I'm trying wildlife photography. Suggest a Lens for me...

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by vellalar, Jan 2, 2009.

  1. vellalar macrumors newbie

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    Jan 2, 2009
    #1
    Dear Frenz,

    I'm a newbie, using Canon 450D with 18-55mm lens. I've started to learn shooting with this lens and now i need some expertise advice on which sort of lenses would suit a wildlife/bird photography. I need some kind of a idea about the prices of the lenses too. I prefer to stick to Canon lenses.

    Cheers!
     
  2. wheelhot macrumors 68000

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    Nov 23, 2007
    #2
    hmm, well what is your budget and how far are you intended to be away from the subject?

    As usual Canon 70-200L is the best zoom lens.
     
  3. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #3
    Bird photography is about as expensive as photography gets lens-wise. If you don't have the multiple thousands of dollars a good birding lens costs, then frankly you're generally better off with 3rd party lenses most of the time. The 100-400mm Canon isn't too bad though, or the 400mm f/5.6, which is likely a better choice though it lacks IS- around $1100 each I think. You're also going to need to budget for a good tripod and head- even with IS on the lens having a tripod helps tremendously in not moving much as you're tracking birds from light woods or the edges of water ($350-650 depending.)

    The above lenses are relatively slow, as are the third party alternatives (Sigma makes some n-500mm lenses for a little less,) but in most areas you can do ok with them.

    The best choices for birds and wildlife are either the 400/2.8 or 600/4. If you're trying to shoot warblers, the 600/4, occasionally with a 1.4x TC is the best bet in Canon glass. If you want cheaper and lighter, the 500/4 is a decent alternative, though not as flexible as a 400/2.8 with 1.4x TC- especially for other wildlife that's active near dawn and dusk where the f/2.8 aperture makes a lot of sense. All of these are multi-thousand dollar lenses though (think small car prices.)

    Actually, especially for birds, 200mm is *nowhere near enough reach* unless you're shooting in a backyard blind near a feeder or at the zoo's aviary. I've shot 2 places where shots with a 200mm lens are viable for very large birds- and even then you'd be limited to a few shots here and there.
     
  4. JKitterman macrumors member

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    Oct 10, 2006
    #4
    Bigger is usually better with birds. You may want to look at lenses in the 300 to 400mm ranges and see what you are willing to spend. Look at lens reviews and prices.
     
  5. wheelhot macrumors 68000

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    #5
    good point, but the op is using a crop sensor DSLR, so 200 will be 320 or is it still not enough (adequate)?
     
  6. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #6
    First of all, crop factor isn't magnification- that's an important point.

    Secondly 300mm is ok if you want to shoot seagulls or tame birds, it's not enough for serious bird photography. If you look at my Fine Art Nature galleries, you'll see mostly large birds or small birds in close-approach settings (and I have boatloads of bird pictures that aren't in that gallery.) All of them were taken with lenses that went to at least 400mm, often 500mm on a 1.5x crop-factor body (Fuji S2Pro or Nikon D2x.) That's an effective angle of view starting at 600mm and ending up at 750mm.

    Thirdly, even with relatively large birds like Bald Eagles, many of my images are further crops. Even with the 1.4x TC on a 400mm lens (560/4) some are crops. The 1.7x TC's degradation doesn't hold up as well, or I'd probably shoot with it more than 30% of the time (680/5.6) despite the light it needs (I use it less than .1% of the time now.)

    At Conowingo Dam in Maryland you could actually get usable Bald Eagle shots, as well as at Homer, Alaska and perhaps a lock in Iowa. Outside of that, I've been close enough to a Red Shouldered Hawk twice where a 200mm could get a fairly good in-situ photograph. If you can find a regularly peopled place with a juvenile Great Blue Heron, 200mm would be close enough (Great Falls, Maryland, Huntley Meadows, Virginia are the two places I've been where that would work,) but an adult wouldn't let you get anywhere near close enough. At Cape May, New Jersey you could get shots of Mute Swans with a 200mm lens, though they'd be small in the frame (environmental portraits if you will.) At Skyline Drive in Virginia you could get plenty of deer pictures if you're patient and position yourself well so the deer drift towards you as they graze in the morning, and you can pretty much get any deer picture you want from out a car window as they expect to be fed. That's really the class of things you can expect in the US. If your stated purpose is wildlife, you need to be twice as close with a 200mm lens as with a 400mm lens, crop factor or not.

    I'm not saying that you couldn't use blinds, or you couldn't build fantastic stalking skills- but you'd miss more shots than you'd get at 200mm.

    The Canon 70-200 f/4 is a fantastic lens for its price, but it's not a good wildlife lens. I'd encourage you to rent one for a week and try to shoot some birds, especially now during winter when they'll actually come up to food and see how it goes- then rent a 100-400 and let me know what you think of the difference between the two, as well as how many shots you get where the birds stick around vs. fly away. Alternately, rent the 100-400, shoot at 200 for two days and 400 for three days and compare the results, even in the back yard with seed on the ground. Make sure you try to get a few dozen flight "action" shots too. Finally, spend a day chasing something in your local "Rare Bird Alert" report- granted a lot of that sort of thing will be easier in the spring and summer, but doing it in the winter will let you know how challenging it can be. At the end of a week, you should have a lot more valuable advice to give a potential bird shooter.

    Please note, I'm not being sarcastic, I'm actually encouraging you to try it- you may end up with a new shooting hobby, but you'll definitely learn a thing or two and I promise it'll be valuable experience.
     
  7. H2Ockey macrumors regular

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    Aug 25, 2008
    #7
    Don't confuse FOV for Reach. I hate how I always read this in adds for telephoto lenses. When it comes to bringing the subject closer and capturing sharp details a 200mm is NOT a 320mm. A 200 on a crop sensor is just a smaller field of view, you might be able to fill the frame from farther away, but the captured detail won't be better. It makes more sense when talking about standard primes because of the close working distance to the subjects where FOV means you have to back up to get your subject.

    oops looks like I was beaten to the punch on that response, and with a better explination as well.
     
  8. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #8
    Actually, I just said it was important, you explained why it was important. Very valuable.
     
  9. iGary Guest

    iGary

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    #9
    The 100-400 is an excellent lens to get started in wildlife photography with.
     
  10. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #10
    While I wouldn't use "excellent" for anything over f/4 my real question (since I rarely shoot Canon) is that wouldn't you expect the extra IQ of the 400mm f/5.6 to make it a vastly better choice, since crops will hold up much better?

    Reichman seems to think so:

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/lenses/forgotten-400.shtml
     
  11. iGary Guest

    iGary

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    #11
    Only if you don't care about having a zoom, IMO.
     
  12. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #12
    I've owned the Nikkor 80-400VR and Sigma 50-500, and I can count the number of times shooting any kind of wildlife- but especially birds, that I haven't had one extended to maximum zoom. I now shoot almost exclusively with a 400mm f/2.8 prime when I'm out shooting wildlife, and I don't think I've switched lenses more than twice in the last three or four years when I've been in the field.

    I'm now extremely curious! What sort of wildlife are you folks shooting, and in what places?

    My normal range is VA, MD, DC, PA, NJ, and DE with some shooting in WA, OR and ON. I mostly shoot birds with a mix of smaller mammals and a few deer, elk and the like.
     
  13. jbernie macrumors 6502a

    jbernie

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    #13
    vellalar,

    based on compuwar's posts, i will suggest you find a good place to do lens rentals to try various options before commiting to buying a lens. $100-200 or so in lens rental now could be the difference in getting the right lens or an expensive toy you cant really use.

    Being new to at least dSLR photography a little caution might go a long way to getting the most out of your lens selection.
     
  14. rouxeny macrumors 6502

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    Jan 22, 2008
    #14
    Congrats on choosing an expensive hobby.

    I think the above posts sum things up very well, my own take, it depends on what you're shooting and how good you want your pics to be. If it's sparrows in the backyard, the 70-200 probably is adequate. If it's something bigger in the wild, your lens requirements will go up greatly.

    The best advice is try before you buy. Maybe another local photographer has a lens you can try, or you could always rent.
     
  15. wheelhot macrumors 68000

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    #15
    No problem, I learned a few things from your post :D, thanks for putting so much effort into writing it.
     
  16. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

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    Alaska
    #16
    I am not a wildlife photographer, just a "picture taker" who occasionally takes photos of large wildlife such as moose and other large animals one can get close enough to without being charged. I use a Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L prime for this. A moose 50 yards away almost feels the frame of my 40D. However, I agree with others that for small wildlife such as most birds it's best to use a longer telephoto unless you can step closer. Birds like these (below) one can often get very close to, and so wild moose, caribou, and even bears (with caution, or course :) (like bears in a cage).
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    This moose was perhaps 75 yards away:
    [​IMG]
     
  17. PCMacUser macrumors 68000

    PCMacUser

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    Jan 13, 2005
    #17
    I would also have to put in a recommendation for the 100-400mm L lens. The sheer versatility that this lens offers can make it more valuable than the 400mm 5.6 prime, even though the prime has better image quality. It's a delicate balance.

    Neither lens is weather sealed though, which is a shame since they are both most useful when used outdoors.

    If Canon were to release a 100-400mm, with at least F4 and the latest IS (it currently uses the old IS system), and weather sealing, it would be an easy choice.
     
  18. andiwm2003 macrumors 601

    andiwm2003

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    #18
    what do you guys think about going the cheap route?

    buy a sigma 120-400 for $750 and use it for a season. then i would know how much i like the hobby and either keep it or sell it on ebay and buy expensive glass.
     
  19. arogge macrumors 65816

    arogge

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  20. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #20
    How much wildlife do you shoot, what kind and where at? Which lenses have you owned? I'd like to know what experiences back up your recommendation, because I don't find the balance delicate at all, and I travel thousands of miles a year to shoot thousands of wildlife images a year. I've owned a 300mm f/4 prime, 80-400mm zoom, 50-500mm zoom and 400mm f/2.8 prime in terms of wildlife lenses for SLR/DSLR small format cameras. I own 1.4x and 1.7x teleconverters for the 400 prime and 1.4x teleconverters that'll fit on the rest. I predominately shoot birds in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US with occasional trips to the Pacific Northwest and Ontario, Canada.

    I've never had much difficulty backing away from most wildlife unless it didn't realize I was there in the first place, and again I've rarely shot at less than full zoom on any of the zooms I've owned. I honestly CAN count the number of times I've zoomed out on a 80-400 and 50-500mm zoom shooting wildlife.

    I put a TC on my 400/2.8 *way* more often than I've ever zoomed out a super telephoto zoom, and I *hate* to degrade the image with even an acceptable 1.4x TC, especially if I think I may have to crop the image.

    I get the perceived versatility, and I've advised friends to get the 100-400 when they've been going on trips where wildlife was a major point, but wouldn't be all they shot when they got back. When shown the thousands of images from the trip, *all* the wildlife ones were at 400mm, even moose and brown bears, which aren't small animals.

    Getting significantly worse image quality (seriously, look at the LL link I posted) for the same price so that you don't have to back up or change lenses four to twenty times a year seems ludicrous to me.

    Do you shoot in the field much?

    Even with sealed lenses and a sealed camera body a rain cover is a cheap investment. Fotosharp actually lets you try before you buy, I prefer the more expensive digital camno ones because they're lower contrast.

    http://www.fotosharp.com/

    Is the OP's 450D even sealed?

    My bet would be that it'd be in the same price range as the Nikkor 200-400VR. It'd still be a difficult choice for someone on a budget. I've seen photographers switch from Canon because of the 200-400VR, but it's not a cheap lens.

    I'd spend the extra $200 or so on the Canon 400/5.6 if you're a Canon shooter, you'll get much sharper pictures and it should hold its value better than the Sigma, so you'll lose less if you decide to sell it. Don't forget to budget for good support ($300-$600) though, it's important to be able to be set-up without moving around a lot and the more stable the shooting platform the better the images will be. If you do go the Sigma route, I'd go with one of the N-500mm's, as the extra 25% reach will help as you learn what's approachable and how to get close.
     
  21. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #21
    Basically the answer is "mid four digitals". You have picked the single most expensive genre of photography, birds.

    The other thing you must have is a good tripod with a good ball head. Good ball heads are expensive. expect to spend a couple hunderd dolars for the ball head alone.

    That said you can get into it cheap if you are content to shoot birds at a backyard bird feeder. You can rig a simple blind at your house and the birds will be accustomed to you and the feeder. But many people do not consider this "bird photography". They say it is uninteresting, like shooting zoo animals.

    Even viewing birds in the wild requires a spotting scope. You would likely want a fast 300mm lens, at least. And like I said a ball head big and sturdy enough to support it. Birds are a rather specialized subject. I'd say to go for the primes over the zooms. More bang for the buck. You just can't have a long enough lens, birds are small subjects.
     
  22. andiwm2003 macrumors 601

    andiwm2003

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    #22
    it's clear that wildlife and birds is a expensive thing. i'm on a sony and think about casual shooting wildlife in a "backyard like" setting first to learn and try. i'm not sure how much i will get into it. at the same time i noticed that for many occasions i want a 400mm zoom (e.g. my GF surfing). buying the sony 70-400 for $1500 would be the way to go but that's a bit too expensive. hence the sigma as a versatile solution.

    then if i get addicted to wildlife shots i can see myself buying a fast prime but the choices with sony are limited at the moment.
     
  23. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #23
    Frankly, backyard shooting is great to learn artificial lighting, and tracking moving birds, but not by much (unless your yard is very atypical.) Wildlife in your setting doesn't always display the same behavior as in their setting, especially in terms of approach and approachability.

    If you can swing the Sigma 50-500, I think that'd be a great option, so long as you understand the fact that at f/6.3 your depth of field and the times of the day you can shoot will be severely limited. I've known folks who've used them for surfing competition shots until they sold enough to get better glass.

    I know this is going to stir up some, but I'd also seriously consider that this may be the time to move to Canon or Nikon if there's a fair chance you'll want to do it in the future. The lens options are far better, there's a boatload of good used options and the sooner you change the less pain you'll have. I'd go Canon frankly, since their new superteles are significantly cheaper than my Nikon choices. Go cheap on the body- even used if you can find one that meets your requirements.
     
  24. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

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    #24
    Well, that's very good advise. I also agree that going cheaper with the body, unless on has a lot of money to buy good lenses plus good bodies. In the long run it's cheaper to buy good glass at the beginning whenever is possible. By the time one buys several "no so good" lenses, one has spent enough money to buy at least one good lens. I have several cheaper Sigma and Canon lenses that I not longer use, and after spending the cash I have realized that I could have put that money aside to buy one good L zoom lens instead.

    Another area I am considering is as follows: for my type of non-professional photography I can buy non-IS USM lenses, specially primes, which are of excellent quality, and a little cheaper. I don't shoot moving subjects in low light, just landscapes and wildlife during the day, and most often have a tripod with me. Primes use requires me to be the "zoom" portion of the lens (foot work), but I can live with that, as well as logging a tripod around when needed.
     
  25. PCMacUser macrumors 68000

    PCMacUser

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    #25
    I'm a well known international wildlife photographer with more than 30 years professional experience. My photos have appeared in National Geographic, Time Magazine, and various international newspapers. I've won too many awards to count and been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize three times. I was also one of Barack Obama's advisers during the presidential campaign and am credited with single handedly winning both world wars.

    If I need to be those things just to post an opinion on these forums, then I'll just piss off and leave you to it.

    I can make a recommendation on these forums when and how I like. I don't need to qualify it to you nor anyone else. It is there, and the OP can take it or leave it. If you have something better to say, say it. Please, for the sake of everyone here, stop being a bully. You just come across as someone who desperately wants to be recognised and respected for his achievements. You ARE respected here, so stop trying to impress everyone.

    Wishing you all the best for the New Year.
     

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