Choosing camera (or rather lens) for this season's chase

Aug 27, 2009
156
43
11
I have been looking through a couple of my previous chase photos and videos and started to plan for what type of cameras to focus on for this year's chase. In my first couple of chases I was using a basic systematic Canon 450 camera with the standard lens. I was using my pocket camera for filming, which really wasn't optimal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XYTSU-Fb5o) but it was all I had.

On last year's chase I brought a telescope lens but it proved not to be very useful. For most of the storms I wanted a broader angle and using the telescope lens as my standard lens was just not the best option. On the other hand, the most important photo I took would definitely have benefited from having the telescope lens mounted. It was a brief land spout tornado that was quite far away (https://twitter.com/StormChasingUSA/status/471681777681965056, heavily cropped).

In my arsenal this year I have:
- The same systematic camera with my standard lens and a telescope lens
- A GoPro (suitable for wide angle shots?)
- A small handheld HD video camera (which replaced my pocket camera)
- My iPhone (which I only use for panorama photos)

As you all are aware of, when those exciting moments appear you don't want to be running around changing lenses, making settings on your camera etc. You still want to take stills, video and of course also enjoy the moment!

I guess some are more into still photography, others on making videos, making the selection easy. Sometimes it is quite obvious if the situation calls for still photography, video (or both). My experience is that most events call for a normal lens but in the event of a tornado you want pretty everything from video, focus shots and wide angle shots - this is of course highly dependent on how far away you are.

I would be interested in how you pre-select the equipment you:

1. Bring out on a chase
and
2. Keep in your hands when you step out of the car

For example, do you always keep two sets of cameras available: one for focus shots and one for wider/normal angle shots? Do you video while shooting stills? Do you use a camera that take stills while shooting video?
 
Jun 14, 2009
328
154
11
Altoona, Iowa
toddrector.com
Personally, I enjoy photography immensely so I have upgraded to a Nikon full-frame system (which I will also use on the 340 "other" days of the year I am not chasing). I have had decent results with a cellphone camera, and very good results using a $129 Panasonic point-and-shoot. If I had the money for another camera body, I would keep a wide angle on one and a fast general purpose telephoto on the other. I find that when I am anywhere near to being under a meso, I rarely use magnification. If I had to pick ONE lens, it would be a fast 50mm. My camera does great video, so I switch back and forth between video and still modes, but my preference is shooting stills.

When I chase alone, I keep my camera in a camera bag on my passenger seat so I can grab it as I step out, then toss it right back when I get back in. Otherwise, I keep it in the camera bag in the seat behind me. One thing I have learned the hard way is to make sure the A/C isn't blowing directly on the camera because as soon as I step out into warm/humid conditions the lens fogs up - sometimes for several minutes.
 
May 1, 2011
160
151
11
38
Michigan
www.lakefx.net
Specific lenses will come down to taste for sure... But If i had my way, the optimal range for a single lens is 12 - 80mm. (for a crop factor DSLR) 12mm is just barely large enough fit a double rainbow for example, Or to stand just under the edge of a mesocyclone and fit the entire rain free base of a classic. While 80 is narrow enough to nicely frame a Rozel like stovepipe tornado from a range of 3-4 miles.

The closest lens to this is the 15-85 Canon. But there are lots of sacrifices, It's an f/5.6 on the long end, which is terrible to me. I want F/2.8 and better, and all the way through.

Swapping lenses, if you have just one camera, is a pain. My solution was two bodies, one running a 11-17mm Tokina F2.8, the other a 28-80mm Sigma F2.8. That hole between 17 and 28 annoys me though. Go Pro's luckily seem to fit nicely into that missing range. So I have all my bases covered this way. I also have the 18-55 IS. The 55-250 IS lens from Canon for long shots with plenty of light to work with, though I rarely use it chasing, and any video I get from the long lens is often junk or unusable. That 100+ range is useful for damage path shots, unless of course you are dangerously close.

Great starting point for picking a lens: http://www.photozone.de/Reviews/
 
Oct 31, 2013
401
303
21
Eastern TX Panhandle
I have 2 lenses that I use for my 7D.....the canon 10-22 and the canon 24-105L. I ALWAYS keep the 24-105 on the camera while chasing. Reason being....If I need to hurry to get a decent shot of a tornado, the 10-22 obviously won't cut it unless I'm extremely close. If I have the 24-105 on, I have a much better opportunity of getting a good photo of the tornado. If I have the 24-105 on and need a wide angle lens to get structure, I very rarely need to hurry to do that, so changing the lens out is no big deal. Hope that makes sense.

EDIT: Forgot to note that I take still photos, not video.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Dec 13, 2003
610
62
11
61
La Plata, Maryland
I would keep a wide angle on one and a fast general purpose telephoto on the other.
I'm pretty much the same way. I use a Canon 15-55 (also bring along an old 28-80 that came with my very first camera as well for a back up) On the other camera I use a Sigma 70-200 2.8. I had a 28-80mm Sigma F2.8 but it finally bit the dust :(
 
Right now, a lot of my still photography is being done with a T3i and a 40 year old 28mm manual prime lens. It limits my range, but the images are ridiculously sharp, and it's great for diminished light. I'll probably rent the 24-105L or something similar for a week this year.
Video is still captured via my old workhorse XH-A1. It's pretty much only used outside the vehicle these days, it's pretty cumbersome inside.
 
Out of my 18-135 STM, 10-22(sold), and nifty 50, the 18-135 stays on about 90% of the time when I travel. For good, planned landscapes I went with the 10-22 usually though. I really like the 18-135 STM. Its decently sharp all the way throough. Although the CA is pretty noticeable between 18-24, its no problem to fix.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
2,504
2,172
21
St. Louis
stormhighway.com
I only own two quality lenses, the Canon 50mm 1.8 and the 10-22. The 50 stays on my camera most of the time for the same reasons Jason keeps his 24-105 on. Even without a zoom range, I find the 50 is good enough for most tornado situations - in fact, in most cases, it is better, simply because it being a faster lens is more likely to capture a sharp image of a tornado while handheld. A sharp image of a tornado not exactly at the best zoom range is better than a blurry perfectly-framed one. I have a cheap 70-300 lens that is pretty much useless for zoomed tornado shots for that reason, it's not possible to get a sharp image handheld even at its 70mm end.

The 10-22 is easy enough to swap on if I want structure or if I know I'm going to be close enough to a tornado to need it (which is rare). I use the 10-22 more for lightning than anything else, but even the 50 comes in handy frequently for lightning that isn't crazy close.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Jun 14, 2009
328
154
11
Altoona, Iowa
toddrector.com
I agree completely with Dan.

Having a long telephoto on your camera looks cool when you are chatting at a truck stop, but in reality I find I rarely use anything longer than about 80mm (FX) or 100mm (crop sensor). I want fast lenses more than anything, because with most DSLR's being 12-24 megapixels, a sharp shot from a long distance can be cropped and still look great but a blurry shot is blurry no matter what. The longer the lens you hand-hold, the better the chance you will blur for any given shutter speed. I do most lightning shots between 24-80mm unless there are wonderful anvil-crawlers overhead, in which case wide angle is the only option.

If only my budget supported my photography habit...
 
The 18-135 STM is about the same size as the 10-22. Thats why I had a hard time changing them out for any other reason than being really close. That and being able to focus to infinity is easier with an indicator on the lens. I hated having to zoom in on the screen to check focus with the 18-135.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

ngjere

EF1
May 10, 2010
74
16
11
Saint Paul Minnesota
Yep, after taking some extremely long, heavy glass in the field, I've pretty much decided to leave it at home this season in favor of Wide, Fast, and Sharp. For me? I'm going with a Tokina 11-17mm 2.8, a Minolta 28mm 2.8 and a Minolta 50mm 1.4. There have also been a few chases where the only lens that comes out is a 50mm Macro for shooting wildflowers making a bust day a little less painful...
 
  • Like
Reactions: Matt Salo
Aug 27, 2009
156
43
11
Thanks everyone for your feedback. I believe I will bring my 70-300mm (without stabilizer) but leave it in the backpack unless I really need it - and probably upgrade my regular camera.
 
I have a Canon 6d and Canon 5d mk2. Both have Magic Lantern installed, which adds a ton of functionality not available in the base camera firmware. I do not shoot video much anymore as I really like the super high quality output that you can achieve by using Time Lapse. I have two tripods. Usually I have my 5d mk2 on a tripod with my Sanyo 14mm prime lens shooting 1 or 2 fps timelapse imagery. I setup the 5d mk2 first and with magic lantern my timelapse shooting is completely automated (including exposure control). My 6d has my Canon 24-105L and is in use on a second tripod to shoot stills, generally bracketted at -1 / 0 / +1. Since I am shooting timelapse, I need at least 300 frames to get a good 10 seconds of footage. I like to get out a bit in front of the storms to capture structure and motion.

BTW, the Sanyo 14mm is an excellent value for full frame cameras at $300. It has excellent image quality and is sharper in the corners than any of my other Canon L lenses.
 
I have been looking through a couple of my previous chase photos and videos and started to plan for what type of cameras to focus on for this year's chase. In my first couple of chases I was using a basic systematic Canon 450 camera with the standard lens. I was using my pocket camera for filming, which really wasn't optimal (
) but it was all I had.

On last year's chase I brought a telescope lens but it proved not to be very useful. For most of the storms I wanted a broader angle and using the telescope lens as my standard lens was just not the best option. On the other hand, the most important photo I took would definitely have benefited from having the telescope lens mounted. It was a brief land spout tornado that was quite far away (https://twitter.com/StormChasingUSA/status/471681777681965056, heavily cropped).

In my arsenal this year I have:
- The same systematic camera with my standard lens and a telescope lens
- A GoPro (suitable for wide angle shots?)
- A small handheld HD video camera (which replaced my pocket camera)
- My iPhone (which I only use for panorama photos)

As you all are aware of, when those exciting moments appear you don't want to be running around changing lenses, making settings on your camera etc. You still want to take stills, video and of course also enjoy the moment!

I guess some are more into still photography, others on making videos, making the selection easy. Sometimes it is quite obvious if the situation calls for still photography, video (or both). My experience is that most events call for a normal lens but in the event of a tornado you want pretty everything from video, focus shots and wide angle shots - this is of course highly dependent on how far away you are.

I would be interested in how you pre-select the equipment you:

1. Bring out on a chase
and
2. Keep in your hands when you step out of the car

For example, do you always keep two sets of cameras available: one for focus shots and one for wider/normal angle shots? Do you video while shooting stills? Do you use a camera that take stills while shooting video?
 
Feb 1, 2012
69
12
11
Rolling Meadows, IL
Does anyone have experience with renting lenses? I really want to try out a wide angle lens, but I won't have the funds to outright buy one this year so I'm thinking about renting one. If anyone has a company that they recommend or any tips I would appreciate it.
 
Oct 6, 2006
479
30
6
Thornton, CO
Does anyone have experience with renting lenses? I really want to try out a wide angle lens, but I won't have the funds to outright buy one this year so I'm thinking about renting one. If anyone has a company that they recommend or any tips I would appreciate it.
I've rented from LensRentals.com previously and it was a smooth experience each time. Borrow Lenses also gets high praise. My "chase" setup is a 70D with 10-22, 15-85, and 70-300. I've had the 15-85 since it was introduced and it stays on my camera the majority of the time on a chase and I have found it to be a fantastic all around lens for my needs. My 10-22 is my least used lens, but I would not be without it (or an UWA) for chasing. I have faster and longer glass for non-chase usage.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Tom Stefanac
For 15 yrs now I would typically park far off the road, ;) and then take out the
tripod and vid cam. This was set up in s static frame, as if it was a still camera,
to do timelapse on. Then once rolling I'd set up a second tripod for stills.

Now saying that, I am still wanting nonconductive tripods. Three
aluminum lightning rods? Really?

You can't get wide enough or telephoto enough. The omg shots are often
whole storm views. 180 deg, but fisheye lenses are just weird. Best storm lens
I had was a 17mm in 35mm equiv. Yet
it had very little edge warping.
Telephone poles didn't lean I'm badly.
A nice 20-35mm in 35mm equiv is great.

Then again, when a mile away in Iowa with 1 mile hill crest to hill crest, you
will certainly want a telephoto for the barn a half mile away.
It's an old, empty barn. But a 100-300mm zoom will get ya at least
close enough to see it is, was, a barn.

And keep those lenses on manual focus please everyone. No more sharp
raindrops on window and fuzzy tornado.

Neal.
 

Michael Brown

Enthusiast
Mar 2, 2013
9
2
0
Haslett, Michigan
I carry two Sony mirrorless cameras: a nex6 and alpha 6000. On one I have the Sony 10-18 f4 and the other the Zeiss 18-70 f4. I also have a 55-210 if I need a longer reach. The cameras and lenses are small, light weight and have excellent video quality.
 
Aug 27, 2009
156
43
11
I am picking up this old thread of mine since I never got to purchase a new camera last year but will do in the next couple of days. I realized I should probably have asked differently since I am no pro-photographer and had a bit of a hard time catching up on the lingo.

My telescope lens actually has proven to be very useful since I always seem to be at a distance from the tornadoes. Unfortunately I had to return it to my sister (who I borrowed it from). So, now I am back to my old (2009) camera.

What I conclude from this thread is to try to purchase a camera with a really fast shutter (1.8)?) in order to get sharp images of moving targets like tornadoes. As far as I understand, fast lenses with zoom are expensive so I have a trade-off here, right?

The way I photograph is 95% structure and non-tornadic features just for the very reason that tornadoes are rare. On the other hand, the photos I look at the most aftewards are obviously the tornadoes i do see (and amazing structure). I never really seem to end up close to tornadoes.

What I have is:
- An old Camera 450 house and standard 28-55mm lens
- A rather decent budget


So, what I want is:
- Primarily, to get sharp images of tornadoes and structure at "normal" distance.
- To be abe to take photos of tornadoes at a far distance (as well)
- To shoot videos, if possible, without having one hand on the still camera and one on the video camera.


So, having said that - when I go the camera shop in a few days. What should I ask about?

- Fast shutter
- 20-100 mm lens or fixed 50mm?
- Great light sensitivity but I guess that comes with a fast shutter?

I know it is difficult for you to say but what would your recommendations be for me to ask the camera salesman?
 
Last edited:
Sep 7, 2013
555
364
21
Strasburg, CO
Whats your budget? Your decision could be solved in a quick second by a few members on here with just that info. As for lenses, just buying one to serve all purposes is a challenge. There are some very nice full range zoom lenses out there, but theres something to be said for prime lenses and being able to pick the right glass for the occasion.

Disclaimer: I'm no expert. I run Nikon(s), and use a kit 18-55 (ok but not great), a Sigma 70-300 (long shots, love it and cheap), and last year bought a budget Rokinon Wide lens (I believe its 18mm, but I'll have to check when I go dust off the gear for this season). Having multiple lenses is very beneficial, and good lenses can be had for cheap if you fall into the hobbyist category like me and don't really need perfect quality.
 
Mar 7, 2016
31
35
11
Omaha, NE
Christoffer-

There are two elements to your search for a new camera: the body and the lens. Given, I haven't done a lot of chasing photography yet, but coming from a sports photography background, I can imagine chasing is fairly similar.

As far as a body goes, shutter speed isn't really a big factor when looking to buy. Anything you purchase that isn't ancient will have a wide variety of shutter speeds to select from. Currently the biggest factor when it comes to a body will be ISO (sensitivity range of the sensor). Newer bodies can shoot at higher ISO values with less digital noise, which will allow you to increase your shutter speed and aperture if need be. For example, I used to shoot on a Nikon D2x but I have since moved to a D3 and D700. Shooting at ISO 800 on the D2x was borderline unusable in anything but broad daylight because of how much noise there was, and as a result I was inclined to open my aperture all the way and slow my shutter. With the "newer" bodies, I can comfortably shoot ISO 3200 in all conditions without having to compromise too much on shutter speed or aperture. Given that is moving from APS-C to full frame sensor, but there are PLENTY of amazing APS-C bodies out there currently and the technological improvements over the past 5 years have been a game changer.

Second factor - the lens. As previous comments have said, there is a balance between optimal focal length and aperture. For example, if you're shooting a wide meso shot with a Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8, it doesn't mean that you need to be at F/2.8. While faster glass is amazing at 50mm+, landscape photography usually ranges between F/8 and F/16 to ensure that everything is in focus and you have a deep depth of field. Translating this to actual advice, prioritize focal length over aperture with a wide lens. It wouldn't hurt to get one that can open to F/4 for low light situations. As far as a mid range or telephoto lens goes, a 50mm prime at F/2.8 that is properly focused will shoot the pants off a stock 55-200mm at F/5.6 (especially in low light). Don't let those cheap 300mm F/8 lenses wow you with numbers, the longer focal length you go with, the more important the aperture of the lens becomes.

I hope this helped a little, feel free to respond with any questions you may have and I'll do my best to answer. Below is a graphic to help make sense of all those terms I just threw out. The top row is associated with the lens while the bottom two are related to the body.8ba689a1611488da0570583d8696db38.jpg
 
Aug 27, 2009
156
43
11
Thanks, all you guys! I really appreciate it!

I will make a printout of this and bring to the camera store as well as show it to my sister.

My budget would be somewhere around $1.500 maximum but preferrably around $1.000. That is including both lens(es) and camera house.

I think a good solution would be to purchase a (cheap/bad) telescope lens that would work with my old Canon 450 and use a great 50mm lens with a new camera house. I could have the telescope lens as a backup in case I need it but use the 50mm as my "go to"-camera.

I think I will go with another Canon-camera in order to re-use battery chargers etc.

Will think some more, and go through all your answers a second time.