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Wildlife Lens

W. Douglas Lewis , Mar 23, 2007; 06:40 p.m.

I appreciate the respones I got on my guestion re the Nikon 80-400 lens. They convinced me not to buy the lens.

What is a really good long lens, preferably zoom and with VR, for this purpose?


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Shun Cheung , Mar 23, 2007; 06:49 p.m.

I am not sure what your budget is, but the 200-400mm/f4 AF-S VR meets all of your needs. However, it is expensive (around $5000) and big.

Michael R. Freeman , Mar 23, 2007; 06:55 p.m.

"really good long lens, preferably zoom and with VR ...

I have no experience with it, but if you are looking for a Nikon, those three requirements pretty much narrow it down by process of elimination to the only other long zoom in the Nikkor line:
AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED

Be prepared to max out your credit card. ;-)

Michael Schrag , Mar 23, 2007; 07:23 p.m.

Many people start out with a Sigma 50-500mm as a temporary solution while waiting to get that 500 or 600mm prime. Unless you intend to take shots at the local zoo only, you will generally be using the long end of any zoom that you buy. That means you will eventually want to get a prime both for good IQ (usually f/4) and the ability to add a 1.4X TC maintaining autofocus. Shooting wildlife with big lenses is perhaps one of the more expensive endeavors in photography. In order to do this well one also needs a good solid tripod and ballhead and/or wimberely head ? and this is even more important with the Sigma 50-500 because it does not have IS. The support system alone can run $1000 before you buy the lens. I would think that a good tripod system used with a Sigma 50-500 could easily match results from a Nikkor 200-400mm without. Before buying a 500mm lens my solution was to use a Canon 300mm f/4 IS with a 1.4x TC. This served me well while saving for the 500mm. It?s a pity that Nikon doesn't not make a similar lens.

The topic of your post is very common here on photo.net. You should do a search and see what you find. In general the zooms used are Nikkor 200-400mm vr, Canon 100-400mm IS, and the Sigma 50-500mm without VR/IS.

Erik Loza , Mar 23, 2007; 07:25 p.m.

Well, like manby here, I would love to own the 200-400mm, but then reality kicks in.

You don't specify what kind of wildlife you have in mind, but the various Nikon 300mm f4.0's have served me quite well. I own the AF-S version, now, due to its tele-macro capability, but had the standard 300mm f4.0 AF for several years and it's a terrific lens. Not too big or heavy, great wide-open, very affordable and readily available. You could pick one up for about $400 and then get a Tamron or Kenko 1.4x AF converter for another hundred and change and have a pretty decent rig for birds at close range or medium-sized animals. You might look into it. Good luck in your search.

Lil Judd , Mar 23, 2007; 07:39 p.m.

Have you considered the 70-200Vr with a TC? I use the TC17E-II for such stuff. I also got a nice 300mm f/4 off eBay at a reasonable $ 750.00 & use it with the same TC.

On the 70-200mm VR I end up at 350mm with VR. On the 300mm I end up at 500mm with the TC. Total cost in glass for the 300mm & TC came to a little more than $ 1000.00 through eBay.

My next hope is a 500mm Manual as I won't be getting the 200-400VR nor the 500mm AF as either will put me back about $ 5000.00 so that's not happening.

All this has to be based upon what you wish to photograph as distances & skittishness is different for different species.


Mark Chappell , Mar 23, 2007; 07:54 p.m.

If you are thinking about birds when you say 'wildlife', then even the 200-400 isn't long enough most of the time. You can get great bird photos with 300-400 mm lenses but such opportunities are quite rare with typical wild birds. 500 mm is really a starting point for bird photography and 600s are commonly used. Also, a prime lens like a 500/4 will likely interact with a 1.4X or 2X converter much more happily than any zoom lens.

All of the comments about the need for a solid, stable tripod and head (preferably a gimbal head) are on the money (a phrase curiously well suited to bird photography).

M. Hayward , Mar 24, 2007; 12:53 a.m.

There is good information in this thread. I have posted similar questions over the last several years. I shoot wildlife today with the Sigma 50-500mm mentioned. I have ten lenses now and it is my only non-Nikon. I shoot it on a Nikon D200 with a Bogen monopod and sometimes use an SB-800. If you view my portfolio, many of the shots were taken with this lens.

Unfortunately, my sense is that the 50-500mm is the least sharp lens I own. Some of that is because my other stuff is top drawer glass like the 17-35mm AF-S or 200mm micro. Some of it is what you get shooting at 500mm with monopod or handheld. I picked up a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AF-S a few weeks ago and will be shooting that with a 1.7x or 2x TC to see if I get better results, but I haven't doen enough to know yet.

One thing I've noticed since picking up the 300mm f/2.8 is that the long lenses can get pretty big and cumbersome. It really increases the gawker factor, too. People tend to stare at the big lens and make comments/conversation.

Lastly, I would point out the value of a zoom. I was in the woods one day shooting birds when I happened upon a gopher tortoise on the trail. I sat down and took some shots and he slowly came up to me. Using he 50mm end, I was able to keep shooting, whereas I couldn't do that with something longer that was fixed and I couldn't change lenses without scaring him off.

Joseph Passante , Mar 24, 2007; 08:22 a.m.

You can find a nice MF 500 F4 P lens at KEH for around $2200. Yes its not a VR or a zoom but its an affordable long lens that will meter with modern film and digital cameras. Oh to be able to afford a AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4D ED-IF .

Andy Smothers , Mar 24, 2007; 10:38 p.m.

Well, very open-ended question. You didn't really go into your interest in type of wildlife, need/desire and budget. If looking for zoom, I would recommend the Sigma EX HSM 120-300 f/2.8 + TC as needed. Nikon 200-400 AF-S is good option too, but I do like my Sigma 120-300 the best in that zoom focal range! (it is an incredible lens!) While it is true that TCs always function so much better with primes than zooms, sometimes budget needs trump absolute photog rules! ;-)

If prime, then grab a Nikon 500mm f/4 P (if budget is an issue) or AF-I, or AFS-II or go up to a 600mm. Keep in mind that with the larger "entry level professional wildlife primes" (500-600mm lenses), you will have to consider the additional cost of a great ball head/gimbal setup. Such as Arca-Swiss B1/Z1 plus I recommend the Wimberley head plus plates, or Sidekick (for 400 & 500 f/4) --- and of course a very well-built tripod (Bogen/Gitzo) - preferably CF but not required. (if you can handle the additional weight)

So the true cost of getting into the "pro primes" even at the used 500mm f/4 P end (manual focus) is certainly higher than just the lens itself. With complete 1.4 & 2.0x TCs, filters, case & head/gimbal/tripod you are looking at probably a minimum of $3K at the low end.

You are probably better off with a decent zoom, 120-300 f/2.8 plus 1.4x TC would you could grab for ~$2K total. I know there are cheaper ways to get into this field, but I wouldn't recommend if you budget would allow. I did have the first edition of the 50-500mm lens, and it is about one of the only EX HSM Sigma lenses that I simply couldn't recommend. The wider the zoom range the less effective the lens is going to be at all of the focal lengths. IMHO, it just didn't do anything well --- and wasn't very sharp. Just better to save your pennies for something better.

As mentioned, by John Irving, a second body with a short zoom or WA lens is great for those unexpected "quick in your face" shots you didn't expect. Give us some more info and let us know what other questions you might have and what your needs/budget might be.

All the best, Andy

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