Chinstrap penguins, Antarctica

Antarctica photography: the Perfect Lens?

Andy Rouse, Professional Photographer

Andy Rouse

11 Jan 2017

Antarctica photography: what is the perfect lens to capture the best photo?

I am always asked by many travelers "what is the perfect lens for a certain trip?" Those people that choose to travel on my adventures are fully briefed of course, and will receive an in-depth guide of what to to take, but here at Natural World Safaris we realise that you value our expertise so here’s a simple guide on what kit you should take on an Antarctic adventure such as our amazing departure in October 2020.

Should I use a prime or a zoom lens?

In the old days fixed length lenses, or primes, such as 50mm, 300mm, 500mm were considered the norm as they offered better quality and performance than zoom lenses. Now the situation has reversed entirely and we consider zooms to be equal to fixed lenses and to win over them in terms of flexibility. Another consideration is weight of course, airlines are getting tougher and tougher with the weight of cabin baggage, so having one lens that can do the same job as three is a major advantage for any traveller.

Still not convinced zooms are better? Well consider this. What makes a good picture stand out from a bad one? Light, of course, as you cannot cheat light. But I sincerely believe it’s composition that really makes a picture come alive by telling a story and making the individual elements work together. Composition allows you to take the picture as you want it to be seen, it’s what really separates a good photographer from a lazy one I think. Of course you can do a lot of compositional adjustments on the computer later on, provided you know how, but I still think you need to get the basic composition right “in-camera”. Using a fixed lens like a 300mm fixes you to one composition, you are not free to move backwards and forwards to fit bits in, whereas with a zoom it’s just a quick twist and it’s done. 

There is one final reason to use zoom lenses in Antarctica A lot of your photography will be from a small Zodiac, with 10-12 other photographers in it too. Trying to keep a long fixed lens stable in these conditions, without decapitating your fellow passengers when you swing it round, can be tough. Every time I have shot in these situations, whether it be from Zodiacs in Antarctica, the Arctic or Galapagos, I use a zoom lens. It just makes sense. 

Antarctica copyright Andy Rouse

But which lens to take?

But which lens to take?

So that’s why I think you need to mainly concentrate on zoom lenses. Which ones I hear you ask? Well I think that you ideally need two for any Antarctica trip, a wide angle for landscapes and “animal in habitat” shots, and a long zoom for portraits and “shy animal in habitat shots”.

For the wide angle I would choose a 24-70mm lens or perhaps something wider like a 16-35mm lens. The days of Zodiacs sitting underneath huge icebergs are thankfully a thing of the past so a 24mm should get you everything you need. For the second zoom I’d choose a 100-400mm or 70-300mm. If you are a Canon shooter then get the new 100-400mm v2 as it’s awesome and my go-to lens. Now of course there are a few lenses out there than cover these two ranges in one lump of glass. Typically you will be trading a little quality, AF speed and light gathering ability with these lenses but there is no doubt a 28-300mm lens offers the ultimate in flexibility.

Fancy something a little quirky? Then take a fisheye lens, either a 10mm or a 15mm, Canon even do a fisheye zoom. A fisheye can give cool effects if used correctly i.e. by looking slightly down a subject rather than up. 

Antarctica copyright Andy Rouse

So in summary if you are a DSLR user I’d consider taking two lenses, a 24-70mm and a 100-400mm to Antarctica, with perhaps a super wide-angle / fisheye for some fun.

Now some people reading this will be wondering what they can do as they aren’t DSLR owners, well don’t fret, you have some great alternatives and more about this in the next blog!



Contact one of our Destination Specialists to start planning your journey to Antarctica. Please note we recommend a budget of from £7,000 / $10,000 USD per person for our style of trip to this destination.

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28/10/2018 12:36 PM

Also especially at the wide angle end of things, depends if full or cropped sensor.

Swaranjeet Singh

10/9/2018 8:58 AM

Hi Andy A couple of quick queries basically due to the issues with zodiacs 1. If you had Canon's - 70-200 f/2.8 (not long enough ??) - 100-400 M2 and (compromise on IQ) - 200-400 (x1.4) f/4 (too heavy to handle) which would you take (assuming you had both a 1DX and a 7D MII to pair them with) 2. What would you do for support? - Carbon tripod body (difficult to manage on Zodiac) - Carbon monopod - A bean-bag - A sturdy but small (like table top) tripod

rosie jackson

29/1/2017 11:49 AM

Hello Andy, very useful article and must say I have the 100-400 ii Canon zoom which I agree is a fantastic lens. I can't imagine how well it could be used sitting in a zodiac but would be fun to try!!! I imagine this is where it's great image stabilisation comes into play. Love these penguin shots above but still think your penguin couple at sunset, with the flipper around it's mate (shown at the WPOTY) is my favourite!! Keep on inspiring us. Rosie J

Paul Ringdahl

11/1/2017 7:32 PM

Hi Andy. Super shot. Hope all is eell in your life, i still follow your blogs and work. Take care Paul Ringdahl

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