Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 21

Thread: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Panama City, FL
    Posts
    3,542
    Real Name
    Chris

    Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    I am very often out in the woods or down by the shore and I often come across a good variety of birds. I have a Tamrom 70-300 macro zoom which is okay, but not "great." The sharpness level compared to some of the other bird pics on here would be a 7 and not a 10. For feathers, eyes, beak detail, that's simply not acceptable.

    So, what is the best lens for this type of shooting. I am shooting a Nikon D7000. I even find that the kit 28-105 while not a "bad" lens, it's not the best either in terms of crisp sharpness. I have heard the Tokina lenses are the best after-market but not even sure on that and am thinking I might get into the same boat as I am with the Tamron.

    Oh, and also, it is best to have a fixed telephoto, or a zoom telephoto?

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Nottingham.UK
    Posts
    409
    Real Name
    Martyn

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    not sure which lens would be best for you but its worth bearing in mind the longer the focal length the more chance there is of camera shake to spoil the sharpness, quite often when i use a x2 convertor on my 70-200 the pics will have camera shake unless i am using a tripod (which is impossible for gulls flying about in the air),
    it may be worth doing a little experiment with you lens to see if softness is down to lens or technique, take two pics of a stationary object, one hand held and one with tripod at 300mm, then move closer and take the same two pics at 150mm,
    quite often lens dont work at their best when fully extended or wide open, my 70-200 sweet spot is around F7 rather than F2,8. cheers martyn ps a fixed telephoto can be a nightmare when your looking for something small through the viewfinder,

  3. #3
    sleist's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    483
    Real Name
    Steve

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Hi Chris,

    In the same boat in a way so I thought I'd comment.
    I have the nikor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR and, despite being awesome up to 200-250, 300mm is not so hot. So, I'm looking for some sharper reach.

    I also have the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR1 which is great, but often too short for birds. So I'm thinking about getting the TC14 or TC17 which would get me to 420 or 510 on a crop sensor at a fixed f/4.5 (give or take). Depending on your budget and current lenses, a TC may be one way to go. With birds, I hear it said that 400 is a good starting point.

    I have the zoom already, so the fixed vs. zoom question has been answered for me by default. 300mm f/4 fixed is not cheap and going longer gets expensive fast. Also, I would feel limited I think buy not having a zoom.

    Regardless, I think a sturdy tripod and/or good technique will be one tool that will help regardless of the lens solution you decide on.

    Steve

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Panama City, FL
    Posts
    3,542
    Real Name
    Chris

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    I have the good tripod...and the technique is coming along...it's the lens I don't have...but have been spending my inbetween student contact time researching. You are so right about the cost escalation after 200mm...goodness.

  5. #5
    sleist's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    483
    Real Name
    Steve

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    One option could be the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 with the Sigma 1.4x TC. These can be had new at US $1050 combined. This a couple of hundred less than you will find the Nikkor 70-200 VR1 going for used - not including the $370 for the Nikon TC14-EII (new).

    I'm a Sigma fan. I have the 50mm f/1.4, 30mm f/1.4, and 150mm f/2.8 macro and I think all of them are very very good lenses.

    I don't know too much about the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 or the Sigma TC's.

    I also wanted to mention that if the Tamron 70-300 does not have VR, you might see considerable improvement going with a 70-300mm that does - particularly with hand-held shots.
    Last edited by sleist; 24th January 2011 at 07:34 PM.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    South Devon, UK
    Posts
    12,007

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    For optimum results, I suspect that you really need 2 lenses here.

    My standard wildlife kit is (and I hope your wallet is well stocked) Sigma 150-500 OS for birds and general use; plus a Sigma 180 mm macro lens for good insect work. But the Sigma 150 mm is popular amongst entomologists and is a little bit lighter and cheaper.

    Unfortunately that doesn't give a decent landscape alternative so sometimes a bit of compromise is needed when packing my kit.

    I started wildlife photography with a Canon 70-300 IS plus a 25 mm extension tube for insect work (a Sigma 70-300 may be worth considering) and this set up worked reasonably well. The problem was that I was finding 300 mm a bit short for birds and extension tubes need good light or increased ISO. I have even used my 25 mm extension tube with the 150-500 lens and achieved reasonable success in good light but that wouldn't be my ideal configuration.

    Prime lenses are good for birds (400 mm is a popular choice) and will usually take a converter to increase magnification, although you may be limited to manual focus.

  7. #7
    GeorgeM's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    southern New Jersey
    Posts
    365
    Real Name
    George Montgomery

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    I tried using a Meade 2045 Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope as a long lens. It's a 4-inch, 1000mm mirror. I bought the T-ring and adapter for my Oly E-510. I was not happy with the result. It's hard to focus and the bokeh is horrible. I figure I'll stick to moon photos with it.

    Lenses for birding and other small wildlife
    egret P9254990 copy by gmontjr, on Flickr

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    South Devon, UK
    Posts
    12,007

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Here is a quick handheld snap from the Sigma 150-500 at 350 mm.

    Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    There was a fight between a mature male swan and a young male 'interloper'. Well by swan terms, it was more a case of the old male having a quick word in the ear of the upstart. But the old bird was standing on the back of the newcomer with its neck in his beak and he was trying to push it's head under the water.

    So I thought it might make a good photo; but, of course, my camera was inside my backpack, on my back and had the wrong lens. By the time I had everything ready, even without setting up the tripod, it was all over. With the younger bird fleeing as fast as he could move!

    However I did manage this quick snap of the old male and partner doing a bit of 'bonding'.

  9. #9
    inkista's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    San Diego, California
    Posts
    1,417
    Real Name
    Kathy Li

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Chris, this is just my opinion, but you need at least a 400mm lens if you want to go birding, and that costs. Expect to spend close to four figures if you want decent performance at these focal lengths.

    I'm a Canon shooter and I'm thinking in terms of Canon lenses and then translating into Nikon equivalents, but my first recommendation would probably be the Nikon 80-400 VR, particularly if your interest is more in perched/standing birds, rather than birds in flight. The only big drawback with the 80-400 is that it's not AF-S, and some folks perceive the AF speed to be slow. But then, when you're shooting BiF, any autofocus speed seems slow. If, however, you're happy with the reach of the Tamron 70-300 and you just want better quality, then upgrading to the Nikkor 70-300 VR might be an option.

    If you can't afford the 80-400VR, there are the Sigma alternatives, like the 120-400 OS HSM and 150-500 OS HSM, and they're great value. But. I once read a lensrental piece where they said both of those lenses were in their "Hall of Shame" for a 45% failure rate. They may have gotten a bad batch, and rentals are obviously going to see a lot more (ab)use than the average, but it's still something to consider.

    And, on top of that, as a Canon shooter, I've seen a review/test on the juzanature.com site, which compared the 120-400 OS, 150-500 OS, the old Sigma 50-500 (aka "the Bigma") and the Canon 100-400L, and of the three Sigmas, the Bigma was actually the best performer. The only trouble is that the Bigma is also a beast to handhold. Once you go past 400mm, you'll probably want to be shooting with a tripod or at least a monopod.

    In terms of prime vs. zoom for supertele--it depends on the usage. A prime is typically going to take teleconverters better and autofocus faster than a zoom. But I seriously curse my 400/5.6L USM prime when I'm at the zoo (and I run backwards a lot). A 400mm prime can be very limiting, unless everything you want to shoot is too far away, anyways. Which pretty much sums up birding photography.

    One other small note. With the Tamron, if you haven't, try stopping it down to f/8 or f/11 and see if that helps you with sharpness. A lot of the lower-cost 70-300s have lousy wide-open performance, but can improve when stopped down.

  10. #10
    wallyjs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Tyler, Texas
    Posts
    48
    Real Name
    Walt

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Kathy....Thanks for the informative post. You stated in your last paragraph about the 70-300's performing better stepped down. I did some experimenting and found that my Olympus 70-300's sweet spot is right about f/8. It does make a difference.

  11. #11

    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Panama City, FL
    Posts
    3,542
    Real Name
    Chris

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    I went through the EXIF data of what I shot this last weekend and f/11 or f/8 seemed to get me the best sharpness. I had to hike quite a ways into the wilds and had brought the bigger monfrotto which was too heavy to carry and ended up shooting way too much handheld. I also relied on the AF and should have gone with MF...I have been looking at some Nikkor lenses in the 300mm fixed range and they are relatively reasonable. I might look at a 200 and use an extender as well...

    It is not that I am a big birder, but I hate not being to get a shot when I see a good opportunity. Money is not a huge issue, but I can't see spending 2 or 3 thousand on a lens at this point...

    This was good information and I am sure many others will benefit from this post..many thanks.

  12. #12
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Windsor, Berks, UK
    Posts
    16,393
    Real Name
    Dave Humphries :)

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Quote Originally Posted by wallyjs View Post
    Kathy....Thanks for the informative post. You stated in your last paragraph about the 70-300's performing better stepped down. I did some experimenting and found that my Olympus 70-300's sweet spot is right about f/8. It does make a difference.
    Even the Nikon 70-300mm VR is better at f/8 than f/5.6 or f/7.1 - again; found by experiment - so f/8 is now my standard aperture for shooting at 300mm.

  13. #13
    inkista's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    San Diego, California
    Posts
    1,417
    Real Name
    Kathy Li

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisC View Post
    I... I had to hike quite a ways into the wilds and had brought the bigger monfrotto which was too heavy to carry and ended up shooting way too much handheld.
    Are we talking tripod or monopod? I tend to bring along a Manfrotto monopod with attachable feet, and it's not nearly as bad as, say, trying to lug my Manfrotto tripod along for a shoot. I've found a monopod to be much more manageable for bird shots, since my 400/5.6 is small and light as superteles go, and I don't have one of the great whites that needs a gimbal head. I think of my monopod as "three-stop IS in a stick."

    I also relied on the AF and should have gone with MF...
    Huh. I never consider using MF for birds, but then my cameras have autofocus microadjust in 'em. I do tend to stick with the single center AF point. And I use back-button AF a lot, but I'm mostly going for birds in flight.

    I have been looking at some Nikkor lenses in the 300mm fixed range and they are relatively reasonable. I might look at a 200 and use an extender as well...
    Just remember the reducing-the-max.-aperture thing, and that AF function will be limited when you hit f/8 as a max. aperture. A 1.4x tc will add a stop, a 2x will add two stops. So, you want to use 1.4x tcs with f/4 and faster lenses, and a 2x with f/2.8 and faster lenses. If you get an f/5.6 lens and add a tc to it, expect to lose some autofocus speed or the autofocus function altogether. I use a cheap Tamron 1.4x tc on my 400/5.6 lens, and my 50D doesn't stop autofocusing, because the tc doesn't report itself to the body. But it does hunt a bit more than without it.

    A 300/4 and 1.4x tc is a popular combination for occasional birders who prefer shooting with a 300mm lens most of the time.

    It is not that I am a big birder, but I hate not being to get a shot when I see a good opportunity. Money is not a huge issue, but I can't see spending 2 or 3 thousand on a lens at this point...
    Well, the 80-400VR is around $1600, but I get your meaning. I got the 400/5.6, because at the time I was shopping, it was about $1100 vs. the 100-400L IS being $1600, and at the time that just seemed far too expensive. Today, I occasionally kick myself for not having ponied up the extra cash and gone for the 100-400L instead. Usually whenever I'm running backwards at the zoo.

  14. #14

    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Panama City, FL
    Posts
    3,542
    Real Name
    Chris

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Tripod...but after this Saturday, went shopping for a good monopod. Any suggestions?

  15. #15
    Letrow's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Haarlem, Netherlands
    Posts
    1,683
    Real Name
    Peter

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Quote Originally Posted by inkista View Post
    Chris, this is just my opinion, but you need at least a 400mm lens if you want to go birding, and that costs. Expect to spend close to four figures if you want decent performance at these focal lengths.

    I'm a Canon shooter and I'm thinking in terms of Canon lenses and then translating into Nikon equivalents, but my first recommendation would probably be the Nikon 80-400 VR, particularly if your interest is more in perched/standing birds, rather than birds in flight. The only big drawback with the 80-400 is that it's not AF-S, and some folks perceive the AF speed to be slow. But then, when you're shooting BiF, any autofocus speed seems slow. If, however, you're happy with the reach of the Tamron 70-300 and you just want better quality, then upgrading to the Nikkor 70-300 VR might be an option.

    If you can't afford the 80-400VR, there are the Sigma alternatives, like the 120-400 OS HSM and 150-500 OS HSM, and they're great value. But. I once read a lensrental piece where they said both of those lenses were in their "Hall of Shame" for a 45% failure rate. They may have gotten a bad batch, and rentals are obviously going to see a lot more (ab)use than the average, but it's still something to consider.

    And, on top of that, as a Canon shooter, I've seen a review/test on the juzanature.com site, which compared the 120-400 OS, 150-500 OS, the old Sigma 50-500 (aka "the Bigma") and the Canon 100-400L, and of the three Sigmas, the Bigma was actually the best performer. The only trouble is that the Bigma is also a beast to handhold. Once you go past 400mm, you'll probably want to be shooting with a tripod or at least a monopod.

    In terms of prime vs. zoom for supertele--it depends on the usage. A prime is typically going to take teleconverters better and autofocus faster than a zoom. But I seriously curse my 400/5.6L USM prime when I'm at the zoo (and I run backwards a lot). A 400mm prime can be very limiting, unless everything you want to shoot is too far away, anyways. Which pretty much sums up birding photography.

    One other small note. With the Tamron, if you haven't, try stopping it down to f/8 or f/11 and see if that helps you with sharpness. A lot of the lower-cost 70-300s have lousy wide-open performance, but can improve when stopped down.
    My first thought was of the Nikon 80-400mm as well, but focus is slow I hear, so for some of the wildlife it might be a problem. Photos that I see from this lens look great though and there is a strong rumour about Nikon doing an upgrade on this lens later this year, which would give it AF-S, faster focus and probably improved VR as well.
    The lens won't be cheap, but it might be worth looking at. I know that I am going to be tempted.

  16. #16

    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    South Devon, UK
    Posts
    12,007

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Just a couple of points which have arisen.

    The early Sigma 150-500 lenses did have production problems with a few batches, but that appears to have been sorted now, and most of the doubtful lenses have been returned

    I regard my 150-500 as one of my sharpest lenses and often surprise myself with the results but like most large zooms it has some drawbacks and trying to use it around F8 or F 11 does require decent light. The OS certainly does make a difference when hand held.

    My monopod hasn't been used for a few years. I found that although it was better than hand holding it just didn't compare with a tripod; and for macro shots a tripod is essential. Move the legs a little closer when working in dense undergrowth. And with the legs completely together it actually becomes a monopod.

    I did get a Velbon Luxi L lighter weight tripod for occasional easy carry around use but for serious work I wouldn't be without my Manfrotto. Yes it is heavy and awkward to carry around, even in the closed up position, but I strap it to the outside of my Lowenpro Mini Trekker back pack; which also contains a 40D and 2 lenses.

    Maybe it is a bit on the heavy side but that backpack is comfortable and I usually walk a couple of miles around the woods or coast path several days a week; and I'm 63 with a dodgy back!

  17. #17
    inkista's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    San Diego, California
    Posts
    1,417
    Real Name
    Kathy Li

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisC View Post
    Tripod...but after this Saturday, went shopping for a good monopod. Any suggestions?
    Nope. sorry. I tend to stop researching after I've bought my gear. I should probably also point out that I typically don't bring the monopod along if I'm planning on shooting birds in flight. I specifically went for my 400/5.6 because it is light enough to handhold easily. I usually use the monopod if I'm at the zoo and shooting in lower-light enclosures/aviaries and need to go below 1/500s, or if I'm after shorebirds. I ended up getting a Manfrotto 3249B but I don't think that's a current model any more.

    Quote Originally Posted by Letrow View Post
    My first thought was of the Nikon 80-400mm as well, but focus is slow I hear, so for some of the wildlife it might be a problem. Photos that I see from this lens look great though and there is a strong rumour about Nikon doing an upgrade on this lens later this year, which would give it AF-S, faster focus and probably improved VR as well.
    The lens won't be cheap, but it might be worth looking at. I know that I am going to be tempted.
    Yeah, I've heard that, too. I really hope it happens. To me, the two Nikon lenses that desperately need to be updated are the 80-400VR (which needs AF-S), and the AF 85/1.8D, which should be updated to an AF-S G version. I keep hitting threads where entry-level/medium-budget folks ask for a low-cost good lens for shooting a basketball game/gymnastics/stage, and on the Canon side, we just throw out the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (aka "Mr. Basketball") and the EF 100mm f/2 USM. But for Nikon shooters with focus-motor-less bodies, the AF 85/1.8D and 105/2 DC just won't cut it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post
    The early Sigma 150-500 lenses did have production problems with a few batches, but that appears to have been sorted now, and most of the doubtful lenses have been returned
    Cool. Nice to be corrected on this one.

    [addendum: just finished reading the latest lensrental article "Stuff I Wish I'd Never Bought", and Roger Cicala bears out what you said when he mentions the unwisdom of being an early adopter: "And of course there’s the never-admitted-but-somehow-disappears problems that early copies have that later copies don’t seem affected by, like I talked about in This Lens is Soft and Other Facts. The sticking zooms in early copies of the Nikon 24-70s that don’t stick in later copies; or the metal shavings in early Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR II barrels that aren’t there in later copies. Sigma 150-500s and 120-400s that all seemed to break the first year after release, but that seem fairly reliable now."...]

    My monopod hasn't been used for a few years. I found that although it was better than hand holding it just didn't compare with a tripod; and for macro shots a tripod is essential.
    Definitely. A monopod is more like IS/VR. If you need something stable for longer exposures or macro work, tripod it is.
    Last edited by inkista; 27th January 2011 at 04:09 AM. Reason: found more info on lensrentals.com that refutes my earlier post.

  18. #18

    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Bangalore
    Posts
    29
    Real Name
    Nitin

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    I have used EF 300mm f/4 L IS USM lens with TC 1.4 on Canon 7D camera and the results were good. You may have a look at my album 'shutter bug'. I don't know the equivalent of this lens for Nikon Cameras but would suggest that try prime lens of 300mm with TC 1.4.
    I am saying that the results were good considering that I am new to SLR photography and learning the bird photography.
    Nitin

  19. #19
    New Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Posts
    7

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    Hi All,
    My first post here, but since I own the Sigma 150-500 OS I thought I would chime in...
    The OS on the lens blows me away. I get good results at 500mm down to 1/50s, and I owned a small, light Tokina 500mm mirror lens when I was a kid, couldn't get a steady shot with it EVER.
    I ALWAYS shoot at f8, not lower. The sharpness isn't great at f6.3. In fact the sharpness is probably less than awe-inspiring, but certainly not so much as to warrant spending 10 times the money on a Canon prime.
    I have noticed that on the rare occasions when I use 400mm instead of full 500mm focal length I get better results. This seems to match most supertele zoom users' experience.
    I think the OS really makes this lens shine, and I do get good, sharp images occasionally (meaning the lens is not to blame for the blurry ones) so I recommend the thing highly - but you need good light.
    Surely the cheapest entry into decent bird photography at all.
    http://birds.syndergaard.dk
    Last edited by Mads S; 12th January 2012 at 02:51 PM.

  20. #20
    Markvetnz's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Auckland, NZ
    Posts
    639
    Real Name
    Mark

    Re: Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

    At least a 400mm with a 1.4x converter and preferably a 2x converter as well as a 70 to 200 with the same sort of converters.

    taken with a 500mm prime and a 1.4X TC - we were only 30m from these birds and they still didn't fill the frame.

    Lenses for birding and other small wildlife

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •