Returning to Nicaragua with Only One Lens (Well…Okay, Two)

Career Training 2009 Graduate Steve Russell is back at it. If you immediately associate Steve’s name with his fabulous macro images of spiders, bees and dragonflies, it is for good reason. Steve has been a contributor to this blog for quite a while now, and we’re lucky to have him! Today’s post by Steve is a bit of a departure from his usual specialty of creating images of the world’s creepy-crawly things. Recently, Steve returned from his second trip to Nicaragua, where he has been pursuing a photography project on coffee plantations. On this trip, he decided to test new waters by carrying only one lens with him. Read on to hear how it went.


Imagine walking around the city markets and rural coffee communities of Nicaragua, the Western Hemisphere’s second poorest country next to Haiti, with a big black camera and large, white 70-200mm lens hanging from your neck. Or changing from telephoto to wide angle to macro lenses on dusty, steep slopes of a coffee farm. As nice as it was last year to have my best lenses with me, the inconvenience, lost spontaneous opportunities, potential for sensor contamination, and being an attention and theft-magnet persuaded me to simplify for my 2011 trip.

I invested in a Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD lens and it performed well, if not admirably, for telephoto to macro shooting given the conditions. All of my project shots (documenting the usability of a new coffee-harvesting bag) and from-the-hip stealth shots in town were taken with this lens. I used my Canon 7D with a 580EX II Speedlite for indoor, low light, and shaded coffee field shots. Full disclosure time: I threw in my Tamron 90mm macro lens and Macro TwinLite MT-24EX (“twin flash”) at the last minute in case I had spare time to chase bugs, and boy did I, but that will be for another blog post.

The 7D has an APS-C sensor with a 1.6 crop factor so my 18-270mm lens was effectively 28-430mm, which was wide enough for groups and landscapes with little distortion, and long enough to capture things at a good distance. It was perhaps best at the “normal” mid-range for portraits and shorter-range shots where I could take advantage of a wider aperture and better bokeh. For shooting macro, well, it was okay in a pinch when I added a 20mm extension tube and twin flash (with adapter ring), but the magnification I can get with my 90mm macro lens was three times better. Still, being able to shoot a subject at a distance of only 3” at 270mm is remarkable to me.

More valuable than an extra lens was my Speedlite. The farmhouse offered only window light indoors, and the light out in the fields was often blocked by coffee bushes and trees. Despite the risk of an artificial light appearance and the illusion that it was darker outside than it really was (more due to my ineptitude at adjusting the ISO), the clarity and focus of this year’s field shots were much improved. The Speedlite stayed on my camera’s hotshoe except on two occasions when I had time to stage group shots and use my Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 remote units.

Here are some sample images taken on my trip, all shot with the 18-270mm lens. If you’d like to see more (actually…many more), you are welcome to peruse them in the “Nicaragua 2011…” galleries on my website.