San Diego Zoo camera/lens question

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by kallisti, May 13, 2014.

  1. kallisti macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #1
    I'm going to San Diego this weekend and for the following week for a conference. Never been there before and plan to visit the zoo. While I usually shoot with a 50mm lens, having a longer lens tends to work better at a zoo.

    Never been to this zoo before, so don't have a clue how the exhibits are presented. Was planning on taking my D800 rather than Leica, with a 50mm and 135mm lens. Could in theory take an 80-400 lens instead of the 135.

    Traveling from the East Coast so would like to pack light and not bring a beast of a lens if I can avoid it. Also don't look forward to carrying around the 3.4 pound 80-400 lens all day.

    Anyone been to the San Diego Zoo and have a sense of how long of a lens is needed for the exhibits there? 135mm long enough?

    I know this is extremely subjective, as it relates to what types of images I am hoping to achieve balanced by how much weight/bulk I am willing to lug around. Also going to be at the zoo during the day so very possible the animals will be sleeping/hidden and the light may be less than optimal.

    The 50/135 combo will work well for other aspects of the trip as they are both fast lenses and can be used in low light. Most of the shots for the trip will likely come from the 50. Taking the 80-400 isn't an exciting prospect but I am still considering doing it.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. ChrisA, May 13, 2014
    Last edited: May 13, 2014

    ChrisA macrumors G4

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #2
    I've been there more time than I can remember. It is a large space with hills so you will be walking a lot. The exhibits are large.

    The main problem with zoo photography is not showing the walls and cages and the only good way to to focus on close ups. Or use a fast lens that blurs the backgrounds. But close ups work best. A 135mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame cameras is minimal. You will get some good shots and you can crop later. The even longer lens might let you get (say) just a head shot of a hippopotamus with the eyes and nose above the water and reeds in the background. It would not look like a zoo shot.

    The key is to NOT try and photo the whole zoo. Go in with some ideas and one lens and work on those ideas. Looking at the zoo and photographing it are at cross purposes. For good photos you have to wait and wait and then wait more for the animal do turnaround or do something. You can spend hours in one place. To see the zoo you have to move fast and keep moving.

    But say you are shooting small birds or even inside the butterfly enclosure then you'd want either a 500mm f/4 or a macro lens. I've seen guys literally pushing carts with photo equipment but that is just nuts. If you take just one lens, the 135mm f/2.8 you will get many good photos but you will have to pass many good opportunities. But passing those allows more time for using the 135mm. In the end you get as many good images with one lens as with three or four. Just different shots.

    If you are going to the zoo be sure to also go the the "wild animal park" this place features a large open field where many animals are allowed to mix and roam freely as they would in the wild. (But they do keep the big cats fenced off so they don't hunt the park's collection of herbivores.)

    The wild animal park offers an extra cost deal where you can get in the back of an large stake bed truck that drives around inside the large exhibit. There are no fences or pens near by so the images look good. Ususly there are a dozen or so photographers with big lenses in the truck.

    your 135mm f/2.8 would be a decent all around lens. A 70-200 f/2.8 would be a better option but it is larger and more expensive. The "true geeks" bring wagons for their gear but they don't try and see the entire zoo. They come for one thing.
     
  3. phrehdd macrumors 68040

    phrehdd

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2008
    #3
    Bring your 80-400. The zoo is a specific environment and as such you should use the best matching lens in your arsenal.
     
  4. Cheese&Apple macrumors 68000

    Cheese&Apple

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2012
    Location:
    Toronto
    #4
    The San Diego Zoo is beautiful…you'll love it.

    The comments from Chris are spot-on. A wide lens will capture unwanted enclosure elements so you'll need to get in tight with the 80-400.

    You may be thinking of a wider and faster lens for indoor exhibits but they're in tricky lighting conditions and generally behind glass. From a photography perspective, I would spend most of the time outdoors and leave the other lenses at the hotel.

    Of course that is a bit of weight to carry all day so a few visits to the gym before hand couldn't hurt. :)

    ~ Peter
     
  5. BJMRamage macrumors 68020

    BJMRamage

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    #5
    I cannot help you as I have never been to the San Diego Zoo but awesome responses so far.

    I've been to the DC Zoo a few times and notice the same guy Photographing the animals. He basically plants himself in one spot all day with an arm of a lens.

    I know the feeling of when you can go to a nice place every so often you can leave lenses but when you only go once in a while you feel the need to shoot all you can.
     
  6. fcortese macrumors demi-god

    fcortese

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2010
    Location:
    Big Sky country
    #6
    I was at the zoo several years ago and brought my 70-300 along with my mainstay 24-105 (I shot Canon full frame). Definitely bring the 80-400. There are areas in the zoo, mainly antelope and tigers, if I remember correctly, that a longer lens would have been perfect because you had an unobstructed view but they were a good ways away. Good "hunting!"
     
  7. carlgo macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2006
    #7
    Great place. People pay to exercise. Take the big lens. Great photos and a free work-out. I would also take a shorter, faster normal or slight wide angle and also go to nearby Balboa Park. It too is a great place and a shorter lens works there better than a long one for the most part. There are exhibits in the zoo where a short lens works best.

    Don't be so fine with your shots that you miss something. Your camera will allow for great cropping.

    Oh, and bring money. They don't give away the food and drink. If it is a hot day, the girls come out in their hotly clothes and that is good because the animals tend to sleep in on hot days. The best action is at the end of the day when they get hungry (the animals that is. The hot moms are too tired by then to care). Lots of people from all around the world. I like it there.
     
  8. kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #8
    Thanks for all the very helpful replies. Going to take the 80-400 (as well as a 50). I think I would kick myself later if I didn't.
     
  9. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2009
    Location:
    Folding space
    #9
    It's really two places, the zoo and the wild animal park. The zoo is an up close experience. I was there the year they opened the Sumatra Tiger exhibit and you could stand 5 feet from the cat through a glass wall. The wild animal park is more of an open air preserve with (I believe) a tram of sorts. We ran out of time and didn't get over there. I had a 50 and a 70-210 on a film camera and it worked out fine.

    It was way too many years ago. Beware the cab drivers, one almost got us squished by a train.

    Dale
     
  10. ocabj macrumors 6502a

    ocabj

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2009
    #10
    You'll probably want to bring your 80-400.

    Longer better in a lot of the fixed exhibits where animals are often far from the viewing area. At the now Safari Park (formerly Wild Animal Park), you'll often see some people bringing in 400mm, 500mm, and even some 600mm primes to use at the lion exhibit.

    You're working with FF (D800), so the 135mm might be a fun lens. I'd personally ditch the 50 and go shorter (35 or 24) to capture general shots around the zoo. I don't think the 50 will get much use.

    I have some samples from a few years back here:

    http://www.jocabphoto.com/sdzoo (SD Zoo)
    http://www.jocabphoto.com/sdwap (SD Zoo Safari Park)

    If you run through the SD Zoo shots, a lot of them were at 200mm on APS-C (exposure info viewable).
     
  11. kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #11
    The 80-400 was perfect, thanks for all the arm twisting :) Very much worth it. Will be posting some in the POTD thread, along with some other shots from the trip.
     
  12. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #12
    I've been to the DC zoo also. it is MUCH smaller than the San Diego Zoo. But still you have to make a choice. Are you there to see the zoo or to shoot animal pictures? if shooting animals the only shots worth taking are those that show interesting behavior AND are very tightly framed so as not to show the enclosure. You have to wait for the behaviors. It can take all day to get a shot like that and you will need a big 400mm lens AND a big tripod and maybe (if the sun is out) a fill-in flash that can each 50 feet. In other words bring a wagon to haul the gear.

    But if you want to see the zoo pack lightly because it's a hike. Plan to shoot the zoo and not animals. Shoot pictures of people looking at Animals in enclosures. Shoot how some kid interacts with a monkey. My dream lens for that would be a 70-200 f/4 with image stabilizer.

    That guy who shoots at the DC zoo likely lives nearby and knows each animal by name. He knows when they are fed and what time of day the light is best. and uses a 400mm on a heavy tripod

    You can't have it both ways.
     
  13. kallisti, May 20, 2014
    Last edited: May 20, 2014

    kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #13
    I agree with you and chuckled a bit when I read this. When I was at the San Diego zoo Saturday it was pretty empty as far as people with crazy gear until I got to the walk with all the bigger cats. Then it got crazy. There was a group moving from exhibit to exhibit with some of the biggest lenses I have ever seen (with the exception of watching surfers in Hawaii). They were either fast 400s or possibly 600s. They all knew each other and all of the cats by name. The fast bursts sounded like muffled machine gun fire. I have some time tomorrow morning before my flight leaves and I'm going back. Focus is a bitch, especially if the cats are moving and close to the front of the enclosure which has fine wires that mess with auto-focus.
     
  14. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #14
    A Better Beamer helps a lot with that for not much weight at all.

    The nice thing about taking a 400/2.8 to the DC Zoo is people will actually back up out of your way as you set up. The bad thing is they don't allow commercial sales of the images.

    Paul
     
  15. kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #15
    Figured out the auto-focus issue on my second day to the zoo. I'm used to using my Leica and manual focus. Even using my D800 I don't normally shoot moving subjects. Changed the auto-focus settings to enable all 51 sensors and distance information (3D). Once I acquired focus on the moving subject (sometimes having to manually bring it into focus), the auto-focus worked like a champ even when the subject briefly moved behind something.

    Reading about a feature vs actually learning how to use it in practice. Doh.
     
  16. pezdaddy macrumors member

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2012
    #16
    I'm pretty new still to the DSLR, but reading this thread got me thinking. When I'm at the zoo or other places shooting through glass, what would help with the reflection? I'm thinking a filter on the lens, but which one?
     
  17. Attonine macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2006
    Location:
    Kent. UK
    #17
    Anyone going to the zoo to photograph should google Garry Winograd's book, The Animals. A fantastic collection of zoo shots from a totally different, and for those who don't know Winogrand, unexpected perspective!
     
  18. kallisti, May 23, 2014
    Last edited: May 23, 2014

    kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #18
    A Circular Polarizer filter is the only thing that will help with reflections. It's sometimes possible to change your shooting position to minimize reflections or at least control what reflections end up in the image (i.e. stray light vs you and your camera). Our brains tend to focus on the subject when we shoot and filter out extraneous details. The camera sensor isn't so selective and captures everything. Learning to see the background and *not* the subject when I compose was one of those "oh wow" moments for me.

    The other major problem when photographing through glass at a zoo (as was reinforced on this trip) is that the glass is invariably dirty and scratched which results in significant image degradation. This doesn't necessarily ruin an image, but it can be noticeable.
     
  19. ChrisA, May 23, 2014
    Last edited: May 23, 2014

    ChrisA macrumors G4

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    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #19
    Yes, I think the best position for shooting through glass is with your camera lens nearly touching the glass. The "killer" accessory is a RUBBER lens hood. You will get absolutely zero reflections if the rubber hood contacts the glass all around. You will need to find a clean spot to shoot through. You can also use you hand as a lens shade but the rubber shade is nearly perfect. And because the glass and any dirt on it is so close it will be completely out of focus.

    But this assumes your indent is to hide the fact that you are in a zoo. I've got some good shots of the enclosures and animals and people interacting. For example, everyone has seen a picture of a close up of a hippo's head. But a little girl on her dad's shoulders looking eye to eye with a hippo through the glass is unique to the San Diego Zoo because they are one place that has the viewing area at the water line with a glass wall. I've done both types of shots at that exhibit. There is some good planted background there too.

    I looked up Garry Winograd's book, The Animals. Good call.
     
  20. kallisti, Jun 12, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2014

    kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #20
    I ordered this on Amazon based on your recommendation. Just arrived yesterday. I can't tell you how much I love this book! Has made me rethink how I want to shoot when going to a zoo. Sometimes it's about the animals. But perhaps more interesting is making it about how people interact with/respond to animals. There are so many gems in this collection. One of my favorites was of a woman posing in front of a zebra, but Winogrand's photo included the person taking this posed photo. Another is the last photo in the book showing a couple kissing in front of a seal that is intently ogling them. One of a monkey with child staring at a woman with child. The last I'll mention is somewhat subtle--a photo of a bear placard with the teeth of the bear chewing up the sign from below.

    Thanks again! This was really a great suggestion.
     

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