Alaskan Cruise Camera Equipment Guide

Last Sunday I got back from a two week trip out to the Pacific Northwest. The first week was spent in Seattle WA, Victoria BC, and then Vancouver BC. The second week was a cruise on Celebrity to Alaska with stops at Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier, and Seward.  From Seward we went to Anchorage to fly back home to DC.  I did a lot of research online before the trip to try to determine what camera equipment to take on an Alaskan Cruise. I’ll share with you what I found out from my research, what I took, and how much I used the equipment. That’s why I wrote this Alaskan Cruise Camera Equipment Guide, hopefully this will help someone else in the future who is thinking of going on an Alaskan Cruise who’s trying to determine what camera/lenses to take with them.  First let’s go over the equipment I took with me.

Before going on the trip I did a lot of searching on the internet to see what others suggested for lenses to take on the cruise. Most of the information I found people said to either take wide-angle or super telephoto. Some people said since Alaska is so large and the landscapes are so grand, you’ll need a wide-angle to cover it. Others said if you want images of wildlife you need a large telephoto – the larger the better! I decided to try to limit the number of lenses I took but cover the most range, so here’s the equipment I packed along:

Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon S100
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS Lens
Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
Canon 580EX II Flash
Benro A2691T Travel Angel Tripod w/ B1 Ballhead
Tamrac Photo Messenger 9 Camera Bag
Kata KT PL-A-18 Pro-Light Access-18 Holster Camera Bag
OP/TECH Utility Strap-Sling Connector
HP Pavilion dv7t 17.3″ Laptop

Canon 5D Mark III  —  Canon 5D Mark II

I took two bodies because I didn’t want to have to switch lenses if I was out some place shooting. Just grab the other body/lens combo and take a picture. My plan was for one body to have the 24-105mm and the other body to have the 100-400mm. What body was mounted to which lens changed throughout the trip. I mostly had the 5D3 mounted on the lens that had the range I felt I would use the most at that point in time.

If you can, I’d suggest you do something similar. Take two bodies with you so you don’t have to change lenses. It worked out very nicely, with the Kata and Optech sling I could have the main body/lens on the sling for easy access and the other body/lens in the Kata ready to be pulled out when needed.

I did see a lot of people walking around with the ultra zooms (Canon 18-200mm, Nikon 28-300mm, Tamron 28-300mm, etc). If you have something like that you could get away with just one body, but most of these end at the 300mm range which isn’t that big. Even with my Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS lens there were a lot of times that something a little longer would have been nicer. I did see some of the best beginner DSLR cameras on my trip, I would guess that those too are good for this. There was one person with the Sigma 50-500mm (aka Bigma) – which would be nice to have the extra 100mm reach but then you can only go down to 50mm.

To me the perfect balance is to have two cameras. One that covers the wide-angle and one that covers the telephoto range. Consider renting an extra body if you have to. The cost of renting an extra body and/or lens compared to the price of your flight, cruise cost, and excursions is going to look cheap.

Canon S100

I took my S100 along for those times when I wanted something small to carry around the boat and take snapshots. It also went with me in the Kata bag ashore, it does a fairly good job shooting video and has continuous autofocus, so I used it for that too. It’s small, lightweight, and takes decent pictures. The main downside to this camera seems to be that it always eats up the battery life really quickly! I have three Canon batteries for it and they don’t seem to hold a charge very well.

Another option for those that have a DSLR body and a point-n-shoot is to get a lens for the DSLR that fits what the P&S doesn’t.  So if you have a P&S with a huge zoom, then maybe a more wide-angle for the DSLR body.  If the P&S mostly has wide-angle, rent a long telephoto for the DSLR body.  Or decide which you are most interested in and what type of images you want to have the highest quality.  If photographing wildlife is what interests you most and you want stunning wildlife pictures, get the telephoto for the DSLR body.  If you are more of a landscape person and love seeing beautiful vistas, get a wide-angle for the DSLR body.  This way you don’t have two heavy cameras to carry around.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS — Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS — Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II

I picked the 24-105mm and 100-400mm because with just those two lenses I could cover 24-400mm. I could have rented something like the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens, but that seemed a little short ending at just 300mm. Overall I think the pick of these two lenses worked out well. Of the 8,634 images I took, 95.4% was taken with one of these two lenses. There were times when I wished I had more than 400mm though, so when people say bigger is better for telephoto, they mean it!

The 70-200mm lens I took just because I wanted something at f/2.8. I really didn’t use it that much, around the boat at night at shows mostly. Would I take it again? Not sure, it was nice to have when I went to shows at night to take pictures since I can open up so wide and let a lot of light in – but it really wasn’t used all that much.

Canon 580EX II Flash

Honestly the flash was used very very little. I could have easily left it home and not missed it. If you are big into doing Strobist photography and want to do some around the boat, then definitely bring it. But it seemed like I was too busy at night doing other things that I didn’t have time to setup anything Strobist. Next time I’d probably leave it at home.

Benro A2691T Travel Angel Tripod w/ B1 Ballhead

I debated taking a tripod. Would I use it? or would it just be something else to pack? Luckily this Benro tripod is small and lightweight, but has good specs for travel:

Max weight: 26.4 lbs
Max height: 65.4 in
Folded lenght: 17.7 in
Weight: 4.6 lb

The tripod wasn’t used all that much, mostly from the balcony in our room, but it was nice to have. It’s also fairly small when folded up, I packed it in with my checked luggage. Weighing only 4.6 lbs it doesn’t add that much to the luggage, so I’d take it again just to have it.

Tamrac Photo Messenger 9 Camera Bag

There was no way I was going to check all my camera gear into the belly of the plane! The Tamrac Messenger 9 was what I carried onto the plane. I put in it the camera gear I didn’t want tossed around. The bag easily held the 5D3, 5D2, 24-105, 70-200, 100-400, and HP Laptop. In the end it was heavy, but I didn’t have any problems packing all that into the bag. And the size fits easily standing up in the overhead compartment, so it makes it much easier to find a spot to slip it in.  For more info you can read my review of the Tamrac Messenger 9 bag.

Kata KT PL-A-18 Pro-Light Access-18 Holster Camera Bag

The Kata bag I put into my checked luggage and then took out once I got there. It’s what I used when walking around and I wanted to take both bodies with me. If I was only taking a single body and lens then I’d just take it without the Kata. But if I wanted to have a 2nd lens with me or take a 2nd body/lens combo then I’d use this bag. I really like this bag, nice and roomy in the main compartment, can easily fit the 5D3 or 5D2 and the 100-400mm lens. My only complaint is I wish the large side pocket was just a bit larger. I’ll write up a full review at some point and show you want I mean.

OP/TECH Utility Strap-Sling Connector

There are lots of different camera straps out there to be used, I’ve just always used an Optech strap. The first one I bought was in 1989, still have it in fact. The strap is still good, hasn’t deterioriated or anything. Optech straps are reasonably priced and they are comfortable. The OP/TECH Classic Strap is really nice but I prefer the grip on the OP/TECH Super Classic Strap the most. With the quick releases you can either use the grip side of the strap or the smooth side by just turning it around.

HP Pavilion dv7t 17.3″ Laptop

Yes, I took a very heavy and large laptop with me! This is one item you could definitely slim down on. The big thing was having some device that I could download images off the CF and SD memory cards onto so that I could re-use those cards again. Anything that could have accomplished that would have worked. If you plan on taking lots of pictures, either have a lot of memory cards to take along, or take another device that you can download the images to in order to reuse the memory cards. I edited some images a little bit while on the trip, but not much, so really didn’t need a full laptop.

Alaskan Cruise Camera Equipment Guide Conclusion

My advice for what camera equipment to take, is to take whatever you have that will give you wide and super telephoto.  I’ll show in a later article plots of the focal lengths I used the most and it was 24mm, 100mm, and 400mm.  Between 24mm and 100mm there are some images taken, but between 100mm and 400mm it’s almost empty!  There seems to mostly be two situations, ones where you want to capture a lot of stuff, and ones where you really want to zoom in.  You are going to want to take something along that will give you at least 400mm or more.  Whether that’s an L lens, a consumer ultra-zoom, or a small format fixed lens camera with super zoom, you will want something with a lot of zoom.  At the same time you are going to want something that’s fairly wide.

Take lots of memory cards or something to download the images onto!  You’ll be surprised how many pictures you can take.  Along with those memory cards, you’ll probably want some extra batteries.  There was more than once I was on a tour with others from the ship and someone’s battery died about a quarter of the way through the tour.  Extra batteries are cheap compared to how much you are paying just to get there, so don’t skimp and try to make do with one battery.

Besides that the rest are just extras and depends upon the person.  Tripod – you probably won’t use it but if you’ve got a small one go ahead.  Flash – if you are big into flash photography and want to setup some shots, do it, but you’ll probably just be using it on the ship.  All the excursions and tours are during the day, so you won’t have to haul it around at least.

While doing my own research to determine what equipment to take I came across Egor’s blog posting, Alaskan Cruise Photo Gear Guide, which is really good.  I suggest you do read it and see what he says also.  If you have any advice, tips, or have gone on an Alaskan Cruise yourself and would like to share your photography experience, please leave a comment!  Help others out so they will know better what to take.  Thanks for reading!

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