Before I enter the world of bird photography, I ask a question like most beginners “Which lens should I buy? How far is enough?”
“A 500mm is a standard gear for birding” that’s what I heard from a KOL. When I search an online store, I found the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Lens, which is selling over US $10,000……. I am shocked !!
Not only the price tag is stunning enough, the size (140mm x 387mm) and weight (3.09kg ) are equally challenging. So I adjust my expectation and look for a shorter lens e.g. 300mm. Here it is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED Lens
It is selling around US $980, much smaller (8.89 x 22.35 cm) and lighter (1.44 kg). Well a 300mm lens is good enough for a relatively close range shooting. I enjoy using my Nikon AF-S 300mm in Aviary of Hong Kong Park. It is smaller so that I can hand hold it which greatly enhances mobility and flexibility.
However for a real wild life shooting that’s a different situation. Birds like many other animals are used to keep distance with approaching subject e.g. Human. So a 300mm lens may only give you a tiny little spot of bird in your picture and you can hardly see too much detail e.g. feather. That’s frustrating.
In recent year, the lens manufacturers, e.g. Nikon, Sigma and Tamron, have produced series of long lens in affordable price, for example:
- Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens (~ US $,1999)
- Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens (~US $1,400)
- Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 (~US $1,400)
- Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens (~US $990)
They are designed by different manufacturer with different spec, so I have no idea which one is better than the others strictly speaking. Except, I have owned Tamron G2 version before I finally sell it and buy the Sigma Sport version.
The 150-600mm is a compromised solution for a beginner like me. You can’t compare her optical performance with those prime lens selling over US $10,000 however it also gives you a reasonable reach (i.e. 600mm, or 900mm in my APS-C D500) that should be good enough for most birding situation.
I start using the Tamron G2 and I am happy with it. You can find my sharing in previous post. However after shooting thousands of image, I begin to realize that I am not satisfied with her sharpness. For pictures shooting from 500mm- 600mm, I need to set the aperture to f10 – f13 in order to get a clear image however that will hinder the shutter speed and ISO setting. After repeated checking, I am quite sure this is not a focusing issue but like what I heard from different user’s sharing that sharpness deterioration is “normal”.
Once I shoot with my friend(he is using D500 too), after comparing my photo taken by Tamron G2 and his Sigma SPORT, I find no excuse and finally make my decision. Again, I must admit the sharpness perception is very very subjective. Maybe it is me who cannot unleash the potential of Tamron G2 and if you find the Tamron G2 is sharp, that’s good, maybe I just got a bad copy……
Well, the Sigma SPORT builds like a tank and weighs like a tank. Like other Sigma renowned ART series lens, It is weather seal and most of her parts are made by metal. Most importantly, I feel satisfied with her optical performance, even in 600mm.
In my D500, the equivalent range becomes 900mm (600mmx 1.5) and most of the time I use it with tripod in order to maintain stability.
Even in a cloudy day, this lens gives me better chance to take a picture successfully.
Apart from birds, a 900mm (APS-C) lens enable me to shoot something far far away.
Those long zoom lens (e.g. 150-600mm) is a feasible option for a budgeted photographer like me.
Although their optical performance can’t compare with prime lens, they are good enough for general purpose.
In general, closer your subject, better will be the picture quality (my observation only). Even the longest tele-lens can’t give enough reach from time to time. So it is better to pay more effort to choose the best spot to shoot instead of chasing the best lens.
Source of photos: