Friday, May 31, 2013

Wildlife Lens, What To Get?

While wildlife photography has become increasingly popular over the last number of years, the ideal super telephoto lenses (400mm+) are often out of reach for the budget minded amateur. So that begs the question, what lenses should a budget minded amateur wildlife photographer consider?


First you have to figure out what your budget is. $700, $1000, $3000? Within those ranges there are some very good options, it's just a matter of figuring out what you can afford. Once you have a budget in mind you can start to make some informed decisions about your options.

Under $1000
For less than $1000 your options are mostly consumer grade zooms, like a 70-300mm F4-5.6 lens. The quality of those semi-super zoom lenses is decent, but just keep in mind that the quality does drop off near 300mm in most cases. On sale you might find a Sigma 80-400 F4.5-5.6 DG HSM OS within that range, or a used Nikon AF 80-400mm F4.5-5.6D VR (version 1). Again those two bigger zooms are less sharp at the long end of the zoom range.

While these consumer grade lenses might not offer the best possible image quality, what they provide is flexibility in terms of zoom range. The other advantage is that the weight is of these consumer zooms are relatively low.

Nikon 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G VR

$1000-$3000
Once your budget is beyond $1000 the door to higher quality starts to open up, at least in most cases. In this range you are looking at anything from a 70-200 (F4 or F2.8), Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 HSM OS (often called the Bigma), 300mm F4, Nikon AF-S 80-400mm F4.5-5.6G VR, Canon 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L or the 400mm F5.6L. The 70-200mm (F2.8 or F4) and 300mm F4 lenses can accept a teleconverter, making them longer and somewhat flexible. Zooms like the Bigma can be very tempting, due to the zoom range offered, but keep in mind that they can be difficult to use in lower light conditions. Even on a sunny day, under the trees the light can be less than ideal. That is one reasons that the fixed primes with an F4 aperture can be nice to have.

Nikon AF-S 300mm F4D IF-ED
All of the lenses discussed are compromises, you just have to decide what compromises you can live with. The fixed primes are likely to provide better overall image quality, while the zooms will be more flexible. The weight difference between many of the higher end lenses are almost non-existent, so that isn't going to be a big factor. If you want light weight, the consumer zooms are your best bet.