What type of lenses and filters are recommended for this workshop?

Lenses are at the discretion of the photographer. However, here are some general guidelines for different types of photography. The lens focal lengths mentioned below assume a 35mm format as found in “full-frame” digital SLRs. You may need to refer to your camera’s manual for the conversion multiplier. Also, some of the specialty optics described below are very expensive and may only be useful to you for specific trips or projects. When you have short term need for specialty lenses, we recommend renting. Lensrentals.com provides a discount to Visionary Wild clients and offers a vast selection of lenses and cameras of various makes.

Landscape: 20mm to 200mm. We could shoot landscapes happily forever with nothing more than that (even 24mm to 135mm does a splendid job most of the time), but wider and longer is fine. Perspective control (tilt-shift) lenses like those from Nikon and Canon are excellent for landscape work, so long as they help you find solutions to make the images you want, rather than imposing unnecessary complexity into the process – this is personally subjective.

Macro: Longer is commonly better in the macro world. If you have a 180mm or 200mm macro, use it. Otherwise a 105mm macro, or 70-200 zoom with extension tubes or a quality accessory close up lens will do the trick.

Wildlife: For serious wildlife photography, a versatile and super-sharp solution are the 200-400mm f/4 zooms from Nikon and Canon. Add a teleconverter (in the case of the Nikon; on the Canon it is built in) and/or a “crop-format” camera to extend the range for smaller, shyer species, and this lens becomes incredibly versatile. Otherwise, a 500mm f/4 is a good compromise of focal length, size, weight, and speed. 600mm f/4 lenses are beasts that are difficult to carry and travel with, but they serve their purpose in the right situation.

Those seeking a more compact, lighter weight long-lens solution are spoiled for choice. Nikon’s 80-400m and 200-500mm f/5.6 zooms are very popular, as are the Canon and Sony 100-400mm lenses, Fujifilm’s XF 100-400mm (the equivalent of a 150-600mm on their X-Series cameras), and 150-600mm lenses from Sigma and Tamron.  Of course, if you can find clever ways to make intimate, close-up photographs of truly wild animals (without stressing them) using lenses in the wide to short telephoto range, you are entering the realm of the very best wildlife photographers.

Cultural documentary (AKA travel and people): 20mm to 200mm. Keep your kit relatively lightweight, simple, and compact, and leave the big glass at home. Get close with your feet, not with your longest lens. As one of our instructors says, “At least keep it under 200mm!” Image stabilized lenses (or cameras with in-body stabilization) are great, as tripods are often less practical in this type of work.

Filters: In the film days, we carried lots of filters to control color casts, black and white film contrast, extreme variations in brightness in a composition, etc. With digital cameras, the only filter that could be considered a necessity across photographic genres is the circular polarizer. Unlike virtually any other filter, the effect can’t quite be replicated in digital cameras or in the computer. Graduated neutral-density filters can still be useful to control areas of different brightness in some situations, as are standard neutral density filters that cut back light universally, forcing longer exposures or allowing the use of wide-open apertures in bright light. When selecting screw-in filters we recommend getting the size that matches the largest diameter among your lenses, and using step-up rings to adapt the filter to the others.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that lenses and filters are only tools to help you achieve your vision. They don’t make photographs – photographers do. As always, please feel free to contact us with questions.

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