My wife, Shelly and I went to Yellowstone back in 2005 and I couldn’t wait to get back and thought it would be a regular thing. Well...two kids were born, life got busy and we never made it back again until 14 years later! I love observing and photographing wildlife and I don’t think there is a better place than the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...especially for a guy from Ohio.
This trip wouldn’t be an all out photography and exploration trip, but a family vacation. I was excited to share this experience with my age 10 and 11 year old girls, but I would need to make considerations for my usual way of doing things where photography is my main goal. One of those considerations was what gear to bring. My current wildlife setup is a Sony A73 paired with a Sigma 150-600. Of course, I would also need a wide angle lens or two for landscape if I were to bring the big tele. This setup seamed to cumbersome for a family vacation where I would surely be lugging around a backpack full of family necessities already, so I researched other options. I quickly discounted ideas like getting a Canon or Nikon with one of those superzooms like an 18-300mm because I didn’t want to invest in another system. I also looked into the Nikon P1000. 3000mm seems ridiculous, but a lot of Yellowstone wildlife viewing can be a half mile away from the valley road. But this camera is huge and I think I would be disappointed in the image quality since the camera has a small sensor and most of my pictures will be within a more reasonable distance anyway. After giving the Sony RX10iv a test drive, which has an equivalent 24-600mm lens and a 1 inch sensor, I bought a used copy and made this the camera for the trip. I couldn't be happier with the way the RX10iv handled almost all situations. The AF was plenty quick enough for anything I pointed the lens at. I shot up to ISO 6400 at dusk and the pictures are still quite acceptable and I really like the 24mm wide angle. I did also take my A7iii with 16-35 for when I wanted to be more creative with the wide angle, but it stayed in the car most of the time and I honestly could've done without it this trip.
We had 2 days in Grand Teton and 5 days in Yellowstone. This was a perfect amount of time to comfortably explore all the big areas of the parks and not feel rushed. When traveling with kids, it’s hard to get everybody up and moving in the morning, and this worked out to my advantage. I would get up around sunrise and look for good light, landscapes, and wildlife. I would be back to the cabin just around the time everybody wakes up. Shelly was a bit jealous, but she also didn’t want to get up at 5:30am, and we did all get up as a family at least one morning to go to Lamar Valley.
Wildlife was abundant! I kind of lost count of the exact numbers, but I think we saw around 16-18 bears, 10-12 moose, 5-6 wolves, a bunch of eagles and osprey, and all the bison, elk, and goats you could want! One morning, I saw 5 wolves trying to get at a dead bison calf and the mother fighting them off. I felt bad the girls didn’t see the wolves, but when we went back to that spot in the evening, the mother was gone and one wolf was trotting off with a hind leg. Sad, but what an amazing wild scene to witness.
YNP and GTNP had plenty of amazing scenery and thermal features to see as well. The girls saw their first mountains in the Tetons, and of course, Old Faithful, along with the abundant hot springs, geysers, and mud pots were thrilling to experience. I think the kids were a perfect age for the Yellowstone experience and will never forget the close encounters we had with these wild creatures and the unique thermal features this land has to offer!
I’m happy with the photography that came out of this trip and would recommend the RX10iv as a do everything travel camera to anyone that expects quality, but wants to go light.