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Old Apr 25, 2013, 05:54 PM   #1
ijohn.8.80
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Using old-school telephoto lenses with DSLR?

I am seeing some old-school 400mm telephoto lenses around the interweb for sale. They are all f/5.6 or f/6.3 with 72-77mm diameters.

What are the feelings of you longer-in-the-tooth members in regard to buying one of these for cheap as a first long telephoto? This would be my training bird lens, until I could warrant a much more expensive and newer lens. I have the Canon 55-250mm IS II, which is actually pretty good for its modest price.

What I know about them:
  • Manual focus, which is an art-form in itself to get right.
  • Obviously, much slower than modern lenses to use.
  • They will have no image stabilisation of any sort.
  • f/11 is normally the sweet spot for sharpness.
  • I would need to have it serviced and cleaned to get it all tickety-boo.
  • Potential to get them chipped, depending on model and make.
  • May have to use an adapter such as an FD to EF adapter.
  • Can be gotten ridiculously cheap if they have some fungus.

What I want to know about them:
  • Would they allow enough light in for catching birds in fairly open forest with an ISO of say 1600?
  • Working at f/11, would I be able to capture clean shots of birds flying?
  • Is a monopod stable enough, or would I need a tripod without any image stabilisation?
  • Would it be worth spending the buck$ to have an EF mount fitted?
  • Fixed length or telephoto? I'm leaning towards fixed length right now, so I wouldn't end up with a dust bellows situation.
  • How hard is it for a good camera shop techie to remove all spore-mould/fungus?
  • Look for one that has manual aperture and focus control rings?
  • If it's going to cost $300-400 all up, is it worth it, or should I just save up the extra $600 and get a new 400mm f/5.6 fixed lens?

That's about all I can think of right now, thanks in advance for any assistance you folks can offer.

John
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Old Apr 25, 2013, 08:47 PM   #2
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I find myself using manual focus at 400mm anyway, using Live View to get the focus just right. Autofocus always seems to be hit or miss at that focal length. I have one friend who bought an FD telephoto and was able to get some really nice photos of the moon with it using an FD to EF adapter. As for the fungus, I've read it can actually scratch and irreparably damage the glass, depending on how bad it is. It would probably not be safe to incorporate such a lens into one's collection, for fear the fungus could spread to other lenses. I'm no fungus expert though so others may have better advice.
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Old Apr 25, 2013, 09:16 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jabbott View Post
As for the fungus, I've read it can actually scratch and irreparably damage the glass, depending on how bad it is.
Interestingly, I just read a few web articles about exactly that, so will give the infected lenses a miss if I do grab one.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 01:34 AM   #4
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You can use a lot of manual lenses as long as you have the right mount. For example, this one (below) works well for Nikon F lenses mounted on several canon cameras except for the 5DIII. The adaptor can be left attached to the lens if you like:
http://fotodioxpro.com/index.php/nik...t-adapter.html

All the mounts are shown here:
http://fotodioxpro.com/index.php/len...-adapters.html

It's cheaper at Amazon. The same company has another mount that's twice as expensive ($139.00), but this one shows when the proper focus has been achieved (the focus lights blink on the viewfinder when focus is achieved). But since the focus and aperture must be done manually, the lens has to have both an aperture ring and a focusing ring.

Keep in mind that before buying such an adapter you have to make sure that the adapter matches the lens.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 11:13 AM   #5
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If you are looking at buying an older manual focus lens like a 400mm f/2.8 then look at Nikon. Yes you have a Canon body but SLR bodies are dirt cheap compared to a lens like that

No, f/11 is not the best for sharpness, that is normally maybe one stop down from full open. Defraction effects kill sharpness. (Remember from physics that a lens' resolving power is proportional to it'
s diameter over the wavelength?)

Manual focus is not hard. OK it is hard if you try it with a newer dSLR that does not have focus aids in the screen. But all the older viewfinder screens will have split or micro prisms.

My Nikon D200 digital body can meter and work on "auto exposure" modes with a 1960's vintage manual focus lens. Of course it can't auto focus for me but the little "in focus" indicator in the view finder comes on when the lens is in focus. This applies to all the newer D300 and up bodies also but not thr entry-level consumer ones, those can't meter with non CPU lenses.

On the Canon side lens compatibility stopped when Canon switched to EOS mount.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 12:49 PM   #6
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Hi John, I'll only comment on what I know based on my experience…

Generally, for wildlife shots you will (or can) be outdoors in good light so the slightly slower lenses at 5.6 will work OK even at ISO 200 or 400. Good light also means that you can keep shutter speeds above 1/500 (preferably above 1/1000) so a monopod or tripod won't be a concern in fact they can be more of a nuisance. Stabilization is nice to have when lighting is less than ideal or when lighting changes quickly but with those fast shutter speeds, you can live without IS.

For birds in flight, you'll want to keep shutter speed above 1/1000 and f/5.6 or f/8.0 will get you there (again in good light).

Regarding prime vs. zoom…I think most will agree that for birds you can never have a lens that's too long. Most people with zooms will shoot at their longest length 98% of the time and prime will normally produce sharper images with less distortion. A prime lens will be lighter and less expensive, compared to a zoom with the same largest aperture, so I would be looking for a prime.

A lack of autofocus may be difficult as birds generally don't sit still for very long. A lack of autofocus for birds in flight will be very difficult. But, even a lens without autofocus can work for birds in flight with burst shooting and patience with missed shots.

400mm seems to be the minimum length that most bird photographers are happy with. If you can find a deal on a 400mm f/5.6 (or even better an f/4.0 ) it would be fun to try.

Having said all of that, with practice and good technique you can adapt and overcome (or work around) most limitations of your gear and stay within budget.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 05:28 PM   #7
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AlaskaMoose, ChrisA and Peter, thanks for your thoughtful words. Responses below.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AlaskaMoose View Post
You can use a lot of manual lenses as long as you have the right mount.
<snip>
But since the focus and aperture must be done manually, the lens has to have both an aperture ring and a focusing ring.
I found this bloke on fleabay who does adaptions to lenses to make them an EF mount which would then fit my 60D like a glove. He came up with the design of the mount himself and I'm quite impressed by the ethos of reusing old lenses.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisA View Post
No, f/11 is not the best for sharpness, that is normally maybe one stop down from full open.
Most of these f/5.6 lenses go up to f/32 and all the reviews of them on the net say "slightly soft at f/5.6, better at f/8 and super crisp at f/11".

In particular I'm looking at the Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 made by Komine. Serial numbers start with 28, made in the mid 80's. Some of the other Vivitars of the same model are not as good, so I'm just after this one in particular.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheese&Apple View Post
Hi John, I'll only comment on what I know based on my experience…

Generally, for wildlife shots you will (or can) be outdoors in good light so the slightly slower lenses at 5.6 will work OK even at ISO 200 or 400. Good light also means that you can keep shutter speeds above 1/500 (preferably above 1/1000) so a monopod or tripod won't be a concern in fact they can be more of a nuisance. Stabilization is nice to have when lighting is less than ideal or when lighting changes quickly but with those fast shutter speeds, you can live without IS.

For birds in flight, you'll want to keep shutter speed above 1/1000 and f/5.6 or f/8.0 will get you there (again in good light).

<snip>

400mm seems to be the minimum length that most bird photographers are happy with. If you can find a deal on a 400mm f/5.6 (or even better an f/4.0 ) it would be fun to try.

Having said all of that, with practice and good technique you can adapt and overcome (or work around) most limitations of your gear and stay within budget.
My 60D in good light is excellent up to ISO1600, so I should be ok with using it at f/11 if need be. I also noticed the trend of 400mm being the magic number to appease the majority of twitchers on the photog. forums.

It's all about learning the technique for me with this lens, sort of like the trainer wheel bike every kid has initially. My thinking is that if I can master using a full manual lens effectively, then when I switch to a you-beaut wizz-bang modern lens later on, I'll be able to use it to its absolute best. As I said above, the idea of giving an older lens new life is highly appealing to me, in this age of disposable consumption.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 05:48 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ijohn.8.80 View Post
It's all about learning the technique for me with this lens, sort of like the trainer wheel bike every kid has initially. My thinking is that if I can master using a full manual lens effectively, then when I switch to a you-beaut wizz-bang modern lens later on, I'll be able to use it to its absolute best. As I said above, the idea of giving an older lens new life is highly appealing to me, in this age of disposable consumption.
IMO, this is a great approach to photography excellence. Far to often I see people with deep pockets and great equipment that have no idea what it means to work hard to capture a prized image.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 07:58 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisA View Post
If you are looking at buying an older manual focus lens like a 400mm f/2.8 then look at Nikon. Yes you have a Canon body but SLR bodies are dirt cheap compared to a lens like that

No, f/11 is not the best for sharpness, that is normally maybe one stop down from full open. Defraction effects kill sharpness. (Remember from physics that a lens' resolving power is proportional to it'
s diameter over the wavelength?)

Manual focus is not hard. OK it is hard if you try it with a newer dSLR that does not have focus aids in the screen. But all the older viewfinder screens will have split or micro prisms.

My Nikon D200 digital body can meter and work on "auto exposure" modes with a 1960's vintage manual focus lens. Of course it can't auto focus for me but the little "in focus" indicator in the view finder comes on when the lens is in focus. This applies to all the newer D300 and up bodies also but not thr entry-level consumer ones, those can't meter with non CPU lenses.

On the Canon side lens compatibility stopped when Canon switched to EOS mount.
Chris,

Canon cameras, just like Nikon, have no problem metering when a manual lens is used. For both Nikon and Canon, at least with the mounts I posted a link for, there are two mounts one can use: one does not show "in-focus" indicator in the viewfinder when focus is achieved manually. The other (the more expensive one), includes an electronic chip and a set of electronic contacts for Nikon or Canon cameras to light-up the focus points in the viewfinder when proper focus is achieved.

If you look at the specs for each mount, you will notice that the electronic chip I mentioned above is one for Canon, and another for Nikon cameras. I have a 55mm f/1.4, and also a Minolta 400mm lens that I use with my Canon 7D. The first is mounted on a unit that shows the focus points when I achieve focus, while the latter does not.

----------

Quote:
Originally Posted by ijohn.8.80 View Post
AlaskaMoose, ChrisA and Peter, thanks for your thoughtful words. Responses below.



I found this bloke on fleabay who does adaptions to lenses to make them an EF mount which would then fit my 60D like a glove. He came up with the design of the mount himself and I'm quite impressed by the ethos of reusing old lenses.



Most of these f/5.6 lenses go up to f/32 and all the reviews of them on the net say "slightly soft at f/5.6, better at f/8 and super crisp at f/11".

In particular I'm looking at the Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 made by Komine. Serial numbers start with 28, made in the mid 80's. Some of the other Vivitars of the same model are not as good, so I'm just after this one in particular.



My 60D in good light is excellent up to ISO1600, so I should be ok with using it at f/11 if need be. I also noticed the trend of 400mm being the magic number to appease the majority of twitchers on the photog. forums.

It's all about learning the technique for me with this lens, sort of like the trainer wheel bike every kid has initially. My thinking is that if I can master using a full manual lens effectively, then when I switch to a you-beaut wizz-bang modern lens later on, I'll be able to use it to its absolute best. As I said above, the idea of giving an older lens new life is highly appealing to me, in this age of disposable consumption.
It's not really a big deal to focus or control the iris of a lens manually. But where automatic focusing becomes important is on fast moving subjects with the camera set to track and take a group of photos in rapid succession (AI-Servo and burst mode). For example, taking photos of birds in flight, or just at the racetrack.

With a manual lens all I do is set the camera to aperture priority, and then open/close (plus focus) the lens manually.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 09:06 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlaskaMoose View Post
It's not really a big deal to focus or control the iris of a lens manually. But where automatic focusing becomes important is on fast moving subjects with the camera set to track and take a group of photos in rapid succession (AI-Servo and burst mode). For example, taking photos of birds in flight, or just at the racetrack.

With a manual lens all I do is set the camera to aperture priority, and then open/close (plus focus) the lens manually.
I sort of agree with this and sort of don't...

Any fool can twiddle an aperture and focus ring. What I want to master is getting to an intuitive stage of knowing what f-stop to be at for getting the quickest shutter activation I possibly can for the light condition I am trying to capture the bird in and achieve maximum clarity. To do this and be able to track a bird through woodland or the open sky, there's a lot of processing for the old grey matter to do there!

I know of one old coot locally that uses all manual lenses and on his 7D at that! No autofocus at all and he gets exquisite shots time after time! In the air and on land or in tree...

I guess he was the inspiration for my journey here. If I could be half as good as him I'd have no need to buy another telephoto later on. He also doesn't use a monopod for his shooting like Peter mentioned above.

Thanks again for your input, it's good to get me thinking about the aspects I wouldn't have thunked of.
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Old Apr 26, 2013, 10:40 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ijohn.8.80 View Post
I sort of agree with this and sort of don't...

Any fool can twiddle an aperture and focus ring. What I want to master is getting to an intuitive stage of knowing what f-stop to be at for getting the quickest shutter activation I possibly can for the light condition I am trying to capture the bird in and achieve maximum clarity. To do this and be able to track a bird through woodland or the open sky, there's a lot of processing for the old grey matter to do there!

I know of one old coot locally that uses all manual lenses and on his 7D at that! No autofocus at all and he gets exquisite shots time after time! In the air and on land or in tree...

I guess he was the inspiration for my journey here. If I could be half as good as him I'd have no need to buy another telephoto later on. He also doesn't use a monopod for his shooting like Peter mentioned above.

Thanks again for your input, it's good to get me thinking about the aspects I wouldn't have thunked of.
Yes, such things are possible, but it takes a lot of practice. That's the way it was before auto-focusing lenses. That's what photographers did at the track or at sports events years ago. What I used to do with my old Nikon F3 was to prefocus the lens to a certain area of focus using the distance indicator (numbers in feet/meters) on the barrel, and then shooting a burst of shots once the subject entered the area I had prefocused with the lens. If I well remember, the F3 motor drive was capable of 4 frames per second. I gave this camera to my daughter as a present. Back then most photographers knew about the "sunny 16th's rule," and the "loony 11 rule" used for exposure. You can use the first rule for moon shots, for example, even with a digital camera set on manual mode.

That said, nothing can beat a modern DSLR camera with autofocus and subject tracking. For example, try to take photos of "chickadees" moving or flying around with a manual lens
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Old Apr 29, 2013, 02:20 AM   #12
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I would say save your money John.

I can't comment on long vintages lenses specifically but I can say the Canon 400L f/5.6 is a terrific lens! Very sharp, from wide open.

For stationary subjects MF may be ok but for moving subjects it's going to be close to impossible to get any decent results.
For fast birds the challenge is going to be keeping them in the frame let alone focusing!

Remember at f/11 you're going to need a 1/400x1.5 shutter speed just to minimise camera shake, not to mention you lose the great DOF making your subject pop out of the background, and your images will be much grainier. FWIW I'm often shooting at ISO 800-1600 on my 40D even in good daylight to freeze motion, and that's wide open at f/5.6.

I think you'll get much better results with your 55-250 and then cropping than manually focusing a vintage lens - even for stationary more creative shots.

I don't think it's worth the trouble doing all of that servicing, resale will also be much higher with the Canon (you can probably sell for what you paid if you get one second hand).

I appreciate your and others' points on slowing down and training, then stepping up and having the skills to make the most of the big purchase..
If it was $40 then sure it can't hurt, but for $400 I'd seriously reconsider.

Save your money, I think you'll be glad you did.
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Old Apr 29, 2013, 07:36 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ijohn.8.80 View Post
What I want to master is getting to an intuitive stage of knowing what f-stop to be at for getting the quickest shutter activation I possibly can for the light condition I am trying to capture the bird in and achieve maximum clarity.

I know of one old coot locally that uses all manual lenses and on his 7D at that! No autofocus at all and he gets exquisite shots time after time! In the air and on land or in tree...
Quote:
Originally Posted by AlaskaMoose View Post
Yes, such things are possible, but it takes a lot of practice.
I think AlaskaMoose is spot-on and I would add "patience". It would be interesting to know how many frames that "old coot" (my wife's favourite term for me btw ) has shot with that body and a specific lens combination to get to the point where his technique is intuitive.

I have no doubt that Yoda would have something profound and memorable to say on the subject.
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Old Apr 29, 2013, 08:17 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Cheese&Apple View Post
I have no doubt that Yoda would have something profound and memorable to say on the subject.
Use the Vivitar John! Hmmm!
Be master photog, you will!



Or come join us on the dark side with L lenses
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Old Apr 29, 2013, 01:53 PM   #15
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before buying an old lens you should always go to flickr and type in the lens you are looking at, that will answer all your quality questions and tell you if it can do what you want, you can also specify camera to get rid of crop or fullframe sensor results

Also old lenses come in a wide variety of mounts, get the one that is easily compatible with your camera. Pentax M42 mounts work great on Canon's and the adapters are only a couple bucks, some mounts have very expensive adapters or just dont work.
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Old Apr 29, 2013, 05:16 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlaskaMoose View Post
Yes, such things are possible, but it takes a lot of practice. That's the way it was before auto-focusing lenses.
<snip>
That said, nothing can beat a modern DSLR camera with autofocus and subject tracking. For example, try to take photos of "chickadees" moving or flying around with a manual lens
AlaskaMoose, it would just be a cheap practice telephoto lens for me to use whilst out with the local bird-groups. I think for that purpose, I could grin and bear the manual aspects of it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheReef View Post
I would say save your money John.
<snip>
For fast birds the challenge is going to be keeping them in the frame let alone focusing!

Remember at f/11 you're going to need a 1/400x1.5 shutter speed just to minimise camera shake, not to mention you lose the great DOF making your subject pop out of the background, and your images will be much grainier. FWIW I'm often shooting at ISO 800-1600 on my 40D even in good daylight to freeze motion, and that's wide open at f/5.6.
<snip>
Save your money, I think you'll be glad you did.
Reef, you've raised some great points there. Thanks. It is a huge jump in expense to go from say $300 up to $1500 though! The Sigma or Tamron could be gotten for $7-800 as a first long telephoto.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheese&Apple View Post
I think AlaskaMoose is spot-on and I would add "patience". It would be interesting to know how many frames that "old coot" (my wife's favourite term for me btw ) has shot with that body and a specific lens combination to get to the point where his technique is intuitive.

I have no doubt that Yoda would have something profound and memorable to say on the subject.
Peter, the "Old Coot" reckons he gets 1 in 5-10.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheReef View Post
Use the Vivitar John! Hmmm!
Be master photog, you will!



Or come join us on the dark side with L lenses
Reef, I know you are jesting, but it's nothing to do with becoming a master photog. I only have myself to please with this lark.

Quote:
Originally Posted by zombiecakes View Post
before buying an old lens you should always go to flickr and type in the lens you are looking at, that will answer all your quality questions and tell you if it can do what you want, you can also specify camera to get rid of crop or fullframe sensor results

Also old lenses come in a wide variety of mounts, get the one that is easily compatible with your camera. Pentax M42 mounts work great on Canon's and the adapters are only a couple bucks, some mounts have very expensive adapters or just dont work.
zombiecakes, (love your username), I have been doing that actually for a while now and have settled on the Vivitar 400mm, but it has to be the 3rd design built by Komine in the mid 80's, serial number on the front of the lens housing starts with 28.
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Old Apr 29, 2013, 09:22 PM   #17
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Here's a few shots from a character on flickr called RadioFreeCalifornia with the Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 that enticed me to this lens initially. The noise in the background of the shots with sky in them I could clean up in post processing to a certain extent.








ISO 800, f/11, 1/250



And finally one of his bird shots out of focus.

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Old May 4, 2013, 09:26 PM   #18
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This is a crop of a picture taken with a Canon FD 800mm L manual lens using an EdMika adapter.
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Old May 7, 2013, 06:48 PM   #19
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This is a crop of a picture taken with a Canon FD 800mm L manual lens using an EdMika adapter.
Very nice! I'm guessing you pre-focused and had the camera aimed at a particular point locked in on a tripod?
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Old May 7, 2013, 07:02 PM   #20
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The Vivitar 400mm with an EF mount arrived and here's my first couple of shots taken in the park next door to us, this was also my first attempt using a monopod. This lens is nicely balanced on its collar with the 60D attached. The birds I got to shoot were a serious challenge for me at this stage of my development as they are always on the move.

This was my first shot with it and at 1/60 it was way too slow to freeze motion of the Rainbow Lorikeet. I learnt how slow this is going to be in real world use! It takes forever to get this lens in focus, there is a split focus screen coming to help with manual focus, but, I won't be catching many action shots.



So now I've bumped the ISO up to 800 and I'm getting a clean shot, with shutter speeds of 1/1000 - 1/1500. The split focus screen is really going to make all the difference to getting tack sharp focus.



Moved on to the local Wattle Birds, who also are a challenge for me as they don't stay still for long either.

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