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Author Topic: Best focal length for a whale watch  (Read 2207 times)  bookmark this topic!
Johnf
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Posts: 29


Best focal length for a whale watch
« on: July 02, 2011, 05:39:45 AM »

I went on a whale watch out of Boston yesterday.  Before I went, I got onto a bunch of forums to see what focal length people recommended.    I wasn't sure how close to the action we were going to get.  I found recommendations to bring focal lengths between 70 and 500mm ?!?  Not very helpful.  So I thought I'd post my experience here.

First of all, the whale watch out of Boston Harbor, next to the Aquarium ... great time, I highly recommend it ($35 pp, kids < 4 free, buy tix online).

Second, I had to pack light because I was planning to have my 3 year old in a pack on my back so I had to choose just 1 big white to carry around.

My assumptions were: the lighting was going to be adequate, IS was key (one constant of the forums was to leave the tripod at home, engine vibration and boat movement made it useless.). 

I chose the 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 (and a 24-70mm 2.8 for images of the family) on a full frame body. 

The longer option was definitely better; I could have even used more.  I found most of my images were at 400mm and I will likely crop.  I probably shoud have brought my back up 40D and I’m glad I left the 70-200 at home! 

The lighting was more than adequate.  I found that I was getting great exposure with shutter speeds of 1/3200 to 1/8000s with the lens at maximum aperture at an ISO of around 500 or lower.

Hope this is useful

John
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klindup
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Posts: 135


Re: Best focal length for a whale watch
« Reply #1 on: July 02, 2011, 10:54:32 AM »

I can endorse this, I did a similar trip out of Iceland and only had a 70-200 on an APSC body and it was not enough.  I reckon that 400 is the minimum and i also agree that tripods are not to be recommended on these boats.  Not only is there vibration but you need to be quick to focus on any Whales that do appear.

Ken
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Bob Atkins
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Posts: 1163


Re: Best focal length for a whale watch
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2011, 11:52:57 AM »

I've been on a few whale watch trips (which all ended up with me feeliing very ill and seasick) and my suggestion would be to take the longest telephoto zoom that you own, prefereably something with image stabilization. You really never know how close the whales will be so you probably wouldn't want a long fixed focal length lens (or the size and weight of such a lens). I'd say the EF 100-400/4.5-5.6L IS USM would be ideal. Alternatively I'd take something like the Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 SP Di VC or maybe even the Sigma 50-500/4-6.3 OS if you want to cover all the bases!

Tripods are not good. The boat rocks both when moving and even more so when stationary (hence the seasickness), plus the engine vibrations are transmitted through the tripod. A hand held IS lens is best. In bright sunlight you may not need IS, though it certainly won't hurt. If you can get away with a fast shutter speed, that freezer subject motion and camera motion, so in a situation like this it's prefereable (in addition to IS).

Unfortunately, I've had my fill of being seasick, so no more whale watches for me. I tried Dramamine, patches and other stuff, but I still end up ill. It's odd since I don't get airsick, I don't get seasick when sea kayaking and I don't get sick on small boats. It's something about the way the whale watching trips I've been on sit out on the open ocean with their engines turned off, rocking back and forth though fairly large angles. Maybe I just tried it on days with too much ocean swell.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2011, 11:56:41 AM by Bob Atkins » Logged
Johnf
Junior Member
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Posts: 29


Re: Best focal length for a whale watch
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2011, 04:02:15 AM »

Bob

Sorry about the seasickness but I'm glad to hear you got out there once or twice at least.  Thanks for your input.

John
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