What is the Best lens for Wildlife Photography - Roger and Pat de la Harpe Photography - Photographs, Video and Stock Images.

This is one of a series of regular articles featured in Kruger Magazine.

We received some feedback from our previous posts and so, in this post, we address two reader queries.

1. The first query was with regard to lenses – which are the best? Should one go with a manufacturer’s lens (such as Canon, Nikon, Panasonic) or does it make sense to save some money and go with one from independent producers like Sigma, Tamron or Samyang?

2. Then, another reader asked which exposure mode (P, A, T or M) is  best.

Well, it depends...

On these low-light, late afternoon shoots, the light levels are constantly changing – ideal for Aperture Priority or Program. Here, I’ve got the lens wide open to get that shallow depth of field and to keep shutter speeds as high as they will go with the ISO level I’ve set – in this case, 400.  Nikon D7100 and 80 - 400mm lens. 1/500 sec at f5,6. ISO 400

On these low-light, late afternoon shoots, the light levels are constantly changing – ideal for Aperture Priority or Program. Here, I’ve got the lens wide open to get that shallow depth of field and to keep shutter speeds as high as they will go with the ISO level I’ve set – in this case, 400. Nikon D7100 and 80 - 400mm lens. 1/500 sec at f5,6. ISO 400

So let’s open a can of worms...

So what is the best lens? Well, once again, it all depends. To start, lett’s go back for a second to the days when I worked in the industrial engineering department in a factory on the Reef. We needed to define quality for the various products we were manufacturing. It was all very well to say we were producing high-quality products – but what does that mean? We came up with the notion of ‘fitness for use’ – how fit (how good) is the product for its intended use?

Now, applying this to photography, what is the intended use of the image or images you produce? A simple record of your trip to the bush? Or are you shooting for the world’s finest magazine and book publishers? The quality requirements are very different in these two cases and only you can decide where you need to position yourself. When I first started contributing to a stock photo agency many years ago, I was using really cheap lenses – mainly second-hand and not camera manufacturers’ lenses. My picture editor kept saying, “Great images, but we can’t use them – not sharp enough or low contrast or bad colour...”

There was a lot happening with these rhino and having set the camera to Program mode meant I didn’t have to worry about exposure, concentrating instead on what the animals were doing and on getting the composition right.  Nikon D7100 and 80 - 400mm lens. 1/320 sec at f5,6. ISO  400.

There was a lot happening with these rhino and having set the camera to Program mode meant I didn’t have to worry about exposure, concentrating instead on what the animals were doing and on getting the composition right. Nikon D7100 and 80 - 400mm lens. 1/320 sec at f5,6. ISO 400.

After a while, the penny dropped and we took out a loan (actually, we took out a couple of loans over the years) and I got myself some decent Nikkor (and later, when I changed brands, Canon) lenses. And guess what? My agency acceptance rate went up. We are not all shooting for agencies, publishing houses and the like – in which case, so-called kit lenses may be just fine. And the same applies to the independent manufacturers. Things have changed drastically since those early days and many of these are producing some really fine lenses. The Sigma Art lenses are just superb, as are the top-end Tamrons. And I use a completely manual, 7.5mm Samyang fish-eye on my Panasonic GH5 with really excellent results

This young female leopard was bouncing around this tree, having a fine time – one moment in full sun, the next in shadow. This is not the time for manual – I would prefer Aperture Priority or Program.  Nikon D7100 and 80 - 400mm lens. 1/400 sec at f9. ISO  400.

This young female leopard was bouncing around this tree, having a fine time – one moment in full sun, the next in shadow. This is not the time for manual – I would prefer Aperture Priority or Program. Nikon D7100 and 80 - 400mm lens. 1/400 sec at f9. ISO 400.

So, what to do? For the most part, I would suggest using lenses made by your camera manufacturer. Does that preclude Tamron, Sigma, Samyang, Leica and so on? Absolutely not. Check them out on the wonderful photography site www. dxomark.com, compare the results to what your camera manufacturer offers, and make a decision. I will say this, though: buy the best lenses you can afford. You won’t be sorry.

This is a case for manual everything. When shooting panoramas, one has to keep things constant from frame to frame – that means white balance, focus and exposure – and the best way to ensure this is to switch to manual completely. Nikon D800 and 16 - 35mm lens. 1/40 sec at f13. ISO 200

This is a case for manual everything. When shooting panoramas, one has to keep things constant from frame to frame – that means white balance, focus and exposure – and the best way to ensure this is to switch to manual completely. Nikon D800 and 16 - 35mm lens. 1/40 sec at f13. ISO 200

The other email I received from a reader will also open up a can of worms:

This reader asked what the best exposure mode to use might be. (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual). And yes, you guessed it – the answer is, “It depends...”

Firstly, understand that there are a whole variety of ways of working, each resulting in a very similar outcome. In the end, though, you are trying to produce a well exposed, well composed and well focused image that communicates your feelings and emotions. (Well, that’s what I try to do!) How you actually deliver on this is immaterial. In the end, the client or viewer (whoever that is) usually does not care how you achieved the photograph – the important thing is that you did.

So, with this in mind, do what works for you and what brings home the images – but here are some thoughts of mine on the main ‘creative’ exposure modes (excluding the so-called ‘basic modes’ like Portrait or Sport).

Here’s a situation where Manual Mode can work. Constant lighting conditions mean that you can set up an exposure and hold it, but I still prefer to work in the auto modes that I’m used to.  Nikon D800 and 80 - 400mm lens. 1/5000 at f7,1. ISO 400.

Here’s a situation where Manual Mode can work. Constant lighting conditions mean that you can set up an exposure and hold it, but I still prefer to work in the auto modes that I’m used to. Nikon D800 and 80 - 400mm lens. 1/5000 at f7,1. ISO 400.

These are:

P–Program. The camera selects both the shutter speed and aperture based on a bunch of algorithms which take into account, inter alia, what the scene looks like, what lens is being used, the IOS and the brightness of the scene.

S or TV – Shutter Priority. You select a shutter speed and the camera selects the appropriate aperture.

A or Av – Aperture Priority. You select the aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed.

M – Manual. You select both shutter speed and aperture values based on the camera’s internal meter, a hand-held light meter or experience.

Let’s get the (in my opinion) ‘bad’ modes out of the way first. Shutter Priority is the one I almost always avoid. Because of the limited range of aperture stops available in any lens, it is very easy to end up with over or under-exposed results. Sure, there is a little warning that pops up in the viewfinder when you go beyond the range of apertures available, but this is easy to miss in the heat of the moment.

For me, Canons work well in Aperture Priority and here I set an aperture of f/10 on the 16-35mm lens, which gave me a really nice depth of field. So easy and quick to select, the shutter speed floating as the light faded... Canon 1DsR and 16 - 35mm lens. 0,5 sec at f10. ISO 400

For me, Canons work well in Aperture Priority and here I set an aperture of f/10 on the 16-35mm lens, which gave me a really nice depth of field. So easy and quick to select, the shutter speed floating as the light faded... Canon 1DsR and 16 - 35mm lens. 0,5 sec at f10. ISO 400

I very rarely work in manual mode. Sure, if I’m in studio or shooting a panorama I’ll flip over to Manual mode to hold exposures. Some do prefer this mode of working, however, setting a speed and aperture, relying on auto ISO to compensate for any changes in light levels, and get excellent results in the process. I’ve tried it, and can certainly see the logic to this method, but it’s not for me.

Aperture Priority works for me. I pick an aperture (I usually have the lens wide open if I’m shooting wildlife) and an appropriate ISO (usually about 400 for long lenses) and then keep an eye on the shutter speeds and histogram/exposure warnings, adjusting the exposure compensation as necessary.

It’s very easy to make changes to the aperture and shutter speed while in this mode. Want a high shutter speed? Simply select a wide aperture and the camera automatically sets the highest shutter speed it can in the prevailing light and ISO conditions. Want a larger depth of field? Change to f11 or f16 and the camera makes the necessary changes to the shutter speed. Works for me...

I have this wonderful little (it’s tiny) Samyang 7.5mm fisheye lens that<br />
I use for some of my mountain- biking photographs and the like. It’s fantastic – sharp, light and gives fantastic results. Panasonic GH5 and 7.5mm Samyang fisheye.

I have this wonderful little (it’s tiny) Samyang 7.5mm fisheye lens that
I use for some of my mountain- biking photographs and the like. It’s fantastic – sharp, light and gives fantastic results. Panasonic GH5 and 7.5mm Samyang fisheye.

And here’s the can of worms:

Program Mode. For me, this is like Aperture Priority on steroids. Many people turn up their noses at working in Program but it can really deliver the goods. For the most part, the camera does a pretty fine job of selecting a good working combination of shutter speed and aperture. Understandably so, considering the processing power of the computers in most of today’s cameras. If you don’t like what the camera has set, simply change it using one of the control dials on your camera.

Say the camera has picked 1/500 sec at f11 but you want a higher shutter speed. Simply change the F-stop to f8 or f5.6 and the camera will up the shutter speed to 1/1000 or 1/2000. Again, keep an eye on those histograms/ exposure warnings to make sure that everything is good in terms of exposure (you don’t want to burn out the bright areas of your pics) and adjust as necessary.

Program mode has received a lot of bad press. It’s seen by many as an inferior way of working – for those that don’t know what they are doing. I’m not so sure. I see it as one less thing to worry about, freeing me up to work on composition and getting the best images I can.

Give it a bash and let me know if it works for you.

Please let us know what you’d like to read about in these columns - what interests you, what you need to know photographically. Also, hook up on Instagram (@RogerdelaHarpe) and Facebook (@Roger and Pat de la Harpe).

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