Telephoto lens choice for Yellowstone NP

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Kalamazoo, MI
My family (me, wife, 6 and 10 year old kids) are visiting Yellowstone for the first time this summer. For a little background, I do the majority of my photography on trips either with the whole family or with just my wife and me. However, I rarely shoot outside of the 18mm to 100mm range, and often with manual focus lenses. I'll be using my Nikon Z6 for AF stuff, and a combo of my Z6 and a Leica M10 for wide manual focus lenses for landscapes.

My friend has offered to let me borrow some of his Nikon lenses, and I have the choice of bringing either the 200-400/4 or 300/2.8. These are both the first version VR lenses I believe. He's also got the 1.4 teleconverter, version III. I'll be adapting this to the Z6 with the FTZ. Based on my experience with the 70-200/2.8G, I'm sure the AF will be more than adequate for mammals I expect to see. I wouldn't bring the 70-200 as it seems to be neither here nor there for wildlife at Yellowstone.

So if you could choose between either of these lenses, which would you prefer? I'm guessing we'll be mostly in or near the car, so not too concerned about carrying the weight. More an issue of focal length and light gathering capability. Curveball choice, I wouldn't mind purchasing the 300/4 PF and pairing it with a teleconverter. Nice thing about that combo is that I could then take it on some of the hikes we plan to do.

Last item of importance. I anticipate having to shoot in mostly crappy light. Realistically, I never get everybody up and at 'em during the early morning, and everybody wants to eat dinner at 6pm. Unless there are opportunities at our lodgings just outside the park, I probably won't need too much dawn/dusk light gathering ability.
 
Joined
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vancouver, canada
Sounds like a nice trip.

First choice would be to buy the 300Pf and use it with the TC1.4 as this is a light option that will give you a great image.

Second choice would be the 300 F2.8 but it is a heavy lens and a lot to drag around on holidays.

the 200-400 is a good lens but it is big and heavy...

Good luck with the trip

Cheers,
Alexis and Georgie Beagle

" the mythical 500PF would be perfect...." - Georgie Beagle
 
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The more focal length the better. Especially for bears :).

But joking aside, large mammals at Yellowstone are pretty tolerant of photographers, and I felt the 300mm f/2.8 was just right for me. You can get really nice background separation at that focal length, even at f/4. Since you’re not planning to need f/2.8, I imagine a 300PF would be a welcome weight reduction, with the TC available when more reach is needed. My last time there I had the 300 (sometimes with TC-14) on the D500 and actually had to back up at times to get the compositions I wanted.
 
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Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
They just remodeled the Canyon Village in the middle of the park and introduced a lot of new food options there. Drop the family off there to eat and pop over to Hayden/Lamar valleys to shoot wildlife at dusk! I'd recommend staying at Canyon Village if you can - you cannot believe the summertime traffic in YNP (and that's not even counting the traffic jams that the bison cause) and staying inside the park allows a family to get a lot more done in a day. If you're up early to go shoot, there's an awesome education center right at Canyon Village that the rest of the family can enjoy and then you can come back later after the primo early morning shots are in the bag and get some hiking in!

Sean
 
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They just remodeled the Canyon Village in the middle of the park and introduced a lot of new food options there. Drop the family off there to eat and pop over to Hayden/Lamar valleys to shoot wildlife at dusk! I'd recommend staying at Canyon Village if you can - you cannot believe the summertime traffic in YNP (and that's not even counting the traffic jams that the bison cause) and staying inside the park allows a family to get a lot more done in a day. If you're up early to go shoot, there's an awesome education center right at Canyon Village that the rest of the family can enjoy and then you can come back later after the primo early morning shots are in the bag and get some hiking in!

Sean
+1 for Lamar and Hayden Valleys if you’re looking for a better ratio of animals to people.
 
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I agree. Go early, stay late (y)
Even if you don’t see any animals (but you will), the colors of the landscape at blue hour are breathtaking.
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N Idaho
I was there last October, brought my 300 2.8, 200-500 and 70-200. I used them all, I think the 200-500 got used a lot, 300 a bit less and the 70-200 not much. Very few people in mid-October. Other than the blizzard conditions I had to drive in one night, it was a great trip. We skipped Old Faithful, drove in there and it looked like something out of Disneyland so we left, it’s the only place in the park we saw significant numbers of people.
 
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I'll just leave this link here to my multi part blog series I did on my Yellowstone adventure.

yellowstone – BestLightPhoto BLOG

Bottom line for you is that I had a great time out there with just the following camera gear:
Nikon D500
Nikon 300/4E PF VR
TC14E-III
Nikon 18-140 VR
Tokina 11-16/2.8

You can never have enough lens at Yellowstone, meaning you'll always want more reach, but I tempered my kit between best weight for the amount of hiking and trekking we planned to do. 300mm x D500 crop (1.5) x TC14EIII (1.4) = 630mm FOV, then you can do an in camera crop on the D500 of 1.3x = 819 FOV. So not too shabby, honestly.

With the Z6, you'll be at 450mm with the TC14EIII, which isn't too bad, but having that APS-C reach is nice.

I'll also recommend having a good support system for the kit. I used a Cotton Carrier chest harness and was glad I did. hands free, no swinging around and no carry fatigue.
 
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Besides a wider angle lens to shoot landscapes of what you've mentioned I would go 300pf and the 1.4tc.
While the 300 2.8 will produce great images it can be a beast to lug around.

Hayden and Lamar Valley are both great places to see wildlife but for me the entire stretch between Moran Junction at the Northern end of Grand Teton National Park and the South Entrance of Yellowstone are as good as anywhere. Pilgrim Creek, Pacific Creek, Two Ocean Lake are all great areas to see Grizzlies.
 
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Here's a shot from last year taken with a 300pf and 1.4TC.

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Hope you have a great experience. Here is one of my favorites. Taken with my D610 and the Tamron 150-600 1st version at 450 mm.

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Your kids might like the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. You can get wildlife photos there with your 70-200 f2.8. I actually won a local photography contest with this one. I got $1000 and the photo is hanging up in our local hospital. I know it's cheating, but you are guaranteed to see wolves and grizzlies if you go there. And they do little talks about the animals for the kids.

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Hope you have a great experience. Here is one of my favorites. Taken with my D610 and the Tamron 150-600 1st version at 450 mm.

View attachment 1635989

Your kids might like the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. You can get wildlife photos there with your 70-200 f2.8. I actually won a local photography contest with this one. I got $1000 and the photo is hanging up in our local hospital. I know it's cheating, but you are guaranteed to see wolves and grizzlies if you go there. And they do little talks about the animals for the kids.

View attachment 1635990
Those are so awesome!
 
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Not sure where you're staying but if it's West Yellowstone sneak out before breakfast and cruise along the Madison River to Madison Campground and back. Round trip from West Yellowstone is only about 25 miles, takes under an hour and you'll probably see plenty of Bison and Elk young and old in the meadows between the road and the river. Then be back in time to wake the wife and kids for breakfast. Bonus is you'll have that stretch to yourself.
 
Joined
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Not sure where you're staying but if it's West Yellowstone sneak out before breakfast and cruise along the Madison River to Madison Campground and back. Round trip from West Yellowstone is only about 25 miles, takes under an hour and you'll probably see plenty of Bison and Elk young and old in the meadows between the road and the river. Then be back in time to wake the wife and kids for breakfast. Bonus is you'll have that stretch to yourself.
I agree. Such a pretty drive!! The scenery is gorgeous too!!
 
Joined
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Kalamazoo, MI
My goodness so much great advice in this thread! Thanks so much for the contributions. I want to take time to respond to everyone specifically when I have the chance. Work has been very busy for me.

A few extra details. For half of the week we are staying 50 miles north of the entrance near Gardiner. For the second half we are staying in Jackson. For the day we head south, we'll probably make that the stand in the crowds to see Old Faithful day. My wife is a city girl at heart and this is our first trip to a "nature" destination. Part of the deal was booking relatively lux accommodations that could fit all 4 of us. Baby steps folks! She seems to think there will be hundreds of bears just roaming about waiting to eat us when we drop our guard, so I'm sure we'll all be carrying multiple cans of bear spray that will never get used.

Good news is that when we travel westward it takes everyone awhile to adjust, so we all wake up at 5am. I'm hoping we can get an early start a couple of mornings and beat the crowds. Kids are good sports and I've had them practicing with a pair of binoculars in the back yard, will probably get a second set of binoculars to decrease the fighting and screaming when there is something cool to see. Hope to incorporate some short interesting hikes early every day. I am mentally preparing for hours in the car in, out, and through the park given the time of year.
 

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