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Thread: Typical lens question (what's better?)

  1. #1
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    Default Typical lens question (what's better?)

    I have a canon 550D with it's super long reaching and crystal sharp 55-250mm IS kit lens Haha, now... I definitely need a better lens at some point (need is definitely interchangeable with want here). I won't be buying for a little while, perhaps mid next year, as I've got some saving to do for other things. But I'm having an argument with my significant other about whether it's better to get a prime lens or one with an adjustable zoom (or whatever the technical term for it is :P). I understand the concept that prime lenses are sharper, but I can't see myself being ok without the flexibility of adjusting the zoom. I'm a 'wander around and see what I can see' kind of birdwatcher, and every now and then, you get a bird that comes in real close, and I know it would be too close for something like a 400mm, which is where the flexibility of something like a 100-400 comes in. The boyfriend said if that happened, I could just change lenses, and I told him that by the time I'd changed lenses, the bird would be gone! Do most people use a prime lens, do people prefer to use a prime lens or do you prefer the flexibility of one with a range? Is the sharpness issue significant or not? These are the sort of things based more on opinion that I want to know, I can read all the specs on the lenses but personal experience is very valuable. So any opinions and personal experience based on your birding style are appreciated
    Reposts welcome =)

    Blog- Close Encounters of the Bird Kind. Updated 28/05/2014 "Courting Cuckoos"

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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    You'ld need to get the lense that best suited your needs. I spend 90% of my time outside photographing Shorebirds and the like so for me a prime lense is the only way to go. I currently use a 300f4 with a 1.4 teleconverter. That gives me 420mm of reach. I would say if you were looking at Shorebirds seriously, then 400mm would be the starting point, but ideally a 600mm lens would be the preference. Unfortunately my budget didn't stretch that far for me.

    Quite a few blokes here like Rod and GeorgeP use the 100-400L lense. They take some really lovely images with that lens, have a look through the images forum and check them out.

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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    Hi Azzy, yes focal length fever, it hits all bird photographers hard. I have to say it's fairly rare I get a bird coming too close for my lens, I'm always wanting more focal length. I have a 300mm f4 and use it with a 1.4x in addition to my 500mm. It focuses down to 1.5m and is sharp and fast focusing. At 1.5m you can do full face portraits of a thornbill. On a 1.6x crop factor camera with a 1.4x it covers 48 x 66 mm at minimum focusing distance.

    I've had birds come in real close and found really it's hard to take advantage of the situation if you point a large white tubular object at them they often leave, if they stay unless they happen to be at eye level you are shooting them at an awkward angle.

    The 300mm f4 also works great for dragonflies and other larger insects as well as being a nice wildflower lens. There's one on Ebay right now with a $1200 buy it now price and no bids.
    Chris Ross
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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    It depends on where you put your priorities. If you are a stickler for sharpness, get a prime. If you are not, get a 100-400. I am rather unusual, I think, in that I use a 300/2.8 and converter for my bird photography. I could have gone for a larger lens like a 500 at the time I bought the 300/2.8 but for me, I needed lots of light (available light photography, hence the 2.8) and it needed to be portable, hence the 300. In my mind, the difference in quality between the 100-400 and the 300/4+1.4X is not very much. Of course, if you get a bad copy of the 100-400 they can be bad, but overall it is a pretty damn good lens. So you may be well off getting a 100-400. If you've got extra money, get a 500/4. If you know exactly what you want, get the kit I have, you won't be disappointed, but not that many birders would pay that much money for only 420mms of reach.
    Tobias Hayashi
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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    Oh, and I forgot to say, I doubt you will really be inconvienced by a prime. What Chris says is right, if a bird comes that close, chances are you will scare it away just pointing a big white barrel at it. If it doesn't scare away, then you can just walk back a bit, back into range for the lens. Trust me, it hardly ever happens, even with my 2.5m MFD. Most of the time you are elated just to get the bird the same size as the outer circle in the viewfinder. People make a big fuss about it being able to zoom but other than on a pelagic, I would say you wouldn't use it much.
    Tobias Hayashi
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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    Great thread, very interesting points. For me, the way im headed, my priority is tack sharp images first, then flexibility of zoom. So im looking at a prime, although I also own a 75-240mm. But once your walking abouts, if you see a bird, for me theres hardly any time for the shot, and usually just moving my camera to the face scares them off.
    CC's, Reposts and Comments welcomed

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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    I would go for either the good old 400mm f5.6 or the 300mm f4 IS + 1.4 combo. They are great lens' and if you have a bird that comes closer than your minimum focusing distance.......put the camera down and enjoy the moment

    P.S. Sebii (one of our members, look at his profile and head to his website) wrote a short article on the comparison between the 100-400mm and the 400mm prime on his blog/website.

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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    I would be going for the 100-400 or 400 f/5.6. The 300 f/4 with 1.4x extender is also pretty good, AF may slow down a tad though.

    A lot of people for some reason do not recommend the 100-400 - I guess the point being that with bird photography you are at the 400mm end of the focal range more often than not, but since I bought the 100-400 my 400 f/5.6 is not used anywhere as much. I am lucky in that my copy of the 100-400 rivals the sharpness of my 400 prime with AF being fast, but not quite as fast as the prime. It is also worth noting that 400mm on the 100-400mm is a little shorter than the 400mm prime, so I guess the 100-400mm @ 400mm is more 380mm. The 100-400 also has IS, albiet early generation IS, but still helps to handhold with lower shutter speeds than the prime, although with a good handholding technique you can handhold the prime at fairly low shutter speeds.

    I guess it all comes down to what you could live without. Could you live without IS and the flexibility of a zoom for the sake of faster AF and slightly better IQ (my copies are interchangeable in terms of IQ), or is IS and flexibility a must for you? If you plan on using the lens for other things like zoo photos, etc, then the 100-400 is a no-brainer. Also bear in mind that the 100-400 uses the old "push-pull" technology whereby you zoom by pulling the lens out and vice versa. I found it easy to adjust to and whilst some people say it's a "dust pump", I cant say that dust has ever been a bigger issue than it was without the 100-400.

    Decisions, decisions. Either way, you always end up drooling for more focal length
    Aust. Life List (IOC) - 315 (Rufous Owl- 11/09/2014)
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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    Quote Originally Posted by Dale Mengel
    I guess it all comes down to what you could live without. Could you live without IS and the flexibility of a zoom for the sake of faster AF and slightly better IQ (my copies are interchangeable in terms of IQ), or is IS and flexibility a must for you?
    For the past few months I've been turning IS off when I"ve been using a tripod, and only having it on when I'm handholding. I've found a slight increase in IQ this way. But I like the flexibility of being able to have IS if I want or not. I know if I brought a non IS lens I would've lost many any image due to my shaky handholding. Yet people like Fatih use non IS lenses brilliantly and take awesomely crisp images with it. Just more food for thought.

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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    I'm guessing everybody wants sharp photos though, so I guess it is better to buy a prime, although you might not be able to use it for anything else, other than sport though...
    Barry Johnston
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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    Thanks for all the input guys, I really do appreciate it. I do agree that 9 times out of 10, a bird will be far enough away that the 400 won't be a problem, but I've had thornbills, pardalotes and grey fantails all come in much too close for me to focus on at 250mm. But I guess, that is when you simply enjoy the moment. The other thing is is that I probably will be using it for other things, just general photography type things, when I go overseas etc. But I guess much of that photography, landscape, people etc is much better off with just my small kit lens. Those ones aren't as big a deal to me and maybe I should be segregating in terms of the lens simply being a birding lens. I think I would much prefer to have IS, as so far all of my shots are handheld and I don't own a tripod and it's unlikely that I'll be using one overseas, but we'll see. I still have time to think about it. Thanks for all the suggestions, opinions etc
    Reposts welcome =)

    Blog- Close Encounters of the Bird Kind. Updated 28/05/2014 "Courting Cuckoos"

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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    You already have your 55-200, so I think you've hit the nail on the head, use that for other stuff and use your prime for birds and other wildlife. IS really helps you out when hand holding as well, I can use my 300mm f4 with 1.4x down to about 1/100 to 1/80 providing the subject stays still.
    Chris Ross
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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    I've been looking through peoples images in the forum, and I'm finding a lot taken with the 100-400 but struggling to find images taken with the 400mm prime. So far, the price of the 400 prime and it's sharpness is probably going to win over, but I am concerned that the lack of IS might limit my handheld photography ability, as all of my images so far are handheld.

    The lack of adjustable zoom, i'm not as concerned with anymore, as I do have my 2 kit lenses which will do the rest, and the sharpness is really the most important for the bird photography.
    Reposts welcome =)

    Blog- Close Encounters of the Bird Kind. Updated 28/05/2014 "Courting Cuckoos"

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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    Quote Originally Posted by Azzy
    I've been looking through peoples images in the forum, and I'm finding a lot taken with the 100-400 but struggling to find images taken with the 400mm prime. So far, the price of the 400 prime and it's sharpness is probably going to win over, but I am concerned that the lack of IS might limit my handheld photography ability, as all of my images so far are handheld.

    The lack of adjustable zoom, i'm not as concerned with anymore, as I do have my 2 kit lenses which will do the rest, and the sharpness is really the most important for the bird photography.
    Azzy,

    Many of Paul's (wingonwire) earlier images on this site were taken with the 400 f/5.6. I've never used it but I am told it is an exceptional lens for flight photography too.
    Cheers,
    Geoff


    reposts welcome

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    Default Re: Typical lens question (what's better?)

    All of my shots are taken with the 400/5.6 and 99.654% of them are handheld.

    I too was in your place about 18 months ago and I was tossing up between the 300/4 and the 400/5.6. The 400 is a great birding lens. It's very sharp, fast AF and it's light weight makes it easy to handhold all day. It's excellent for flight shots and almost never comes off of my camera. While it does have a focal length minimum of 3.5m, you will find that most of your birds are outside of this range anyway. If something does come in close, it will most likely move out to a better distance soon enough anyway (happens to me often with Thornbills and Fairy-wrens). When they get too close it's always a good opportunity to get a close up look at the bird and pick up traits or features and enjoy the close contact.

    If you are on a budget but solely intend to shoot birds with the lens, then the 400/5.6 would be my choice (it was). If you want to use it for other stuff as well, like sports, then the 100-400 might be more your choice.

    Lucky
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