Canon PowerShot SX10 versus G series

Canon PowerShot SX10-IS

Canon PowerShot SX10-IS

Canon PowerShot SX10 IS macro and telephoto versus G series.

Question: “My wife purchased a Canon PowerShot SX10 IS on line for me as a Christmas present. Do you have any experience or information which describes its ability in macro situations? I assume the 20x zoom is great (and look forward to using it for birds), but have they shortchanged us on the other end, or does the lens do it all? I take a lot of wildflower pictures and want to make sure that it will produce good results for the closeups I like to take. My eyes are aging, so I want to make sure the camera will auto focus when I need it to. Sorry my questions are so general…”     (from A. B. in Paradise, CA, December 2008)

 Tom responds in December 2008:

Check owner opinions for Canon SX10IS at:

www.dpreview.com/reviews/read_opinion_text.asp?prodkey=canon_sx10is&opinion=41875

Canon compact digital cameras are among the best available. The Canon Powershot SX10IS is a good choice for price value, with amazing abilities compared to earlier cameras. Canon’s official site www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelInfoAct&tabact=ModelTechSpecsTabAct&fcategoryid=144&modelid=17630

claims excellent macro performance, which I trust will be quite good, based upon earlier Powershot cameras:

Focusing Range Normal: 1.6 ft./50cm-infinity (W), 3.3 ft./1m-infinity (T)
Macro: 0.39 in.-1.6 ft./1-50cm (W)
Super macro: 0-3.9 in./0-10cm (W)

Super Macro mode can shoot objects that are zero distance from the lens! You cannot get any closer than that!

SX10IS  sounds like a great macro camera. (Macro close focus with superior depth of field/focus is one of the strengths of compact cameras over DSLR style cameras.)

Macro is this camera’s strength. Its weakness is most likely at the telephoto end, such as difficulty focusing on and shooting at moving birds (a problem any compact camera will have). It could still be a good compromise for shooting birds, half the size and weight and much cheaper than a DSLR style camera. A tripod would be helpful for sharper shots at telephoto. At all zoom settings, I recommend setting ISO at 400 or lower to avoid noise (blotchiness at the detail level at ISO 800 or higher), unless you need to hand hold the shot. By default the camera uses Auto ISO, which might do okay in most of your daytime outdoor shots.

The SX10IS is 1.5 pounds (large and bulky compared to the G9 or G10), surprisingly wide 20x zoom range, 28-560mm equivalent lens, probably decent quality, with good Image Stabilization (IS), a must-have in any camera.

Its sensor is unfortunately quite small, 1/2.3 ” (6.16 x 4.62 mm), which limits the size of your prints, or low light shooting abilities, compared to cameras which have larger sensors such as the Canon Powershot G9 or G10 (which cost $100 more). If your goal is mainly prints smaller than 10 inches, then the SX10IS should be fine. Larger prints with it are possible if you shoot steadily and carefully, within its limitations.

You might also look at the Fujifilm Finepix S100FS (34 ounces; 28-400mm lens), which will take higher quality images if you shoot RAW mode, but is somewhat larger and heavier than the SX10IS.

Your needs may differ from mine. Personally, I need good enough quality to sell and publish large landscape prints, and I would pick a Canon Powershot G9, G10, G10, G12, or pocket sized S95  for fun, smaller carry-everywhere size, combined with great quality images (better image quality than SX10IS) and good macro. However, the telephoto is nowhere near as long in the G series versus SX10IS, so cropping images could compensate to similar ballpark quality. A birder hobbyist shooting mostly in bright daylight or sunlight may prefer SX10IS for the long telephoto.

PHOTO CLASSES: Seattle camera workshops with Tom Dempsey

Photography on the Go with instructor Tom Dempsey

Sign up for my “Editing Digital Photography” class at Lifetime Learning Center in Seattle:

Six-class series: 2017 April 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, 20 = Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

Hike England Coast to Coast

Join expert photographer Tom Dempsey in the UK this summer July 23 – August 5, 2017 for deluxe hiking England Coast to Coast with one of the world’s top tour companies, Wilderness Travel. Instead of teaching a workshop, I will be professionally photographing this tour (accompanied by my wife), creating images for Wilderness Travel’s fabulous Catalog of Adventures. Along the journey, feel free to ask me photography questions, enjoy a wonderful hiking package, and share our hunt for memorable images.

The coast-to-coast journey across England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea is one of the great hikes of the world. Wilderness Travel has perfected this classic walk, hiking the most spectacular stretches as we cut a swath across England’s historic and literary landscape and through three magnificent national parks. We bring you from west to east, putting the prevailing wind at your back, from the romantic Lake District into the upland pastures of the Yorkshire Dales and across the dramatic purple-heather moors of Bronte Country to reach Robin Hood’s Bay on the wild North Sea. En route, we visit delightful villages and ancient castles, stay at welcoming inns, and sip a pint or two at friendly country pubs—this is hiker’s England at its best!

Private lessons in Seattle

  • Jump-start your creative camera skills. Gift photography lessons to yourself, family, and friends. $40 per hour is a bargain for one-on-one lessons with an expert teacher. Sign up for digital photography workshops in the Northgate/Broadview area of Seattle, Washington, with instructor Tom Dempsey. We typically meet one-on-one in a public place such as Panera Bread eatery in Northgate Mall.
  • Email Tom @ photoseek.com or call (206) 372-7673 mobile phone.

From Mannlichen, view Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau, Grindelwald Valley, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland, Alps, Europe.

Above: The Eiger in Switzerland, by Tom Dempsey. 

Past workshops

Tom taught the following classes at Lifetime Learning Center in Seattle:

  • 2016 November 1-17: “Digital Photography on the Go”
  • 2016 March 28-April 18: “Digital Photography on the Go”

In Summer 2011, Tom Dempsey taught a 5-day Alps Photo Workshop to Venice and the Dolomites Mountains, guided by Gary Scott of Right Path Adventures, DolomitesWalkingTours.com

Images from my book, “Light Travel: Photography on the Go“:

Above, images automatically play in a show. (PAUSE || or START SLIDESHOW as desired with buttons at lower right.) But mobile devices just display a fixed image, so click center to enlarge as a set of images with full captions in GALLERIES mode (where Add to Cart button lets you buy photos).

BEST 2017 TRAVEL CAMERAS reviewed

Top recommended travel cameras (pocket, midsize, DSLR, full frame) as of November 2017:

Research by Tom Dempsey recommends the following portable cameras and gear best for on-the-go photographers. Yearly advances now put the sweet spot for serious travel cameras in the size range from 1”-Type to APS-C sensors (read article).

Sony RX10 III camera

The world’s most versatile midsize camera: Sony RX10 III has a weather-sealed 25x zoom 24-600mm equivalent, bright f/2.4-4 lens.

As smartphones typically blur shots in dim light and zoom poorly, upgrading to (A) a pocket-size 1″-size-sensor camera (read my review) will help make bigger prints. But for publishing, I prefer (B) a midsize Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III camera (price at Amazon) with versatile 25x zoom lens which outshines APS-C sensor systems anywhere near its weight class — read my RX10 III review.

Traditionalists wanting more lens choices and optical viewfinder may pick (C) a bulkier DSLR-style camera with APS-C sensor. Elite photographers seeking dim-light images at high ISO 6400+ may prefer a heavier (D) full-frame sensor camera

Support my work by buying products at any Amazon.com link below…

A. World’s best pocket-size travel camera:

Panasonic Lumix DSC-ZS100 (buy at Amazon) (2016, 11 oz, 25-250mm equivalent lens) outguns all pocketable 1″-sensor rivals with a versatile 10x zoom (read my ZS100 review).  Other options:

  1. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 (IV, III, II, or I) (price at Amazon) only zooms to 3x but is noticeably sharper and brighter than ZS100. Add a Sony AG-R2 attachment grip. Fit into Tamrac Digital 1 Photo Bag with extra Wasabi Power NPBX1 batteries. Save money with used or earlier III, II or I versions — read Tom’s Sony RX100 review.
  2. Pocket superzoom: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60 (2016, 10 oz, 24–720mm equiv 30x zoom, 18mp, EVF) or older ZS50.
  3. Cheapest: Canon PowerShot ELPH 170 IS (2015, 5 oz, 25-300mm equiv lens, 1/2.3″ sensor).
  4. Underwater, shockproof, dust-resistant: Olympus Tough TG-4 (2015, 8.7 oz, 25-100mm equiv) compromises image quality but is good for underwater movies.

TIP: As a workaround for sluggish autofocus (AF) in cheaper compact cameras: prefocus (lock) on a contrasty edge of the subject by half pressing and holding the shutter button, then the subsequent full press will be instant, ≤ 0.15 second. But half-press autofocus lock doesn’t work in continuous focus or action modes. Don’t let an inferior camera frustrate your capture of action, people, pets, or sports. For surer action shots, consider a newer model with hybrid AF such as pocket-size Panasonic ZS100, Sony RX100, or midsize Panasonic FZ1000 or interchangeable-lens camera. 

B. World’s best midsize travel camera:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III camera (buy at Amazon) or faster focusing RX10 IV packs the ultimate all-in-one travel tool into 37 ounces — read my RX10 III review. Its weather-sealed, bright f/2.4-4 lens with remarkable 25x zoom is sharp across the frame from 24-600mm equivalent, well into birding territory (read my Telephoto article). With the latest 1”-Type sensor, it captures great depth-of-focus details, everywhere from close flower shots to distant bird feathers.

But if you mostly photograph indoor action (such as kids & pets) or events (weddings) or need advanced autofocus in dim light, consider a larger APS-C sensor:

Other good midsize cameras include:

  1. Panasonic FZ2500 (December 2016, 33 oz, 20x zoom 24-480mm f/2.8–4.5, 20mp): costs 25% less, adds a fully articulated LCD with touchscreen, increases viewfinder magnification (EVF 0.74x versus 0.7x), has better menus and improves video specs (ND filter, Cine/UHD 4K), in comparison to Sony RX10 III. But FZ2500’s lens collects a half stop less light, slightly lowering image quality; its telephoto doesn’t reach long enough for birders; and its CIPA battery life of 350 shots is shorter than RX10III’s 420 shots. (FZ2500 is FZ2000 in some markets.)
  2. Older price value with 1″-Type BSI sensor:
    Panasonic FZ1000 (2014, 29 oz with 16x zoom lens 25-400mm equiv, 20mp).
  3. More-compact, 11x zoom, with smaller sensor, 1/1.7″-Type:
    Olympus Stylus 1s (2015, 14 oz with 28-300mm equiv f/2.8 lens, great EVF).

A smaller, noisier 1/2.3″-Type sensor extends zoom range in the following midsize cameras (but images from one of the above cameras should be crisper, even when cropped to achieve equivalent telephoto):

  1. Panasonic Lumix FZ300 (2015, 24.4 oz, 12 mp, bright f/2.8 lens 25-600mm equivalent, 24x zoom range, weather sealed).
  2. Nikon Coolpix P900 (2015, 32 oz, 16mp, 24–2000mm equivalent 83X zoom lens).
  3. Cheaper superzoom: Olympus Stylus SP-100 camera (2014, 21 oz, 50x zoom, 24-1200 equiv).

TIP: Upgrade your camera every 2 or 3 years as I do to get better real resolution, lower noise at higher ISO speeds ( ≥ 800), and quicker autofocus. Since 2009, most cameras take sharper hand-held shots using optical image stabilization (branded as Nikon VR, Canon IS, Panasonic OIS, Sigma OS, Tamron VC, Sony OSS). Today’s cameras capture much better highlight and shadow detail, by using better sensors plus automatic HDR (high dynamic range) imaging and other optimizations for JPEG files. On advanced models, raw format images allow editing to recover much more highlight and shadow detail, which would be lost with JPEG.

What makes an ideal travel camera?

The “best” travel camera is the one you want to carry everywhere. The best Light Travel cameras (as chosen above) should minimize bulk and weight while maximizing sensor dimensions (read article), zoom range, lens diameter, battery life ( ≥ 350 shots), and ISO “sensitivity” (for lower noise in dim light). An optimally sharp zoom lens should change the angle of view by 10x to 25x to rapidly frame divergent subjects, without the extra bulk or annoyance of swapping lenses. Lenses should autofocus fast (with hybrid AF minimizing shutter lag ≤ 0.3 sec), optically stabilize images, and focus closely (for macro). Travel cameras should pop up a built-in flash and also flip out (articulate/hinge/swivel) a high-resolution display screen to jump-start your creative macro, movie, and candid shooting at arm’s length. OLED displays usually outshine LCD. Sunny-day reflections often obscure display-screen visibility − but to save bulk, most pocket cameras sadly lack a viewfinder. A camera with a brilliant electronic viewfinder (preferably an EVF with ≥ 1 million dots) gives better feedback on the final digital image than a non-digital optical viewfinder

Related camera history: Tom Dempsey’s travel cameras adopted from 1978 to now.

C. Best-value DSLR-style travel camera

Nikon D5500 (2015, 15 oz body, 24mp APS-C sensor/DX format) [or earlier Nikon D3300 DSLR camera (2014, 16 oz)] is bulkier than mirrorless but offers more lens choices…
Recommended travel zooms for Nikon DX format (APS-C sensor):

  1. Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens (2014, 19 oz, 3 x 3.9″): versatile 19x travel zoom, kit-lens quality.
  2. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Lens (2009, 20 oz, 3.0 x 3.8″) 11x zoom equals kit-lens quality.
  3. Nikkor AF-S VR 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G lens (26 oz) takes sharper shots of birds, wildlife, and sports.

Best wide angle lenses for Nikon DX format (APS-C sensor):

  1. Tokina 12-28mm f/4.0 AT-X Pro DX lens for Nikon (2013, 19 oz) is sharper than f/3.5-f/4 rivals.
  2. Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm f/2.8 DX II wide angle lens (2012, 19 oz) has sharper, faster, professional-level, pricier optics.
  3. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM lens (2013, 28.5 oz, 3.1 x 4.8″, 27-52.5mm equivalent) is the world’s first zoom having a constant f/1.8 brightest aperture and is the sharpest wide-angle lens (including primes) as of 2014! Shoot this “Art” series lens sharpest at around f/2.8 throughout the zoom. Sigma DC lenses are optimized for cameras with APS-C size sensors.
  4. See related article: “BEST WIDE ANGLE LENS for DSLR.”

The following telephoto lenses seriously magnify wildlife, birds, and sports with optical stabilization and also full-frame coverage, for Nikon bodies:

  1. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens for Nikon (2015, 68 ounces, 4.1 x 10.2 inches, best telephoto reach for the money).
  2. Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM for Nikon (2012, 120 ounces, 4.8 x 11.5″) unbeatable sharpness, bright f/2.8 zoom.
  3. See related article: “BEST TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS 300mm+

Recommended close focus/macro lenses for DSLR cameras (for macro enlargement of insects and plants, copy work, and extra-sharp general photography):

  • Nikon AF-S Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED Macro Autofocus lens (15 oz) with fast SWM (Silent Wave Motor) and IF (Internal Focusing), captures true macro 1:1 reproduction ratio.
  • Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens for APS-C sensors (12 oz) captures true 1:1 reproduction ratio; for a Canon body.
  • Compared to the above 60mm lenses, longer macro lenses such as 100mm and 105mm give you a few more inches of comfortable working distance from the front of the lens (to avoid startling insects) and can have a different bokeh (character of out-of-focus areas), but at the cost of larger size, weight, and expense.
  • Instead of carrying one of the above prime macro lenses for a DSLR camera, consider carrying a pocket camera (at top, 8-11 ounces) which can focus very closely at wide angle with deep depth of focus, and can serve as a backup for your larger/main camera. Better yet, don’t get a DSLR — instead, do it all with 25x zoom Sony RX10 III (Tom’s review).

Nikon D3300 offers more for your money (at a lighter travel weight) than Canon EOS Rebel cameras of 2014 and earlier. Also, the earlier Nikon D3200 beats Canon Rebel DSLR cameras of 2012. The best mirrorless designs can pack more quality into a smaller box, but DSLR cameras offer more specialty lenses, with a design legacy inherited from the 35mm film era, where an optical viewfinder’s mirror box adds bulk.

D. Best full-frame-sensor travel camera:

Full-frame-sensor cameras excel at indoor, night, and very-large-print photography, but require bulkier lenses, often with limited zoom ranges. Full-frame sensors can resolve more detail with less noise in dim light at high ISO 3200+ when compared to APS-C and smaller sensors of a given year. But good zoom or long-telephoto quality on full-frame is a weighty proposition for dedicated travelers.

The lightest-weight, best-price-value, full frame-sensor camera is Sony Alpha A7 Mirrorless camera (17 oz body, 24mp, 2013), or Sony Alpha A7 II (2014, 21 oz), or newer Sony A7R II. The A7 series requires Sony FE (full frame) E-mount lenses.

The A7R (2014, 16.4 oz) captures 36mp. In contrast, A7S (2015, 17 oz) has 12mp optimized with large photosites and more sensitive autofocus great for low-light videographers, but its stills require ISO 12,800+ to beat A7R’s 36mp image quality. Instead of having an optical viewfinder like a DSLR, the A7, A7II, A7R, and A7S have a great electronic viewfinder (EVF) with 2.4 million dots (XGA). The 3-inch tilting LCD has 1.23 million dots (except 921,000 on A7S). New Hybrid AF builds phase-detection autofocus into the sensor, capturing 5 fps with continuous autofocus. With contrast-detection autofocus only, A7S shoots 5 fps and A7R shoots 4 fps. Weatherproof bodies.

As an alternative, Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX1 full frame compact camera (17 oz with 35mm f/2 fixed-lens, non-interchangeable, 24mp, 2012) fits in a coat pocket; but the optical viewfinder/rangefinder is a costly add-on. Shooting as high as ISO 25,000 still captures usable pictures.

Nikon D750 DSLR camera (26.5 oz body, 24mp, 2014) is excellent. 6.5 fps continuous shooting. Tilting 3.2″ RGBW LCD screen has 1.23 million dots. Long 1230 shots CIPA battery life. Uses Full frame Nikon F Mount/FX Format lenses.

Nikon D810 DSLR camera (big 35 oz body, 36mp, 2014) camera demands highest quality full frame Nikon F Mount/FX format lenses and excites professional studio and landscape photographers with its very high resolution (3200 lph raw for D800 and better in D810) rivaling the quality of medium format film for making big fine-art prints. In dim light at dusk, dawn, or indoors, capture low-noise images at high ISOs 6400 to 12,800 — even ISO 25,600 can look good in small prints. Capture unprecedented dynamic range in raw files from bright to dark. Unfortunately it has very slow autofocus using LCD Live View (fixed by using mirrorless Sony A7). Frames per second at full res FX mode has increased to 5 fps for sports (versus 4 fps in D800, or 6 fps if DX frame size).

Nikon D610 DSLR camera (30 oz body, 24 mp, 2013) costs less than D800. Captures less noise than Sony NEX-7 by 2-3 stops of ISO when set at ≥3200. Raw resolution up to 2800 lph.

Tom recommends these accessories:

  1. SanDisk Extreme PRO 128GB UHS-I/U3 SDXC Flash Memory Card (buy at Amazon) fits weeks of shooting, great for 4K video. Or cheaper: SanDisk 16GB Extreme SDHC Memory Card.
  2. Buy extra Wasabi Power brand batteries (from Blue Nook / Amazon.com).
  3. Essential Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan (Photoshop CC + Lightroom) speeds modification (non-destructively), editing, sorting, and labeling of images. Lightroom version 6 added Photo Merge to Panorama and HDR. In 2016, the Lightroom CC subscription adds the Boundary Warp essential for quicker panoramas, and Dehaze to remove haze in skies & glass, as a leap beyond Clarity. (Adobe Photoshop software lets advanced users manipulate complex Layers such as for printing, or CMYK color space for publishing.) If your Lightroom CC subscription expires, you can still view, organize and export (but not Develop) images.
  4. Canon Pixma Pro-100 photo printer (new in 2013, with 8 color dye cartridges) makes economical, vibrant high-quality prints up to 13 x 19 inches, lasting about 30 years behind glass before fading. But the following pigment inkjet printers make longer-lasting prints: Canon Pixma Pro-10 printer (2013, with 10 color pigment cartridges) and Epson SureColor P600 printer (2015, with 9 color Ultrachrome HD pigment cartridges, makes superior black & white prints, prints on thicker paper up to 1.3mm thick, supports roll paper, but costs $250 more plus 20% more per print).
  5. Samsung 16GB Galaxy Tab S Multi-Touch 10.5 Wi-Fi Tablet (16 oz) for free Wi-Fi internet worldwide at hotels, hot spots, or home. But now I’m using a lighter weight Samsung Note 5 smartphone with stylus.
  6. Tamrac digital camera bag protects your precious device on the road.
  7. Slik “Sprint Pro II GM” Tripod has a built-in quick-change plate, good for small cameras.
  8. Datacolor Spyder4Express Color Calibration System: Calibrate your PC monitor and laptop before printing photo files so editing efforts match color standards without color shifts. The pricier Datacolor Spyder4Elite Display Calibration System accounts for ambient light and calibrates projectors.
  9. Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE scanner (2014) reincarnates your slides & film digitally, with important infrared/ICE removal of dust & scratches.
  10. A clear glass filter protects precious lenses from scratches & catastrophic drops. I speak from experience! Get a clear glass filter, NOT a UV filter, which modern multi-coated lenses have made redundant. Example: high quality B+W 72mm XS-Pro Clear MRC-Nano 007M Filter fits my Sony RX10 III (read article).
  11. Temporarily mount a circular polarizing filter only to remove reflections or haze, or to contrast clouds with polarized sky.
  12. 2x Cactus Wireless Flash Transceiver Duo triggers your flash or camera wirelessly at distances up to 328 feet.
  13. For stitching panoramas from multiple overlapping images, use one of the following (to improve upon your camera’s Panorama Mode):

TIPS for travel in adverse conditions

  1. Weather & dust protection: Prudent bagging can avoid the extra expense of a weather-sealed body & lens – keep a camera handy, safely in a front pouch on your chest or hip (where it can be retrieved more quickly than from a pack on your back). Adverse fluctuations of temperature & humidity, or dusty conditions, or sea spray all require cameras to be double-protected in a zip-lock plastic bag inside the padded pouch. Use a soft, absorbent silk cloth to wipe away moisture or dust from lens & body before bagging.
  2. Cold batteries: Using camera batteries below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (or 4 Celsius) loses their charge quicker, causing camera shut down or lock. Revive and extend battery life in cold or below-freezing weather by warming an extra battery or two in an interior pocket near your skin and swapping with the camera’s battery after every 5-10 minutes of cold exposure.
  3. Off the grid: For trips away from electrical power sockets, recharge your hungry GPS, phone or tablet devices with:
  4. Satellite communication: Stay in touch everywhere in the world via Iridium satellite with DeLorme inReach Explorer (7 oz; buy at Amazon): send and receive 160-character text messages with GPS coordinates (accurate to five meters) to cell numbers or email addresses worldwide and post updates to social media. This new, affordable technology connects campers, hikers, hunters, backpackers, alpinists, and backcountry skiers who often venture outside of cell phone networks. The portable 7-ounce device includes a color-coded map with waypoints, elevation readings, current speed, average moving speed, and compass. Also, you can trigger an SOS, receive delivery confirmation, and communicate with DeLorme’s 24/7 search-and-rescue monitoring center.

Terminology and metric conversions

  • oz = ounces. Above camera weights in ounces (oz) include battery and memory card.
  • g = grams. Multiple ounces by 28.35 to get grams.
  • sec = second.
  • mm = millimeters. A centimeter (cm) equals 10 millimeters. Multiply centimeters (cm) by 0.3937 to get inches.
  • ILC = Interchangeable Lens Compact = “midsize mirrorless camera” term used above
  • DSLR = Digital Single Lens Reflex = a traditional camera where an optical viewfinder uses a mirror to see through the interchangeable lens.
  • EVF = Electronic Viewfinder.
  • LCD = Liquid Crystal Display.
    • OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) beats an LCD in dynamic range from darkest to brightest and consumes less power.
  • LPH or LPPH = resolvable lines per picture height = the best empirical measure of real resolution of a camera’s sensor for a given lens (independent of pixel pitch or megapixel count). A camera with higher LPH can make sharper large prints. Look up cameras on dpreview.com to find absolute vertical LPH judged by photographing a PIMA/ISO 12233 camera resolution test chart under standardized lighting conditions. Note which lens, settings, and camera body was used in each test, and compare with others within the same web site.
  • equivalent lens = To compare lenses on cameras having different sensor sizes, equiv or equivalent lens refers to what would be the lens focal length (measured in mm or millimeters) that would give the same angle of view on a “full frame35mm-size sensor (or 35mm film camera, using 135 film cartridge).
    • Compared lenses are “equivalent” only in terms of angle of view. (To determine sharpness or quality, read lens reviews which analyze at 100% pixel views.)
    • Crop factor” = how many times smaller is the diagonal measurement of a small sensor than a “full frame” 35-mm size sensor. For example, the 1.5x crop factor for Nikon DX format (APS-C size sensor) makes a lens labeled 18-200mm to be equivalent in angle of view to a 27-300mm focal length lens used on a 35mm film camera. The 2x crop factor for Micro Four Thirds sensors makes a lens labeled 14-140mm to be equivalent in angle of view to a 28-280mm lens used on a 35mm film camera.
  • Superzoom lenses
    • In 2013, superzoom often refers to lenses of about 15x zoom range or larger. Steady quality improvements in the resolving power of sensors has made possible superzoom cameras in ever smaller sizes. As superzoom range increases, laws of physics require lenses to focus upon smaller sensors (light detectors) or else to increase lens size. For a given level (most recent year) of technological advancement, a camera with physically larger sensor (bigger light detecting area) should capture better quality for a given zoom lens range.
    • 10x zoom” = zoom lens telephoto divided by wide angle focal length. For example, a 14-140mm focal length zoom has a 10x zoom range (140 divided by 14). An 18-200mm zoom has an 11x zoom range (200 divided by 18).
  • equivalent” F-stop = refers to the F-stop (F-number) on a full-frame-sensor camera which has the same hole diameter as the F-stop of the camera lens being compared. The concept of “equivalent” F-stop lets you compare capabilities for creating shallow depth of focus (depth of field) on cameras with different-size sensors. Smaller-sensor cameras use shorter focal lengths for the same field of view, so at a given F-stop they have a smaller physical aperture size, meaning more depth of field (with less blur in front of and behind the focused subject). Formula: F Number (or Relative Aperture) = actual focal length of lens divided by diameter of the entrance pupil.
Compare digital camera sensor sizes overlaid together: full frame 35mm, APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, 1-inch, and more.

Above: compare digital camera sensor sizes overlaid together: full frame 35mm, APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, 1-inch, 1/1.7″, 1/2.5” Type.

Support Tom’s work — buy any number of items after clicking any Amazon.com links above. 

BEST WIDE ANGLE LENS for APS-C; or stitch panorama

On your APS-C sensor camera, would you like a view wider than the kit zoom lens, which is limited to 18mm or 16mm (27 or 24mm equivalent)? The following specialty zoom lenses shoot unusually wide angles of view, with great depth of focus (such as for tight interior spaces, architecture, real estate, slot canyons, or sweeping landscapes):

For Sony Alpha A6300A6000 and NEX mirrorless cameras (APS-C size sensor):

  • Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS Alpha E-mount wide-angle zoom lens (8 oz, 2.75×2.5 inches, SEL1018, 2012) thankfully has OSS image stabilization for more hand-held photography free of a tripod. Its angle of view is that of a 15-27mm in terms of full-frame equivalent. SEL1018 is good for shooting architecture indoors and out, plus landscapes and slot canyons. (It is significantly sharper than Sony’s 18-200mm, SEL18200 lens.) SEL1018 is sharpest at f/5.6 to f/8 as you zoom, with least distortion from 14-18mm.
  • Although SEL1018 wasn’t designed for the full-frame Sony Alpha A7 Mirrorless Digital Camera (2013, 17 oz body) or Sony Alpha A7 II camera, you can easily crop away the corner vignetting for surprisingly satisfying results.

For Nikon DX and Canon EF-S DSLR cameras with APS-C sensor, the wide-angle choices unfortunately lack image stabilization:

  • Tokina 12-28mm f/4.0 AT-X Pro DX lens (19 oz, 2013) is sharper than the following older lenses:
    • Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM
    • Tamron 10-24mm F3.5-4.5 Di-II
    • Tokina 12-24mm f/4.0
  • Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm f/2.8 DX II wide angle lens (19 oz, 2012) has sharper, faster, professional-level, pricier optics, best leveraged on a 24 megapixel camera such as Nikon D3300 (2014, 16 oz body).
  • Caveats: The above wide-angle Tokina lenses are not image-stabilized, and thereby increase tripod use; instead, consider the stabilized Sony 10-18mm OSS lens. Image stabilization (such as Nikon Vibration Reduction/VR or Canon IS or Sony OSS or Tamron VC) is most important for telephoto lenses to counteract hand held shake at slow shutter speeds. When built into some wide angle lenses, this feature helps you shoot more sharply at slower shutter speeds (such as in dimmer light), helping to blur flowing water or moving subjects while keeping non-moving subjects sharp in the same image.

Note: These wide angle lenses don’t work well for close-focus (macro) photography − instead use specialty macro lens. 

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Stitch panoramas instead of buying a specialty wide-angle lens

Instead of buying a specialty wide-angle lens above, it’s cheaper to stitch a panorama from multiple shots:

  • To easily capture landscape images wider than your 18mm kit lens, simply stitch a panorama from a series of adjacent images shot with your existing lens.
  • Stitching multiplies megapixel count to compensate for compromised sharpness of megazoom and kit lenses. But if you want to enlarge prints bigger than 2 or 3 feet without the need for stitching, shoot with sharper lenses such as the above Tokinas on a tripod.

Prayer flags express compassion at this monument to fallen climbers, at Annapurna South Base Camp (ABC) in the Annapurna Range of Nepal.

The above panorama was stitched from three overlapping images. Prayer flags express compassion at this monument to fallen climbers, at Annapurna South Base Camp (ABC) in the Annapurna Range of Nepal. Published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. Published in Wilderness Travel 2010 Catalog of Adventures.

How to build a panorama:

If you don’t have Adobe Lightroom 6 or CC, or PhotoShop, to manually build your panoramas, try one of these:

  • Image Composite Editor (ICE) for Windows only, FREE from Microsoft Research Computational Photography Group. (I found that ICE was faster and sharper than using the old Photoshop version CS5.)
  • Hugin: FREE for Mac & Windows. Hugin is harder to learn & use than Microsoft’s ICE.

Nowadays for most people, a smartphone camera is the easiest way to make sweeping panoramas with decent quality. Just select the Panorama option, hold the phone vertically, press (or speak the command for) the shutter release, and sweep steadily left to right, followed by a second press of shutter release to finish recording. Fairly quickly, you’ll see the resulting panorama. Pinch zoom to check sharp details in the recorded image. Smartphones made after 2015 can capture good shadow detail in fairly sharp panoramas by default (using AUTO HDR).

Most digital cameras have an automatic Panorama mode on their mode dial, but I find that automatic panorama modes often blur detail as you sweep the camera, or they can fail with an error message unless you carefully practice the steady sweeping motion. Your results may vary. (Some compact cameras don’t allow holding vertically during the sweep, so just horizontal shots are stitched, thereby making a less-useful proportion: an overly squat and wide image.)

For the best quality, I prefer to shoot a panorama manually on a good camera (with large sensor) as a series of steady shots as follows:

  1. Hold the camera very still for each shot, swiveling as if the center of the lens were mounted on a fixed post. Shoot quickly (but steadily) if subjects are moving.
  2. Overlap each image by a third, one after another in a row, column, or array.
  3. The distance at which important subjects are focused can optionally vary shot to shot, near or far.
  4. If brightness varies drastically across the intended panorama, try to expose for a true midtone within each separate frame, but ensuring that exposure transitions aren’t extreme, shot to shot. If panorama has a consistent brightness, try shooting with a fixed Manual exposure. Shooting raw instead of JPEG gives you more leeway to simply use autoexposure.

A tripod is not needed if light is sufficiently bright for sharp hand-held photography. Look for a camera with a built-in level indicator such as in Panasonic ZS100 or Sony RX10 III or Sony Alpha A6300.

Adobe Lightroom notes:

Adobe Lightroom Version 6 (released April 2015) and later includes Photo Merge to Panorama (and to HDR): Photo > Photo Merge > Panorama

But as of 2017, the quickest and best Photo Merge is in Lightroom CC (Creative Cloud version), which adds the wonderful Boundary Warp with Auto Crop, which retains about 20% more image around the edges (without needing frequent time-consuming touch ups around the edges in Photoshop). Lightroom CC stitches raw files into a top quality Digital Negative panorama .DNG file which can be edited with large tonal leeway AFTER stitching, just like raw. This is a big time-saver compared to earlier versions of Lightroom or other programs, where you had to edit each image first, THEN stitch. Always edit from the original raw file format (or from the largest, highest quality JPEG directly from the camera; because each time you re-save a JPEG, it loses quality).

For travel, zoom flexibility beats interchanging specialty lenses

For travel portability and convenience, I prefer an all-in-one camera such as Sony RX 10 III (read my review) which sharply captures 24-600mm equivalent, with up to 4.5 stops of stabilization benefit (slower shutter speed handheld). RX10 III is sharper across the frame at more zoom settings than the following 11x to 19x travel zooms shot on 24mp APS-C:

  • Nikon VR, Canon IS, or Sony OSS 18-200mm 11x zoom travel lenses (at Amazon).
  • 19x zoom Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens (Amazon).
  • These lenses equal the kit lens sharpness, without the need for constant swapping of two or more lenses in the field. Their image stabilization feature (VR, IS, OSS, or VC) supports 2 to 4 stops slower hand held shutter speed, which is critical for on-the-go photographers who want to minimize tripod usage.
  • When compared to faster Pro lenses, the handy Nikon VR or Canon IS 18-200mm travel lenses gain in image stabilization and compositional zoom versatility what they lose in absolute optical sharpness. Stitch sets of 18mm images into wide or tall panoramas. Better yet, zoom to 22mm and set aperture to f/8 to optimize sharpness on the Nikon 18-200mm VR lens. Check lens reviews or test it yourself to find the sharpest zoom and aperture settings for your specific lens. If in doubt, remember f/8 is great! (typically when using a camera with an APS-C or 35mm size sensor)

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LIGHT TRAVEL book teaches, inspires outdoor photography

“Light Travel: Photography on the Go” by Tom Dempsey teaches and inspires outdoor photography by revealing the magic of portable digital cameras. The book tells my story of how a switch from film to digital cameras inspired new creativity.

Gift this dream book to anyone who likes travel or cameras.  Learn how to pick a camera, compose and edit, and capture evocative images worldwide.

Currently available for $14 as a digital file in PDF format: ask me to email an invoice for easy payment by credit card. [My printed edition has only a few copies left, reserved for my classroom students.]

 


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

What readers say:

  • “I purchased your great book and I’ve read it cover to cover. It’s just wonderful.  Congratulations.  Those pictures!  …the locales delighted me. It’s just lovely.” — Scott W. of Seattle, WA.
  • “Dad said to tell you that your book has the best technical information he’s seen.  And your photos are beautiful….  He says it’s an amazing book, a great book, and he likes the detail you go into.  He says it would be a great text book.” — Nancy & Bill Rauhauser.
  • “Wanted to let you know I received your book today.  I am so thrilled with it .   I would like to thank you and Carol for sharing your talents  and the wonderful photo journal of your travels.   I just purchased my first Digital SLR camera (Rebel Xsi & the Canon ef-s 18-200 lens) and have much to learn.  I look forward to reading your book and applying (I hope) all the wonderful information you have shared on  photography.” — Sherry H.

Photoseek Publishing, ISBN #978-0-578-03918-3

Compare Pentax K20D, Nikon D90, D60

Pentax K20D is good for Nepal trekking, but Nikon D90 mounts 18-200 VR lens and D60 is lighter. Lens angle of view factor.

Question from Brian to tom @ photoseek.com, September 2008

…I will be going on a trek to the Everest region in spring of 2009.  I am really excited about the trip.  I have been thinking about adding on the Gokyo Lakes trek also.  This is how I happened across your web site.  Your images are truly incredible.  BY FAR the best I have seen.  So, thanks for your site!  Your images have convinced me to add on the Gokyo Lakes trek to the Everest Base Camp trek.  After all, when will be the next time I will have this opportunity?  The web is a pretty amazing creation isn’t it?  I am looking forward to the trip.  I will have to buy a new camera for it.  I have been using an old Pentax PZ-1p for a long time.  I am looking at the Pentax D20 which operates on double A batteries as opposed to Lithium cells.  Do you have an opinion on that?  I guess I think it would be easier to carry around a lot of double A instead of trying to charge or replace the Li cells.  I have about 4 lens but for ease I am thinking of 28-90mm and 100-300mm.  These lenses are not that fast so maybe the 50 mm 1.4 lens.  Thanks again for your art, it is breathtaking and inspirational (heck, it has convinced me to do an add on trek!)  Have a great weekend, Brian — Friday Sept 26, 2008

Tom Dempsey answers

Hi Brian: the view from the peak of Gokyo Ri in Nepal is very spectacular and worth the effort!  Annapurna Sanctuary was also spectacular and actually more enjoyable due to lower altitude (only 14,000 ft) and fewer days on the trail.

Nepal Trekking Tip: I recommend wearing a scarf over your mouth to keep out dust and better hydrate each breath in the high altitude air, to reduce the “Khumbu cough” that nearly everyone experiences above 10,000 feet elevation..

Here is a full review of the Pentax K20D, where dpreview.com gives their highest rating “Highly Recommended”:

  • Read the detailed review of Pentax K20D: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/pentaxk20d/
  • “Robust body with dust and weather seals, high build quality.”
  • Dust reduction by anti-static coating and optional sensor ‘shake’. Dust alert makes sensor cleaning simpler.
  • Not so good: “The live view mode is neither as seamless as Sony’s implementation nor as useful for tripod-based work as Olympus’s and consequently feels like a feature that has been added purely to make the camera more marketable.” (Live view is a feature new to DSLR cameras, a bonus, previously found in most compact digital cameras.)
  • The extra megapixels in the K20D (14.6 mp) don’t gain any enlargement quality advantage over the competing Canon Rebel Xsi/450D, or Nikon D90 (12 mp each).
  • For me, the biggest problem of the Pentax K20D (and Nikon D90) is the weight: body with battery: 800 grams (1.7 pounds).

If you are going to get a camera that heavy, 1.7 pounds, I recommend considering the Nikon D90 (specifications on dpreview.com) which weighs the same, has similar price, has useful live view, shoots HD movies (which the Pentax doesn’t do). For travel, consider mounting the Nikon D90 with the all-in-one wonder lens, like I use on every trip: Nikkor AF-S DX VR 18-200mm 3.5-5.6G IF-ED lens (20 ounces / 560 grams; new in 2006; about $800) which lets you hand hold images in up to 4-stops dimmer light, using Vibration Reduction (VR). No lens changing required!  I hardly ever use a tripod now, which is a big change for me from earlier cameras. Pentax doesn’t offer an equivalent high quality, image stabilized lens, so far as I have heard.

To save 8 ounces of weight, you might consider the Nikon D60 (17 ounce camera, with battery), which I currently use exclusively along with the Nikkor 18-200mm VR travel lens. I may later add a longer telephoto for better animal photography. The D60 plus 18-200mm VR lens is only 38 ounces.

For batteries, I buy enough rechargeable batteries to last the time I am away from power, like two weeks for Nepal. (11 batteries was more than enough — I only used about 6 batteries before recharging). I get about 400 shots per charge on the Nikon D60 and D40X. (Keep a spare warming in your pocket for temperatures below 45 F., and change it every ten minutes if temperatures are near freezing.)

Have a great trip!  — Tom Dempsey, photographer, Seattle, Washington

Brian’s Question: I have a 28-90 (42-135 digital equivalent) that I use most of the time.  On a trip like this, do you think additional zoom capability is necessary? or is 135mm enough?  Could always swap out with a 100-300mm, but like yourself I am a minimalist and on the trip I would rather not worry too much about camera equipment and having to deal with filters (UV and polarizer only)…

Tom Answers: I would definitely bring more zoom power on this trip of a lifetime to Nepal. (I rarely used polarizer in Nepal, because at high altitude the polarized sky turns too black, and it flattens the image appearance too much.)

Brian’s Question: Regarding an 18-55mm lens sold with a camera kit, is that a real 18-55 or is it a 27-83mm based on the conversion? Also, are the available lenses designed to focus light on the digital light sensor for digital SLR, and not film emulsion?  Are our older lens that we used for film less “effective” when mounted on a DSLR because they have not been designed for a sensor rather film?

Tom Answers: Many photographers like using the heavier conventional lenses on their APS-C cameras, because they save money, and they only use the sweet spot in the center of the lens, for sharp, undistorted images. The newer lenses “designed for digital” “or designed for APS-C” usually capture equal quality images, with less weight and bulk. In my opinion, using either the old or new lenses, the latest APS-C DSLR cameras capture much better quality than scanning 35mm film. Please confirm quality differences with specific lens reviews:

The sensor size determines the angle of view conversion factor (to give you the equivalent angle of view of a film camera lens shooting 35mm size film). APS-C size cameras have a sensor about 24×16 mm, such as the Pentax K200 or K100 (or Nikon D60 or Canon digital Rebel). Divide 35mm by 24mm and you get about a 1.5x angle of view conversion (or some call it focal Length Multiplier; or others call it a field of view crop factor), when using 35mm film camera (“full frame”) lenses on an APS-C sensor camera. Good explanation:

http://www.dpreview.com/learn/?/Glossary/Optical/Focal_Length_Multiplier_01.htm

If you are accustomed to 35mm film terminology, when you buy a digital APS-C camera coming with a lens labeled as a 18-55mm real focal length, then you can know that it captures an angle of view equivalent to a 27-83mm lens on a “conventional” film camera (multiply by 1.5x). Most digital SLRs can use conventional 35mm lenses. But such lenses are designed to create an image circle that covers a 35mm film frame and are therefore larger and heavier than necessary for sensors which are smaller than a 35mm film frame. ‘Digital’ lenses (such as Canon EF-S lenses, Nikon DX Lenses, Olympus 4/3″ System) are lighter because their image circles only cover the sensor area.”

Pentax K20d first impressions

Brian’s followup January 13, 2009 to Tom Dempsey:

Well, I received the Pentax k20d from B and H last week.  I spent about three days with the manual and playing with the menus, custom functions and in general screwing around with the camera to get familiar with it.  It is quite similar to the Pentax PZ-1p that I have used for years.  This camera is well built, solid feel in my hands.  Has plenty of features that I will make use of while not bogged down with complicated functions of a pro camera.  The camera functions well mechanically and the image stabilization works well.  All in all, a great camera at a fantastic price.  If I used Canon or Nikon prior to this I would stay with those brands but as a Pentax user, the K20d delivers the goods to the market it was designed for.

Nikon D60 upgrades D40X

In August 2008, I upgraded to the Nikon D60 from Nikon D40X digital SLR camera (DSLR). The D60 thankfully introduces a good sensor dust-removal system, plus Vibration Reduction (VR) kit lenses (good for resale). The previous model Nikon D40X (used since May 2007) required tediously correction of dust spots in a photo editor. To be fair in retrospect, correcting dust and scratches was much worse with scanned slide film!

By the way, the Nikon D90 (new in October 2008) offers superior resolution with 12 megapixel sensor, a 920,000-pixel 3-inch LCD with live view, and 1280 x 720 (720p) movie support 24fps with mono sound, but its 26 ounce body is heavier than the 18 ounce D60 or D40X. One appreciates lighter weight cameras when trekking all day with a camera bag. When combined with the all-in-one Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens (20 ounces), the Nikon D60 (or D40X) offers the best 2008 quality for the weight for active travelers — camera and lens together weigh only 38 ounces.

[ I have upgraded cameras since this article was posted. Click here for Tom’s latest camera recommendations. Click here for my personal photo gear history. ]

Dynamic range

Nikon’s new Active D-Lighting feature in the Nikon D60 (and D300) only improves dynamic range of JPEG shots, and has no effect on raw files. Better dynamic range captures more detail simultaneously in both bright and dark parts of images. If you shoot any JPEG files, be sure to use Active D-Lighting (although it delays preview of your latest shot by 2 seconds; and delays the next shot after a quick burst of four).

However, if you only shoot raw files like I do, Nikon’s Active D-Lighting is useless and slows performance, so leave it disabled.

Canon offers a superior dynamic range feature helping both raw and JPEG, called “Highlight Tone Priority” mode, new in the Canon EOS 40D and Rebel XSi. The Canon Rebel XSi is one of the best lightweight cameras for travel, similar to the Nikon D60 or D40X.

Raw is better than JPEG

Raw gives you several extra stops of dynamic range versus normal JPEG files on the latest DSLR cameras. Raw also extends the dynamic range of advanced non-SLR compact cameras such as the Canon G9, though by half as much versus a DSLR, due to a smaller sensor. If you need to edit shots after shooting as I do, shooting raw gives much better quality than JPEG, especially to preserve details in bright highlights, and to change white balance. To get the most out of every image, I recommend using a good raw editor such as “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom version 2.0”:

Adobe Lightroom expedites photographic work flow

I love Adobe Lightroom (currently selling for $299, or $99 upgrade; or save about 50% with academic discount), which elegantly organizes images, and drastically reduces my time spent in Adobe Photoshop. My photo editing is now quicker than ever from download to edit to output. The excellent upgrade from Lightroom version 1.4 to 2.0 thankfully adds graduated filters, localized editing brushes, and a quicker interface to Photoshop such as for Photomerge, stitching panoramas. It easily and automatically exports image files to handsome web pages, or to files of any size, such as for e-mail or for Microsoft Powerpoint presentations.

More details: Adobe Lightroom automatically outputs to standard sRGB color space (or Adobe RGB if desired), while working internally with the broader color space of Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB. Adobe Lightroom smartly stores its non-destructive editing commands and labels in a powerful database (and in .XMP sidecar files for raw), and is compatible with JPG, TIF, most raw and .XMP files. If you buy a new camera with raw, check if the latest Lightroom update has added support for its raw files — for example, Adobe Lightroom version 1.4 added support for the Nikon D60 camera, and version 1.1 added Nikon D40X.

BEST TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS 300mm+ for wildlife: Sony RX10 III vs APS-C, 4/3 cameras

How well can travel cameras magnify distant birds for a given weight and price? For serious wildlife photography on a budget, nothing beats Sony RX10 III:

Sony RX10 III camera

The versatile Sony RX10 III weather-sealed camera has a breathtaking 25x zoom 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 lens.

  • $1600: 37 oz for 24-600mm equivalent f/2.4-4 zoom lens on 1″-Type sensor: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III (buy at Amazon) is now my ultimate travel camera (weighing just 37 ounces including battery & card; plus adding 5 oz for strap, lens filter, cap & hood makes 42 oz). This compact camera includes a weather-sealed, bright f/2.4-4 lens with incredible 25x zoom, sharp across the frame, from wide angle to wildlife telephoto. Its stacked Exmor RS CMOS backside illumination BSI 1-inch-size sensor technology plus a big 72mm-diameter lens help it rival a flagship APS-C system, even in dim light: read my RX10 III review. [Capturing great depth of focus, the lens has a “full-frame-equivalent” brightest aperture of f/6.5 at wide angle to f/10.8 starting at 100mm equiv.]

The following rival systems can potentially capture higher quality using a larger sensor and larger-diameter glass to collect more light, but are much heavier, pricier and require swapping out the bulkier telephoto to reach normal angles of view with yet another lens:

  1. $2900: 52 oz for 200-800mm equivalent zoom lens mounted on Micro Four Thirds sensor:
    Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm F4-6.3 Power OIS lens (2016, 35 oz, 72mm filter size, 3.3 x 6.8″) mounted on Panasonic DMC-GX8 camera (2015, 17.1 oz body, 20mp), both weather-sealed. This Micro 4/3 sensor has twice the light-gathering area compared to 1-inch type (but RX10 III somewhat compensates with 1″ sensor with a superior stacked Exmor RS CMOS backside illumination BSI technology, not found in Panasonic GX8’s 4/3-Type sensor; and their lenses have equal 72mm diameter). This “slower” Panasonic lens opens as bright as f/4 down to about f/5.6 within the overlapping range 200-600mm equivalent of Sony RX10 III, which has a faster f/4 constant real aperture, up to a full stop brighter at 600mm, possibly equalizing image quality. [This Panasonic lens has a “full-frame-equivalent” brightest aperture of f/8 at 200mm equivalent and f/12.6 at 800mm, meaning that the first half of its zoom can achieve shallower depth of focus than RX10 III.]
  2. $1750: 83 oz for 225-900mm equivalent lens on mirrorless camera with APS-C sensor:
    Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens for Canon EF (2015, 68 ounces, 4.1 x 10.2″, 95mm filter size), mounted on Sigma Mount Converter MC-11 for Canon SGV lenses for Sony E (2016, ~3 oz, $250, for full stabilization and autofocus of Sigma’s Canon-mount lenses onto Sony E-Mount bodies) on Sony A6000 camera (2014, 12 oz body) or A6300. This lens may be the best telephoto quality & reach for the money, if you don’t mind bulky lens-swapping. Or on Nikon:

  3. $8300-8900: 153 oz for professional 750mm equivalent lens on APS-C sensor:
    Nikon 500mm f/4G ED AF-S Vibration Reduction (VR II) Nikkor Lens (137 oz, 5.5 x 15.4″) mounted on Nikon D3300 (2014, 16 oz). Upgrading to Nikon D5500 (2015, 15 oz) adds $100. A new lens upgrade costs $2000 more: Nikon 500mm AF-S NIKKOR f/4E FL ED VR Lens (2015, 109 oz, 5.51 x 15.24″). [This lens has a “full-frame-equivalent” brightest aperture of f/6 at 750mm equivalent, which gives it the shallowest depth of focus on this list; but it ties with the “actual” f/4 relative aperture brightness of RX10 III.]

    • Professional lenses like this are a heavy, bulky, and costly commitment for travelers. Further below, read more about wildlife telephoto lenses for DSLR cameras, including acronyms explained (for image stabilization, ultrasonic focusing motors, and APS-C-only optimization) from major brands (Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron, Sony).
Chilean Flamingo, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle

Sony RX10 III is sharp across the frame throughout its breathtaking 25x zoom, including at maximum telephoto 220mm (600mm equivalent) shown above. Sections of the Chilean Flamingo are shown at 100% pixel view. Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA.

The following good value compact wildlife cameras are cheaper than Sony RX10 III and likewise don’t interchange lenses:

  1. $1200: 33 oz for 24-480mm equivalent 20x zoom on 1″-Type sensor: Panasonic FZ2500 (2016, 20mp) with f/2.8–4.5 lens, fully articulated LCD with touchscreen, great viewfinder magnification, best video specs (ND filter, Cine/UHD 4K). But FZ2500’s lens collects a half stop less light, slightly lowering image quality; its telephoto doesn’t reach long enough for birders; and its CIPA battery life of 350 shots is shorter than RX10III’s 420 shots. (FZ2500 is FZ2000 in some markets.)
  2. $900: 29 oz for 25-400mm equivalent 16x zoom lens on 1″-Type sensor: Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ1000 camera (2014, 20mp) with f/2.8-4 lens, fast autofocus, fully articulated LCD. Good quality lets you crop down from 20mp to digitally extend telephoto reach.
  3. $600: 32 oz for 24–2000mm equivalent 83x zoom lens on 1/2.3″ sensor: Nikon Coolpix P900 (2015, 16mp). The tiny 1/2.3″ sensor should beat cell phone quality, suitable for web sharing or small prints, though requires bright outdoor light.
  4. $400: 21 oz for 24-1200mm equivalent 50x zoom lens on 1/2.3″ sensor: Olympus SP-100 camera (2014, 16mp, 1 cm close focus, nice 920k dot EVF): innovative On-Camera Dot Sight helps track distant birds or moving subjects.

See Tom Dempsey’s latest camera recommendations. Buy at Amazon.com product links on this page to support my work.

More Information

No longer is a DSLR camera with a mirror required for excellent birding and wildlife photography with quick autofocus. The following compact camera with excellent 20-megapixel 1″-Type sensor has a high-quality 25x zoom lens which reaches 600mm equivalent birding territory:

Or for Sony A6300, A6000, NEX-6, and NEX-7 mirrorless E-mount cameras (read article):

Cropping 24 megapixels can beat better lens on older 12mp camera

In 2012, cropping my 24-megapixel Sony NEX-7 with all-in-one 18-200mm lens handily beat the real resolution formerly obtained from 70 to 250mm on Nikon’s good 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G VR lens used on my 12mp D5000 DSLR camera. But upgrading to a 24mp Nikon D3200 camera (2012) or Nikon D3300 camera (2014, 16 oz) restores the advantage of Nikon VR 70-300mm lens. In 2016 came the excellent Sony FE 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G OSS lens (30 oz, SEL70300G), great for use on Sony A6300 making 105-450mm equivalent. But I prefer the all-in-one 25x zoom Sony RX10 III, introduced around the same time.

However, because the DSLR legacy still runs strongly among professional photographers, the remainder of this article discusses suitable DSLR telephoto lenses…

Wildlife telephoto lenses for DSLR (mirror) cameras

DSLR wildlife telephoto lenses optimal for on-the-go travelers

An optimally “lightweight” wildlife lens for Nikon DSLRs is Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G ED-IF lens (26 oz, 105-450mm angle of view equivalent), which resolves detail throughout its range 5 to 20% sharper (for bigger prints) than the versatile Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom (20 oz, 3 x 3.8″, 2009) travel lens. Alternatives:

A good DSLR camera is Sony Alpha SLT-A65V camera (buy at Amazon.com) (2012, 22 oz body with SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization) with good travel lens Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 ZA DT lens for Sony Alpha (24-120mm equiv, 16 oz). For wildlife and sports, add an excellent Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM G A-mount lens. Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology speeds past very slow Live View autofocus of rival Nikon and Canon DSLRs (except the fast Canon 70D). The tilt/swivel 3.0-inch LCD aids hand-held macro and candid travel shots at arms length. Nikon or Canon lens-based image stabilization may beat Sony’s sensor-shift SteadyShot by up to a full stop of slower shutter speed.

For sharper handheld shots, get optical image stabilization built into the lens (Nikon VR, Canon IS) or body (Sony SteadyShot INSIDE). Superior lenses having fast f4 or f/2.8 brightest aperture excel for indoor action but are a heavy burden when traveling.

Newer DSLR lenses optimized for digital

Today, many lenses sold for DSLR cameras are still the older, heavier ones designed for full frame (35mm film size) cameras. By upgrading to newer lenses that are “Optimized For Digital APS-C”, you can save bulk and weight and enjoy comparable image quality with less vignetting.

A few newer lenses are “designed for APS-C only” and 250mm or longer, useful for a wide range of subjects including wildlife shots:

  • Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens (29 oz, 3.3 x 4.7″, 2012)
  • Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS (Image Stabilization): 2.8 x 4.3 in (70 x 108mm), 13.8 oz (390g). Canon Rebel APS-C crop factor of 1.6 gives it a field of view equivalent to a 88-400mm lens on 135 film.
  • Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens for Nikon (2014, 19 oz) 18.8x zoom with splash-proof design for cameras with APS-C sensor, for Nikon F-mount, Canon EF-mount, or Sony A-mount.
  • Tamron Di II VC AF 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO (2008, Model B003)
    • 15x zoom lens for Canon mount and AF motor supporting Nikon.
    • Lightweight 19.4 oz (550g), compact 101mm × 80mm (3.8″ × 3.1″).
    • Di-II is Tamron’s lighter weight design exclusively for APS-C sensors.
    • Minimum focus distance 19.3 inches throughout. Magnification ratio 1:3.5 at 270mm (74 x 49 mm coverage).
    • Tamron claims image sharpness similar to competitors (18-200mm Canon IS, Nikon VR, Sigma OS lenses) at same light weight, while zooming more, 15x versus 11x. Canon 18-200mm IS stabilizes images best of the bunch. Canon’s crop factor 1.6 makes 18-270mm equivalent to 29-432mm. Nikon’s 1.5 crop factor makes a 27-405mm equivalent.
    • I didn’t like the Tamron 18-270mm VC lens (returned) and instead upgraded to Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens. The Nikon 18-200 “VR I” focused more reliably in low indoors light on a tripod and cropping its 200mm images beat Tamron’s 270mm. The Tamron autofocuses slower and lens creeps badly when pointed up or down.
      • Avoid older version which lacks VC: Tamron Di-II AF 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical (IF) Macro. 430g (15.2oz).

Brand terminology for image stabilization, APS-C-optimization, and fast ultrasonic focusing motors

Lighten your load by shopping for the new, smaller lens formats DX, EF-S, DC and Di IIdesigned for digital for APS-C size sensor cameras only:

  • Nikon/Nikkor DX format lenses for APS-C only (with “VR, Vibration Reduction” desired)
    • Nikon DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens (29 oz, 3.3 x 4.7″, 2012) all-in-one travel lens
    • Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens (new in 2006 with VR I) is great for travel because its size and weight are optimized for Nikon cameras with DX sensors (APS-C size, as in Nikon D3300, D3200, D3100, D5100, D60, & D40X cameras). The DX lens design eliminates the extra glass which would have been required to cover a full 35mm size frame. Nikon DX format cameras have a “field of view crop factor” of 1.5, so this lens labeled 18-200mm can be thought of as a 27-300mm in 135 film terms.
  • Canon EF-S lenses for APS-C only (with “IS, Image Stabilization” desired)
  • Sigma DC lenses for APS-C only (with “OS, Optical Stabilization” desired)
  • Tamron Di II lenses for APS-C only (with “VC, Vibration Compensation” desired).
  • Note: Because the above DX, EF-S, DC and Di II lenses are designed for cameras with APS-C size sensor only, they will cause vignetting (darkened corners) at the wide angle end of their zoom if used on “full frame sensor” SLR cameras, such as on the expensive Nikon D3 (FX format), Nikon D700, Canon EOS 5D, or pricier Canon EOS 1D camera.
  • For sharper handheld shooting in significantly dimmer lighting situations without a tripod, insist on lenses designed with image stabilization (VR, IS, OS or VC above). By eliminating much time formerly spent setting up a tripod, I can better keep pace with non-photographers on group treks.
    • Note that the Sony Alpha (A-series) builds the image stabilization into the camera body with sensor-shift technology, which is a fine idea, except that comparable Nikon D60 and Canon Rebel cameras of 2009 gain back Sony’s handheld advantage through lower noise at a higher ISO settings. Then using a Nikon VR or Canon IS lens beats Sony’s handheld low light performance.
  • Also look for the fastest focusing lenses with ultrasonic motors to capture flighty animals, a feature branded as follows:
    • Canon – USM, UltraSonic Motor
    • Nikon – SWM, Silent Wave Motor
    • Sigma – HSM, Hyper Sonic Motor
    • Tamron – PZD, Piezo Drive autofocus system powered by a fast and quiet standing-wave ultrasonic motor
    • Olympus – SWD, Supersonic Wave Drive
    • Panasonic – XSM, Extra Silent Motor
    • Pentax – SDM, Supersonic Drive Motor
    • Sony & Minolta – SSM, SuperSonic Motor
  • The quality of new lenses usually equals or exceeds comparable past models.

Wildlife and birding lenses for APS-C cameras

For serious photography of wildlife or birds using an an APS-C size sensor camera, use telephoto lens labeled at least 300mm (angle of view equivalent to 450mm lens on 135 film or 35mm sensor). If your telephoto lens falls short of this, then you can crop to enlarge, at the cost of fuzzier images due to lowered resolution. A maximum aperture of f/5.6 or f/6.3 saves money and weight, yet can take decent images in good daylight (usually sharpest if stopped down one or two stops from wide open). Professional wildlife and bird photographers can sharpen image quality with heavier, more expensive lenses with f/4 or f/2.8 brightest aperture, in a 500mm or longer conventional lens (equivalent in terms of 135 film or 35mm sensor), possibly using a full frame 35mm-sensor camera.

CROP FACTOR: Cameras with APS-C size sensors have an “angle of view crop factor” that extends the telephoto by 1.5x for Nikon (or 1.6x for Canon) cameras, when compared to using the same lens on 135 film or 35mm sensor. For example, a favorite travel lens labeled “18-200mm” focal length has the angle of view of a “27-300mm” in terms of 135 film or 35mm sensor, on a Nikon DX format camera such as the Nikon D5100, D5000, D3300, or D60. A Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Zoom Lens makes a great all-around travel lens, with a big 11x zoom that minimizes lens changes so that you don’t miss a shot. However, this 200mm telephoto is too short for serious wildlife photo enlargements, unless you are satisfied with web display or small 4×6 prints of animals. A Nikon DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens would better reach distant birds.
An iridescent blue, orange and green Danfe (or Danphe) Pheasant, the national bird of Nepal, Namche Bazaar in Sagarmatha National Park.

Photo: In Sagarmatha National Park near Mount Everest, that flash of iridescent blue, orange and green is a Danfe or Danphe Pheasant, the national bird of Nepal. Telephoto tips: 

  1. On APS-C size sensor cameras (such as Nikon DX format), for bigger prints of wildlife or birds, use a lens focal length of at least 300mm (which has an angle of view equivalent to a 450mm lens on 135 film or a 35mm-size sensor, a diagonally field of view of 8 degrees & 15 minutes). 
  2. An editor can act as a digital zoom: In Adobe Lightroom editor, I cropped to 10% of the original image to make an acceptable 4×6-inch bird print (but any larger print would look fuzzy at reading distance). The pheasant, 70 feet away in fog, would have been sharper if I had used a telephoto longer than 200mm on my APS-C sensor camera.
    [
    2007 photo: Nikon D40X DSLR, 10mp 3872 x 2592, cropped to 858 x 1002 pixels; published in “Light Travel: Photography on the Go” book by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. ]

Full-frame conventional lenses are bigger and heavier

The expensive “full frame” DSLR cameras (such as Nikon D600 camera, Nikon D700, or Nikon D3 with FX format; Canon EOS 6D, 5D or pricier Canon EOS 1D) require the conventional lens size which focuses sharply to the area of 35mm film, about 36 x 24 mm. Many new lenses are “optimized for digital” to work with both conventional and APS-C size sensors, to reduce vignetting (darkening at corners). For example, Sigma brand lenses labelled DG and Tamron Di lenses are the conventional size, optimized for both full frame and APS-C sensor cameras (though sometimes working better for one particular format).

Using these large, conventional lenses on APS-C size cameras can have some plus and minuses:

  • Advantages of conventional size lenses: The small APS-C size sensor (measuring about 22 x 15 mm) uses just the central area of the conventional 35mm lens, or the “sweet spot”, where images are usually sharpest, with lowest distortion (by not using the outside edges). Also, older lenses may be cheaper, easier to obtain, or already owned in your kit. And if you upgrade from an APS-C camera to a full frame DSLR, the conventional lens may stay compatible.
  • Disadvantages: Conventional size lenses are bigger and heavier (versus the newer Nikon DX, Canon EF-S, Sigma DC, and Tamron Di II lenses “for APS-C size sensor cameras only”), and most people won’t eke an advantage from conventional lenses versus the APS-C-only lenses.

In the lens brand list below, Popular Photography magazine October 2008 rates the following excellent travel lenses as roughly equal in image quality: Nikon 70-300mm 4.5-5.6G VR (which I’ve enjoyed using); Canon 70-300mm DO IS USM; and Sigma 120-400mm 4.5-5.6DG APO OS HSM AF:

Canon full-frame (EF-mount) conventional lenses with IS (Image Stabilization) for wildlife & travel images:

  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM. 3.2 x 3.9 in., 25.4 oz (82.4 x 99.9 mm, 720g), makes a great extension to the IS kit lens sold with the Canon EOS 450D / Rebel XSi
  • Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens (new December 2014, 55.3 oz) 3.7 x 7.6″, 77mm filter, 4 stops image stabilization, L-series weather resistance, reduced ghosting and flaring, 3.2-foot closest focus, new Rotation-Type Zoom Ring prevents dust sucking.
    • 1998 version: Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens. 48.0 oz (1380g), 3.6 x 7.4″ (92 x 189mm), 77mm filter, 1.5 stops image stabilization, 6.5 feet closest focus, push-pull zoom (sucks dust)
  • plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture

Nikon/Nikkor full frame (F Mount) conventional lenses with VR (highly desirable Vibration Reduction) for wildlife & travel photography, in order of increasing price:

  • Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G ED-IF lens (equivalent to 105-450mm angle of view in terms of 135 film). 26 ounces; 5.6″ length; 4.9 foot minimum focus. Compatible with full frame Nikon D3 DSLR. Lens size and price point attract sports and wildlife/birder photographers. Nikkor 70-300mm is sharper than Nikkor 18-200mm VR.
  • Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED Autofocus VR Zoom Nikkor Lens: (120-600mm equivalent angle of view when used on a Nikon DX mount/APS-C camera) 3.6 x 6.7 inches; 48.0 oz (1360 g). Ken Rockwell says “This lens is a miracle…to shoot still subjects with long exposures without needing a tripod…but for sports you may want the 70-300 AF-S VR.” One reader complained that this lens “does not have AF-S, so I found the focusing too slow for moving birds…and it didn’t bring birds in close enough”.
  • Nikkor AF-S VR Zoom 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED lens: 4.9 x 14.4 inches; 115.5 oz (3275 g). One of my readers was “impressed with the speed of its AF and the quality of the pictures, but the lens is awfully large and heavy”. About $5500.
  • Nikon 500mm f/4G ED AF-S Vibration Reduction (VR II) Nikkor Lens: 5.5 x 15.4 inches; 137 oz/8.54 pounds.
  • plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture

Sony Alpha DSLR full frame conventional lenses:

  • Sony SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization (the sensor-shift built into Sony Alpha DSLR camera bodies) is a half or full stop of shutter speed worse than Nikon or Canon lens-based image stabilization, but Sony lenses may cost less for similar quality.
  • Sony A-mount 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 SSM G (SAL-70300G) lens for Alpha DSLR (27 oz/760g), 1.2m minimum focus distance, filter size 62mm. Tip: for sharpest images, set aperture at f/8 to f/11 at zoom settings 70 to 300mm.
  • Sony A-mount 70-400mm F4-5.6 G SSM II lens (53 oz/3.3 lb/1500g, 3.7 x 7.7 inches, SAL-70400G2, 2013) (or SAL-70400G lensboth for Alpha DSLRs) can be adapted onto a NEX camera using Sony LA-EA2 mount adaptor (7 oz, with translucent mirror for fast phase detection autofocus) but lacks OSS, thereby limiting hand-held photography and increasing tripod usage. Minimum focus distance 1.5m, filter size 77mm. This SAL-70400G2 SSM II lens is very sharp wide open at 400mm, has 4x faster autofocus, less flare/ghosting, and higher contrast images than previous version. As with comparable rival lenses, they have poor bokeh >250mm compared to prime lenses.

By the way, I don’t recommend using Sony A-mount lenses (such as 70-300mm or -400mm) on E-mount bodies (such as A6300, A6000 or NEX). Designed for in-body stabilization for Sony Alpha DSLRs, A-mount lenses all lack OSS (thereby requiring more tripod use on E-mount bodies). A-mount lenses also require a hefty A-mount adapter on E-mount bodies:

  • Sony LA-EA2 adaptor (7 oz, with translucent mirror for fast phase detection autofocus)
  • Sony LA-EA1 adapter (with Manual focus only, NO AUTOFOCUS).
  • You’d be better off using E-mount lenses on Sony A6300, A6000 or NEX.

Tamron and Sigma make good value full-frame conventional zoom lenses suitable for shooting birds and wildlife plus a wide range of other subjects, fitting many different brand camera bodies:

  • Tamron 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD Zoom Lens (2014, 19 oz) for Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Sony Alpha mounts: attractive for wildlife/travel photography with ultrasonic PZD motor. Tamron “Di” lens designed for both full frame and APS-C sensor cameras. 42-450mm equivalent lens on Nikon DX format cameras (APS-C with 1.5x field of view multiplier), where the angle of view zooms from 75°23′ to 8°15′. Close focus 19 inches. Internal Focus (IF).
  • Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD (2014, 69 oz/4.30 lb/1951 g, 4.2 x 10.2″) for Canon EF mount, Nikon F mount, and Sony Alpha A-mount: 225-900mm equivalent on APS-C. UltraSonic Drive autofocus motor. Shoot at around f/8 for sharpest results (given sufficient tripod use and/or shutter speed). Excellent dollar value. Comparisons:
    • The 2008 Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM is no sharper at 500mm than the Tamron is at 600mm.
    • This Tamron 150-600mm matches image quality at half the price of Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR.
    • The Tamron’s modern optics easily beat the 1999 Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM.
  • Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD Macro lens. 3.0 x 4.6 in. 435g (15.3 oz). Not image stabilized.
  • Tamron SP AF200-500mm F/5-6.3 Di LD (IF) lens. 3.7 x 8.9 in. 1237g (43.6 oz). Not image stabilized.

The following full-frame conventional zoom lenses by Sigma are a good price-value, fitting several different brand camera bodies:

  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens (2015, 68 ounces, 4.1 x 10.2 in). Note: Sigma’s heavier, professional 150-600mm Sports version (2015, 101 ounces, 11.5-inches long) is splash and dust-resistant, focuses as close as 102-inches, and has 24 elements in 16 groups.
  • Sigma APO 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM lens (2008, 67.4 oz, 3.7 in. x 9.9 in.) filter diameter 86mm.
  • Sigma APO 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM lens: (61.7 oz/1750g, 3.6 in. x 8 in)
  • Sigma APO 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG OS lens: Optical Stabilization helps by about 2 stops or so. Does not have HSM and may be slow to focus. 1750g/61.9 oz, 3.7 x 7.6 in.
  • Sigma APO 50-500mm F4-6.3 EX DG HSM lens: 1,840g/64.9 oz; 3.7 in. x 8.6 in. It has no optical stabilization; but good DSLR cameras can compensate by a few stops using high ISO settings.
  • plus bigger professional lenses with wider maximum aperture.
  • Sigma glossary of terms: DG = Sigma’s conventional full-size lens. In the future, look for newer, smaller 300mm and longer SigmaDC” lenses for APS-C only. OS = Optical Stabilization, very desireable. HSM = Hyper Sonic Motor for quiet and high-speed AF (Auto Focus), very desirable.

Tokina full-frame conventional lens for wildlife:

  • Tokina 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 ATX 840 AF D: Angle of view 29° 50’ to 6°13’ on APS-C camera; Minimum focus distance 2.5m (8.2 ft.); dimensions 3.1 in. (79mm) X 136.5 mm (5.4in.); 1020 g (35.9 oz); introduced June 2006, for Canon EOS and Nikon D. Unfortunately no image stabilization.

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TELEPHOTO TIPS: How to avoid out-of-focus shots on any camera

  • Make sure image stabilization (IS, VR, OS, VC, or OIS) is turned on for all hand held shots (especially when using telephoto), to counteract blurring due to hand shake at slower shutter speeds.
  • Focus will be most difficult towards longest telephoto end of the zoom, due to hand shake and lens limitations, especially in low light. At 400mm using Canon IS or Nikon VR on an APS-C sensor, shoot at about 1/125th second or faster for sharper shots. For APS-C cameras in general, divide the lens mm by two, and the inverse is near the slowest possible sharp shutter speed when image stabilization is turned on. Raising ISO will help achieve faster shutter speeds.
  • Most DSLR lenses are sharpest stopped down by one or two stops from wide open: f/8 is easiest to remember as a good optimum that reduces the chromatic aberrations of wide open and prevents the light diffraction of small openings at high aperture numbers such as f/22.
  • Automatic multi-point focus usually hunts for the closest, brightest object, and is often not what you wanted to focus on, but can react faster than your fingers for capturing wildlife, sports, and action.
  • For shooting non-moving subjects on most cameras, a single AF point in the center (not multi point automatic) is more accurate. Lock focus, recompose, then release the shutter. On many cameras, when using single AF point, it’s easy to accidently press the “AF point selection” off center or forget that it’s off center, focusing on a location different than you thought. Some of the heavier, pricier DSLR models can lock AF point selection to avoid the common problem.

Terminology and metric conversions

  • oz = ounces. Above camera weights in ounces (oz) include battery and memory card.
  • g = grams. Multiple ounces by 28.35 to get grams.
  • sec = second.
  • mm = millimeters. A centimeter (cm) equals 10 millimeters. Multiply centimeters (cm) by 0.3937 to get inches.
  • ILC = Interchangeable Lens Compact = “midsize mirrorless camera” term used above
  • DSLR = Digital Single Lens Reflex = a traditional camera where an optical viewfinder uses a mirror to see through the interchangeable lens.
  • EVF = Electronic Viewfinder.
  • LCD = Liquid Crystal Display.
    • OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) beats an LCD in dynamic range from darkest to brightest and consumes less power.
  • equivalent lens = To compare lenses on cameras having different sensor sizes, equiv or equivalent lens refers to what would be the lens focal length (measured in mm or millimeters) that would give the same angle of view on a “full frame35mm-size sensor (or 35mm film camera, using 135 film cartridge).
    • Compared lenses are “equivalent” only in terms of angle of view. (To determine sharpness or quality, read lens reviews which analyze at 100% pixel views.)
    • Crop factor” = how many times smaller is the diagonal measurement of a small sensor than a “full frame” 35-mm size sensor. For example, the 1.5x crop factor for Nikon DX format (APS-C size sensor) makes a lens labeled 18-200mm to be equivalent in angle of view to a 27-300mm focal length lens used on a 35mm film camera. The 2x crop factor for Micro Four Thirds sensors makes a lens labeled 14-140mm to be equivalent in angle of view to a 28-280mm lens used on a 35mm film camera.
  • Superzoom lenses
    • In 2013, superzoom often refers to lenses of about 15x zoom range or larger. Steady quality improvements in the resolving power of sensors has made possible superzoom cameras in ever smaller sizes. As superzoom range increases, laws of physics require lenses to focus upon smaller sensors (light detectors) or else to increase lens size. For a given level (most recent year) of technological advancement, a camera with physically larger sensor (bigger light detecting area) should capture better quality for a given zoom lens range.
    • 10x zoom” = zoom lens telephoto divided by wide angle focal length. For example, a 14-140mm focal length zoom has a 10x zoom range (140 divided by 14). An 18-200mm zoom has an 11x zoom range (200 divided by 18).
  • equivalent” F-stop = refers to the F-stop (F-number) on a full-frame-sensor camera which has the same hole diameter as the F-stop of the camera lens being compared. The concept of “equivalent” F-stop lets you compare capabilities for creating shallow depth of focus (depth of field) on cameras with different-size sensors. Smaller-sensor cameras use shorter focal lengths for the same field of view, so at a given F-stop they have a smaller physical aperture size, meaning more depth of field (with less blur in front of and behind the focused subject). Formula: F Number (or Relative Aperture) = actual focal length of lens divided by diameter of the entrance pupil.

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USA: ALASKA

In Anchorage, Alaska, rent a recreational vehicle (RV) in late August for 1-3 weeks to experience unique Alaskan culture, glaciers, fjords, fall colors, hiking, and the northern lights. This photo-filled article gives trip itineraries, map, and book recommendations for South-Central Alaska.

Favorite images from Alaska


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Suggested Alaska itinerary

We flew Northwest Airlines from Seattle to Anchorage and rented an RV for 24 days August 15 to September 8, 2006. I also shared a rental car and backpacked inexpensively July 5-23, 2002 near Anchorage, Girdwood, Chugach Mountains, and Kenai Peninsula.

Keep your schedule flexible and listen to the latest 2-day weather forecasts. Good forecasts let us book sunny days for the spectacular ***Phillips 26-Glacier College Fjord Cruise from Whittier and ***Denali flightseeing with Talkeetnaair.com from Talkeetna. In 2006, a steady downpour washed out the Parks Highway between Anchorage and Denali for 2.5 days. By flexibly reversing our planned route and first visiting Valdez and Fairbanks, the Parks Highway was reopened by the time we looped through back to Anchorage.

Key to activity ratings:   *** Must do.   ** Do.   * Maybe if time allows

1 week in Alaska

Fly to Anchorage, rent a camper or RV, and drive for a week or more (about 600+ miles) to see everything on the Kenai Peninsula, which is a great microcosm of Alaska. Or instead of RV rental, many people enjoy the Alaska Railroad train, which connects Anchorage to Kenai Peninsula (Whittier), Denali National Park, and Fairbanks. If weather is clear, *** flightsee over the amazing glacial wilderness over Denali from Talkeetna (Talkeetnaair.com) or Anchorage Airport.

Seward Highway to Kenai Peninsula


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  • Girdwood: Visit the fun town of Girdwood (40 minute drive from Anchorage), which has a good a ski resort, nice hiking, and historic mining ruins. ** “The Bake Shop” has great pizza, fresh bread, cinnamon rolls, healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner near Alyeska Resort. Sunday Craft Market.
  • Whittier:
    • Whittier is a major cruise ship and train gateway to Anchorage. Pay a toll and drive through Whittier Tunnel (Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel), the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America (2.5 miles, one lane wide, shared with train).
    • The excellent *** Phillips 26-Glacier College Fjord Cruise departs from Whittier and traverses 145 miles through the pristine passageways of Alaska’s Prince William Sound (College & Harriman Fjords). Cruise from 1:00-5:30pm to see whales, sea lions, sea otters, Kittiwake Rookery, plus spectacular tidewater glaciers. “Catamaran with no seasickness, money back guarantee.” Price includes a good hot meal. September discount. (For comparison, from Valdez, the separate Columbia Glacier tour with Stan Stephens features a glacier that is receding and declining in scenic impact.)
    • Easily hike ** Portage Pass and Glacier, 2 to 4 miles with 700 feet gain, to see a spectacular glacier tumbling ice bergs into a lake. Turn right on a national forest road just a few hundred yards east of the Whittier Tunnel for free parking at trailhead. (If you drive the couple of miles further into Whittier, parking costs at least $5 per day.)
  • Seward:
    • ** Alaska Sealife Center gives a good introduction to coastal ecosystems.
    • *** Hike Exit Glacier, 1 to 8 miles round trip, up to 3000 feet gain. Don’t miss my favorite hike in Alaska — a well graded trail with ever-improving glacier views as you ascend. Make noise and watch for bears. Example of climate change in Alaska: From 1815-1999, Exit Glacier retreated 6549 feet, melting an average of 35 feet per year (according to www.nps.gov/kefj/).
    • ** Kenai Fjords National Park has an attractive cruise to Northwestern Fjord & Glacier. Tom cruised to the impressive Aialik Glacier in 2002, seeing whales, Steller sea lions, and bird life.
    • Camp on Seward’s waterfront for a fee, or park your RV in a free pullout overnight on the road to Exit Glacier.
  • Ninilchik & Kenai: * Russian Orthodox Churches
  • Homer, 5 hours one-way drive from Anchorage:
    • ** Wander through this artsy town at the “end of the road.” Walk beaches and tide pools from Homer or Homer Spit. Try your luck at the “Alaska Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.” Pratt Museum of Sealife covers art, natural history, native cultures, homesteading, fishing, marine ecology, and Exxon Valdez oil spill.
    • *** Kachemak Bay State Park requires a water taxi ride across Kachemak Bay to Glacier Spit.
      • ** Hike Grewinkgk Glacier & Lake: Walk 5 miles (500 feet gain), from Glacier Spit to Saddle for pick-up, or 6.5 miles (150 feet gain) round trip from Glacier Spit.
      • *** Hike Alpine Ridge Trail for views into deep glacial valleys. Day hike 5-14 miles (2000-4000 feet gain). Optionally tent near start.
      • Overnight lodging options for Kachemak Bay State Park:
        • Camp overnight at Rusty’s Lagoon.
        • Hike a short way with a backpack to camp on the beach at Glacier Lake.
        • Reserve rental cabins on Halibut Cove Lagoon and Tutka Bay. $65 peak and $50 non-peak as of 2011. Bring your own pads, sleeping bags, stove, toilet paper, lights. No electricity. Wood stove for heat.

2 to 3 weeks in Alaska

Do the above week, and add a 1200+ mile RV driving loop seeing Valdez, Fairbanks, and Denali National Park (map at bottom).


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Along the Parks Highway: ***Denali State Park
  • is closer to Anchorage than Denali National Park and gives dramatic front-lit views of Mt. McKinley/Denali from the highway or trails. Weather for best photography is often better at sunrise than at sunset.
  • Hike ***Kesugi Ridge: At Parks Highway milepost 147, camp at Byers Lake Campground, where trail starts. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2100 feet gain from Byers Lake to Tarn Point. Or loop Byers Lake. Get USGS 1:63,000 map.
  • Hike ***Little Coal Creek Trail at north end of park. Hike any distance 2 to 10+ miles for great views and pretty terrain.
Talkeetna
  • The town of Talkeetna inspired the quirky television series “Northern Exposure” (set in fictional Cicely, Alaska and filmed in Roslyn, Washington) and has a good distant view of Denali and the Alaska Range.
  • If weather is clear, don’t miss ***flightseeing over Denali from Talkeetna. Expect $195 to $300+ per person for 1 to 3 hours (2011). Try Grand Circle Denali with an exciting glacier landing (which adds ~$75). Talkeetnaair.com gave us clear bubble windows and expert feather-smooth landings. Flightseeing from Anchorage Airport adds $100.
*** Denali National Park
  • Trains and buses arrive from Anchorage, but a rental vehicle is more flexible and a camper/RV is delightful. Driving distances:
    • From Denali, driving to Valdez via Fairbanks is the same distance (489 miles) as to Valdez via Palmer.
    • Denali Park to Fairbanks (121 miles) to Valdez (368 miles)
    • Denali Park to Wasila (195 miles) to Palmer (12 miles) to Valdez (262 miles).
  • Seasonal timetablefor wildlife, mountain views, and Alaskan fall colors:
    • Best fall colors and moose watching are in late August***. Watch for the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) in the middle of the night.
    • Weather: Mt. McKinley/Denali (20,320 feet) is only visible 1 out of 3 days. Rain falls as light showers or drizzle for half the time in summer. Least cloudy time is early morning, which requires overnight tenting at Wonder Lake.
    • Photography is best on Denali National Park road in early or late daylight hours because Denali is backlit much of the afternoon. (From Denali State Park (see below), the mountain is fully front lit.)
    • In early September, moose bash antlers amongst the spruce & willow shrubs, hoping to win breeding rights, along the first 15 miles of Denali Park Road and on Horseshoe Lake Trail. At this time, temperatures are in mid-30’s to 60’s, averaging 58° F.
    • August 20 to early September display peak fall colors at Denali NP. Color varies greatly around the park and changes fast:
      • Peak #1: August 28 is the usual peak date for tundra colors/reds at >2500′ elevations. **Hike through red colored landscapes around Highway Pass/Stoney Hill and Polychrome Pass. The tundra peak color usually lasts until September 3-5, depending on elevation, wind, rain. Some color persists longer in Wonder Lake and lower Savage.
      • Peak #2: September 10 (plus or minus 3 days) is the usual color peak of golden aspen along Nenana Canyon.
    • In early September, a week after Denali park’s peak color, **Chena River State Recreation Area (east of Fairbanks) reportedly has great red tundra colors in the fall.
    • Yellow tree leaf fall colors on Kenai Peninsula change a few days after Denali, with aspen golds usually peaking Sept 15-18th. Glenn Highway has great gold aspens against rugged mountain background. Just a few days after Kenai comes the Anchorage area’s color peak, the last in south-central Alaska.
    • Third week of September: snow closes Denali Park Road.
  • *** Denali National Park Green Shuttle Bus:
    • To travel past Mile 20 on the Denali Park Road, you must ride one of the several types of shuttle bus (Green, Camper, or Tour). The Green and Camper buses are cheapest and most flexible, plus you get more of a tour.
    • Denali National Park’s Green Shuttle Bus takes 11 hours round trip from the Wilderness Access Center (WAC, near park entrance) to Wonder Lake, 86 miles one way.
    • From the bus you are likely to see lots of wildlife, including Dall sheep, moose, brown bears (“grizzlies”), foxes, wolves, and so forth. A “Grand Slam” means seeing moose, caribou, wolf, and bear on one bus ride (rare). We saw 15 brown bears on each of two days riding the Green Shuttle bus. Spot Dall Sheep around Polychrome Pass (hiking) and Igloo Creek Campground (mile 34).
    • The earliest bus has the best wildlife viewing. For Denali views, sit on left side outbound and right side inbound. There is no time on the shuttle for hikes at Wonder Lake unless you go early, get off for a few hours, then take the last shuttle out, a 14-hour day, or reserve tent camping overnight.
    • Riding the shuttle all day is very tiring unless you get off and walk for a few hours along the road or in the wilderness, or camp overnight.
    • The bus starts at the Wilderness Access Center and picks people up at campgrounds. 2 people per seat, overhead racks for soft & lightweight items & jackets. Beginning at mile 20, a visitor can exit a bus to do some day hiking or exploring, then return to the road when ready and re-board the next shuttle (green) bus that has space available. During peak hours/peak season this can be a wait up to an hour or more. The bus stops every 1.5 hours for restroom break.
    • Tip: Shave 3 hours on the round trip bus to Wonder Lake by staying at Teklanika Campground in a hard-sided RV/camper:
  • *** Teklanika Campground, Denali National Park 
    • Camping at Teklanika makes the shuttle bus round trip to Wonder Lake 3 hours shorter (making a more tolerable 8 hours round trip). Enjoy remote wilderness in the comfort of your hard-sided RV.
    • Drive to Denali Road Milepost 29 at Teklanika River, the furthest allowed for private campers (except for end-of-season lottery winners).
    • Rules: 3 nights minimum stay. RV or hard sided vehicles only. Once arrived, RV cannot move until exiting (back to Milepost 20 and further towards the park entrance). 8 people per site max. Open May 20 – Sept. 17. Use dump station at Riley Creek Campground before driving to Teklanika.
    • Prior to driving in, Teklanika Pass (“Tek Pass” $31.50 as of 2011) is required for shuttle bus transportation during your 3-day stay. Tek Pass admits you onto the park shuttle on unlimited standby basis (with first day guaranteed).
    • When booking a Teklanika Pass, schedule a Shuttle Bus for your first full day in Denali (the first day you actually “wake up” at Teklanika Campground) – preferably choose a Wonder Lake or Kantishna Shuttle Bus for your Tek Pass. (If you reserve Polychrome, Toklat, Eielson or Fish Creek for your Tek Pass, you will have to switch buses on a space available basis to Wonder Lake/ Kantishna.)
** Richardson Highway, Valdez to Fairbanks


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  • ** Valdez has a very spectacular fjord and mountain setting, despite the bustling oil industry.
    • ** The last thirty miles of Richardson Highway south to Valdez has beautiful sweeping vistas, canyons, and waterfalls.
    • ** Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site: Step out of the car and/or hike at Thompson Pass just outside Valdez in Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest.
    • Reserve Valdez RV campgrounds in advance, due to summer popularity.
    • * Columbia & Meares Glacier cruise with “Stan Stephens” Columbia Glacier is declining in beauty. Instead try ***Phillips 26-Glacier College Fjord Cruise from Whittier (see above).
  • **Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark and quirky McCarthy make a worthwhile side trip off Richardson Highway.
    • Kennecott is one of America’s wildest & most photogenic ghost towns, a copper mining town dating from 1889-1938.
    • Use the Kennecott Shuttle to avoid 120 miles round trip on a rough potholed road (although the road has improved over the years).
    • Chitina is a native American village, located 325 miles from Anchorage, with views of the Wrangell Mountains. My wife stayed with the RV at the public Copper River Campground across the long bridge near Chitina, while I took the Kennecott Shuttle for 60 miles one way to McCarthy for an overnight stay.
  • **Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve was proclaimed a national monument in 1978 and a world heritage site in 1979. In 1980, it was established as a national park and preserve, the largest in the USA.
    • The **Park Visitor Center is well worth visiting at Richardson Highway Milepost 106.8, between Glennallen and Copper Center. See the spectacular movie presentation.
    • **Nabesna Road offers spectacular scenery and access to a seldom seen, wild corner of Alaska, in the headwaters of the Copper River.
      • 42 miles long, paved for the first 4 miles, then 2wd gravel, but stream crossings may require high clearance or 4wd: Trail Creek (Mile 29), Lost Creek (Mile 30.8), Boyden Creek (Mile 34.3) — all are usually dry or have only a shallow flow over the road surface, some with soft bottoms.
      • ** Primitive free campgrounds: Mile 6.1 Rufus Creek. Mile 12.2 Copper Lake Trailhead. ** Mile 16.6 great view of peaks. Mile 17.8 Dead Dog Hill Rest Area. Mile 21.8 Rock Lake Rest Area.
      • ** Mile 15-18: notice the prominent Wrangell Mountains, built from the Wrangell Lavas 10 million years ago to present. The conspicuous high glaciated conical summit to the southwest is Mount Sanford, the fifth highest mountain in the United States (16,237 feet), a strato-volcano (or composite cone). Mount Wrangell is the more distant, rounded and glacial covered dome southeast of Mount Sanford, with its summit of 14,163 ft, the largest andesite shield volcano in North America, the park’s only active volcano, releasing occasional steam plumes. Shield volcanoes have more frequent, but less violent eruptions. North of Mount Sanford and nearer to the road is the jagged prominence of Capital Mountain 7,731 ft, an eroded shield volcano, like Tanada Peak 9,240 ft (the jagged dark colored ridge north and east of Mt. Wrangell), formed between one and two million years ago and eroded only during the last million years. On a clear day, Mount Jarvis can be seen over the right shoulder of Tanada Peak. Flowing northward from the great ice fields of Mount Wrangell is the Copper Glacier, melting into the Copper River which flows northward, then westward along the end of the Wrangell Range, then southward to the Gulf of Alaska near Cordova, cutting through the coastal barrier of the Chugach Mountains, and marking most of the Park’s western boundary.
      • Mile 24.7 Watershed Divide (3,320 ft). Leaving the Copper River watershed which drains into the Gulf of Alaska and entering the Yukon River watershed which drains into the Bering Sea.
  • Follow the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (an amazing engineering feat) northwards and cross the impressive **Alaska Range.
  • Fairbanks: **Museum of the North, at the University of Alaska.
Glenn Highway (Glennallen to Anchorage)


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  • Drive 304 miles from Anchorage to Palmer to Glennallen to Valdez.
  • Anchorage
    • camp at *Eagle River Campground (Glenn Highway Milepost 11.6) for a beautiful natural setting close to the city. Moose are common.
    • * Alaska Zoo.
  • Palmer
    • The * Musk Ox Farm makes a fun visit (near Palmer at Glenn Highway Milepost 50, open in the summer from 10-6pm). A “musk ox” (ovibos moschatus) is not an ox and has no musk glands! Instead, it is a relative of sheep and goats. 3000 musk ox live in Alaska and 100,000 more live worldwide in the far north. Due to their habit of huddling together in a circle (with calves in the center) when threatened, the species nearly went extinct after the invention of guns.
    • * Knik Glacier & Pioneer Ridge Trail: Hike 2200 feet up to the first picnic table on Pioneer Ridge trail, a fairly steep 4 miles round trip, for a good view of the Knik Glacier and River.

Southeast Alaska: the Alaska Panhandle, 1-2 weeks

Southeast Alaskans say April/May has best weather and fewer tourists than summer. In Southeast Alaska, we may drive our own camper from Seattle to Prince Rupert, Canada, then ride ferries (without our vehicle) round trip to Juneau. Board ferries spontaneously as passengers without a car. Bus or rent a car at various ferry stops. Ferrying a vehicle would cost $800 and require reservations 4-6 months in advance.

Key to above activity ratings:   *** Must do.   ** Do.   * Maybe if time allows.

Alaskan animal and wildlife photos


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Recreational vehicle rental in Alaska

To experience the great Alaskan outdoors, driving an RV (recreational vehicle or motorhome) or camper has big advantages over tenting or lodging.

  • Campground slots are much easier found spontaneously than hotel lodging. The only campgrounds we needed to reserve (from August 15 to September 8, 2006) were Teklanika (RV) and Wonder Lake (tent) in Denali NP.
  • Camping puts you in closer contact with nature than a hotel room. An RV is just as comfortable and more convenient than a hotel.
  • Unpack luggage just once into an RV, instead of repacking every day to and from hotels.
A. RV versus pickup camper

ClippershipMotorhomes.com gave us excellent value RV rental in 2006:

  • Clippership Motorhomes gives free airport pick up (907) 562-7051 or 800-421-3456. 8-5 pm every day.
  • 20 or 22-foot Economy Class $2200 for 24 days August 15 – September 8, 2006 = $90/day plus gas (includes 8% MOA tax & 3% state tax), 2400 free miles then $.15/mile. Housekeeping package $15 each. Reserve with deposit $250, then upon arrival pay $250 more deposit. Aside from gravelled campgrounds or short access roads, all gravel roads are prohibited. Highway fuel inefficiency is 9 miles per gallon of gasoline.
  • Includes: Sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, pots and pans, knife, fork and spoon for each traveler, pancake turner, measuring cup, baking pan, scrubber, cooking spoons, can opener, grater, colander, paring knife, butcher knife, coffee pot, mixing bowls, pot holders, cutting board, potato peeler, broom, dust pan, water hose, level, trash can and instruction manual. Add the convenient housekeeping package: $15.00 per person: dishes, glasses, pitcher, kitchen towel, dish cloth, first aid kit, dish soap, paper towels, toilet paper, bath soap, toilet chemical, matches and hangers.

Small RV and pickup camper rentals may cost equally, even off season.

  • A pickup camper gets better gas mileage than an RV, but its daily rental rate can be higher than a small RV.
  • Save 20 to 30% on your motorhome RV rental by renting before or after high season, which runs from about July 1 to August 15.
  • A pickup mounted with a camper shell will take you over rougher roads to more places than a motorhome or RV.
  • As priced in 2006, pickup campers offered no off-season price savings.
B. Flying versus driving to Alaska

Renting a vehicle in Anchorage saves 4000+ miles of driving from the Lower 48 States. Much of the famous Alaska-Canadian (ALCAN) Highway is through monotonous forest. Driving from Seattle to Anchorage (5300 miles round trip) would have added two weeks of driving expense. Driving your own vehicle from the Lower 48 may be worthwhile for trips of 4 weeks or more. For trips of 1-3 weeks, fly and rent a vehicle.

C. Car + tenting

Sleeping in your own tent is the cheapest accomodation in Alaska, but wind, rain and bugs (which bite mid June to mid July) make tenting uncomfortable for all but the young and hardy.

D. Car + lodging

Car plus lodging costs about as much as renting an RV. Lodging often must be reserved well in advance in popular areas of Alaska. Lodging can be scarce in the beautiful areas where you may most want to experience nature, whereas RV camping or overnight parking areas are much more plentiful.

South Central Alaska map, USA, 24 days by RV (Recreational Vehicle) including Anchorage, Denali National Park and Preserve Park Road, Mount McKinley flightseeing from Talkeetna, Parks Highway, Kenai Peninsula, Sterling Highway, College & Harriman Fjords cruise from Whittier, Seward, Homer, Glenn Highway, Richardson Highway, Valdez, McCarthy, Wrangell Mountains, Fairbanks, North Pole. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above: A map of South Central Alaska shows our 24-day itinerary in a rented RV (recreational vehicle): starting at Anchorage, see Kenai Peninsula, College and Harriman Fjord day cruise, Valdez, McCarthy, Fairbanks, Denali, and Alaska Range flightseeing from Talkeetna.

Weather and when to visit

  • May 10 to September 15 is generally a good time to visit most parts of Alaska.
  • Alaska Time Zone = Seattle (or Pacific Time Zone) minus one hour.
  • Long daylight: June 21 is the longest day of the year, with 19 hours of daylight in Anchorage, 22 in Fairbanks, and 18 hours in Southeast Alaska. Any time between Spring and Fall equinoxes, the days are significantly longer in Alaska than at lower latitudes.
  • Peak tourist season is mid-June to mid-August. Before and after that are “shoulder season” discounts 10 – 25% at some hotels and tours.
  • Hiking season: Snow in high country or Arctic regions does not melt until about late June. June is “post-hole” season, so named for each step falling through melting snow.
  • Fall colors: Peak fall colors of the red tundra in Denali are late August to early September. On the Kenai Peninsula, aspen tree yellow & gold leaf fall colors usually peak September 15-18th, a few days after Denali National Park. The Glenn Highway (from Anchorage to Glennallen) has great gold aspens against rugged mountain background. Just a few days after Kenai comes the Anchorage area’s yellow color peak, which is the last turning of leaf colors in south-central Alaska.
  • May is generally drier in Alaska, with about a 25% chance of measurable rain on the average day. Alaska gets rainier as the summer progresses. By August, the chance of rain increases to about 50% on a given day.
  • Climate zones:
    • Rainiest areas are on the ocean side of mountain ranges.
    • In south-central Alaska‘s summer (Anchorage & Homer), expect rain one third of the time, cloudy one third, and sunny one third. Peak mosquito season is the end of June and the first part of July in marshy lowlands, but no problem on breezy alpine ridges. Bugs are no problem after late July. South-central Alaska has 70% of the state’s population and the most roads and hiking trails. The varied climate transitions from the mild and wet southern coast, to the colder and drier interior to the north.
    • Fairbanks and the interior north of the Alaska Range have significantly sunnier weather than further south. The snow melts faster in the interior in Spring than in south-central Alaska. Early summer season has thunderstorms and forest fires. The interior of Alaska has more mosquitoes than south-central Alaska, starting in mid-June, but the bugs die away after the first frosts in late July. The best interior hiking is in the Alaska Range and the Yukon-Tanana uplands near Fairbanks.
    • Southeast Alaska (Juneau to Ketchikan) is the rainiest area in Alaska (with local variability). Locals say April/May has the best weather with the least rain and fewer tourists.
    • Southwest Alaska (including Katmai National Park) is wet and windy, and stretches 1400 miles down Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands.
Global warming: climate change in Alaska

Over the past 50 years, Alaska’s winters have warmed by 6.3°F (3.5°C) and its annual average temperature has increased 3.4°F (2.0°C) (Karl et al. 2009). Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the continental United States. As stated by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007): Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global sea level. This warming is very likely (more than 90% certain) related to anthropogenic (human caused) greenhouse gas emissions.  Read more about global warming and climate change.

Bring to Alaska

  • NOAA weather radio. Or get weather forecasts via cell phone/internet. Many walkie-talkies can receive NOAA weather radio (updated every 6 hours) within about 10-15 miles of main cities. Hikers and backpackers should check two-day weather forecasts frequently.
  • compass
  • binoculars for wildlife viewing
  • Sleep mask – even on September 1, skies are surprisingly light for 16 hours in Anchorage!
  • DEET insect repellant wards off the mosquito “unofficial state bird”: If mosquitoes worry you, complete your trip before they hatch in mid-June, or visit the last week in July or later when the first night frosts eliminate most insect problems. If visiting during mosquito season (mid-June to mid-July), DEET is the only proven repellent.
  • Motion sickness remedy (a prescription patch works best) for sea & air (though we didn’t need it).
  • If camping overnight at Wonder Lake or elsewhere, bring camping gear: tent, stove, pots, sleeping bag, pad, backpack, safety matches, etc.

Recommended Alaska guidebooks

Search for latest “Alaska travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).

2013: 2012: 2012: 2012:
2012: 2009:

Canon PowerShot G9 versus Canon 40D DSLR with f/2.8L IS lens

For family travel, Tom compares a big f/2.8L IS lens on heavy Canon 40D DSLR to a compact Canon PowerShot G9 camera on tripod:

Asia Contemporary: A demon guards at the bottom of a gilded chedi (or stupa), at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), which is a shining complex of buildings within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. The Grand Palace (or Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang, in Thai) in Bangkok, Thailand, was built on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River starting in 1782, during the reign of Rama I. It served as the official residence of the king of Thailand from the 18th century to the mid-20th century. Photo by Carol Dempsey. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Carol Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

Asia Contemporary: A demon guards at the bottom of a gilded chedi (or stupa), at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), which is a shining complex of buildings within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph by Carol Dempsey, using a Canon Powershot SD700 IS ELPH, which is a camera about the size of a deck of playing cards.

Photographer Tom Dempsey replies to Raul Panelo’s message (shown at bottom) March 03, 2008:

Dear Raul, You probably already know that your skills as a photographer are much more important than the camera you choose. That being said, your high quality Canon 40D (and 20D) DSLR outfit has some important differences versus the 13-ounce Canon Powershot G9:

Here are the main advantages of your excellent DSLR camera outfit:
  • Prints larger than about 16 inches will be noticeably sharper and less distorted from the DSLR, versus from the Canon G9.
  • The shutter response is instantaneous on a DSLR, whereas the G9 has a slight delay of 0.4 to 0.6 seconds. (Workaround: half-press the shutter to pre-focus, then click at the right moment).
  • On the DSLR, for a given image noise/quality level, you can hand hold shots in 2 to 4 stops dimmer light using ISO 800-3200 (versus the G9 set at ISO 100-200; assuming you turn on IS image stabilization in both cameras for sharpest hand held performance). Using these settings, images may be indistinguishable in quality from DSLR versus G9, when viewed on any High Definition HD monitor or projector, or when printed less than about 12 inches in size. Your f/2.8L lenses for your Canon 40D are so good and sharp, that your personal judgement is required to determine the G9 breakeven point for print size, which I estimate at between 16 and 8 inches. Larger prints will look sharper from the Canon 40D.
  • DSLR cameras perform much better in dimmer light, because their larger lens glass diameter focuses much more light onto a sensor 6 times larger in area than in the G9.
  • Your proposed 1.4x lens extender loses a stop, but costs less than buying a new lens, and reduces bulk versus carrying an extra lens. Offhand I don’t know the actual quality difference when you extend your 70-200mm 2.8L IS by 1.4x. The tele extender might duplicate the effect (and quality?) of your Canon 75-300mm 4-5.6 IS, thus saving you extra bulk of carrying the 75-300mm when traveling.

…versus the Canon Powershot G9:

  • The G9 can work around many of its low light limitations by shooting always at ISO 100-200 (even 400 looks surprisingly good), and by mounting on a tripod, in the case of low light shots that exceed its excellent 2-4 stop hand-held “IS” capability. You may not see much difference between G9 images and DSLR images when you compare shots at ISO 100-200 and prints smaller than about 12 inches.
  • The G9 has big advantages of portability, fun factor, movie & sound recording, and good built in macro focusing down to 1 cm (very useful small macro image area 17 x 22 mm, better magnification than your DSLR lenses, unless you have a dedicated DSLR macro lens).
  • Underwater camera: The $170 Waterproof Case WP-DC11 converts the Canon G9 into a high quality underwater camera for snorkeling Maui, Hawaii, Galapagos Islands, Belize, Mexico, the Caribbean Sea or other great destinations. However, our camera’ s waterproof housing fogged up in the cold Galapagos waters. Instead, get a dedicated underwater camera listed on my BUY page.
  • Compact cameras are great for traveling with family, because they are more portable and faster to whip out, as you juggle family gear and interact socially. (However, to capture better quality in dim light, the G9 needs a tripod about 2 to 4 f/stops sooner than DSLR cameras with APS-C size sensors, such as the Canon D40.)
  • With the G9 shooting RAW, you can capture publication quality images up to about 12 inches (maybe larger).

  • To put this discussion in perspective: using a JPEG image from the Canon SD700IS ELPH (which has image quality lower than the Canon G9), I printed one of my wife’s Bangkok Grand Palace shots 16×12 inches for display in our living room, and the quality looks the same as my own prints using better cameras! In my mind, that infers the G9 quality on par with your DSLR up to 16 inches, in good daylight shooting.

Recommended travel tripod for compact or DSLR cameras:

  • I love my travel tripod, which I have tested 2005-2008 with both small and DSLR cameras:
  • Slik “Sprint Pro GM” Tripod ($90), which weighs only 2 pounds and is great for travel, superior to other travel tripods that I’m aware of (including Velbon MAXi343E, Manfrotto, or even Gitzo tripods costing three times more).
  • For quickest on/off camera mounting, add the Manfrotto 3299 Quick Change Plate Adapter ($35, quick release).
  • The stiff aluminum legs are sufficiently stable for cameras up to 3 or 4 pounds (especially if you don’t extend the bottom leg section; or if you hang on extra weight) and have very fast locking levers (of sturdy plastic). At this good price, simply buy a new tripod if it breaks.
  • The Slik “Sprint Pro GM” tripod rises to eye level (64 inches), collapses to 19 inches (or 16 inches if you remove the quick-release ball head). The metal ball head swings 90 degrees each way, to two vertical positions, and turns freely around, all tightened with one effective lever. Legs can optionally splay out independently in 3 locking positions down to 6.4 inches off the ground. For macro, the center column can be reversed underneath for great shooting flexibility at ground level, and unscrews into a short section (saving 3.5 ounces). Leg tips convert from spike (outdoor) to rubber (indoor use) with a simple lockable twist.

Tom’s 2008 equipment:

  • My own travel preference is to carry the lightweight Nikon D40X (with image quality equal to the more expensive Nikon D200) mounted with just one do-everything lens, the Nikkor AF-S DX VR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED (2-4 stops hand held vibration reduction), which makes a good quality 38-ounce camera+lens system carried in a chest bag.
  • Compared to using a Canon G9, this Nikon D40X system eliminates most tripod use, shoots faster in dimmer light, shoots a wider angle and longer telephoto (27mm-300 equivalent Nikkor lens; versus 35mm-210 for Canon G9) and captures better quality, sufficient for me to sell 24 inch or larger prints (when viewed at 24 inches or further).
  • The 13-ounce G9 is still very attractive as a camera for family travel and 16-inch prints. I would not mind having a G9!

Have a great trip in Maui!
— Tom Dempsey, photographer, Seattle, Washington

——————————————————————————————-

Above, Tom answers the following questions … From Raul Panelo, March 03, 2008 To: tom @ photoseek.com
Subject: Travel Advice Needed

Hi Tom! First of all, thank you for sharing your expertise in travel photography. I have learned a lot from your site www.photoseek.com I need advice on what equipment to bring on my upcoming vacation to Maui. I currently have the following: Canon 20D, Canon 40D cameras; lenses: Canon 16-35mm 2.8L, Canon 24-70mm 2.8L, Canon 70-200mm 2.8L IS, Canon 50mm 1.4, Canon 75-300mm 4-5.6 IS. I want to shoot landscapes, people and macro shots. After reading your website, I’m now thinking of buying the Canon G9 for a take it anywhere camera. Do you think this is a good choice for me? I’m also thinking of buying the 1.4x extender for the 70-200mm to extend my range. Lastly, I am looking for the best tripod to use with either my SLRs or the G9 if I end up buying it. I’m traveling with my wife and 2 daughters ages 6 & 11. I’d like to travel as light as possible but at the same time have the ability to capture wonderful images. Thanks in advance for your help. — Raul Panelo

———– Reply from Raul March 03, 2008: —————————————
Tom, Thank you so much for your quick and detailed response. Based on your answer, I’ll definitely take my SLR in case I capture something I’d like to print and hang on the wall later. I’ll also check your tripod recommendation. The price on the Sprint Pro GM is definitely reasonable given your description. You may post my question and your answer on your blog. Your blog is a great resource for many and if your answer helped me, I’m sure many more will benefit. Thanks again for being so generous with your expertise. — Raul

2008: Panasonic FZ8 vs FZ7, Canon G7, G9, SD700

Tom compares Panasonic FZ8, FZ7, Canon G6, G7, G9, SD700 IS (2008 cameras), and JPEG versus raw.

“Hi Tom …I was very keen to buy Canon G6 , but as now out of production & very difficult to get hold of , even second hand . The G7’s reviews are mixed especially the absence of RAW [file support]. Do you think this is a big disadvantage , is it something an amature would have much use for ? What are your views of the G7 ? Your photos on your website look great , do you use a Polariser filter to get the colour contrasts ? Particularly enjoy your trekking photos in Switzerland.”  — Regards, from Tony Lord February 6, 2007
[ Information here dates from 2008 for people interested in older cameras. Click BUY > CAMERAS to see the latest recommended gear. ]
Tom Dempsey replied as follows including new information as of February 2008:
  • If like Tony you are attracted to a camera such as the Canon G6, I suggest upgrading to the class-leading image quality of the Canon G9, with 3-inch LCD, raw file support, and 12 megapixels; introduced 10/2007.
  • To save money, try ebay.com or craigslist.org for finding a Canon G6.
  • From compacts to SLRs, today’s digital cameras are much better than cameras of only 2 years previous. Performance of pocket cameras today can sometimes exceed older 35mm film SLRs.
  • Note that your photography skills are much more important than the camera you use. One of the best cameras to have is a small one which you can carry everywhere, such as the shirt-pocket sized Canon SD700 IS, with which I captured these images:

    Powdery snow islands dot Commonwealth Creek in Commonwealth Basin, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

    Powdery snow islands dot Commonwealth Creek in Commonwealth Basin, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com)

Image on right: Snow & ice saucers formed on rocks in Commonwealth Creek, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington. Commonwealth Basin makes one of the best snowshoeing trips in the Snoqualmie Pass area along Interstate 90.
A tiny camera such as the Canon SD700 IS ELPH is easy to keep warm in your pocket to capture winter snapshots while snowshoeing or skiing. The Canon SD700IS also lets us record movies of our tango dance instructor (with permission) to remember the steps. It handily records pictures of different flooring, cabinet, and lighting designs as we comparison shop for our kitchen remodel. My wife Carol likes to keep this tiny Canon ELPH (about the size of a pack of playing cards) handy in her purse or daypack for capturing images that inspire her quilting designs.
A yellow flower of a Glacier Lily grows on Scorpion Mountain, a hike (9 miles round trip, 2500 feet total gain) near Skykomish, US Highway 2, Washington, USA. Published in "Light Travel: Photography on the Go" by Tom Dempsey 2009, 2010. (© Tom Dempsey / Photoseek.com)
Above left: A glacier Lily on Johnson Ridge in late June, on the hike to Scorpion Mountain (9 miles, 2900 feet round trip), a hike in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, accessible from US Highway 2 near Skykomish, Washington. Digital cameras like the tiny Canon SD700 IS have great macro abilities.
  • If a camera is too big, then you might decide not to carry it everywhere, thus missing many great shots.
  • The Canon G7 is a better camera than the smaller Canon SD700IS. You could be very happy with a G7 which can conveniently fit into a big shirt pocket. The G7 has 10 megapixels, image stabilized 35-210mm f/2.8-5.9 lens, great 0.4″ macro close focus (about 1 cm ) at 35mm, sophisticated DIGIC III processing, bright 2.5″ LCD visible at high angles. [Upgrade to Canon G9for 3-inch LCD, raw and 12 megapixels; introduced 10/2007.]
    • Unfortunately the G7 has no flip-out-and-twist LCD which was a great feature of the Canon G5. [See the excellent Fujifilm FinePix S9100 for a tilting LCD.]
    • The G7 has no raw mode (and battery life is shorter than the G5). [The excellent Canon G9 offers raw.] Also, I prefer a camera which starts zooming with a wider angle such as 28mm equivalent for flexibility indoors, tight spaces, or wide landscapes (workaround: stitch images together).
    • If you want to print images bigger than about 18 inches, you would need a camera with a lens diameter larger than the G7, to capture more light.
  • Also consider the Panasonic FZ8 as an inexpensive and versatile travel camera for standard sized prints. [FZ8 is cheaper than G7 or G9, but image quality suffers in comparison due to smaller sensor.] FZ8 features: 36-432mm (35mm equiv) 12x zoom lens with stabilization, now includes raw mode, 7.1 megapixels, weighs only 310 g (11 ounces). My brother who is a very discriminating photographer bought a Panasonic FZ7 (which has no raw mode) as a travel & backpacking camera for convenience such as when traveling with children — he likes the FZ7 (versus his older bigger & heavier film system Olympus OM-1). [He later upgraded to the FZ8.] The FZ8 improves upon the FZ7, and probably can make bigger prints.
  • Raw vs JPEG: Most consumers (not professional photographers) are usually happy with JPEGs and not using raw, since raw requires an extra conversion step, which takes a few extra seconds per image (or minutes if you adjust the image). The extra step in using raw adds a lot of extra time when processing dozens or thousands of images like I do — but for me raw is very much worthwhile due to the extra 1 to 2 stops exposure & white balance latitude and editing headroom, which translates into larger print capability, such as 20×30 inches from my Canon Powershot Pro1 (when print is viewed at 30 inches). Sometimes the extra information in raw gives you enough exposure & editing headroom to let you print up to twice as big versus JPEG. The raw conversion step need not take much extra time since you can automate raw conversion to make the defaults look much like the JPEG would have. Raw is much more forgiving than JPEG and lets you adjust white balance, exposure, tone, contrast, saturation, sharpness and so forth after shooting. With JPEG you need to be careful to shoot with the right exposure & white balance, at the risk of irretrievably losing highlight or shadow information (or both).
  • Be cautious when using a polarizer with digital, since may oddly affect white balance, and can make skies look unnaturally dark. But sometimes a polarizer is very important in removing reflections on water & green plants or increasing contrast in the sky, so I keep a polarizer in my kit.
Good luck with your photography.
Bright yellow algae grows in a tarn (mountain pond) which reflects peaks of Dents des Veisivi (left) and Aiguilles de la Tsa (right) above Arolla Valley, part of Val d'Hérens, in Valais (Wallis) Canton, Switzerland, Europe. Hike the High Route (Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route) for classic mountain scenery. Panorama stitched from 2 images. Published in Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures "Inn to Inn Alpine Hiking Adventures" Catalog 2006-2009, 2011. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above: Striking yellow algae in a tarn reflecting Les Dents des Veisivi, above the Arolla Valley, Switzerland. On this day we hiked about 8 miles (2900 feet up, 3300 feet down) from Arolla to La Gouille, then we bused to our hotel in Les Haudères. Published in Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures 2006 & 2007 “Inn to Inn Alpine Hiking Adventures” Catalog. Photographed with a Canon Powershot Pro1 camera.

Clint Janson wrote Feb 7, 2007:
“I just discovered your website and viewed all of your Alp hike pages. I have to go back!!! My wife and I stayed in Gimmelwald a few years ago and did some hiking, but it was in march and in the snow and low clouds. Thank you for posting your wonderful pictures of one of the greatest and most beautiful areas in the world. I sent the linkto my Wife (who grew up in Europe and spent many holidays in the Alps) and I know she will be home sick. (which means a trip soon!) Thanks again, you are a very talented Photographer.”

USA: ARIZONA: Antelope Canyon Navajo Park

Photo Tips for Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Where:

  • Page, Arizona: Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons are very easy to visit, great for both children and adults. Expect crowds. Drive there with your private car (or pay more for a tour booked from Page). Different Navajo families operate Upper and Lower Canyons, which explains the separate admission fees:
  • The Upper Canyon is an easy flat walk in sand. To get there, drive east of Page, Arizona on Highway 98 for several miles, to just before milepost 299. You will see an entrance booth for Upper Antelope Canyon on the right (south). Pay at the booth, park your car, and wait for the next 4WD shuttle & guide to take you to the slot entrance. In 2005, Navaho lands entry fee was $6 (good for one day only), plus $15 for the guided tour & ride to Upper Canyon.
  • Lower Antelope Canyon: Across the highway, to the north of Upper Canyon’s entrance station, you will see a sign marking the short road to Lower Antelope Canyon parking lot (Antelope Point Road, Navaho Route N22B). Pay at the office and walk along the marked trail, which descends into Lower Antelope Canyon on easy ladders and slanted sandstone. The Lower Canyon has less dust, fewer tourists, the best formations, and requires no guide, which allows you much more freedom & time to photograph. Walking straight through without stopping would take only half an hour, but the amazing cathedrals in stone should slow you down, awestruck. In 2006, Navaho lands entry fee was $6 (paid only once if seeing both canyons on the same day), plus Lower Canyon tour fee was $13.
  • Click here for the Navaho Nation’s official web site for “Antelope Canyon Navaho Tribal Park”.

When to go:

  • Entrance station open March-October 8:00am – 5:00pm (Mountain Standard Time year around, never Daylight Savings), charging fees.
  • Entrance Station is closed for the winter season (November – February) but Lower and Upper Antelope Canyon are both OPEN.
  • The canyons are subject to weather closures, especially in hot July-August which is dangerous flash flood season. In May-July (closer to summer solstice), the sun shines most directly into the slot canyons, for exciting light shafts.
  • Midweek is better than weekends, to avoid crowds.
  • Wait for a sunny day with the sun high overhead, best midday, during normal Canyon opening hours 9-5:00. Light quality will be very dull on a cloudy day, not as good for photography.
    • I shot my images on April 12-13, 2006.
    • I recommend 10am to 3pm, in April or October.
  • I recommend all day in each canyon (two days total) for serious photography. If you are sightseeing without a camera, you only need an hour or two in each canyon.
  • Your guide, required in the Upper Canyon, may let you linger for photography (which may cost a little more for extra hours). Large groups come through continuously in Upper Canyon. You must take shots quickly. Try to determine your shot settings at each spot before placing the tripod in the narrow path.
  • You have more freedom to photograph in the Lower Canyon, where no guide is required.


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Photographic techniques:

  • The best lighting is bounced indirect sunlight.
  • Avoid including directly sunlit rocks in the image. An exception to this is capturing a column of sunlight in the dusty air. To get the best shots of shafts of sunlight, shoot when the sun is highest in the sky around noon. Throw sand up into the light column and quickly shoot the falling sunlit dust & sand. If others are present, get their permission before tossing sand. Crowds may also stir up enough dust to brighten the rays of sunlight.
  • If you use film, expose for the brightest rock (but avoid including directly sunlit rocks in the image as described above).
  • Have fun! This is a fantastic place, despite the crowds of people. Smile and be friendly to everyone, and patiently let people pass by in the narrow slots.

Photo Equipment to Bring:

  • Bring a tripod, flashlight, jacket, snacks, & water. The crowds of people in the Upper Canyon will make use of a tripod more challenging than in the longer and lesser traveled Lower Canyon.
  • I recommend a digital camera over a film camera since you can immediately determine the exposure and appearance of images. Check your LCD frequently to confirm image quality. Fill your bell-shaped histogram with good shadow detail, without cutting off highlights. I don’t recommend changing lenses in these dusty canyons (keep your digital sensor clean with a hand-squeezed blower).
  • Using a wide angle such as 17-35mm on a DSLR (~27 to 52mm on 35mm-film cameras) is good. But a 24mm lens (in terms of 35mm-film) will be even more useful in these tight slot canyons.
  • You can widen your lens angle by stitching together multiple shots using software (such as my image on the right).
    • For stitching, take each shot overlapped by a third, with exactly the same focus, exposure and white balance (such as using Manual), using the DSLR at about 24mm (36mm in terms of 35mm-film cameras). Use 17mm if you have to, but stitching may not line up as well on the edges.
    • Least distortion for stitching is usually within the range of 35 to 50mm (in terms of 35mm-film cameras).
    • On a typical DSLR (with an APS-sized sensor with ~1.5x lens multiplier), 24mm is equivalent to a 36mm lens on a 35mm-film camera. (But if you have an expensive full-framed sensor, the lenses are the same size as for film). A DSLR 24mm lens (or longer) usually stitches better than 17mm.
    • Canon supplies a good panorama stitch program in their Zoombrowser program provided free with many of their digital cameras.
    • Adobe Photoshop CS3 greatly improves the Photomerge feature versus previous Photoshop versions.
  • Upper Canyon is darker: I shot exposures of about 0.5 to 2 seconds.
  • Lower Canyon is shallower, a little brighter, and has the most interesting rock formations: I shot exposures of about 0.2 to 1 second.

This article is in response to an email question from Larry 5/23/07:  “Any tips on photographing in antelope canyon. I have a Nikon D2x and wide angle lens 17-35mm.” In reply to my tips Larry said, “Thanks for the great information. I plan to be there on Saturday, but I will definitely go to the lower canyon. Not changing the lens with all the dust sounds like a good idea. I will let you know how it works out. Your photo enclosed is fantastic. – Larry”

See also my separate Southwest USA articles: Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.

Recommended Arizona guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest Arizona travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years):

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