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View Poll Results: Most Favored Inexpensive Birding Lens
Sigma 400mm f5.6 AF Tele 313.04%
Tokina 400mm f5.6 ATX AF 521.74%
Tokina AT-X 80-400mm F1: 4.5-5.6 313.04%
Other 1773.91%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 23. You may not vote on this poll

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01-22-2012, 01:37 PM   #1
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Inexpensive Birding Lens Poll

Hi,
Thought I would see if anyone has some opinions on the best of these three inexpensive lenses to be used on bird outings. I don't want to invest a whole lot in a birding lens because I probably won't be going birding all that often, but enough to want something handy that is longer than 300mm.
Your opinions are highly regarded

Oh, editing to add; I've gotta have AF-I'm not skilled enough to use an MF lens for birding. Also, I am looking at used because the used ones are less expensive, but if there is a newer one that you like please feel free to suggest.


Last edited by Drom; 01-22-2012 at 01:45 PM.
01-22-2012, 01:40 PM   #2
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There are several new lens options like the bigma and 150-500 or 170-500 sigma lenses. Assuming these are out, you are in the used market.

There are 500 or 1000mm mirror lenses, or older MF lenses
01-22-2012, 02:06 PM   #3
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I think the 170- 500mm is probably in my price range. I really don't want to spend too much more than $500. Is that a good lens?

Last edited by Drom; 01-23-2012 at 11:38 AM.
01-22-2012, 11:20 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Drom Quote
I think the 170- 500mm is probably in my price range. I really don't to want spend too much more than $500. Is that a good lens?
Sigma 170-500mm production stopped a few years ago. I wouldn't pay over $500/shipped for one. It's cumbersome. has a cheap lens hood, and suffers from lens creep - I have a thick rubber band around my to prevent that. It has trouble focusing on low-contrast subjects, moreso than any other lens I use.

On the bright side, at 300mm it is at least as sharp as the Pentax 55-300 and similar lenses. Sharpness is relatively decent up to 450mm, then there's further sharpness and contrast loss. Overall I'm fairly satisfied with mine.


Last edited by luftfluss; 06-08-2016 at 08:24 AM.
01-23-2012, 12:53 AM   #5
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Wow, that's a beautiful image. Thank you for posting! I'd be extremely happy with that type of image quality on a long lens like that. I'm not bothered too much about things like lens creep.

I was actually surprised that a copy of one of the lenses on my list above; the Tokina 400mm AF, went for over $700 today on e-bay. I thought that lens was less expensive. I wouldn't have bid nearly that high on it. But I believe there is a copy of the Sigma 170-500mm on Adorama that is under the $500 mark.
01-23-2012, 09:22 AM   #6
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There is the sigma 120-400mm, I think there is one in the marketplace currently. I don't know how it performs but I have heard mixed reviews.
I really think you should still consider manual focus.
01-23-2012, 10:07 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by littledrawe Quote
I really think you should still consider manual focus.
+1 to that. Not only does it greatly increase your range of options at that budget, for me an MF lens is actually preferable for birding. With small birds particularly it is hard to get AF to catch the bird and not some twig or branch. With an MF lens you get a long focus throw and a nicely damped focus action; trying to manually fine-tune the focus with an AF lens is much harder IMO. My MF skills aren't great but are improving with practice.
01-23-2012, 10:22 AM   #8
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I did not vote for your group as I also believe going MF will be a better option for a cheap birding lens.
(Even with my DA*300 I frequently opt for MF since birds are hard for the system to AF due to the branches, etc.)

I owned the MF version of the Sigma 400 you indicate above and it was a very good lens.
If you decide to go this route note that a common ill of this copy is deterioration of cement on internal focus group.
Depending on how bad, it may affect contrast. If buying unseen, inquire as to the presence of whitish spots on the internal lens group. (External lenses will usually have no issues.)

01-23-2012, 10:54 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by littledrawe Quote
There is the sigma 120-400mm, I think there is one in the marketplace currently. I don't know how it performs but I have heard mixed reviews.
I really think you should still consider manual focus.
I briefly owned a pretty mediocre copy of the 135-400mm, that was softer than the 55-300mm. That is to say, the 55-300mm at 300mm had better detail on my K-x then the 135-400mm at 400mm or at 300mm. Liveview focusing didn't help, so it wasn't a front/back focusing problem. The lens was just soft. But it did have really nice bokeh.

Right now, I'm using a Sigma 150-500mm, which when stopped down to F/8, has comparable pixel level sharpness to the 55-300mm (also at F/8), so the net is 1.67x more resolution. Honestly, I use the 55-300mm a lot more, because its lighter and more convenient. For example, we recently took a birding trip to the Rio Grande valley on the Texas/Mexico border. Most of the time, it was misting or drizzling. I kept the K-x and the 55-300mm safely in a compact camera bug, and then pulled the camera/lens out when I the rain stopped, or when we got to a bird blind. I couldn't do that with the 150-500mm which stayed in the car. Sometimes I use the 55-300mm, at 300mm F/8, and then crop by 2.67x, to 1608x1072, and I find that the results are pretty good.

But sometimes the extra reach of the 150-500mm is really nice to have.
- Shel
01-23-2012, 11:29 AM   #10
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Thanks for the comments everyone. I have a 100-300mm zoom lens now that I love and I took it with me on my first outing with a friend at a wildlife preserve that is right down the street from my home. And I got some shots of Canada Geese, but realized immediately that the 300mm length is not really going to be long enough to get the detail I want.
My LBA list for 2012 includes one of *300mm prime lenses and a 70-200mm 2.8 sports zoom, so another pricey big lens is really not in the budget. That's why I am trying to find a less expensive one with the extra length.

So, maybe I should consider a manual focus lens. It would certainly improve my skills and knowledge, and I shouldn't be afraid of that

Has anyone ever used a teleconverter on a 300mm prime or one of the 2.8 zoom lenses? Do you lose your AF when you add the teleconverter?
01-23-2012, 11:57 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by crewl1 Quote
I did not vote for your group as I also believe going MF will be a better option for a cheap birding lens.
It is. Especially if the bird is in flight.
01-23-2012, 12:07 PM   #12
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I've tested the Kenko 1.5 PZ AF Teleplus SHQ converter with both a Sigma 70-200 2.8 and DA*300.
The converter maintains IQ surprisingly well, however the AF becomes inconsistent.

It does always attempt AF but does not lock on consistently.
With the 70-200 it works best at 70 but is inconsistent at 200, so kinda pointless.
Lighting conditions and degree of contrast of the target are usually the deciding factor.

With the DA*300 the detail is so good that I find I can usually crop a photo and get the same results as if I added the 1.5 converter, so I rarely use it in the field.
01-23-2012, 12:16 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Drom Quote
But I believe there is a copy of the Sigma 170-500mm on Adorama that is under the $500 mark.
This would be a good option. Use a tripod or monopod for best results and keep it at around 450mm f8-f11.

I only sold mine to fund a Bigma, but the funds were squandered. Hoping to get back on track by EOM
01-23-2012, 12:19 PM   #14
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i failed to mention what I use in my forst post

My "go to" solution is a Sigma APO 70-200F2.8 EX Non DG non macro, combined with 1.4x and 2x Sigma APO Teleconverters. This lens was bought new in 2003 and has been replaced by about 5 or 6 subsequent versions, non of which, in my opinion are any where near as sharp save perhaps the latest HSM2 version, but note that there is no TC for the HSM lenses.

I have 2 other solutions both of which give good results and have an additiona reach, these are

SMC Pentax (K)300F4 plus SMC-F 1.7x AF converter, which is a slightly slow F6.7 500mm option, but one which can be hand held very comfortably.
Tamron SP Adaptall II 200-500 F5.6, my newest addition, faster, but at 2.75 kg, a lot heavier and purely a tripod bound option.

The Tammy cost me $350 including case, 2x TC, front and rear filters, 2 nikon adaptors and a KA adaptor., any pentax 300/4 will set you back about 300 for a K mount lens, and an A300/4 about $600 the AF converters have gotten stupid in pricing lately, but for a hand holdable 500mm with KA mount lens (allowing P-TTL flash, it is a good option. the AF adaptor is quicker to focus than many ultra long tele lenses or tele zooms because it focuses only over a small focusing range
01-23-2012, 12:27 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
save perhaps the latest HSM2 version, but note that there is no TC for the HSM lenses.
The Kenko I mentioned above does work with my HSM2 version, but note the inconsistencies I indicated.
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