Butterflies Gear Photography

A tale of two lenses

It was a good weekend for butterflies in the garden. On summer weekends around the house, I usually keep my Canon Digital Rebel D-SLR by the front door (and therefore near the butterfly garden) with the Canon 75-300 zoom lens on it ready to go should my visual motion detector go off as I gaze out the windows facing the garden.

I had a visit Saturday morning from one of my favorites, the black form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. I took a bunch of pictures and was very disappointed when I downloaded them. Maybe I was particularly shaky for some reason. I thought the light was sufficient.

Later in the afternoon, the black butterfly was still hanging around and had been joined by its more typically marked cousin, shown here. It was clouding up for an afternoon thunderstorm making it less bright than earlier and I thought that was trouble if I went out there with the big zoom. So I grabbed my fastest (and lightest) lens, the 50mm f1.8, put it on the camera, and went out and got some great results. I probably could have cranked up the ISO, but I didn’t want to deal with the noise.

I was worried about getting close enough to the butterflies with such a short lens, but I was inspired by having seen David Pogue’s funny video demonstration of how to zoom the fixed-focal-length Sigma DP-1 and no doubt also thought of Derrick Story‘s frequent admonitions to “get closer” and got as close as I could. I am pleased.

Another option would have been to grab the 17-85mm IS zoom, but it’s heavy (the 50mm is light as a feather) and not any faster than the big zoom.

One of the problems I have with shooting the 75-300mm zoom for butterflies is that you can only get as close as about 5 ft. with it. (Why do I always think 7 ft. while shooting?) I often don’t think that’s close enough. The 50mm and the 17-85mm zoom both get you within 18 inches.

I hadn’t yet listened to Derrick’s podcast show from last week about how sweet good glass is. That reinforced the decision I am mulling about getting the Canon 70-200mm f4 L zoom lens to go with the Canon EOS 40D I am thinking of upgrading to from the Digital Rebel. Derrick might say that I just ought to go ahead and buy the lens, based on what he said on the podcast. (I looked and it gets you as close as 4 ft.)

Ironically, the 50mm/f1.8 is also the cheapest lens in my bag.