The Right Tools for the Job

March 06, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale Diving

This is a story about a vacation picture, but I think you will see the parallels with situations that provide only one chance to get the shot.

I recently returned from a "trip of a lifetime" to New Zealand. If you have never been there, but like to travel, I heartily recommend NZ! My wife Sage and I spent almost three weeks in country, split between both the north and south islands. It wasn't enough time, and getting on the airplane to return home was tough! We left feeling that we had unfinished business. Maybe some day we will return.

Before we left, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what camera equipment to take. Being that this was a trip of a lifetime, I was not willing to compromise more than necessary. My thinking went something like this. I don't have a cellphone camera. Besides, that was just not going to provide the quality of images that I wanted. I also don't have a compact point and shoot (P&S) camera. I thought long and hard about buying one, mostly due to their small size and light weight, but ultimately decided against that approach because of poor low light performance and sluggish responsiveness in operation. I also didn't want to burden myself with a lot of equipment; I wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible, not be overly concerned about the potential hit from theft or loss, and also not be weighted down with a heavy camera body and lenses. So the options quickly narrowed to a DSLR, of which I already have too many!  Trying to decide between an old Nikon D40 and a D300, I ultimately settled on the D300 for its responsiveness, handling, and low-light performance. As you will see, another feature of the D300 was critical to getting the shot above.

Having decided on the camera body, my next decision involved lens selection. Again, I wanted to travel with as few as possible and also minimize size and weight. That generally meant no prime lenses and no f/2.8 or faster lenses. I took two Nikkor zooms, a 16-85mm and a 55-300mm, both in the  f/3.5-5.6 range. Together, these lenses spanned a good working range with acceptable speed (for outdoor shooting), and they are reasonably light.

The shot above? It was captured with the 55-300, racked out to 247mm. But critical to getting the shot was taking advantage of the camera's ability to shot at 6 fps. I took 23 consecutive shots in this dive sequence. This photo was taken from about the middle of the sequence.

Could I have gotten the shot with just a single click? Maybe, but with the right tool, I basically guaranteed a winning shot. Couldn't get this shot with a cellphone camera. Maybe with a P&S. But definitely with a quality piece of equipment.

The right tool for the job! Don't trust your one-in-a-lifetime pictures to anyone with inferior equipment!


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