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Old Feb 19, 2011, 9:22 PM   #1
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Default Need suggestions for a puffin-watching trip.

I know it's a very long way off, but my wife and I have made reservations for a puffin-watching trip to Machias Seal Island in July. Machias Seal Island is a tiny chunk of rock sticking out of the water in a disputed area claimed by both the US and Canada, a few miles off the coast of Maine and New Brunswick. Thousands of puffins, as well as razorbill auks and terns, nest there every summer. Unless conditions are too rough, we will almost certainly see puffins from the boat as they fly by, and they fly fast: approx. 50 mph! If conditions are suitable, we will also take a small dory and land on the island, where we will have the opportunity to photograph these birds from blinds, and I am told that puffins land and take off from ledges just 20 or 30 feet from the blinds. I'm told that we'll likely get about 2 hours in the blinds (if conditions are suitable for landing on the island, and that's never a sure thing).

I'll be shooting with my K20, and I have the DA 16-45, the FA 28-105, and a Sigma 70-300 APO DG. I also might be able to borrow a Sigma 150-500 from an acquaintance, though I'm not convinced I'll need such a long and bulky lens.

I would love any suggestions on other lenses to consider. This trip is a great excuse to buy a new lens, or to rent one that's out of my budget range. I also would appreciate people's advice on panning techniques, and which autofocus or exposure modes to use. I have never been in a birdwatching blind before, and I would welcome any advice on how to make the most of that brief time in the blind.
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Old Feb 20, 2011, 9:21 AM   #2
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The Sigma 150-500 doesn't sound like the right lens for this trip. A fast 70-200/2.8 would be very suitable for both shooting from the boat and from the blinds. Sigma & Tamron both have superb lenses in this range though the Sigma has HSM and is a little faster it's also almost twice the price of the Tamron. There's also the Pentax 80-200/2.8 if you can find one !
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Old Feb 20, 2011, 10:07 AM   #3
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Ted, I was thinking the same thing.

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Old Feb 20, 2011, 11:25 AM   #4
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Well, I can't help on the lenses. But, it sure sounds like a fun trip. Make sure to share what you get. Puffins are so cute.

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Old Feb 20, 2011, 1:21 PM   #5
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I have done a lot of bird photography from boats and ashore, and IMO a 200 does not give you enough reach, and a relatively large bulky lens like the 50-500 would be too burdensome ashore and unworkable on the boat. IS and AF are essential on a rocking boat - forget any manual lenses. If you have only the one body, take the 16-45 for habitat/landscape and the 70-300 which should be ideal for birds both in and out of the blind. When you are with a group and in an unfamiliar situation, you have to take opportunities as they present themselves, and too much equipment is a liability - you need to be ready for fast moving subjects and don't have time to change lenses - you would be better off with a second body - one for each lens. Even a tripod is a burden, but you might want one for the blind, as most of your other shooting will be hand held.

Another suggestion (which may not be for you if you wouldn't have use for it later) would be to add a KM or Sony body and a Minolta or Sony 500mm AF mirror, a light weight combination I have used a lot, even on board a boat. If this were a once in a lifetime safari to a far away place, I'd say go for it and sell them when you get back. That an an 18-250/270 for your K20 would be a nice practical outfit
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Old Feb 20, 2011, 3:51 PM   #6
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I would think you'd definitely want something that goes to 300. I also think that Penolta's idea of a second body is spot-on. As far as lenses, if you have two bodies or aren't interested in the wider angle shots much, I'd use this as an excuse to get the DA*300 - fast focusing and quieter than the Sigma (assume yours isn't HSM). But Penolta's suggestion of the an AF mirror sounds good to me (as long as you know beforehand how to get the best out of it).
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Old Feb 23, 2011, 10:44 PM   #7
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I hadn't thought about a second body, but I can certainly see how that would help -- no need to swap out lenses. And I want to thank everyone for all the lens suggestions.

Does anyone have any suggestions for autofocus or autoexposure modes? Also, any tips for shooting from a blind?
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Old Feb 23, 2011, 10:59 PM   #8
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I've photographed puffins on a similar low island off the NE coast of England, and I could walk up to about 6ft from them and take my pictures. No need for a hide (which is what we call your "blind").
Canon 5D & 7D (both gripped), 24-105L, 100-400L, EF-S 15-85, 50 f1.8, Tamron 28-75, Sigma 12-24, G10, A1+10 FD lenses, tripods, lights etc
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Old Feb 24, 2011, 7:43 AM   #9
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Good Morning,

About 5 years ago we took an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise. I had my Canon SD500 (nice and small - fits in a pocket) and was very happy with it, until we took a day trip to the Kenai Peninsula. Lots of Puffins and everything else. There was a small rock island covered with them and we pulled right up. The camera lens was not long enough nor stabilized. (I'll try to post some images and get the focal length from them). We were pretty close - maybe 20 feet away - considering.

I would think that your 300 should do well. Certainly the borrowed 150-500 would do the job. Also, the weather conditions can vary a lot. Everything from bright sun to fog.

Well, gotta go to work......
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