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  1. If anyone of you have been to Katmai for the bears, could you give us some tips here? Is the 200-400VR long enough to grab some frame-filling closeups of bears gorging themselves with salmons or do I need a longer lens?

    I am torned among these lenses:
    • 300mm/2.8VR
    • 200-400VR
    • 500mm/4AF-S II

    Please share your thots. Thanks!
  2. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    Sorry, Arthur, but I've got to get this out of my system.....:mad:  :tongue: :frown: :mad: 

    OK, I've gotten that out of my system. Actually, I don't have any reason to be jealous as I was up in Alaska photographing bears last summer. If you are curious, you can see my photos here -


    All of these images were taken handheld with a D2x, 300/2.8VR and TC-20. I was with a small group of 6 amateur photographers, a pro who organized the trip, and a guide. While everyone else was getting their tripods out of our ATVs and setting up, I was out and shooting. I filled the frame on some shots, did some modest cropping on others, and on a few took landscapes with bears in them because my glass wasn't long enough. But so did the others.

    All the amateurs had 500/4s, some with a TC-14 and some without. The pro had the 200-400VR but he only had a TC-14. I've seen their images, and I didn't miss anything. They were shooting 500mm to 700mm, and I was at 600mm.

    The answer to your question depends on exactly where you are going to be and what kind of bears and people are going to be there. My group was in a very open area in Lake Clark National Park on the north shore of Cook Inlet, about halfway between Anchorage and Katmai. The lodge I was staying in was built 20 years ago, and for all those years the number of guests has been held down, they are always accompanied by a guide (usually a biology or environmental student who knows bears), and they always follow strict bear etiquette. The people don't bother the bears so the bears don't bother the people. We were able to walk within 50-200 ft. of most bears. But very carefully; it wasn't risk free.

    Are you going to Brooks Falls? If so, try and contact the lodge or whatever tour you are taking and find out the approximate number of feet from the observation deck to both the near and far sides of the falls. You can get an idea of how much frame I was able to fill from 50-200 ft. with my 300 and TC-20 = 600mm. Unless the distances are much greater, I would recomment your 200-400 and take along a TC-14. (That lens won't focus quickly with a TC-20 and I'm not sure about a TC-17.) That would give you a range of 200mm to 640mm, which I think would be ideal for that setting. But also check whether tripods are allowed on the viewing platfom. BTW, if that is where you are going, you will be up on the deck in shifts; how long and how frequent depends on the number of visitors.

    If you are going somewhere else, let me know where and give me a description of the place. Or find out how close to the bears you will able or allowed to get. Remember that no bears are 100% "safe", and some are very dangerous if you rile them up. After all, these aren't just bears, they are coastal brown bears, aka darned big grizzlies.

    You will have a ball up there.

  3. Thanks, Gordon.
    And, yes, Brook Falls is the place I was aiming at.
  4. SteveK


    Mar 16, 2005
    Arthur, I've been to Katmai many times, but not in recent years. I was there before the bridge across the river, and also before any of the platforms were built. I've also spent considerable time along the coast (Halo Bay, Kukak Bay) photographing bears. At Brooks, when the park is busy, there is a limit of the time you can spend on the platforms, as they want everyone to get the chance. If you are walking on the beach, or along the river, the NPS enforces a "50 yard rule"; if you are closer even if the bear has walked up to you, you may be hassled. Keep in mind that bears do walk up and down on the beach, and that beach is maybe 10-20 yards wide. We used to simply sit on the beach and wait for bears to walk by; I don't think they'll let you do that now. Have fun, and good luck!

  5. Good tips, Steve. Thanks for sharing your first hand experiences.
  6. Greg V

    Greg V

    Feb 19, 2007
    SE Michigan

    A newbie to the posting, but I have been to Katmai NP two times and have a tripped planned at the end of June beginning of July. There are two platforms at Brooks falls. From the platform near the falls, a 300mm lens gives you plenty of range. Put a 1.4 tele on it and you have filled your frame.

    I have been contemplating selling my 300 f/2.8 and using the funds to offset the cost of the 200-400. Pesonally, I do not think you need much more reach that 400.

    It is an awesome experience just getting to Brooks. Once there, the experience is even more rewarding experiencing the bears and fellow photogs.

    Good luck and have fun.:smile:
  7. Hi Arthur,

    Nan & I were at Brooks in 2004. I did a writeup here some time ago. Here is a link:

    With a bit of luck, you are fairly close. A zoom might be preferred to a fixed lens. Two bodies with a 18-200 and an 80-400 or 200-400 or a 70-200 with a 1.7TC might work well. We used a 28-200G and a 70-300 ED and got satisfactory results.

    There was not much room on the platforms for a tripod, but a monopod might be OK.

    Plan on encountering bears on the trail while walking the mile through the woods on the way up to the platforms. Listen close to the Ranger talk when you land!

    Bob & Nan
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  8. Greg V

    Greg V

    Feb 19, 2007
    SE Michigan
    With two platforms available, they try to keep the crowds at the upper platform (near the falls) limited. During really busy times, the rangers will time how long people have been at the upper platform and rotate people around. It is still quite crowded, although I never had problems mounting a Gitzo 1328 tripod and shooting. You just get lots of tripod legs crossed!!
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