de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Which lens for the perfect shot? December 2009. Oryx, in-flight magazine of Qatar Airways. Page 66.

I am often asked about cameras and lenses for photography. In this article I will explain with reference to wildlife photography some of the more useful lenses to have. Increasingly, I am suggesting to people that they consider a compact digital camera. Modern cameras now provide at least 10 mega pixels, optical zooms of 18X, close up shooting, RAW file format (a lossless format for high quality). So why bother to carry a bag load of heavy and complicated lenses? For most people it does not make sense and I recommend a good compact camera which they will actually use rather than an expensive digital SLR and lenses, which may sit in the cupboard because it’s too much of a bother to carry around. There are excellent compact digital cameras made by Canon, FujiFilm, Nikon, Panasonic, etc to name a few.

This article is for those who have enough commitment to carry a bag load of equipment. There is a reason why a compact digital camera is just not enough for some. For those seeking professional quality, especially at larger sizes when images are blown up, a more expensive digital SLR is going to produce better quality images to work with. Those bulky and heavy lenses are also going to produce better quality images. So there is a reason for the weight and the cost which has to be suffered.

There is also another reason. The relatively bulkier digital SLR and lenses are faster at focussing and shooting and are just quicker to work with. This is important for someone shooting people, sport and wildlife. I will discuss some of my favourite lenses with reference to Canon equipment, because this is what I use. Equivalent lenses are available from other leading brands such as Nikon as well as from independent lens manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron.

For sheer quality and speed, it is hard to surpass my 600mm f4 lens. It’s a monster of a lens and needs to be mounted on a tripod or bean bag. This itself means that you have to be settled in for a shot and in a measured frame of mind to take pictures. There are no hasty grab shots possible with this lens. Some of my best images of wildlife have been taken with this lens. With elephants mud bathing in Minneriya National Park, I have used the very fast shutter speed available with to freeze motion and show the texture of the chocolate brown mud on their skin. The long focal length also means I can stay back at a distance and allow a Hanuman Langur to be totally relaxed, allowing its portrait to be taken. The speed of the lens also allows me to freeze the motion of a walking leopard in the warm but soft evening light.

One of Canon’s most popular lenses has been the 100-400mm f4/f5.6 lens. This is a real workhorse and I will not travel without it. When I am on a game drive, this lens is attached to my body, a Canon EOS 1DS MkII. It allows me to take quick grab shots. I remember I once was in Yala National Park, with Lyn Hughes the Founding Editor of Wanderlust Magazine, when an elephant walked into the light. The light picked up the details on the elephant’s face, but the background was dark. In had imagined this image for years. I took my camera and took the shot. The opportunity was gone in seconds and neither I nor any of my friends have had this combination of lighting and elephant happening naturally again. This is also a good lens when whale watching. You can zoom out for a pod of dolphins or go close in to capture the Remoras on the tail of a Blue Whale. It’s also fantastic for taking pictures of people who are more likely to be relaxed and natural, because you are standing some distance away, with the lens extended out to 400mm.

In July 2007, I produced a photographic poster which had 132 species of butterflies. Almost all of them had been taken on my Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens which offers true 1 to 1 macro capability. The quality is so good, I am amazed at the detail I see when I magnify the images on a laptop. If I was to buy a lens afresh, I would consider the 200mm macro.

When it comes to wide angle lenses for landscapes or photographing interiors there is a lot of debate. Influenced by a friend who reads more of the photographic blogs and magazines than I do, I settled for the Canon 16-35 f2.8 L. It is one of the more expensive, but has fantastic edge to edge sharpness and is wide enough for almost any practical or creative situation I face.

The important thing about photography is taking images, not owning lots of expensive equipment which is just lying around because its too heavy and too complicated for you to bother using kit. So if you have not already got into photography, think about one of the better specified compact digital cameras as a way of wetting your toes.
1st Sidebar
The one lens I will not leave behind is the Canon 100-400mm f4/5.6 L image stabilised lens.  Great quality, good enough speed and offers a range of shots.

2nd Sidebar
My favourite image is the dark portrait of en elephant. People are amazed at the personality they see in this image.