparable" to what I get with my 70-200mm and 80-400mm lenses. A lot depends on the subject I'm shooting. In any event, whatever camera + lens you take, you should also carry a decent pocket P+S zoom camera with you just in case you suddenly need a closer shot than your telephoto allows. There are decent pocket zooms that will cost you nothing in terms of weight and will serve as a backup for those unexpected photo opportunities. A so-so picture with a small sensor camera is better than NO picture at all. I take sharp, lovely pictures with my Panasonic ZS6 all the time and find nothing in those photos to be ashamed of or to regret.
  • ElvisheferElvishefer Posts: 329Member
    edited September 2014
    Thank you everyone for your input.

    If it isn't obvious from the brief snippets of people's experiences in this thread, a whale watching tour can be a very different experience depending on the operator, type of whale, type of boat, the weather, etc.

    Turns out, my experience was phenomenal! And the photography was fun too.

    The D700 and 70-200 were definitely the right choice for the day, which was fortunate, because they were my only option for any kind of range.

    My two favorite shots were at 190mm and at 70mm. I got splashed by the whale for the 70mm shot.

    The subjects were humpback whales, and the location was off Brier Island (Nova Scotia, Canada), in the Bay of Fundy.

    Took this as the whale took a look at our zodiac before swimming underneath it. Having a humpback surface 20 feet away from the boat and turn to check you out is a very humbling experience:
    image

    This one is the 70mm shot. The whale was being playful and swimming on it's back:
    image

    The same whale breached twice but we were so far away all we saw was the splash - no lens would have captured that shot. Sadly it did not breach again while we were out... so I have a reason to go again some other time.

    From a technique perspective, shooting from the zodiac was like shooting a sport that I didn't know the rules for while hopping up and down on one foot. ;) Fortunately, the boat wasn't so crowded that I couldn't get on my knees and shoot braced on the side of the boat, allowing me to get low (about a foot and a half or so off the water). I used my Thinktank Hydrophobia and was thankful for it. Also had a CPL on the lens, turned way down.

    Anyhew, it was a great experience. Thanks again for the insights!

    A blurry photo that I liked for its sense of scale (this was the only time we were near other boats as this was the only playful whale show in town):

    image

    Late edit: Blog post here.
    Post edited by Elvishefer on
    D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, 24-70mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4G, 200mm f/4 Micro, 105mm f/2.8 VRII Micro, 35mm f/1.8, 2xSB900, 1xSB910, R1C1, RRS Support...

    ... And no time to use them.
  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 4,605Member
    @Elvishefer - thanks for sharing the photos. Good job. As you said the type of boat really makes a difference. I have even used a monopod, they did not allow a tripod on the boat to help steady the lens.
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • BabaGanoushBabaGanoush Posts: 252Member
    edited September 2014
    It's a good thing you weren't in the other zodiac in your last photo. It's packed to the gunwales. I'm surprised the passengers are allowed to stand. That's one tour company I wouldn't trust with my life.
    Post edited by BabaGanoush on
  • NSXTypeRNSXTypeR Posts: 2,093Member
    Glad everything worked out for you, and you can share your photos with us!
    Nikon D7000/ Nikon D40/ Nikon FM2/ 18-135 AF-S/ 35mm 1.8 AF-S/ 105mm Macro AF-S/ 50mm 1.2 AI-S
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