Wildlife Photography with Canon's 1200mm Lens

Capturing wildlife in the Arctic is both challenging and rewarding. The extreme conditions and stunning scenery offer unique opportunities for photography. An insane 1200mm lens can help, though.

Coming to you from Pangolin Wildlife Photography, this fun video tests Canon’s RF 1200mm lens in Svalbard. This lens, with its impressive focal length, allows for close-up shots of distant subjects, a critical feature for photographing subjects like polar bears. The video highlights the challenges of using such a powerful lens, including the need for higher shutter speeds to avoid vibration and the effects of atmospheric haze even in the cold Arctic environment.

In this video, you see how the 1200mm lens captures polar bears at distances others might miss. It explains that the lens' weather-sealing is a crucial feature in such harsh conditions, also demonstrating the benefit of using a 1.6x crop on the Canon EOS R5, extending the focal length to nearly 2000mm, perfect for those far-off shots. However, this comes with its own set of challenges, such as the amplified effect of even the slightest movement, requiring shutter speeds over 1/2,500th of a second to get sharp images.

Even though it’s highly specialized, it can be used to capture detailed close-ups when bears come too close, something most lenses can't achieve due to their minimum focus distances. The lens’ ability to produce sharp images, even in difficult lighting conditions, is impressive. However, it does struggle with heat haze and low light, making timing critical for the best shots.

Using such a long lens in the field requires careful planning. The video discusses the practicalities of carrying and using the lens, noting its size and weight. Despite its bulk, the lens is relatively light for its size, but it still doesn't fit in most camera bags, making it a niche tool for specific situations. This lens isn't for every trip, but when distance is a factor, it can capture images that would otherwise be impossible. Check out the video above for the full rundown.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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3 Comments

Interesting photographing in an adverse climate. His remarks about using high lens speeds was a learning bit for me. FWIW, I would wear white when photographing polar bears. Anything dark can be seen as prey.

They’re going to have to add another ‘n’ to the name Canon.

Yep! Or run faster than those with you? Adding: Can't recall the name but there is a town in either Canada or Alaska that has a regular visitation of polar bears. Just open the window and snap away!