Lens of the Month

Aloha to the Ultimate Ultra-Telephoto

Ken Hubbard heads to Oahu and Maui with Tamron's new 18-400mm VC ultra-telephoto zoom lens.

By Jenn Gidman
Images by Ken Hubbard

Ken Hubbard had 49 states under his belt when he got word he had to head to the final one on his list for work: Hawaii. "I was commissioned to go there to shoot some video with Tamron consultant André Costantini and to conduct a Tamron seminar at the University of Hawaii," he says. "I didn't exactly say no."

The group journeyed to Oahu and Maui, and on Ken's to-do list there was one very important task: test-driving Tamron's newest innovation, the 18-400mm Di II VC, the world's first* ultra-telephoto, all-in-one zoom with extended reach. "The unique feature about this lens is its 400mm focal length," Ken explains. "That's 100mm longer than any APS-C-sensor lens Tamron has released previously, with the 35mm equivalent of a 620mm angle of view. That gave me extra reach that proved invaluable in Hawaii for capturing, among other things, wildlife and windsurfers. Plus I still had wide-angle capability on the 18mm end without ever having to change lenses."

The islands made for the perfect backdrop to try out a lens like the 18-400. "It was my first time there, so once I got my bearings and pulled my jaw up from the floor after seeing the scenery, I was able to capture some amazing photos," Ken says. "The light there is tremendous, because it's ever-changing: It's cloudy sometimes, then clear, then partly cloudy again—but no matter what, there's always this soft, gorgeous light, whether it's bright out or overcast."

One of the first stops on Ken's Hawaiian adventure was a Maui beach known for windsurfing. "I'd stopped there after doing the Road to Hana, and there were a ton of surfers out on the water," he says. "The wind was blowing, and the waves were the perfect height for them to jump off of. They were racing up and down the shoreline, heading miles out, then suddenly racing back in."

Having that extra reach on the 400mm end of the lens helped Ken capture the windsurfers who were further out. "I could really document all of the action," he says. "If I'd had a lens with even a slightly shorter reach, my subjects would've been too small in the frame. In this picture, I was able to get one windsurfer riding the surf in, with the second one in the middle jumping over the lip, and the third one heading back out to do it all over again."

© Ken Hubbard
400mm, F/6.3, 1/6400th sec., ISO 400

Not far from where Ken was staying on Oahu was the Valley of the Temples, a memorial park where Hawaiian residents of nearly every denomination are buried. Also at the park is the Byodo-In temple, a replica of an 11th-century Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan. "We'd heard about the temple, so we took a ride over there," Ken says. "The weather had broken a little and cleared up. In this case, my photographic situation was the total opposite of when I took pictures of the windsurfers: Instead of using the telephoto end of the lens, the wide-angle aspect allowed me to capture the temple, as well as the reflection in front of the temple itself."

© Ken Hubbard
26mm, F/11, 1/200th sec., ISO 200

The Waimea Valley on Oahu's North Shore is nearly 2,000 acres of land that have been considered sacred Hawaiian ground for centuries. Today, visitors there can check out ancient archaeological sites, botanical gardens, and native wildlife. "When we first arrived at the parking lot, near the entrance was this giant peacock, its feathers fully expanded, just strutting around and showing itself off," Ken says. "Peacocks aren't generally afraid of people, but sometimes if you get too close, they'll turn around and just show their backside, so you don't see the beautiful front side of those feathers."

Having the long telephoto capability of the 18-400 allowed Ken to stay far away enough from the peacock so it would keep moving forward. "I was able to zoom in and capture the brilliant blues, greens, and yellows of its elaborate feathers," he says. "I purposely opened up the aperture to keep the feathers a little softer, so they'd serve as more of a background, while I kept the head of the peacock super-sharp."

© Ken Hubbard
400mm, F/8, 1/50th sec., ISO 400

The Hawaiian banana flower is a pretty purple flower that can be found scattered around the valley. "It's a pretty big flower that filled the frame, so I had to step further back to capture it the way I wanted," Ken says. "The day was once again overcast and drizzly, which meant soft light was falling on the plant. I really liked the angle I captured it from, with highlights on the left-hand side, as well as shadows on the bottom and right side giving it some depth, capped off with that big green banana leaf as the background."

© Ken Hubbard
400mm, F/6.3, 1/320th sec., ISO 400

One of the most notable things about the Waimea Valley is the lushness of the trees and greenery. "There are so many of these craggy trees, with branches that look like lightning bolts," Ken says. "I really wanted to capture those shapes, but most of the trees were so full and dense that it was impossible to do that."

Ken eventually came across this set of branches that hadn't bloomed yet. "This looks like a black-and-white image, but it's actually in color," he says. "The trees were right in front of this white, cloudy sky, and it looked fantastic. I exposed a bit more for the sky so it would become a little whiter; being overexposed like that made the foreground branches darker and more contrasty, which made for a more interesting image."

© Ken Hubbard
23mm, F/5.6, 1/500th sec., ISO 400

Ken and his group headed out to do some kayaking one day near Flat Island, off of Kailua Beach. "This area of Maui is awesome for kayaking because once you get past the small breakers on the beach, it's relatively flat due to the large coral reef that keeps the big breakers further offshore," he says. "There are three islands right off the beach, about a half-mile away. We decided to head to the closer one, which happens to be a bird sanctuary, because it was windy that day and tough to go against the gusts."

Ken wanted to capture a wide-angle shot of the aqua-colored water set against the Hawaiian landscape, complete with volcanic mountains, puffy white clouds, and blue skies. "Literally 10 miles to the north or east, the clouds are gray, dark, and stormy. Everywhere you go in Hawaii, the weather is completely different, and you don't even have to go that far to experience that."

© Ken Hubbard
24mm, F/11, 1/250th sec., ISO 100

The home Ken rented with his traveling mates offered him a final photographic must-have: a classic Hawaiian sunset. "It can be expensive to stay in Hawaii, but we found an affordable place through a property listing site, and it was unbelievable," he says. "It had its own private beach, and on three of the four nights we were there, we saw sea turtles."

The group was hanging out one evening after a day of shooting, and as they prepared dinner, the clouds broke open as the sun started setting. "The clouds were lit up with all of those pinks and yellows, so I grabbed my camera, zoomed out to 18mm, and captured the whole scene, with the palm trees silhouetted against the sky," he says. "You always hear people say how amazingly stunning Hawaii is, and I guess from traveling so much, I've become somewhat jaded when I hear stuff like that. But it truly is."

© Ken Hubbard
18mm, F/8, 1/125th sec., ISO 200

*Among interchangeable lenses for DSLR cameras (as of April 2017)