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

Darren Lo

EF0
Feb 25, 2012
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I think you should have something wider in your lineup. If you get a 50mm and a longer telephoto zoom, that leaves your current 28-55 as your widest option (did you actually mean 18-55?) and you'll be hurting when it comes to structure shots. Since you mentioned that you want more reach, I'm not sure the 50mm prime would be that useful. Personally I think a used 15-85 would cover most situations. You could then add on either an ultra wide-angle or a cheap 70-300, depending on budget and personal preference.
 
Sep 7, 2013
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Strasburg, CO
Batteries and chargers evolve pretty quick, so unlikely you'll be able to share batteries between New and old. I recommend hit up Amazon for spare batteries/chargers. I use Wasabi brand batteries in all my cameras and they're great, and about half the price of brand name (canon/nikon).
 
Aug 27, 2009
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Darren: For the wide angle shots I am hoping to rely on my GoPro. I do, however, have one of those that I need to view through my iPhone to see the image but since structure shots are usually something you have time to set up I think that would be fine.

This is way harder than I thought it would be!
 
Aug 27, 2009
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I'm halfway there now. Today I bought a Canon EOS 760D which came with a 50mm f/1.8 STM lens as a part of the package deal. Even though a few of you rely on that kind of lens I still want to have something I can use, most importantly, for more zoomed in shots and, to a smaller extent, structure shots. I am not focusing on wide angle photo but I still want to be able to take structure shots, at least from some distance (17-18 is fine I think).

What they had on stock was:

- Sigma 17-70 mm f/2.8-4 (i.e. good aperture, less zoom)
- Canon EF-S 18-135 mm f/3.5-5.6 (i.e. good zoom, less aperture)
- Some other brand starting with T (not Tokina): 18-55 mm f/2.8 all the way.
I am mainly choosing between these three. They all cost roughly the same.

They also had a used one :
- Canon EF-S 55-250 mm (f/4.5-5.6)

which I may (probably not) use with my old 450 house.

The $300 dollar question now is, which one will I have the most use of? Outside of chasing I tend to use my systematic for animal safaris and some random travel stuff.

Reading this thread it seems:

- I should get a "fast" lens, i.e. good aperture.
- Not having the best optical zoom could be less important since a great image (with less optical zoom) could, digitally zoomed/cropped, still be better than what the optical zoom did in the first place.
- More optical zoom would be more perceptible to motion blur
- Still, I find myself using the most zoom on my 18-55 and still have to digital zoom/crop images in order to photograph tornadoes (or animals) in a far distance.

I do find myself at quite a far distance to tornadoes (or animals) quite frequently so this is a real issue.

My questions now:
- Which one would you pick? Why?
- Would you buy something completely different?
- Will the trade off with having a better aperture (and less zoom) make it much easier to photograph in dim lights due to more light coming into the camera and I thus need less shutter time and thus is less prone to get motion blur from adrenalin-shaky hands (or "moving target blur").
- Is there a notable difference in wide angle between 17 and 18 (I forgot to check towards the sky at the store)?

I am hoping to be able to go back to the camera shop tomorrow and buy this lens. I appreciate any input!

Lastly, sorry for posting in the wrong forum. Did not see the right one until now...
 
Aug 27, 2009
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I did some photographing after sunset (lit only by some city lights) and this answered a few of my questions in terms of aperture vs light. With a f/5.6 and ISO 6400 I got shutter speeds at 0.3 sec (roughly from my memory). This would mean that if I want to take a zoomed photo at 130 mm in "darkness" I would have a really hard time (without a tripod). On the other hand, photographing in the dark without tripod might not be preferrable anyway.

I guess it boils down to, what is most common. Needing a good (130mm) zoom during daytime or a decent zoom in night time? Is that correct?

Edit: I guess I could also use my fixed 50mm for night time conditions if I really need it. Guess zoomed photos are not very common during the evening/night?

For lightning photos (where I would need a wider angle than 50mm) I will need long shutter times anyway so it doesn't matter if the shutter time is slow.
 
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Aug 27, 2009
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5 more hours of googling I think I have decided about the Canon EF-S 18-135mm as a multi-purpose/always-use lens. Although it doesn't seem to be the best at anything it will most likely not force me to switch lenses at crucial times, it will work during most light (and I will use the 55mm/1.8 when it's too dark).

I looked through a ton of old storm chasing photos I have taken and realized just a few were taken at 300mm. I think those that were (in my lens without IS) would probably have been rather decent or even better with this lens at 130 (cropped). I also realized I had taken far more structure shots and iPhone-panoramic shots than I thought so I think my number 2-camera would rather be a wide-angle rather than a 70-300mm (which I thought would be 2nd on my list).

Do feel free to comment these thoughts.
 
Christoffer,

I recently picked up the 18-135 myself. For the last year and up to a couple weeks ago, I was running two Canon T3i’s with 3 lenses:

Canon EF-S 10-22:
Always attached to one camera. Gets a lot of use for panoramic structure and time lapse.

Canon EF-S 18-55 (Kit Lens):
Usually attached to the 2nd camera for most other tighter shots.

Canon EF-S 55-250:
I’d swap this one on when I need to reach farther or go for interesting compressed perspective.

Chasing in Arkansas last month, I wound up using all 3 lenses documenting the Grady/Moscow tornado. I generally chase at a distance and was about 7 miles away for that one. The 18-55 got the most action on the tornado and I had it cranked to 55 mm for most of those shots. If I had more range on that lens, I probably would’ve gone in tighter—but didn’t want to lose precious seconds changing to the 55-250 in the earlier stages. I also grabbed a few wide structure shots for the big picture with the 10-22. As it was roping out and even further away, I finally did take the time to switch to the 55-250 and got a couple more shots at 100 mm.

For upcoming chases, my hope is that the 18-135 and 10-22 will keep all the typical bases covered on the two cameras. I won’t need the 18-55 at that point (it also helps that the kit lens lost serious hit points during an unfortunate wind+tripod event last month). So I would only need the long reach of the 55-250 for much rarer storm chase scenarios, if at all…saving it for other photography subjects.

Example views are 7-8 miles out, uncropped:

EF-S 10-55 Lens at 55 mm
img20160313-IMG_3155-Edit_640px.jpg

EF-S 10-22 Lens at 10 mm
img20160313-IMG_3890_640px-noCrop.jpg

EF-S 55-250 Lens at 100 mm
img20160313-IMG_3167_640px-NoCrop.jpg
 
Aug 27, 2009
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Thanks! I love the photos by the way. Looking at the quality of your shots I assume you are a great photographer, this made me wonder that you must have put a long focus area (high aperture) on the first tornado shot to get the grass in focus as well. Do you actively look for framing like that or was that just a coincidence?

It seems like the wide angle is preferred by many chasers. For me, I am not sure if I would use it to much more than chasing so I am not sure if I can motivate an expensive lens for that purpose.

It really is difficult with all these trade-offs. After I decided about going with a zoom I found a 18-200 that I will try out in the store today as well. It sure would be excellent to have something that would make me never having to need a specific telescope lens. After reading about it online though it seems like the trade-off to have that much zoom on one lens makes the quality bad.

I am not sure if everyone else ends up closer to the tornadoes than I (I am an amateur who needs to rely on tour guides and chase partners to find the storms) but I often find myself really far from tornadoes and when you do get that money shot and can't zoom in - it is quite devastating.

For me the photo below is the kind of shots that I don't want to experience again. I took it at the Canadian outbreak last year and it was the first time I saw two tornadoes at once. I took it with my 18-55 at 55mm, ISO 800 (cropped 50%). Lots of brief tornadoes (after the big one) and they were all crap. I am not sure what exactly caused this mess-up but it seems like I left it on manual focus at a bad range but the entire un-cropped image is blurry so I am not sure. It could have been the ISO but ISO 800 (even with a Canon 450) should be fine, right?

I know this would not be helped much with a better lens (mess ups are what they are) but it was very hard to see that one of my most appreciated sights came out this bad. I did not really realize until I transferred it to my computer. If I would have had a better zoom (I did have my 300mm at hand but did not have time to switch) I could have realized it was blurry already in the ocular.

e2eadb6ce5eebc2f81fe8fade027d2e1.jpg

Camera settings are a completely different chapter that I will look into further once I have decided about cameras.

30 minutes later: Think I will go for a wide lens after all, the Canon EF-S 10-18/4,5-5,6 IS STM.
 
Aug 27, 2009
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Back from the camera store now and the final toll for the last couple of days is:
- Canon 760D
- Canon f/1.8 50mm (included with the camera)
- Canon 18-130mm - this will be my common lens I think
- Canon 10-18mm - yeah, I bought a wide angle after all and, boy, was it fun to play around with!

Also bought a decent quality tripod and an extra battery.

This concludes my part of this thread. Beware of new threads when I try to figure out the best default settings and setups to make sure nothing goes wrong when I have a few seconds to take that money shot! I will play around with everything first, take a few online courses etc.

THANKS everyone who helped out!
 

chrisbray

EF4
Apr 24, 2012
471
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Bourbonnais, Illinois
Hi Christoffer,
I am in the same boat so I would love to know how its working for you. How much did you pay for the 760D and the 18-130? I am looking for a new camera (and probably lenses) in the 500-700 range that is both good at taking HD video and has good low light/infinity focus for taking lightning pictures. One fried said Canon would be better than Nikon in this price range since they are better with the Video part of it.

Any other idea for this range? I currently have an Olympus e-510 that I have had since the beginning of 2008. It has two Zukio digital lenses, and I am more than ready to upgrade. I doubt the old lenses will be compatible with new bodies, not that they are great anyway, so I have to likely buy an additional lense to whatever camera I get.
 

chrisbray

EF4
Apr 24, 2012
471
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Bourbonnais, Illinois
ALso, for those who take Video, this will be my first time really using a camera to take video (just been using iPhone before). What is acceptable to you? I'm thinking 1080 at 60fps would be required/satisfactory. Is 4k video really worth the price tag?
 
Mar 30, 2008
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Norman, OK
www.benholcomb.com
I had the 60D and the 18-135 and have taken most of my weather shots with that lens. For reference, you can check out my shots at https://www.flickr.com/photos/oklahomachaser/tags/canonefs18135mm/

For this year I've upgraded to a Canon 6D. The lenses I am sporting now are the Sigma Art 24-105 f/4, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Sigma AF 15-30mm f/3.5-4.5 EX DG and the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG APO.

I expect most of my shots will be either with the Sigma 24-105 or Sigma 15-30 this year.
 
Mar 30, 2008
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Norman, OK
www.benholcomb.com
I would say that mirrorless is going to be the wave of the future, especially as storage capacities get bigger. If you aren't currently invested in a DSLR / lenses / etc I would probably start on the mirrorless endeavor.
 
Mar 7, 2016
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Omaha, NE
Yep! I shoot video on a Lumix GH4 and love it, it's an amazing camera. The two reasons I haven't shifted away from my DSLRs are because I have a lot of glass with the older screw drive AF mechanism which M43 adapters cannot work with, and buying the Metabones/M43 AF compatible versions of those lenses would involve selling my car and moving under a bridge. That being said, all DSLR/mirrorless VIDEO should be manually focused unless you're in a pinch; the AF capabilities are more for still photography in my experience.

Agreeing with Ben - If you aren't already invested in a system or are willing to go for a wholesale change out, I would suggest looking at mirrorless!
 
Aug 27, 2009
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Hi Christoffer,
I am in the same boat so I would love to know how its working for you. How much did you pay for the 760D and the 18-130? I am looking for a new camera (and probably lenses) in the 500-700 range that is both good at taking HD video and has good low light/infinity focus for taking lightning pictures.
I have just started to test things out. Everything is amazing compared to my old Canon 450. I will post photos on my blog and Twitter as soon as the season starts (which is May 19th for me). See links in my signature.

I bought it all in Sweden and in an expensive store since I needed the expertise (rather than buying things online) so that is not really useful information to you I think considering currency exchange rates etc.
 
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I shoot the Canon 6d as full frame and a wide angle sense is a must under a meso. Lens I shoot with is the Canon 17-40mm L lens. Some say it's not the sharpest but I find it fine. I also have a little mirror less, the Panasonic G7 that shoots 4k. I have had a semipro Sony 4k camera but it really was to big.

Sent from my Nexus 5 using Stormtrack mobile app
 
...this made me wonder that you must have put a long focus area (high aperture) on the first tornado shot to get the grass in focus as well. Do you actively look for framing like that or was that just a coincidence?
Working on composition is one of the challenges I’ve set for myself. If I’m the right spot to view a tornado, Plan A is to at least document it, no matter what, even if the surroundings are bland. But then close on the heels of that is to try for interesting composition. If there are some cool elements I want to include in the close foreground, then that probably means tripoding the shot and stopping down the aperture for greater depth of field.

If you look closely at that 55mm shot, the focus isn’t ideal—the grass is actually in better focus than the tornado and background. There were two issues happening—the first is that I was at f/5.6 and should’ve been stopped down further. The second issue was setting a bad hyperfocal point. I usually use LiveView and focus manually, so I get exactly what I want and avoid mistakes with autofocus. Unfortunately, the 18-55 mm kit lens has a horribly touchy focus ring, I was trying to do too much at once and didn’t focus as far out as I intended. I put the new 18-135mm lens through a lot of use earlier this week and manual focus is awesome on that lens. Really fine adjustment is easy to work with and it removes the issue with the kit lens where the slightest touch can jiggle the ring by a couple molecules and throw things out of focus.

For me the photo below is the kind of shots that I don't want to experience again. I took it at the Canadian outbreak last year and it was the first time I saw two tornadoes at once….I am not sure what exactly caused this mess-up but it seems like I left it on manual focus at a bad range but the entire un-cropped image is blurry so I am not sure.
That’s still a great tornado experience you captured. Congratulations on that one! The softness may be a bit from focus, but looks like there is some motion blur in there too. I had that on some of my Rozel/Sanford shots and it bugged me to death. So starting in 2014, I started consistently using a tripod, monopod or window mount. When things are happening quick, the tripod may not be an option, but at least using a monopod is really fast and reduces that motion blur issue when you aren’t shooting with a fast exposure.

It could have been the ISO but ISO 800 (even with a Canon 450) should be fine, right?
800 should be pretty decent on newer cameras and let you keep your shutter speed higher. It’s still worth testing in some dim lighting between now and first chase for the new camera to see how it performs. Looking forward to seeing what you catch this year.
 
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Aug 27, 2009
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800 should be pretty decent on newer cameras and et you keep your shutter speed higher. It’s still worth testing in some dim lighting between now and first chase for the new camera to see how it performs. Looking forward to seeing what you catch this year.
Thanks for the feedback and interesting comments on your photos. Regarding my Canadian-photo: You are right, I am happy I was there to witness it with my eyes first and foremost. I looked over that photo with my sister yesterday (who is a professional photographer) and we looked at the entire photo (the one I posted is slightly cropped) and provided some comments.

She was rather sure it was the ISO since the whole photo is very grainy. This was with my 450 (from 2009) so that could be one of the reasons. Another reason is, as you mentioned as well, a slight motion blur (which is more obvious in the full photo). I am glad I bought a tripod now.

Regarding the focus: if I look at the full photo the focus is not anywhere at all. Nothing is in focus. My sister said that it is possible nothing is in focus due to bad autofocusing or accidental manual focus - I didn't quite understand that...I mean, the focus has to be somewhere, right?

Getting a bit off topic now I guess.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
2,504
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St. Louis
stormhighway.com
The nice thing about the Canon 50mm 1.8 is that it's a very cheap way to add a high-quality semi-tight framing option to your gear. A no-brainer IMO. At last check they are running $125, up from $99 a year ago. Still a great buy - you won't find such a sharp, fast lens at that price point with anything else. In my case, it's on my camera at least half the time when chasing. Here are a couple of examples from it:

e-4919.jpg e-5531.jpg
 
Regarding the focus: if I look at the full photo the focus is not anywhere at all. Nothing is in focus. My sister said that it is possible nothing is in focus due to bad autofocusing or accidental manual focus - I didn't quite understand that...I mean, the focus has to be somewhere, right?
I think what she's saying is, for example, if your focus was accidentally set to 20 feet in front of you with a narrow depth of field, but everything framed in your image is 50 feet away or further, then nothing in the view would be in focus.
 
Aug 27, 2009
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Dan: It seems to be a great lens. I have thought of it as my "night lens" since it is so light sensitive. Still, I am not sure if I would dare use it unless I know the events are slow so I don't have to end up in a situation where the lack of zoom (to a wide angle) would force me to cut a photo short. Very interesting though!

If I look at old photos it seems like I use 55mm rather often for "tornado" shots so it could prove to be useful.
 
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Aug 9, 2012
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Galesburg, IL
www.facebook.com
I shoot most of my photographs with my Nikon D610 on either my 24-85mm kit lens or my wide angle 16-28mm F/2.8 Tokina lens. Both lenses shoot some pretty sharp images and I've never really had any problems with either. As mentioned above too, with the full frame cameras, you can crop down some of your images somewhat and still get decent "print-quality" material. I need to pick up a decent telephoto for my Nikon, I've got a 70-200 for my Canon that I really enjoy, too bad the Nikon and Canon lenses aren't interchangeable :/

Prior to 2013, I shot with a Canon Rebel XS and T4i with a 17-40mm F/4L wide angle lens and then the stock 18-135mm lens. The 17-40mm F/4 Canon lens is pretty great as well, I can definitely recommend that. The 18-135mm lens is okay for a kit lens, I didn't think the images were as sharp as they could be, perhaps I had a less than desirable copy, I'm not sure. I thought the regular 18-55mm kit lens was better in that regard on the Canon Rebel XS that I owned.
 
Aug 27, 2009
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Once again, thanks for all the help! I gained a lot of knowledge here and I am looking forward to test all the gear now. I wrote a blog post about my reasoning and thoughts about all I learned.

As mentioned, my next Project will be to practise using them and find the right settings that will work during stressy situations.