Three Lenses (and a Family) Go to Disney World

I brought a Canon T5i, cropped-sensor camera on our Disney World trip last month. In addition to my zooming kit lens (Canon EF-S 18-135mm, f/3.5-5.6, IS STM), I brought two others with me: a wide-angle zoom (Canon EF-S 10-18mm, f/4.5-5.6 IS STM) and a fixed focal length (or prime) (Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM). I thought about this a lot before the trip: Should I bring the extra lenses? Wouldn’t the kit lens be good enough to get all the shots I would ever really want on a trip like this? It’s not like I was going out into the mountains somewhere to shoot large vistas, or walking around a city street looking at people. Why bring the other lenses?

Eventually, I decided to bring them because of the challenge. I’m not good at photography, but I love taking pictures. I love it when they look good (mostly by accident), and I want to make them look good on purpose. Bringing the other lenses with me would, I hoped, force me to think more about how I wanted the pictures to look before I took them. And not only right before I took them: I also told myself I’d only bring one lens per day, leaving the others behind at the hotel, so I’d have to think carefully about the locations themselves, and the most likely conditions, before leaving the room. Actively thinking about these things would help me improve as a photographer, especially if I made the wrong choice. I would have to live with that choice all day, and work harder to make the most of it, which would, again, help me improve as a photographer. Having more than one lens available on the trip would also provide me with a bigger variety pictures I could potentially have: I looked forward, minimally, to my pictures not all looking the same as each other, and possibly not the same as the pictures everyone else takes at Disney World.

The Takeaway

Let me save you a little time: If I could have only brought one lens with me, the one I would have packed would have been the wide-angle, 10-18mm, lens. It’s not great for ordinary portrait-style pictures, but overall my photo collection would not have missed those very much, since I’m not good at conveying location with a tight shot (as in a portrait), and making the location of Disney World obvious would be important if most of the pictures were to evoke the trip. I would not have missed my 18-135mm zoom lens much, though I did take some nice pictures with it, because many of the shots I liked happened to be at its widest angle (18mm), which you will notice the wide-angle lens also covers. I would have missed it for its long reach, especially at shows or at the Animal Kingdom, where photo subjects are often in the distance, but if I had to choose either pictures of my family nearby with a lot of background, or pictures of a rhino in the distance with no background, I’ll take the pictures of my family. So if I could only choose one, it would be the wide-angle lens. It took my favourite pictures, for the most part.

Disclaimer: I don’t know how to use PhotoShop or Gimp or Lightroom to process photos, so these are all straight out of the camera (with the exception of one picture that I leveled, because I’m not a good photographer, and sometimes I take crooked pictures).

The Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Goes to the Magic Kingdom

When we arrived in Orlando, we had a few hours left in the day, time to enjoy some part of one park, and we chose the Magic Kingdom. Since I knew it would be dark, with not much to see in the distance (because of the nature of the park itself, and because of the time of day), I decided I didn’t need the reach of my zoom lens, and the wide-angle lens is too slow (dark) for night time shots of people. We were meeting up with family and friends, and I knew I’d want pictures with them as soon as possible, and as soon as possible meant at night. So, I brought my 40mm lens, which offers a wider aperture than my other lenses, to make it easier to take pictures at night. On a Canon T5i body, that 40mm is around 64mm on a full-frame camera, which is slightly zoomed on subjects, but not like a real portrait lens. I have also enjoyed just walking around with it on my camera and taking the occasional extra step back when I needed it, rather than using the heavier 18-135mm as a daily lens.

I also brought the 40mm with me on another day we spent at the Magic Kingdom. Again, even in daylight, that park didn’t seem to require a really long reach, so I didn’t miss the 18-135mm there. I think you could have a lot of fun walking around the Magic Kingdom all day with a 40mm lens, and you wouldn’t miss out on much except for really nice, wide shots (which I did take later with my wide-angle lens).

(From Flickr)


The Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Goes Everywhere Except the Magic Kingdom

As I said, I didn’t really think I’d ever need the long zoom at the Magic Kingdom: you can get pretty close to just about everything there just by walking up to it. Considering that it’s the heaviest of the three lenses, any chance to not bring it was worth taking. However, I did bring it to more of the parks than any other lens, because it has such a versatile range. If you are going to a park with lots of shows where you have to sit far away (Hollywood Studios) or a park with lots of things you shouldn’t get close to (Animal Kingdom), you want the zoom lens. Neither of those situations really hold for Epcot or the Magic Kingdom. I brought it to Epcot, but I didn’t end up taking advantage of its reach there, and the pictures I like are either at the wide end, or portrait-style pictures that could have been taken almost anywhere. The zoom didn’t add anything special at Epcot.

(From Flickr)


The Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Goes to Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, and Environs

If I could have only brought one lens (of the three I have, not of any of all time anywhere), it would have been this wide-angle lens. On our first full day at Disney World, we went to Epcot. Knowing what Epcot generally looks like, I knew the architectural design and the layout of the park lent itself to wide angles, because you could get right up close to things and there was always something on the periphery to look at too. I could live with the distortion in pictures of people (I know and love these people and I have hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of them already), but if my primary goal was to take accurate or flattering pictures of faces, I would have used the 40mm. This lens is not great in the dark (though with Image Stabilization, you get a little help), but Epcot is not much of an evening park anyway. There is a fireworks show on the lake at night, but it’s not like the Magic Kingdom, with its late night parades.

I had the wide-angle lens with me after Epcot closed for the night. We went to dinner at the Wilderness Lodge, so I took a couple of pictures there, then some on a ferry across the lake, and then some at the Magic Kingdom at night before it closed.

On our last day at Disney World, we had some time before our flight to go to one park for a couple of hours. We chose the Magic Kingdom again (because it has the most rides). Since I knew it would be nice and bright out, and that I’d already used the 40mm there, and that I didn’t need the reach of the 18-135mm, I decided to use the wide-angle lens for these last pictures. I was not disappointed, since some of my very favourite pictures from the trip are in that batch (the tea cups and King Arthur’s Carousel in particular).

(From Flickr)


I had a lot of fun playing with these lenses at Disney World, and I don’t regret bringing all three. Each one has its strengths, and they can all be taken advantage of at a place like Disney World, with its endless variety of subjects and locations and lighting conditions. If I were to recommend only one of the three to bring for the entire trip, it would be the EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM, the wide-angle lens. It was the most fun to use. If I were to recommend on lens per park, it would be: Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, the zoom lens; Epcot, the 10-18mm wide-angle zoom; and for the Magic Kingdom, the 40mm f/2.8 STM. I’d recommend the zoom at the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood studios because of the shows and animals. I’d recommend the 40mm at the Magic Kingdom because of the proximity of everything, and the opportunities to take pictures of things at night, or on dark rides. I’d use the wide-angle at Epcot, where you don’t need a long reach, and there isn’t much to see in the dark anyway.

I’m still not good at photography, and I likely won’t ever be really good. But I think I’m a little better now, and I love the pictures I have, even if some, or most, of them are only good by accident.

Backpacking Dad’s Southwest Road Trip, Part 6: Disneyland

This is Part 6 in a series of stories (and tips) from our most recent road trip. Read Part 1, on the Calico Ghost Town, here, Part 2, on Las Vegas,here, Part 3, on Flagstaff, here, Part 4, on the Grand Canyon, here, and Part 5, on Phoenix, here.

We wouldn’t be us if we didn’t include some kind of Disney destination in our planning. Our Southwest Road Trip led us all the way from home to our home away from home.

One very nice thing about Emily growing up in Orange County is that she still has friends and family there: Grandma and Aunt Bonnie always join us at Disneyland, and Steven (Pop Culture Maven on the Internet) usually comes along too. This meant that as soon as we rolled into Disneyland, we had not one, not two, but three babysitters just waiting to take the kids for a while.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIPE #16: Always bring Grandma. Or Aunt Bonnie. Or Uncle Steven. When you are away from home for any length of time, your patience with the kids will grow thin. Take any opportunity you have to let other loving friends or family members spend some time with the kids, even just an hour, while you take a break. It isn’t always feasible, but try to make it happen. And always be the friend who can give other parents a break. You want that to come back around.

Emily and I relaxed for a bit.


And a bit more.


And a bit more.


The timing of our trip nearly coincided with Erin’s birthday, so we treated it a bit like a birthday trip. We were also joined by two other families from back home: all the adults are friends, and all the kids are friends, so we were a giant pack of pals roaming around Disneyland for a few days.


We spent a lot of time in the Radiator Springs area of California Adventure.


We rode every ride there: Luigi’s tire thing, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and of course the Radiator Springs Racers.


We did Turtle Talk, Disney Jr. Live on Stage, The Little Mermaid, Soarin’ Over California, all of the Bug’s Land rides, and Toy Story Midway Mania.


The kids strolled around the pier, declining to go on the Ferris Wheel.


I don’t blame them. I kind of hate Ferris Wheels.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #17: Glowsticks. You can buy tubes of  them at your friendly neighbourhood whatever (rhymes with Schmarget) for a dollar each. No kid can turn down glowsticks. They’re decoration, which the kids like, and they make the kids easier to keep track of at night. Everybody wins.

But they do like the carousel.


Since we were there, putatively, for Erin’s birthday, we had lunch with the princesses one day. All of the pictures from that lunch have the other families’ kids in them, so here is one of Adrian with Ariel just before lunch. The rest of lunch was just as glittery.


Over the next few days we played at both parks, and in the hotel pool (monorail water slide FTW, btw). And we got both kids to go on Pirates of the Caribbean. Erin has refused to go near that ride for years.


And we rode the Spin n’ Barf…er…Teacups. Here’s Uncle Steven photobombing, well, himself really. I was trying to take his picture too.


And I made Emily take a picture with me in the spot where I proposed in 1998. (Hi, have we met? I’m a cheeseball.)


In the end, we hated to leave, just like we always do.


But everybody has to go home some time, and this was our time. So we packed up the car, waved goodbye to Disneyland, and, after a quick carwash, headed home.

TRAVELING WITH THE KIDS TIP #18: The carwash is your friend. Take a few minutes after getting gas somewhere with a carwash to actually drive through it. It can be in the middle of your trip, or toward the end. It doesn’t matter. It’s not just a good idea to get all the road crap off the car once in a while, it’s another cheap, low-pressure entertainment that the kids can enjoy and you don’t have to unbuckle them for.

Our grand Southwest Road Trip was over.

Until next time, Road.

Backpacking Dad’s Southwest Road Trip Part 5: Phoenix

This is Part 5 in a series of stories (and tips) from our most recent road trip. Read Part 1, on the Calico Ghost Town, here, Part 2, on Las Vegas, here, Part 3, on Flagstaff, here, and Part 4, on the Grand Canyon, here.

We drove down from the mountains as the sun was setting, and made it to Phoenix before bedtime. Having been on the road for a few days, and with Phoenix being the midpoint of our trip (and a respite with family after much touristing), we took the opportunity to stock up on road trip/hotel supplies.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #13: Don’t overbuy. Unless you are going out into the desert for a week, there is probably going to be a Target somewhere on your route. Plan a mid-trip resupply instead of stuffing the car full of things you don’t need to be carting around with you. Also, a trip to the store in the middle of a road trip gives the kids a little anchor to the world. If your kids aren’t comfortable being away from home, then, as much as I hate to admit it, a place like Target is a little touch of familiar for them. It adds to the normal.

We dashed through a Target in Chandler (our “Phoenix” stop was really a “Chandler” stop, which probably means something to people in Arizona, but for convenience I’ve just been calling this part “Phoenix”. Sorry, Chandler.”)


After crashing hard at our hotel (another corporate-y place with full breakfast; this one also had a little kitchen in the room, which we would make use of over the next few days), we awoke and went to do what the locals in Chandler do at 9am: We went to a make-your-own pizza party at Peter Piper’s Pizza.


It was like a Chuck E. Cheese’s, with games and mouse warrens running along the walls. Our cousin, whom we were in town to visit, invited us along to her daughter’s daycare party. I don’t think kids are usually just allowed in the kitchen.


And that’s how we found ourselves baking and eating pizza in the morning, in between air hockey games.


In the afternoon we joined our cousin (Emily’s cousin) and her kids (Erin and Adrian’s second cousins, for those keeping score) back at their house. We wandered over to a playground in the development, which has a duck pond just off to the side. After getting bored with the playground, the kids explored the duck pond. We watched as Erin, ever the daredevil, got closer and closer to the edge of the grass. We told her if she got too close, she would fall in.

And then, because I’m like this, I kind of hoped she would fall in. She’s a good swimmer, and it was warm, and the water wasn’t deep or dangerous. So I felt like if anything was going to impart a little caution to her it would be to suffer the consequences of her own daring.

My wish was granted. I’m probably a bad father for enjoying it so much.


Erin fell in the water, spun around, and clambered out again. She wasn’t upset, really. Shocked, yes. Very soaked. But she was very matter-of-fact about her escapade.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #14: Have a day bag handy with changes of clothes for the kids. You might think to yourself: “Of course they have a change of clothes! I brought a whole suitcase, didn’t I?” But those clothes don’t do any good back at the hotel, and you might be in unfamiliar territory when you need them.

We went back to our cousin’s house and Erin got cleaned up and changed. Adrian entertained himself by being a suburban scooter kid.


We spent the next day at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. The first thing we did was sit around while Adrian made a little friend, and they bonded over said friend’s Octonaut toys.


Then we explored the museum. Adrian did some painting with his cousin.


And he did some crafting with his mom.


And he rode a tricylce around and through a tunnel set up like a carwash.


The kids ran through foam jungles and played in sized-down supermarkets and played with sand on light tables and slot cars and all manner else of children’s things.

And Erin tried to grow up. No motorcycles for you yet, kid.


Later that night, not really knowing what else to do for dinner, we went back to Peter Piper’s Pizza. Not the same one. Apparently, it’s a chain.

We headed west on the 10 out of Phoenix the next morning, and almost immediately hit traffic. Was it all the hipsters driving to Coachella?


No. About forty miles outside of Phoenix, a Fed Ex truck full of Zappos shoe boxes had been opened like a can of sardines by another truck. It was a sight. More impressive than the Grand Canyon, in some respects.


We burned a lot of time sitting in that traffic, but we didn’t really have a place to be. We could take advantage of the little stops along the way. For instance, once we hit California after lunch, we stopped at Cabazon to see the dinosaurs.


It’s the weirdest sort of road side attraction, and exactly what you need on a road trip: Dinosaurs, for no reason.


TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #15: Be cheesy. If you are bored and annoyed at little delights, your kids will be also. If you are enthusiastic about them, your kids will be also. Kids can have as much fun sitting in front of a fake dinosaur in the middle of nowhere as they do riding roller coasters. Kids enjoy everything, as long as you let them.



We were finally back in California, but our trip was not over. Next up, the icing on the cake: Disneyland.