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Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

Tulsa, Oklahoma
Level Contributor
91 posts
Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

I am definitely not very savvy when it comes to these items. We need to purchase/rent/borrow some or all of this equipment for our trip July 18th-27th. At the moment our itinerary for YNP is 4 days which may increase to 5-that verdict is still out. We want to get in some animal watching, hiking and geyser gazing.

We're travelling with our 14yo & 6yo girls. We want everyone to have a camera and possibly binoculars for everyone. I am also considering one spotting scope with a tripod. But I have no idea where to start and what to purchase.

What are your suggestions on what to purchase as far as cameras? I want to have at least one camera for adult use that takes excellent quality photos w/o breaking the bank. I want to have a second camera for one of the adults that takes very good but not excellent quality photos. I want to have a camera for each one of the kids. We have a Samsung 18x zoom 24mm wide angle camera. Will this camera work for one of the kids or one of the adults? My 14yo has a mid-range android phone. Will the android phone provide us with adequate photos?

I would also like to have a pair of binoculars for everyone. What are some of the specs I should look for in binoculars? Should we invest in one or two good pairs and tow less expensive pairs?

Also should I invest in a spotting scopes or just rent one or go without? What specs would be advisable for using a spotting scope in YNP? Are there any places near YNP to rent spotting scopes?

Ennis MT
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park, Ennis
Level Contributor
3,251 posts
32 reviews
36 helpful votes
1. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

I'm certainly not the "optics" expert here - but if you go to the YNP forum and look at the TQ's on the upper right of the page, there's a lot of info about scopes and binos under the topic "how do I observe and photograph wildlife". It was put together by a couple of the forum DE's who are quite knowledgeable in this area and should be quite helpful to you.

Tacoma, Washington
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
12,138 posts
2 reviews
1 helpful vote
2. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

What sort of budget are you talking about to not break the bank?

To get a very good camera + equipment you are looking at well over $1000.

If you stay below a DSLR you could look at a group of cameras that are just below DSLRs that are high zoom cameras made by Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic to name a few. these cameras can be found for $300-$500. You will need to get a tripod to use this.

Ohio, USA
Destination Expert
for Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce, Arches National Park
Level Contributor
7,758 posts
455 reviews
916 helpful votes
3. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

The cameras on the phones are getting better, but I would never use one for vacation shots in the National Parks. I just don't think the image quality is that great and certainly there is not enough zoom or image control. Maybe the newer phones are better. That said, you should also consider what the 14-yo will want to use. Seems that the kids are comfortable with the phones and tablets as their only camera. Ask the kid and let him/her make the call.

As for the other cameras, my recommendation is to look at the superzoom models. All the major brands have them. I have been using Canon models for the past several years and have been extremely pleased with the results. I started with the SX10 IS, moved to the SX30 IS and now have the SX50 HS with it's 50x optical zoom and have gotten outstanding results with these cameras. The SX50 is running under $400 (from a quick search on-line). I seldom use a tripod with this camera, but for best results at the maximum zoom, a tripod is advised. For normal shooting I get great results just hand-held (for landscapes).

Another great camera that is pocket size is the Canon SX280 IS with a 20X optical zoom. I carry this camera almost everyday as it does fit in a pants pocket. Excellent image quality and plenty of flexibility.

So maybe the SX50 for your number one and the SX280 for the number two adult cameras. Canon also has several other smaller cameras that might be good for the youngsters. Or maybe get a couple of the same model cameras so that the batteries are interchangeable (you will want to have spare batteries for each camera).

Edited: March 02, 2014, 7:39 pm
Ash Fork, Arizona
Level Contributor
175 posts
256 reviews
101 helpful votes
4. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

I just bought a camera and binoculars for my upcoming trip.

I purchased a used Pentax k20d with lens and other accessories for under $300. I like the camera but I should have gone with a canon or Nikon because the lens availability is much greater. I would look to a dedicated dslr forum to get some better advice.

I also purchased a Celestron Skymaster 15x70 binoculars for $60. That is a very cheap price and no one seems to understand why they are so cheap for this quality, maybe overproduced? The only down side to the binoculars is that you need a monopod or tripod to hold them steady. I get great details of the moon with them but I need a tripod to hold them. They do come with a tripod attachment.

Edited: March 02, 2014, 9:25 pm
Bemidji, Minnesota
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park
Level Contributor
2,825 posts
27 reviews
3 helpful votes
5. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

What are you trying to accomplish with the cameras? Have you just been hired by National Geographic and need the highest quality pictures possible or are these for your own enjoyment? I've taken quite a few pictures in Yellowstone and found that I like a small camera with an optical zoom, something I can always have in my hand for those shots when something won't wait but will take acceptable pictures. I'd look for something like a Pentax with the optical zoom in a small package and make sure I have image stabilization turned on, especially for the children. I wouldn't worry too much about the high magnification either, I rarely use my at the limit of 10X. Most of the things I take pictures of I don't want the distortion of distance that the magnification causes. I also wouldn't get binoculars with over about 7X as that is about the limit for hand holding without the shakes showing. I can use a 10X with somewhere to rest it so I might consider a zoom binocular but when I zoom mine to the 15X it is really hard to use.

Unless you anticipate using it regularly I wouldn't buy a spotting scope. If you anticipate watching animals from a long distance, rent a scope.

Billings, Montana
Destination Expert
for Yellowstone National Park
Level Contributor
7,530 posts
1 review
4 helpful votes
6. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

Unless you want to spend hours watching animals through a scope and will have the opportunity to use it other places/times, it really isn't worth the expenditure to get a good quality scope. You can rent one if it something you really want to use in Yellowstone but have no plans to use one anywhere else.

There will be people with their scopes set up in different areas of the park. Strike up a conversation with the person manning the scope. Ask nicely if you can look through their scope. Most people will say yes. Be very respectful of and careful around their equipment.

My grandson and I love setting up our scope and letting people look through it. We get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing their faces light up when they see the animal that we are looking. Especially kids. We finally bought a step ladder for kids to use so we didn't have to keep adjusting the tripod up and down along with finding the animal again through the scope after adjusting the height. Last summer we spent 3 hours letting people look at this mountain goat north of Gibbon Falls.



We now have a 2nd scope that we're setting up to do some digi-scoping. We have a little tablet that will be set up to allow bystanders to watch same-time videos of the animal we're watching. This will be especially helpful for kids that have a hard time looking through a scope with just one eye. It is going to be a fun June trip for us. : ) : ) : )


Edited: March 02, 2014, 11:02 pm
Fruita, Colorado
Destination Expert
for Fruita, Grand Junction
Level Contributor
7,729 posts
269 reviews
191 helpful votes
7. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

My son used to do professional photography and has found some good camera equipment at Goodwill. Guess folks get rid of great things when they downsize, etc. So, if you know camera stuff you might check out thrift shops. He actually bought a really good Nikon camera for $2 not too long ago that was about a $700 camera.

Wanaka, New Zealand
Level Contributor
1,533 posts
22 reviews
40 helpful votes
8. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

I'm afraid I can't offer any advice on binoculars and scopes. They are far removed from my levels of expertise. But I can make some suggestions about cameras.

Because you've asked our advice, I'm going to make the assumption that photography is more of a casual interest than a serious hobby.

Firstly, I don't think it's a very good idea to buy a DSLR unless you have the time and patience to learn how to use it properly. A camera is only as good as the person operating it, and I've seen good photographers take better pics on a $200 camera, than inexperienced photographers using a $2000 camera. It always blows me away the amount of people who spend thousands on DSLRs because they've heard they're the best, then leave it on the auto setting all the time.

If you're going to buy more than one camera, I suggest thinking beyond the trip and buying cameras that will suit various needs and purposes.

Take the Sony RX100 for example. It has very little zoom, and won't be great for distant wildlife spotting. But it has one of the largest sensors of compact cameras, meaning that it takes incredibly sharp images and great low-light and indoor photos. And the best thing is that despite the large sensor, it is still small enough to fit in your pocket. It is my favourite of my 3 cameras.

Another good purchase would be, as OhioHick suggested, a superzoom/bridge camera. It won't take as high quality images as a good DSLR, but unless you're a serious photographer, the difference will not be large enough to worry about. This will make a great choice for your distant wildlife pics.

Most bridge cameras have professional photography settings, but for more casual users who prefer auto, they are easier to use since you don't have to worry about lense changes. Many also have HD movie settings eliminating the need for a separate camcorder. What most superzooms do lack however, is the ability to take great low-light shots (hence the reason I suggested the Sony above). I've had a few Panasonic superzooms and have really liked them. The Leica lense they use is very good. I haven't tried any other superzoom brands, so can't comment on the pros/cons of each.

As for your child's phone camera, I agree with the poster who said it depends on their interests. If your child is happy snapping away on their phone, so be it. I never thought I'd be a person who'd admit this, but some of today's phones do take pretty good pics.

9. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

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Cinnaminson, New...
Level Contributor
591 posts
2 reviews
10. Re: Binoculars, Scopes & Cameras...OH MY!

I am glad to see this question being asked. On my first trip to Yellowstone in 2008, I had a borrowed pair of 8x32 binoculars, my 5mp digital camera with a 3x zoom, and my wife had her film SLR with a 300mm lens. Far too inadequate for Yellowstone. Let's just say that when I go back in June (my 4th trip) my equipment list is very long! Me and my wife - 3 cameras (DSLR with multiple lenses, Canon SX40 Superzoom, and Sony DSC-H55 P&S), 2 pairs of binoculars (Bushnell 12x50 and 16x50), and a new spotting scope (Celestron Ultima 80 20x60-80mm). Anyway, here are my suggestions:

Binoculars: People will say that 8x is more than enough. I strongly disagree, but that is my opinion. There are vast valleys in Yellowstone. I use my binoculars to "glass" the valleys for wildlife, and if I find something worth while, I bring out the scope. I also like the 50mm binoculars. My wife and I don't think they are heavy and they let in a lot of light. We use the Bushnell Powerview series, and you can get the 12x for under $50 and are very sharp. That extra magnification is great when looking at the animals that are far away.

Scope: We will be spending a lot of time wildlife watching, especially for wolves and bears. I did use a cheaper scope which I bought at Walmart for $60. It was a Simmons 20x60-60mm scope. It was more than adequate, and it came with a tripod. But, I wanted better, so I bought the Celestron which is an amazing scope and can be had for under $160 from B&H Photo. Wheather you need a scope or not is a personal decision. If you want to bring one, I would recommend getting one of the cheaper scopes to start off with. I will be spending almost 2 weeks in the park, so I will get my use out of it.

Cameras: I agree with every one else here. A DSLR would be great, but you will need to invest quite a bit of money. Between the body and multiple lenses. A great option is a Superzoom, and I also recommend the Canon SX50 HS. You can also get some of the lower zoom cameras for around $200 or less. I recommend at least a 10x OPTICAL zoom.

Again, this is my experience, but I can only post what works for me.