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Old Oct 5, 2010, 11:13 PM   #1
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Default Tele Zoom and Portrait Prime for Tribal Forests of Asia -- for 40D

This is my current setup:

Camera: 40D
Lens: Sigma 17-70mm "macro" (the old one -- no IS)
Flash: Speedlight 580EX II

I'd be interested in any advice you may have about what else to get for the trip described below -- lenses especially. I am considering three main additions at this juncture:

(A) Tele Zoom -- currently leaning toward the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS (lighter than the 2.8 and supposedly very sharp -- would love to add a 2x converter, but may not be enough light on the f/4)

(B) Portrait Prime -- currently leaning toward:

(i) the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 (nice wide open lens, and I can't justify cost of 1.2);

(ii) the Tamron 60mm f/2 macro (nice focal length on the 40D, and true macro is a plus, but not as good for bokeh and low light); OR

(iii) the Canon 85mm f/1.8 (a little long for indoor portraits, perhaps)

(C) Flash diffuser -- currently leaning toward the Lightsphere. I saw a photographer use this on his flash at a wedding, and the results seemed really nice. Note that I am hoping to use the flash as little as possible as it is quite unsubtle.

(D) Tripod -- No idea what to get. Any advice?

The Trip: I am going to visit tribal and stateless people in the forests of South and Southeast Asia to work on a project that may help them in their struggles to keep their land, resist deforestation, get access to justice, gain more international recognition, and attract microfinance. I'll be there in the dry(er) season, this December. Although photography is not the focus of the trip, I'm planning to do a lot of it while there.

Uses: I want to keep it relatively light, and I expect to take these sorts of pictures: (1) portraits (all types, from faces to full-body), many of them indoors or in other low-light conditions; (2) family and village scenes; (3) tea pickers (possibly from far away); (4) some wildlife, hopefully far enough away so it can't eat me; (5) landscapes; (6) flowers, vines, bugs, and closeups of carvings on monuments.

Money: I probably don't want to spend more than around $2000-$2500.

THANKS! I am open to any advice both within the four (A)-(D) categories noted above, and otherwise. For example, let me know if you think I should change my walk-around lense (although I do love the 17-70 versatility on the 40D aspect ratio) or the camera itself (the ISO, megapixels are a bit low on the 40D, plus no video). I traveled to India for a few months with just the 17-70, and found myself craving more versatiliy at times (although not having to mess with the setup was pretty great), especially in low light.
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Old Oct 6, 2010, 4:18 AM   #2
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The Canon 70-200/4.0 is indeed a very good lens, but a 2X teleconverter will add 2 stops to the maximum aperture, so the camera won't AF. The good news is that even inexpensive 1.4X teleconverters, which only add 1 stop, will work well with that lens. But since you want to travel light, you might want to consider the Canon 55-250 IS. Since it's an APS-C only lens, it's a lot lighter. On the other hand, in an environment where you need things to work, having 'L' series lenses is not a bad idea.

On an APS-C body, 85mm is a more classic portraiture focal length, but a portrait lens is whatever lens you use to take portraits. I think I'd go for the Tamron 60/2 for the macro capability as well.

For the tripod, since you want to travel light, I'd look at a carbon fiber unit.
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Old Oct 6, 2010, 12:46 PM   #3
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TCav - great suggestions. Thanks. I hadn't thought about the 55-250 IS, and it's nice to have something I can lug around hiking without feeling like 100 pounds around my neck.

Straps/Harnesses: In addition to my queries above, anyone have any suggestions about what strap to use -- or maybe even a frontpack-type harness to strap the camera to my torso for ease of movement?

I recall a poster named fstop suggested a great strap, and now I can't find the post.

Other Suggestions?!

Thanks again TCav
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Old Oct 6, 2010, 12:53 PM   #4
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I think those are some good suggestions. Another suggestion for a tele would be the 70-300 IS, its heavier than the 55-250IS but will focus much faster and being a consumer lens isn't unnecessarily heavy, plus you get a little extra range and better optics than the 55-250.

i agree with the Tamron 60mm 2.0 macro, having a true macro will be advantageous i believe.

i would look into getting a carbon fiber tripod if you are trying to travel light.
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Old Oct 6, 2010, 2:15 PM   #5
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Hards and TCav - Thanks.

On the zoom: I like the idea of having a small black lens for the zoom -- which will be less ostentatious in the field -- and both 55-250 and 70-300 seem like they fit the bill, albeit the photos won't be as nice as the 70-200L. The 55-250 seems better in this way, and might free up some money for me to upgrade to the 60D and get video capability, higher ISO/mpxls, etc. My one concern with the 55-250 and 70-300 is that I really like having aperture flexibility at the long end late in the day, when people are coming in from the fields.

On the portrait lens: Let me explain what I mean when I say "portrait lens": Good bokeh with shallow depth of field, even at dusk or indoors w/no flash from a distance that is not offensive to the subject and yet can work inside a hut with low lighting. With my setup, it's difficult to get this effect because of reduced aspect ratio limits on DOF, because of ISO limits, and because my 17-70 lens does not have a large aperture at 60 or 70mm, where I have found I most often take portraits. TCav, your axiomatic rejection of the term "portrait lens" is well-taken, and I hope my explanation helps you understand what I am looking for. The Tamron macro seems like it might not be wide open enough for what I need -- but 60-75mm (i.e., 92-113 or so) gives me a nice shooting distance. It's a tough choice for me; several people have told me to get the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 instead because it will compensate more for the ISO and DOF limits of the 40D.

Also: What about the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 macro? For portraits, that is...

So maybe get the 60D plus the 55-250 and the Tamron macro? I hate to sell my trusty 40D. Maybe I can keep it as a second camera for event-shooting in the future....
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Old Oct 6, 2010, 10:01 PM   #6
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i have used the 60 2.8 alot. its a super sharp lens. but all the macro lenses are. sometimes they are almost too sharp for portraits. the 2.8 isn't really that fast for your available light work. if you are ok with the 1:3 macro on the 17-70 for close-ups, you may gain more buy getting a fast prime like a canon or sigma 50 1.4 for your portraits.
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Old Oct 6, 2010, 11:00 PM   #7
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Hards -- very interesting. By "too sharp," to you mean that scars, moles, wrinkles, etc. are too defined?

It is my sense that the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 is generally viewed as better than the Canon, especially at the widest apertures. It's more expensive, but it strikes me as worth the money, and my 17-70 and 60/2 won't be competing for daylight usage. The 16mm wider lens will also serve me better in smaller rooms, and the better AF should lead to less frustration.

As far as tele zooms go, what do you think of the Tokina 80-400mm, especially as compared with the 70-300 IS and 55-250 IS? I have heard the 80-400 is soft at 400, but neither of the other two go anywhere near 400, and now that I'm not looking at constant f/4 (the canon may just be too big) I'm thinking of maybe trying to get more reach in a black, less conspicuous lens. Is the lack of stabilization going to make the 80-400 hard to shoot at distance?
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Old Oct 7, 2010, 12:22 AM   #8
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yes, that is what i am referring to on macro lenses, they can show flaws a bit much. but you can soften in postprocessing, so its not a huge issue really, just something to note.

yea, if you will be shooting in the rain forest handheld, you will want every bit of help you can. i think under a canopy the 400 would be difficult to get high enough shutter speeds without resorting to bumping up the ISO without a few stops help from an image stabilization. the tokina is a bit of an older design now too. i would probably lean towards the 70-300 since it seems like reach is important to you, and the extra 50mm is nice esp when multiply by 1.6x, plus having the USM high speed AF could be important here.
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Old Oct 7, 2010, 2:11 AM   #9
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I think 60mm is a better focal length for portraiture than 50mm, but if available light is at a premium, and you don't want to use flash, then an aperture of f/1.4 will definitely help, and the Sigma 50/1.4 is a very good choice. And in close quarters, the 50mm focal length might work out well.

BTW, what about the availability of electricity, batteries, storage, etc.? If not so good, you're use of flash will be limited to the number of batteries you can carry, and your capacity to shoot will be limited to your ability to recharge your 40D batteries, and the size and quantity of your SD Cards.
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Old Oct 7, 2010, 4:37 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TCav View Post
BTW, what about the availability of electricity, batteries, storage, etc.? If not so good, you're use of flash will be limited to the number of batteries you can carry, and your capacity to shoot will be limited to your ability to recharge your 40D batteries, and the size and quantity of your SD Cards.
Excellent question. I imagine electricity will be available, although perhaps not in the place I'm staying -- i.e., I might have to charge up at the store .5 miles down the road. I have a spare battery. Maybe I should get another. I also have a solar charger, although I need to make sure it will work with this. Is there a charger that will juice multiple batteries at once?

Does anyone have pictures with the 55-250 or 70-300? I'm a bit nervous about giving up the constant f/4, but then I really have no choice considering the size and blatantness of that thing....
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