1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

What lens for whale and dolphin watching?

Discussion in 'Lens Matters' started by RogerMac, Dec 23, 2017.

  1. RogerMac

    RogerMac Well-Known Member

    Yes I know there is no correct answer beyond "How long is a piece of string?" and it depends upon how close one can get but I would be interested in any advice from anyone's personal experience.

    The background is that youngest daughter has booked her family plus aged parents onto a very short notice holiday in Madeira where boat trips for marine mammal watching are available and I need to decide how much kit to take. I will have at least a Canon 6D and my longest lens for that is a 70-300 but I would be prepared to get a longer lens if I thought it essential. EF mount advice preferred but EF-S also considered

    Any advice gratefully received
  2. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I have no idea but I'd jump at an excuse to get the 100-400 mk ii. The lightest, longer Canon is the unstabilised 400 F5.6 however a zoom is a much more flexible option. If you get close to something big then a fixed 400 is useless. For the same price as a 100-400 ii you could get a Sony RX-10 iv which gives 24-600 mm (equivalent fov)
  3. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    My guess is you'll need both good stabilisation PLUS high shutter speeds - hence high ISO sensitivity.
    RogerMac likes this.
  4. frank1

    frank1 Well-Known Member

    Well if the dolphins are swimming along side the boat " you're gonna need a smaller lens ". I've no experience in this but covering all bases a Sigma 18-250mm or any other make would cover the possibility of subjects being close and may depending on luck. Cover your telephoto needs in one lens.

    I have a Sigma 50-500mm but it weighs a ton not very fast but neither is the 18-250. Good luck with the trip just don't let the pursuit of trying to get a great shot ruin it.
    RogerMac likes this.
  5. Bazarchie

    Bazarchie Well-Known Member

    I have only tried with dolphins off the west coast of Wales. I was on a relatively small boat, the conditions were reasonable and fortunately I some dolphins. Photographing them was far from easy. They could pop up anyway, port or starboard, near to the boat or several hundred yards away. I was using a 7Dii and a 300Lis trying to brace myself against the motion of the boat. This was a fine focal length most of the time but too long when they were bow swimming.

    If I went again I would use a zoom, a Canon 100-400 or a Sigma 150-600. Your existing 70-300 may suit.
    RogerMac likes this.
  6. Snorri

    Snorri Well-Known Member

    I have been on few trips in Iceland and I find that I use the 15-85 and the 70-300 on a APS-C. Longer could be better for the puffins but I find that the 70-300 is enough for the whales.
    RogerMac likes this.
  7. Snorri

    Snorri Well-Known Member

    Try few shots on the way out, depending on the sun and sea you might need to add a stop as the camera will under expose the whales.
    RogerMac likes this.
  8. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Well-Known Member

    Fascinating. I'm surprised that a 300 could be too long, but that was based purely on very roughly similar photography, rather than on actual experience, for which there is no real substitute. Thanks!


  9. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Given how fast the beggars appear and disappear, whatever camera has least shutter lag!

    RogerMac likes this.
  10. Snorri

    Snorri Well-Known Member

    Another thing is the species, for example Humpbacks are easy as they swim very high to breath. They are also playfull and curious, usually easy to get close to. Minke is smaller and faster but usually there are many around so again no to bad. The Big blue is hard very few left (sadly) and they swim very low, you just about see the blowhole and the back fin. Orcas are cool if they are at surface specially the males with their hig back fin. The Cachalot is often hard to photograph as the dives are very long, up to an hour.
    So basically different gear is needed depending on the species.
    frank1 likes this.
  11. RogerMac

    RogerMac Well-Known Member

    Well went this mornig. Got some images of whale s but no dolphin some nice images I might publish when I get back. But they are a bit me-tooish so you will think I ripped them off! Anyway the 24-105 was fine and I never used the 70-300. What was obvious was a very good viewfinder and responsive shutter were much more important than the lens used
    EightBitTony and frank1 like this.
  12. Bazarchie

    Bazarchie Well-Known Member

    Are you going to have another trip and hopefully see some dolphins? I trust Madeira is warmer than Reading, 4C today.
  13. daft_biker

    daft_biker Action Man!

  14. RogerMac

    RogerMac Well-Known Member

    Yes I will be back, 24C daytime at moment. They are hoping for rain just now.
  15. ChrisNewman

    ChrisNewman Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately I’ve only just found this thread, but it seems you managed fine, Roger, and Snorri seems to have a lot more experience than me. The main point I’d like to add for anyone planning for a similar opportunity in future is that I think it’s well worth fitting a polarizing filter to pick up more detail from below the surface of the water.

    On trips of this type it would be difficult to change lenses, and in any case you wouldn’t want to miss opportunities by trying to do it, and so the versatility of a zoom is far more useful than the resolution of a long telephoto prime, even if you have one.

    I’ve been on a couple of successful dolphin-watching trips. It seemed to be expected that the dolphins would take as much interest in boats and tourists as we did in them, and if that hadn’t happened, I don’t think I’d have got any good shots. So, depending on how close to the water you are, it can be worth having a zoom that goes pretty wide.

    In New Zealand, on a scenic cruise in Milford Sound, we were lucky enough to see a humpback whale and calf. The wide end of my 150-500mm would have been the ideal lens of those I own, except that I don’t have a polarizing filter to fit it, and it wasn’t practical to take such a large, heavy lens on a round-the-world trip. So I managed pretty well with my 24-70mm, mounted for the scenery, although I would have appreciated a longer reach for the wales. To balance that luck, less than a week later we were booked on a sperm whale-watching trip from Kaikoura, where they offered to refund most of the cost if no whales were seen. Not only did we get the refund; my wife was seasick for the first time in her 65 years! However, I did get a couple of shots of a dusky dolphin, and a few of the seabirds.

    RogerMac likes this.
  16. RogerMac

    RogerMac Well-Known Member

    Apparently (on Madiera at least) the Whales show in stormy weather and Dolphins in calm. If they had told me that earlier in the week I would have gone twice Anyway here are two images of whales - nothing out of the ordinary but I enjoyed taking them. Thanks for all your advice

    Whale pod.JPG

    Whale tail.JPG

    Attached Files:

    Done_rundleCams and EightBitTony like this.
  17. RovingMike

    RovingMike Crucifixion's a doddle...

    I'd go along with the view that you often need wideangle, not telephoto. I have been caught out several times with 70-210s on and the perishers come up right beside you. Close to is also the best shot usually. Further away they are, all you see is a hump or fin anyway and focus can be all over the place. 24-80 or 120 for me.
    RogerMac likes this.
  18. Petrochemist

    Petrochemist Well-Known Member

    Looks like you had a great trip.

    I was planning to advise that the friend I have who photographs sharks nearly always uses a wide angle. Apparently underwater the visibility is rarely good enough to use anything longer. :)
  19. Done_rundleCams

    Done_rundleCams AP Forum Ambassador to Canada

    Great shots, Roger :) .... As for what lens, normally I would have suggested a long lens like the majority.
    However, a few years back, a friend/customer of mine was out with a fellow photog / mate fishing for
    salmon just off the coast of BC, when all of a sudden a group (pod?) of Orca's showed up about a hundred
    or so yards away, and the one fellow only had a 100-400 on his camera which was packed away and, the other
    fellow (my customer/mate) had his Pentax camera and 18-250 lens nearby in a camera bag, so he took it
    out and started shooting and, then, back to fishing. About 20 minutes later, he feels something on his
    line and starts to reel in it and sees that the Orca's are now much closer -- 40 or 50 yds -- but, he continues
    to reel in his line and ends up with a bodyless salmon :eek: So, now, he figures, screw the fishing, I'm going
    to shoot some Orca's and they ended up coming in so close to their boat that even the at 18 (equivalent of
    28mm) was not wide enough for the whole Orca :eek: ... but, he did have a Circular Polariser on his lens so
    he could, at least, make the most of the 18 end of his lens :D

    So, perhaps, something like this lens ...

    because it's inexpensive, not a great loss, financially ... https://www.lcegroup.co.uk/Used/Tamron-28-200mm-F3.8-5.6-_199369.html

    or, this lens, https://www.lcegroup.co.uk/Used/Tamron-28-300mm-F3.5-6.3-VC-C/AF_168596.html

    which one of my co-workers, at my previous job, and a diehard Canon shooter picked
    up a few years back and loves it :) and, along with his EF-16-35/2.8 II is his daily walk (well, bicycle)
    around kit.



Share This Page