New telephoto lens

Brown butterfly on poinsettia
Common Eggfly on poinsettia, courtesy of my new telephoto zoom lens

Most of my insect photography so far has been done with my Canon 100mm macro lens, and I love it: it lets me get big, clear images of anything I can get close enough to.

But that last bit can be problematic, of course. Dragonflies and many other insects don’t take kindly to having a person or a camera lens too close to them, and they take off. Sure, I have taken some good shots of skittish subjects – but I have missed many more. The solution, of course, is a telephoto lens which lets the photographer fill the frame with a smaller or more distant subject. After a fair bit of research online and some advice from more experienced photographers I settled on an image-stabilised Canon 70-300mm zoom lens. I got it two days ago and took it for a walk beside Ross River yesterday afternoon.

First impressions are that its image quality, so long as I do everything right, is very nearly as good as my macro lens – great! – and that it does make flighty subjects much easier to capture – terrific! The butterfly above (click on it for a larger image, as usual) exemplifies both points. Dragonflies were far easier, too, and I got some little crabs which would normally have vanished into their holes in the mud before I got close enough.

I also had birds in mind when I went shopping, and you can expect more birds on my blog from now on. I watched a Great Egret fly in and land in the shallows of Ross River far enough away not to be bothered by me but close enough to for some good shots. (25.2.12: they are now here.) Distant landscape subjects are also good: I can’t read a numberplate a kilometre away but I can get perspectives which would otherwise be impossible.

Downsides? None that are too significant. I need to remember to keep shutter speed up – even with the stabilisation, 1/160 sec is often blurred at 300mm, hand-held (on the other hand, the rule of thumb for an unstabilised lens would recommend going down to at least 1/300 sec). I also have to get used to the idea that I may need to step away from the subject to be able to focus on it, since the minimum focus distance is about 1.5 metres. That’s about all, really. My macro lens will still be best for very small, close subjects but the telephoto zoom lens will see a lot of use.

4 thoughts on “New telephoto lens”

    1. Getting that way, Margaret, although there is more gear that might help.
      Some people are amazed that I don’t have (or want) a tripod, for instance, but (so far) I don’t mind losing a few shots in return for the freedom to move around in pursuit of an insect or bird.
      I could also do with a specialised flash unit for macro work … but they are big and clumsy and might not be much use without a tripod. No rush, then.
      And really, I had plenty of fun even before I got the macro lens. Just a normal zoom lens on a basic DSLR will get you a long way. Try it :-)

  1. So what settings did you have your camera on to capture that butterfly photo. I have the 70-300mm lens too but can’t seem to capture anything macro so close up. I’m still searching for answers.

    1. Hi, Helen,
      The settings were f 8, 1/250 sec, ISO 200, 300mm (i.e. zoomed to the limit of the telephoto range, as you would expect), flash off.
      These are pretty much my standard walk-around settings, with either this lens or the 100mm macro: aperture priority, f 8, ISO 200 and the AF set to just the one centre point. Aperture priority and f 8 ensure I have the depth of field I need for macro work and the highest possible shutter speed without having to fiddle with settings, while the ISO setting ensures the image isn’t too noisy.
      Looking back after three years, I would probably go to the widest aperture setting, f 5.6, rather than f 8, if I had time for a second shot. But I’ve got to admit that there is a fair bit of luck involved, too, since this is still one of my better shots with that lens.

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