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01-25-2008, 02:58 PM   #1
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Phoenix 100-400; any experience/opinions?

I really (LBA symptoms) need some more reach in my lens kit, and I noticed that Pop Photo's dear recently departed Herb Keppler (one of my favorites who mentioned Pentax products regulary in his monthly column) recommended the Phoenix 100-400 in a recent column. I'd just take his word and go ahead and get one, but I still have a few questions and Herb's now impossible to reach (by phone or email anyway). So, are there any among you with experience with the Phoenix 100-400?

How's is sharpness, contrast?
Any zoom creep?
Any better than my Pentax 100-300 (a real softy at the extremes)?

Can't find any reviews/tests (please point me to any you know of) so any input would be appreciated. I'm aware of the Sigma offerings (Bigma, etc. - in fact got to use a friend's Bigma for most of a day a few weeks ago.) But can't quite afford that right now (saving for the K20D and all).

Many thanks for your help!

Available Light

01-26-2008, 07:24 AM   #2
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It does have zoom creep. Big time. It is a big zoom. Guessing the quality is similar to your 300. I can borrow one so I might try shooting a few shots. Did this long ago and thought the quality was similar to the Pentax lens you have now. Not a bad lens- just not incredible. Should be able to sharpen it some in pp.
thanks
barondla
01-26-2008, 07:51 AM   #3
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I had one and sold it - it's a tad soft at the long end, but I've seen some good images with it. Usually you have to stop it down a fair bit.
01-26-2008, 01:38 PM   #4
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There is a review of the Phoenix 100-400 in the March 1997 edition of Popular Photography. Coincidentally, that same issue has a review of the Tokina 80-400 "Type I" (without a tripod collar). If you want to see the rest of the competition, so to speak, the Pop Photo issue for August 1997 has the Sigma 135-400. If you want to check more lenses in the same vein, the Pentax 80-320 was in March, 1998, the Sigma 70-300 (non-APO) was in Feb. 2000, the Sigma 70-300 APO was in March 2000, and the Tamron 70-300 was in July 2001. A common thread is that all of these lenses are softer at the extreme end of the telephoto range, especially in the corners. I'd characterize the results as follows. The Sigma has the best performance, followed by the Tokina and then the Phoenix. I don't think the lenses that end at 300 are sufficiently better at 300 that they would be superior at 400 with a TC. Whether the Tokina or Sigma are sufficiently better than the Phoenix as to justify the much higher prices is a value judgment that you must make after reading the reviews.

These back issues can be hard to find. I found an entire set in a local college library. In fact, I was able to locate 3 colleges within about 30 miles of my home that had them. I found the issues to look for by using a web based search tool for periodicals called "EBSCO" to which I have access through my local library. Finding the college libraries was tricker. In Pennsylvania there is a website called "Access Pa" that is sort of a catalogue for all libraries in the state. It is not entirely accurate, but it gave me a start. Your local library might be able to help you find them, even if it doesn't have them itself. If you can't find them wherever you are, drop me a PM and I'll see if I can help.

Mike

01-26-2008, 05:54 PM   #5
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Thanks for your Phoenix 100-400 input

Thanks to everyone who answered my inquiry. I'll see if any local libraries have those back Pop Photo issues with the reviews you found Mike! Barondla, if you get a chance to borrow it to take some shots that would be great - particularly to see if it does OK at 400mm when stopped down some. And also, 35mmfilm_user's advice to stop down toward the lens' "sweet spot" is definitely appreciated.

I'll try to remember to post again later with my decision, reasoning and results.

Available Light
01-28-2008, 06:57 PM   #6
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Borrowed the lens. This shot is 400mm f 7.1 at ISO 400. SR on handheld. K10D set to raw and all sharpness, contrast, saturation set to 0. Nothing done in PP except converting raw (Pentax browser/Silky Pix) and resizing in CS2. No cropping, sharpening, etc.
Did find it easier to get sharp shots handheld with SR than on tripod without SR! Rare for me. Lens doesn't have its own tripod collar. That could be rigged with some thinking. This Phoenix seemed better than the one I shot a year ago. Maybe I am better with the K10D now. Hope this helps. Hard to beat it for the money.
thanks
barondla
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01-29-2008, 08:18 PM   #7
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Thanks for test shot Barondla!

Many thanks for taking the time to borrow the Phoenix 100-400 and take some test shots. That's a big, big help. I have a Manfrotto "long lens" bracket that I use with my Pentax FA*200, since it has no collar either, so no problem with that. Your example @ f7.1 definitely looks a bit better than the Pentax 100-300 I have, especially contrast wise (of course there's a big difference from the FA* !).

Also Mike, my county library has EBSCO so I should be able to track down the reviews through them. Also found Pop Photo's zoom lens tables which list the issue that particular reviews are in. Don't know how I missed that before. It would be really great if Pop Photo updated this for both zooms and primes.

It will probably be a few days before I can get ahold of the reviews - but as of now I'm leaning toward trying it; not a lot to lose, and a good interim solution.

Thanks to everyone.
01-30-2008, 01:05 PM   #8
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I can tell you that the PopPhoto zoom tables have some mistakes as to the dates of the reviews. EBSCO is more accurate. The dates that I gave you are good ones since I have read the reviews. Not to give away the ending of the story or anything, but I made the jump and bought the 100-400 from Adorama. Just under $200 with shipping. It came yesterday. I have taken a few pictures of a bird at one of our feeders. I got unexpectedly busy with another task, but I did have a chance to process a couple of them through my RAW converter. They look fine to me. If I have a chance, I'll post one. I don't see any reason to think that I can't get at least 8x10s that look good. The lens focuses OK as long as there is something contrasty to focus on. I'm not crazy about the push-pull zoom for two reasons. One, it does creep like crazy. Two, if you are hand holding the lens, the best place to grip it is the zoom ring, but then you can't pull it to your face without "unzooming" the lens. I think I'll get used to that, but it may take awhile. The shake reduction seems to work fine. The one other minor problem I noticed is that the EXIF data shows "unkown" for the lens type, so I guess that it isn't in the programming of the chip or chips in the lens. I think that the key to getting good results will be to keep the lens in a narrow range of aperatures, say F8-f16, and stay away from wide open at all costs. I hit on an easy way to shoot with it. Use the TAv setting, set the aperture to f8 and the shutter to 1/200 or better, and let the camera set the ISO where it needs to. I didn't think that TAv setting would be useful, but it is.

I had been looking for a Tokina 80-400, but you can only find them used on ebay. The last few have gone for $600-$800. After reading the reviews, I couldn't see it. The Phoenix is a little longer, but 1/2 lb. lighter. My back will thank me. I couldn't see the Sigma for the same reason. Too big and heavy, and not worth the premium, although according to Pop Photo it is the best of the three. I also don't believe any of the 70-300s or the 80-320 with a TC will be any better than the Phoenix, and they will be even slower with the TC.

01-30-2008, 01:24 PM   #9
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I have one, I don't like it. It is soft, very soft at the long end...I can't even get myself to sell it because I would feel guilty about it. For the length, get the 135-400 sigma apo...
This lens rocks...
01-30-2008, 03:20 PM   #10
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Well, here goes, I hope this works. These were taken from my house. I was just inside a sliding glass door with the door open just enough to get the lens out. The reason everything seems a little tilted is the wind was blowing 20-30 mph, making it hard to hold the feeder and bird in the field of view, and in focus. I had to take several to get one shot where things weren't moving. The lens was the Phoenix 100-400 at 400mm on my k10D. The setting was TAv, f8, Shutter speed 1/500. ISO 400. It was hand held with shake reduction on. It was shot as a best quality JPEG, the image tone was Bright, contrast normal, saturation -1, sharpening +1. The image was resized in Elements 3, with no other processing appled. The second image is a vertical crop from the first, which was then resized. Not too bad for $196, I say.
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01-31-2008, 07:10 AM   #11
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Guessing the lens could be improved easily by extending the rather short lens shade. Take some black construction paper and wrap it around the orig hood. At 400 you can probably go another 4 or 5 inches. If you like make extension out of pliable black plastic and put velcro on it. Folds flat when not using it! Just like the Celestron 1250 hood. Enjoy it. The 100 Phoenix macro is great (better than 100-400). Discontinued in AF. Only one left at dist in MF. A shame.
thanks
barondla
09-09-2008, 10:14 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by mechmike10 Quote
Well, here goes, I hope this works. These were taken from my house. I was just inside a sliding glass door with the door open just enough to get the lens out. The reason everything seems a little tilted is the wind was blowing 20-30 mph, making it hard to hold the feeder and bird in the field of view, and in focus. I had to take several to get one shot where things weren't moving. The lens was the Phoenix 100-400 at 400mm on my k10D. The setting was TAv, f8, Shutter speed 1/500. ISO 400. It was hand held with shake reduction on. It was shot as a best quality JPEG, the image tone was Bright, contrast normal, saturation -1, sharpening +1. The image was resized in Elements 3, with no other processing appled. The second image is a vertical crop from the first, which was then resized. Not too bad for $196, I say.
Were can I buy this lens?
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