A two part question here really and a subject on which it would be good to hear other peoples preferences and opinions.
First part is What lens do you use for your wildlife photography? Second question is what lens would you ideally like to be using?
I'll go first, I have a Canon 300 f2.8, I got it because I had been waiting in vain for the much anticipated Canon 200-400 f4 with an inbuilt 1.4 converter. I had waited and waited for that lens as I wanted to have it for an upcoming India trip. Anyways finally Canon announced it would take longer than first expected and simultaneously released a price estimate, the latter being the moment I realized that my dream 200-400 f4 was way out of my league. So I decided on the 300mm as it was designed in conjunction with the new converters Canon brought out at the time and so I figured I could get 3 focal lengths in one fixed length lens. The reality is though I rarely use the converters as the lens has been pretty sharp making it easier to just crop a photo rather than go through the hassle of changing a converter in the field.
The 300 I reasoned in my head would be just that little bit more maneuverable and manageable than a longer fixed lens when out in the field or a crowded jeep.
The 200-400 f4 I think would have pretty much covered every photo possibility that I was interested in, and with the 1.4 TC built in could be a 560mm at the flick of a switch. Sadly though Canon priced it quite high so it wasn't to be, it does however remain the lens I dream of..
Very interested to hear what other people are using and there is no right or wrong or better or worse, I was just curious as to what others thought!
Heres my simple list of my most commonly used lens:
General wildlife usage/grab shots - Nikkor 80-400
Tripod/Hide - 500 mm HSM with a modified Nikon 1.4 convertor
Macro - we could be here for weeks as I use both Nikon and Canon set-ups and multiple lens for each.
Scenes - Nikkor 16-35
I have a whole bunch of other lens that never really get used much at all.
In the "General wildlife usage/grab shots" category the 200-400 (Nikon and Canon) have not really piqued my interest as I only take pictures in Thailand - where the len's technical advantages are muted because of a) the conditions I like to photograph in (quick grab or walking in forest) and b) its size. The downsides of the 80-400 is its useless with convertors in field/low light and it suffers from focus shift when trying to lock onto distant animals with busy backgrounds. But.... cameras have advanced so much in terms of sensor size and supposed ISO capability these past years they mute a lot of the disadvantages. I say "supposed ISO capability" because high ISO photography is an area I am still unable to master :oops:
It is a bit pain in the bum until one get correct set of lenses. It really depends on what one is after.
Here are mine;
- Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 - For birds and mammals. If I can afford, will go for a prime 500mm or 600mm in couple of years time. Sigma of is not too heavy, only 2.7kg.
- Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 - I love this lens, it is pretty sharp despite not being a prime lens. I take this with me when I walk longer trails. Will never change this lens to anything else.
- I like my Tamron 60mm for macro shots, but since it doesn't support full frame I put it in a dusty corner and use a Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro lens nowadays. I found out on my recent trips that 90mm is quite perfect for close up snake shots too. I use my 28-300mm only if I need a safety distance. 60mm is the best lens I have for portraits but haven't used it much.
- Nikon 24mm f/2.8 - photo quality wise, my best lens but I am not using it often. Will change it to a wider lens for milky way experiments (including time-lapse). May buy a wider one within a year.
Even though this thread is about lenses, I agree with Trekker that the new range of cameras could make a difference in what you need/ want to carry.
At first I was thinking of buying a Nikon DX body as a second body. Something like the D7100 to get extra reach because of the 1.5-crop factor. But then I realized that if I would buy a D800 (which I've seen for very reasonable prices second hand in Thailand) or now perhaps even the D810 (if my wallet allows...) it would offer me such a high resolution that I could switch in-camera to DX mode (1.5-crop) and still get a 15+ million resolution, so more than my current 12 mpixels from the D700 which are enough anyway. So whatever I choose, I will upgrade to the D800 or D810. I don't need much speed, and still if set in DX mode these camera's offer enough images per second for my liking.
Then about lenses.
Would love to have one of the high quality, fixed long telephoto lenses just to have it in the back of the car.
But in the end I prefer actively searching for wildlife over just waiting in a hide, even though the latter will likely get you the better shots. So I need something not too large/ heavy.
My current lens is the fixed nikkor AFS 300mm f4. I think I already have this lens for about 10 years now and it still works perfectly even though the outer body is full of scratches and lost most of the paint. It's around my neck all the time when I'm in the jungle, and has traveled to quite a few countries around the world. It's a very sharp lens, and I also liked the shoter focus distance it had over the f2.8 versions, though as most lenses it gets even sharper when stopped down a bit, so I always shoot at f5.6. I don't have stable arms, and with the poor light in 80% of the cases I just have to shoot a LOT of images to hope for one or two sharp ones. No vibrate reduction in this lens :( . Nikon doesn't seem to want to update this lens with VR. Instead they let Canon come out with all the stuff that wildlife photographers would like. I just don't really want to switch as I'm so used to my Nikon cameras that I can operate them without taking my eye of the viewfinder...
I have the feeling it will take me quite a bit of time to get that feeling with another brand. Also the pro lenses of Nikon, like the longer lenses are more affordable than the Canon counterparts. Some say the Canons are better, but they'd better be at the extra price you pay. Nikons are sharp enough for me...
I'm still not sure what I would choose if money was not an issue.
For sure it would be something with VR (image stabilizer) and I would like to get some extra reach, though as Bagheera said that is possible with teleconverters and a high resolution body that allows serious cropping.
The lenses that are playing in my head are:
300mm f2.8 (together with 1.4 teleconverter, and possibly other converters)
The f2.8 and VR make this a really good lens.
200-400mm f4 (with 1.4 converter) Nice, but not sure if a 300mm 2.8 with converter isn't actually better in quality. But zoom is nice. Though I think 95% of the shots will anyway be at the longest end. It's usually only when seeing elephants that I feel stuck with my fixed 300mm getting only a half head and tusk (can be nice occassionally, but anyway...)
80-400mm f5.6: The zoom range is nice, but if I may believe the online reviews it is closer to 300mm when focused closer than it is to 400mm, which it probably only is when focused on infinity... The slow F stop is a bit of a shame. And probably to get the best out of it you need to stop it down an extra stop, so little light. Still it hads VR, and I have tried it once, and offered me a much higher percentage of keepers than I usually got with my 300mm F4
300mm f4 VR (this lens doesn't exist for Nikon yet; add a 1.4 teleconverter) Whenever Nikon upgrades this lens to VR it would certainly be a contender, being lightweight, close focus distance, and probably more affordable than the lenses mentioned above. Add a 1.4 converter and it will get to a nice 420mm and shoot it in DX (1.5-crop) and then you have a 630mm.
I was not a big fan of Sigma in the past, but it seems like they are catching up quality-wise.
Their 120-300mm f2.8 looks interesting.
Still a long list to choose from...
Other lenses I use are 50mm f1.8 and a 17-35mm f2.8
In the end I love these wide lenses a lot more than telephoto, to get unusual shots of animals in their habitat. Sometimes I get bored seeing all those perfect long telephoto shots of an animal (or more often birds) posing and a very soft, perfectly out of focus background. Aesthetically beautiful, everything perfect, but still a wide angle shot where the photographer has put the lens right in the face of the animal excites me more... but well that's just me... Still would love to have a 600mm and get some of these shots myself, haha, at least for the animals that you simply can't get closer to.
To get interesting images with wide lenses you need to get REALLY close, and that is simply often not possible, or just way too dangerous here in Thailand. However for snakes and other reptiles, it works great. These days it is common practice to photograph reptiles with wide-angles so it is not that unusual anymore, but still I love the looks.
In the end. photographers always keep dreaming about better equipment, but of course we should not forget that you can win the biggest photo competitions with just the gear you have right now.
Very interesting to hear everyones choices and personal reasons. I reckon this will quite useful information when some of us come to next buying a lens.
Agree on the crop factor of the body being an important factor aswell, I actually would like a full frame camera at some point in the future but for now I am happy with my 7D.
I just read that Nikon finally announced an all-new design of the lens I am using, a fixed 300mm f4 but this time with VR (vibrate reduction).
It's an all new design which is a LOT lighter weight, 755 grams (though it does not include a tripod collar) instead of the 1295g of the previous AFS 300mm f4. And is about 7.5cm shorter!
Slightly closer focussing distance, but maximum reproduction ratio is 1:4.2 instead of the 1:3.7. in other words, Nikon cheats a bit, the focal length is less than 300mm at closer range. But well, I guess I can live with that.
The much lighter weight and of course the vibrate reduction are great improvements.
If it is as sharp or better than the previous than this looks very promising. Maybe together with a 1.4 converter. It would be interesting to see how it competes with a converter against the new 80-400mm.
Not sure what it will cost, I'm afraid they will upgrade the price too :(