Having the right lens to take a picture at Moulton Barn of Grand Teton or a great pair of binoculars to view a grizzly bear feeding at Lamar Valley of Yellowstone can take your vacation from great to awesome! Here is some gear that we’ve actually used and loved.
Vortex Diamondback available on Amazon. There aren’t many places more scenic than Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. From Artist Point viewing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, to viewing a family of wolves at play, you won’t want to be limited to what your naked eye can see. A good pair of binoculars can be a real game-changer.
I use to decline using binoculars until I tried this model. For some reason, I could never get other types to focus or adjust to my eyes and found it frustrating. I couldn’t believe how clear a picture I could get with these binoculars. Although there are higher quality models available for purchase, these are the best value for your dollar. Plus, they come in a case you can strap to your chest.
If you want the most zoom power possible, you’ll need a scope. In this video, I showed a Leupold scope, which is a high-quality item. These scopes can vary from $300-$2000 dollars. The particular model in my video isn’t made anymore, but obviously I think Leupold is a nice brand. I admit I’m not an expert on scopes, so I only have my experience and research to go off of. Here are the two I would suggest:
- Leupold SX-1 Ventana. This has a more powerful zoom than most, AND it comes with the case and the tripod for an affordable price.
- Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85. I recommend this because it ranks high on reviews as being a good value. And it’s the same brand as the binoculars I used (above), so I trust they would make an amazing scope.
If you have a newer phone, it will generally take some good pictures and video. But if you’re hoping to capture wildlife, forget it. You’re almost never close enough (except maybe bison).
I once traveled to 20 national park sites in one year, seeing some of the most amazing scenery America has to offer…and I only had my iPhone 4 to take photos with. I had regret every time. Finally, I was preparing to go to Zion and I bought a Canon Rebel SL1 DSLR camera. I’ve taken some beautiful images with it and printed some large prints to hang up in my home.
My Canon is now a little old, but if you’re new to this, I’ll save you some time here: the best entry-level “nice” camera is the Nikon D3500. You can’t go wrong: just set it to autofocus, point, and click. NOTE: if you’re buying this to shoot wildlife, you must also buy the zoom lens with it! The regular lens, although it does zoom a little, will not get close enough.
If you don’t want to spring for a new camera, but you want to take some closer pictures of wildlife with your phone, I would recommend a scope lens you can attach to your phone. Here are two affordable options:
- CoPedvic. It works with iPhone and Samsung, and it’s only $32. Bear in mind, this isn’t going to be near the quality of the Nikon, but it’s very inexpensive, and it is better than doing the pinch-zoom thing with your camera (which only provides a blurry optical zoom). It also comes with a little tripod, which you will want to use because it’s hard to hold the camera still when zoomed in so far.
- Gosky. This is a big step up from CoPedvic, and costs $89. Both get very good reviews on Amazon. I’m guessing you get what you pay for here. This one has a closer zoom, and it’s not too much more.
Here again, you can take some nice video with your phone. But if you have to zoom, the pinch-zoom thing with your phone isn’t going to work well.
I’m into simplicity: I want a point-and-shoot that can zoom in close and keep a steady image. Dedicated camcorders are slowly going out of style in favor of the dual camera/camcorders like the Nikon D3500, but I think dedicated camcorders can generally zoom better and provide better image stabilization. I’m not a photography expert; this is just my experience.
This Canon VIXIA gets the best reviews on zoom & image stabilization. It’s small, it’s easy to hold, and it’s affordable.
I don’t use a tripod much because I don’t like carrying it around. But if you really want nice photos or videos, and you’re zooming, then you NEED a tripod.
A basic tripod would be fine in most cases: I bought this basic Fotopro Tripod, and I love it — it’s really adjustable.
BUT, if you are going to zoom way in and track wildlife as it moves (meaning, moving the camcorder from side to side, or panning), then you’ll want to attach a head to it that glides more smoothly.
You’d be surprised how much you can spend on fluid heads for tripods. I scoured Amazon to find the best deals, and based on reading a ton of reviews, I think the Neewer fluid head is the best value. At least, that’s what I would buy. But if it’s really important to you to have a silky smooth shot, the GEEKOTO got slightly better reviews and it was about double the price.
Whatever you decide to shoot with, make sure to share your videos or photos with us after your trip!!
Cell Phone Charger
Anker PowerCore. Yep, I listed this as a necessity. As much as I like unplugging from the world, I’m not going on my trip without my cell phone. I bet you are the same way. A portable cell phone charger can really save the day, especially if you are camping and don’t get much opportunity to charge your phone besides driving around in your car. We always end up battling over who gets to charge their phone. This charger can charge 3 phones and it does it pretty fast.
At the very least, make sure you have a phone USB charger to plug your phones into while you drive. I don’t think the kind matters much, but we like to have two USB ports, one for each of our phones.