Which wide-angle lens for Antelope Canyon?

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A friend and I have decided on short notice to make our first trip to the Antelope Canyon area early next week, weather permitting. I will be using a Toyo 23G with 6x7 and 6x9 backs but as my 58mm Grandagon's out of commission at the moment, I'll have to rent a wide-angle lens.

I have a choice of either the 45mm or 55mm Grandagon but I don't know which of them is best suited for this type of photography and I can't afford to rent both. The 55mm will work fine using a 12.5mm recessed lens board and it appears the 45mm will work as well, provided I flip the rear standard around backwards. With either lens, movements will be quite limited, of course, but I doubt this will matter too much in this instance ... right?

Any recommendations or BTDTs will be greatly appreciated!

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), December 15, 2000


Antelope Canyon is narrow, but as far as I can remember, my most successful compositions where done with normal and long lenses. You tend to concentrate on a particular pattern there, and a wide-angle tends to dilute that by including too much of the canyon walls. If you're afraid of missing a wide-angle, go with a 55, esp. since it's closest to the lens you're used to.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), December 16, 2000.

More or less normal seems best for the slot canyons. Too long and you'll have DOF problems, too short and (in my opinion) you'll miss nature's broad strokes.

Movements are not too important; although sometime tripods don't like to look straigt up as may be needed.

You didn't ask about the big issue which is exposure. The exposure range can be from too low for your meter to total white out. I have been in Antelope Canyon and and made two photographs only because the exposures were so long that by the end of the second it was time to hike out. For B&W, a compensatng developer like highly dilute HC 110 or better yet PMK is what is called for. I have never done color there but I'd guess you need fast negative film so you can pull it.

Don't go in if rain is forecast ANYWHERE upstream.

Good luck, John Hennessy

-- John Hennessy (northbay@directcon.net), December 16, 2000.

I had trouble with my 55mm on a Kowa 6 in the canyons. It was too wide for most of what is there. If you are going into lower Antelope, you won't need anything like a 55mm or wider. Most everything you see is done with normal or longer lenses. And this is the wrong time of year to go to the canyons even with flash anyway. Exposures in the middle of the day will be so long that unless you have reciprocity corrections down pat for color film, you won't get much of anything worthwhile. The area around Page is spectacular this time of year, but the canyons are very dark. And cold. I've been down there a few times this time of year with exposures of 30 minutes and longer with mucho color corrections on the lens. Not many good images. Go over to Paria or Zion instead. You'll get more over there. Come back to the canyons after April. james

-- lumberjack (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), December 16, 2000.

I appreciate all of the input and realize this probably isn't the best time of year to visit there. However, it's only a five-hour drive (my friend and I both live in the Phoenix area) and we have the time free, so why not? We also plan to do some shooting in the surrounding areas so even Antelope Canyon is a washout (no pun intended!), the trip will still be worth taking and the next time we go there, we'll have a much better idea of what we're up against.

As for my desire to use a wide-angle lens, it's based on the fact that my favorite photo from there was taken using a 47mm lens and I figured that I'd better have something similar with me, just in case. Most of the time, I gravitate toward my 100mm and 150mm lenses but I also have a 210mm and 75mm in my bag ... unfortunately, there's no way to fix my 58mm Grandagon in time for this trip. Perhaps I shouldn't worry about it -- this is no doubt the first of many trips -- and make do with the lenses I already have?

With regard to exposure length, we're expecting long-ish exposures but the comment about 30 minutes has me a bit spooked as my L508 isn't all that good for low-light work. Hmmm...

Anyway, thanks again for the input.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), December 16, 2000.

Jeffrey: Look at David Muench's "Plateau Light" book. There he discloses technical details of lenses and filters used for each shot. On the Technika 4X5 DM uses now the 47mm Super Angulon to the exclusion of the 90. The Grandagons are also excellent lenses. As for focal length, the equivalent is about 2/3 of that for 4X5. There are also quite a few published shots of the canyons taken by other photographers where the lenses are disclosed and that will help guide your preferences visually. I am not familiar with the Toyo, but be careful that groundglass registration remains 100% OK when you turn the back around, or else you may have a nasty surprise. Good Luck!

-- Julio Fernandez (gluemax@ora.auracom.com), December 16, 2000.

For 4x5 B&W use a 210 mm lens with TMX. The exposures will be long, dont' forget resoprocity. The canyons are so narrow a wide angle lens is not useful. One needs to take pictures of small areas, not the whole wall.

-- Louis Jensen (jenluc@ix.netcom.com), December 16, 2000.

Julio, I have that book as well as his "Arizona" one ... nice stuff. As for the Toyo and ground-glass registration, that's not a problem in this case as I have to swap the back as well as the ground-glass so it remains in the same position whether it's mounted on the front or back of the standard. (Yes, for once, I got lucky and things really are as simple as they appear to be!)

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), December 17, 2000.

Since I just returned from Antelope Canyon -- both upper and lower -- I thought I'd answer my own question.

I ended up renting a 55mm Grandagon lens and used my 6x9 back. I shot about 1/3 of my photos in lower Antelope Canyon with this lens and the rest with my 75mm and 100mm lenses. While there were a few shots that would have worked better with a wider lens still, I wouldn't have left this one home in order to accomodate it.

In upper Antelope Canyon, I used a 6x7 back and used the 55mm for only a few shots. The majority of my shots were made with a 100mm lens and I wished it had been slightly longer (I left my 150mm lens back in the car).

IMO, the two canyons are really quite different in character ... lower Antelope Canyon is smaller and more intimate (and much brighter) while upper Antelope Canyon is larger and more grand but far darker. I used 2-12 second exposures in the lower canyon whereas in the upper canyon, they ranged from 20 seconds to 4 minutes with ISO100 film.

That said, I found using a view camera in either canyon very difficult -- in the lower canyon, just carrying it around was a PITA, and in the upper canyon, I had an almost impossible time focusing it with the dim light and crazy angles I was using -- and next time, I plan to make my life easier and bring a medium-format SLR instead.

BTW, if you ever want to have these canyons to yourself, the days just after Christmas are perfect. The light may not last as long but it is more than adequate from 11pm to 2pm and we were two of perhaps a dozen people total that visited either canyon on 12/26 and 12/27.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), December 28, 2000.

other than the light, Jan-Feb are people free especially when there is any cloud cover. James

-- lumberjack (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), December 30, 2000.

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