Fixed Telephoto Lenses

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Shacklebolt, Jan 3, 2008.

  1. Shacklebolt macrumors 6502a

    Shacklebolt

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    Sep 2, 2004
    #1
    So, as I look at the Nikon 300mm F/2.8 and think, "How could someone possibly afford this thing?" I've found myself left with the question - what's the point of a fixed telephoto lens? They've obviously been around forever, and while I understand the idea of a 50mm f/1.4, the 300mm f/2.8 (or f/4 - just for example) seems like its versatility would be quite limited.

    Am I missing something?

    Again, never knowing anything about anything,

    Shacklebolt
     
  2. jlcharles macrumors 6502

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    #2
    Take a look on the sidelines of an NFL game and almost all the photographers will have a 300mm attached to their cameras. Those are sports photographers workhorses. It is much cheaper to make a large aperture prime than a large aperture zoom.
     
  3. Lovesong macrumors 65816

    Lovesong

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    #3
    Yup- you're missing a couple of things.

    First off, this is a professional lens. People like compuwar and ClixPix here on this forum make their money shooting birds. A $4000 investment is not that much, given the wide aperture of this lens, meaning that they would be able to get shots that they would otherwise miss (eagles tend not to pose).

    The idea of the fixed focal lens is that it is sharper, and that it bearable, weight-wise. About a year ago Sigma introduced an f/2.8 zoom lens that went up to 400mm. The thing was as big as a bazooka. Having a 400 f/2.8 prime, on the other hand is something you could lug around, with the aid of a monopod of course.

    If you were to look at the Canon lineup of lenses, the longest zoom lens (that is widely available) is the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 (Nikon has the 200-400 f/4, for about as much as the 300 f/2.8 prime). Now think about how much better it would be to be able to double the light that your camera sees, and being able to shoot at f/2.8, instead of f/4 at 300.

    So to summarize, larger apertures at bearable weight, less expensive than the zooms, sharper (by a lot) than the zooms, and while it may seem like a ton of money to you, for some people, these lenses are the tools of their trade.
     
  4. Lovesong macrumors 65816

    Lovesong

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    #4
    You sure those aren't 400's ;)

    Sorry, the 400 f/2.8 is the sport's photographer's wet dream from what I've been told.
     
  5. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #6
    Just like any other business you have to spend a little on capital equipment. But really, in relative terms photographic equipment is cheap as capital equipment goes. I know a Plumber. He has spends a LOT more on equipment than the price of a few pro-quality lenses. When making a business investment you think in terms of the cost of capital equipment as a percent of yearly income. In those terms buying $10,000 worth of photo gear and writing it off over a three year period is not much.

    In the world of commercial photography lenses are cheap. Think about a studio shot of a woman and a girl in a kitchen making a cake. The shot is to be used in an ad for cake mix. The makeup artist, the set and lights hiring the food stylest and so on would cost way more than a 300mm lens. I know someone who does this kind of work and if he needs some equipment for just one shot he'll buy it.
     
  6. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #7
    Not to mention that lenses have a very long useful life - primes even more than zooms I imagine. Whatever cash you spend on a lens seems more reasonable the longer you use it.
     
  7. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #8
    The answer is "It depends." For instance, if you're shooting sports, a 300mm 2.8 is the lens of choice- if you're doing anything in poor light, early light or late light, you pretty-much need f/2.8.

    I shoot with the Nikon 400/2.8 AF-S II, which is much heavier and for sideline sports I think the 300 is much easier to deal with if you're moving up and down the lines.

    The Nikkor 300/2.8 is ~$4500. If you figure you'll shoot for 10 years on the lens, that's $450/year or about $37.50 a month. So, if you're selling prints at any reasonable rate, that's about a print and a half a month (covering insurance, cleaning, etc.) Obviously, that means you're keeping a lot of equity tied up, so you'll want to sell more than that to do a good ROI, but most photographers selling fine art prints do better than 18/year.

    As far as versatility, I suppose it depends on what you shoot, but for me, the wider aperture of a prime telephoto gives me 25-45 minutes of shooting at either end of the day compared to a f/4 lens- so the flexibility of the faster lens beats the composition flexibility of a zoom that can't shoot in lower light when everything is active. I expect the D3 will make the 200-400/4 zoom much more convenient- but again I'll be able to shoot in half the light, so the advantage outweighs the fact I may have to back up occasionally.

    While a 400 is a nicer lens for far-side action, most of the sports shooters I know simply don't want to deal with the extra weight when running up and down the lines for an hour or so. Even track-side for motorsports, the few times I've done it, I was the only one with a 400, while the folks who did it regularly shot 300mm lenses.

    Exactly, though I'm not sure that zooms are any less useful over the time periods we're talking about.
     
  8. Clix Pix macrumors demi-goddess

    Clix Pix

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    #9
    At the time I bought my 300mm f/2.8, I was nervous about plunking down $$$$ on a lens that was fairly large and heavy and that at first I imagined I'd only be using in certain shooting situations. Brought the thing home and it didn't take too many times shooting with it to realize its tremendous value and flexibility. Many of my best images have been shot with this lens. I use it without a TC or I can extend its reach by 1.4x, 1.7x or 2.0x (in good light). It is a lens which never disappoints me, which always brings home the goodies.... I've used it for shooting more than just birds, although that was indeed my primary purpose in buying this lens in the first place. There are other lenses that I own and use which I would gladly give up before I'd give up my 300 f/2.8!

    By the way, i am merely an enthusiastic hobbyist; I haven't made a dime with my images (although friends keep urging me to take a stab at selling some of my best work)....
     
  9. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

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    #10
    Indeed, the primes have significant quality over any zoom counterpart. Fewer moving parts, better glass!

    Good photographers get to know their surroundings and zoom with their feet. That said, primes are limited in certain situations (especially when you are TOO close.) I'd take a 300 f/2.8 any day over a 100-400 f/5.6.
     
  10. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #11
    I'm sure it takes quite a few years of normal use until a zoom would need maintenance.
     
  11. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #12
    My 35-70 AF-D is much older than my 400/2.8- I don't see any signs of aging, and I'm guessing that the AF-S motor on the prime will probably last around as long as the zoom's seals. My 20-35 AF-D is a little newer than the 35-70, but I really don't see it needing much care and feeding in the next few years either.

    Professional zoom lenses are built quite well, certainly well enough that absent very abusive shooting conditions they'll be good for years enough years to ROI them on most photographer's schedules.
     
  12. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #13
    Actually, I think the Sigma you're thinking of is 200-500mm @f/2.8- however as far as I can tell the lens hasn't actually gone beyond the prototype stage (I keep looking every few months to see if they'll release a list price and performance data.) The shots I've seen look like it wouldn't fit on a Wimberly- so I don't know what the support options would even be.

    While there's a monopod foot that came with my 400, the lens is a real beast (I can't imagine the earlier, heavier versions being any fun at all!) and I'd only use a monopod if I _had_ to. I can shoot hand-held with it for 4-5 minutes at a time, but that's a lot of no fun- it's best on a tripod. On the other hand, I'd happily shoot all day with a 300 on a monopod or hand-held for much longer stretches.

    Shooting with a 400/2.8 takes a level of dedication in terms of hauling it and a good support system around that most photographers don't have and don't want. Car to sidelines isn't a big challenge, but add even a couple of miles of trail and it's just not for most people.

    Insurance-wise I think the 400 is worth about $10-12/month of my premium- not counting the price of the Gitzo 1548 and Wimberly II that accompany it. But then the tripod was an incremental upgrade and the head is a necessity with any of the big guns.
     
  13. Shacklebolt thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Shacklebolt

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  14. djbahdow01 macrumors 6502a

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    Northeast, CT
    #15
    I can say I don't know how I did it without it. My 300 makes life so much easier. For sports, birding and nature it and the longer primes are well worth it.

    I actually prefer to shoot with a fixed lens over a zoom. Yeah I might miss some of the shots but I normally get what I am looking for.

    There are very few lenses that are zoom over the 300 range, Canon 100-400, Nikon 200-400, Sigma 200-500 and 300-800. But even then many birders or sports photogs prefer the lighter weight of a fixed lens.

    I know there was one 600mm f4 on the sidelines of the UConn vs Wake Forest game, as well as a 400 f2.8. My next lens is the 400 when the time comes.
     
  15. pprior macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2007
    #16
    1) Zooms are always heavier and bigger than their prime counterpart.
    2) This is especially true for fast glass
    3) i.e. a 2.8 aperture 300mm zoom would be HUGE
    4) This is the main reason we have fixed length long glass
    5) Secondarily, the image quality will almost always be sharper.

    I thought my zoom glass was nice (all canon L lenses) until I bought the 135/F2 L prime. It is night and day better. The 300/F2.8 IS is my next purchase, but I'm saving up the 5 grand... for soccer shooting and sports I think it will be worth it.
     

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