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11-23-2012, 06:14 PM   #1
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Pentax DA300 f4 vs Sigma 50-500

I realise that the Pentax and Sigma lenses are quite different, but I'm trying to decide which is a better option. I like photographing birds and animals, and while my Pentax DA55-300 is an impressive lens for the price, I'm considering whether a better or longer lens would be worthwhile. The DA300 f4 is clearly optically better than the DA55-300, but the price makes the Sigma 50-500 worth considering. On the other hand, I'm concerned about portability. The Sigma lens is twice the weight of the Pentax lens. I'm wondering if I'd be better off getting the Pentax DA300 f4 (especially given the Black Friday discount) and a teleconverter than the Sigma. A 1.7x teleconverter would give roughly the same focal length with the Pentax as the Sigma at considerably less weight and bulk.

Does anyone have any experience with these two lenses? Comments please?

11-23-2012, 06:25 PM   #2
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The Sigma is still pretty portable, but the problem is that its resolution isn't that great and long distances. Thus I'd recommend something else if you're serious about shooting birds

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11-23-2012, 06:37 PM   #3
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I agree with Adam. I have the 50-500 I like it a lot and consider it to be the 55-300's big brother. I've sold a number of images taken with it. But it is a consumer zoom and if you are looking to shoot tack sharp birds at long distances this isn't the lens for you. However, at shorter distances and in the right light you can get very good quality images with it.

Many people assume if they want better wildlife images they need a longer lens. But the pros will tell you that what you need to do is get closer. That takes skill, patience and experience but distance adds lots of things that detract from the image like haze and motion.

I don't have the 300 f/4 but I can say from experience that most TC's just are not worth the hassle if you are trying for top quality images.
11-23-2012, 06:42 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
The Sigma is still pretty portable, but the problem is that its resolution isn't that great and long distances. Thus I'd recommend something else if you're serious about shooting birds
Define "serious". I'm not one to sit in a bag hide all day watching a nest - that's what I'd call serious about shooting birds. I photograph the things I see when hiking or out and about. Very occasionally I'll spend some time in a hide (building) or "stalking" a bird, but I generally don't have the sort of time that would justify the sort of massive Canikon lenses I have seen others lugging about. I also like photographing planes - and personally I found the Pentax DA55-300 easier to use at an airshow than the huge lenses I saw others with. There's not much choice when it comes to long lenses for Pentax unless you're prepared to spend a lot of time and effort digging for second hand lenses from the past.

So - are you saying that the Pentax lens would be a better buy in terms of resolution, or did you have a completely different lens in mind?

11-23-2012, 06:51 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by RobG Quote
There's not much choice when it comes to long lenses for Pentax unless you're prepared to spend a lot of time and effort digging for second hand lenses from the past.

So - are you saying that the Pentax lens would be a better buy in terms of resolution, or did you have a completely different lens in mind?
There is also the Sigma 500mm F/4.5. It is just under 7 pounds. Most of my best photos on flickr were taken with that lens. The top 4 photos here were taken with it #2 and #3 were taken with the addition of a 1.4x teleconverter.

Flickriver: Andrew's Wildlife's most interesting photos
11-23-2012, 07:01 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
I agree with Adam. I have the 50-500 I like it a lot and consider it to be the 55-300's big brother. I've sold a number of images taken with it. But it is a consumer zoom and if you are looking to shoot tack sharp birds at long distances this isn't the lens for you. However, at shorter distances and in the right light you can get very good quality images with it.
Considering that the Bigma is considerably more expensive than the Pentax, it sounds like the price is hard to justify. The reviews seemed to indicate otherwise. It's useful to have feedback from someone who has one - thanks! Unfortunately it begs the question - which lens would you recommend instead?

QuoteQuote:
Many people assume if they want better wildlife images they need a longer lens. But the pros will tell you that what you need to do is get closer. That takes skill, patience and experience but distance adds lots of things that detract from the image like haze and motion.
Hence the need to sit in a bag hide for days after tracking down a nest or a favourite perch. I agree to an extent, but I still see pros carrying around huge optically stabilised Canikon primes in the 400 to 600m range. If I was really that serious, I would probably jump ship to Canon and buy a lens like that, but I can't justify the cost, nor do I have the time to devote to that level of effort.

QuoteQuote:
I don't have the 300 f/4 but I can say from experience that most TC's just are not worth the hassle if you are trying for top quality images.
In some cases for me, it's a matter of getting a photo as a record of seeing something, rather than getting something which is top quality. However I appreciate the comment. Having recently bought a K-5iis, I can afford to use a higher ISO than with the K-7. A focal length like 300mm sounds long, but it's surprising how close you have to get to most birds and animals to fill the viewfinder. I generally carry my DA16-45 and DA55-300 as a travel kit. It does a good job of covering most situations. Realistically though, most of the time when using the DA55-300 I'm at the long end of the range, so I suspect that replacing it with the DA300 f4 would work for me.
11-23-2012, 07:13 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by traderdrew Quote
There is also the Sigma 500mm F/4.5. It is just under 7 pounds. Most of my best photos on flickr were taken with that lens. The top 4 photos here were taken with it #2 and #3 were taken with the addition of a 1.4x teleconverter.
Wow! You have some amazing photos there - like the shot of the Northern Harrier, which is frankly astonishing. Unfortunately at $6K (ok, $5K at B&H), there's a long long way between the Sigma 500 f4.5 and the Pentax DA300 f4.

Last edited by RobG; 11-23-2012 at 07:20 PM. Reason: update
11-23-2012, 07:49 PM   #8
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I owned the original Bigma for a couple of years and used it to photograph birds and sports with a K20D.

The strengths of the Bigma include:
- Very reasonable price
- Outstanding focal range that is very useful for sports especially on the wide end; still versatile for capturing birds and BIFs theoretically.
- 500mm reach, even with modest quality, it is better than a mirror lens and one of the very very few options available for Pentax shooters
- Decent build quality--not as good as a DA* but for the money I was impressed
- weight was ok, the bulk and length was not

Weaknesses
-less forgiving in focus--I found that AF was very trying, even on stationary objects. Some of that was probably the K20D, but still it took a while for the lens to expand and compress.
-length and bulk made it more challenging to fit into a photobackpack for long hikes to where the cool birds were at.
-optical quality was a very mixed bag. Some focal lengths were surprisingly fine, others below average--which really is to be expected for both the money and the focal range offered.
-is really a consumer lens

After moving my birding and sporting operations to a Canon 7D and 100-400mm L lens, the one thing I really missed was that focal range, especially at the wide end.

Among birders there seems to be two levels of photographs: A) ID photos aim to verify you witnessed a specific family of birds. They don't have to be well framed, supersharp, or incorporate beautiful bokeh. You are punching your hit list, like birdwatchers the world over do; or B) These are more artistic shots of birds in engaging poses in lovely settings with few background distractions. They can be used for ID of course, but it is more about art. See also: traderdrew. If you view yourself as a serious bird photographer, then I'm sorry to say that the second group is your fate. Be prepared to spend a lot of money, and patience because the correlation between great gear and great shots (and great debt) is very tight.

I've borrowed a 300mm f4 and enjoyed it immensely. I think it is a significant step up from Bigma quality wise, and with the latest Pentax body you are equipped to do things well. I think the best 1.4/5x TC would be worthwhile testing with the 300mm as well. It's too bad they are so hard to find in the Pentax universe.

That said, if you view yourself in the first group of ID shooters (and I sense that plane shooting brings more satisfaction) then the Bigma would work. You'd also get that reach to fill the frame with airplanes too.

M

11-23-2012, 10:04 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by RobG Quote
Considering that the Bigma is considerably more expensive than the Pentax, it sounds like the price is hard to justify. The reviews seemed to indicate otherwise. It's useful to have feedback from someone who has one - thanks! Unfortunately it begs the question - which lens would you recommend instead?
The 60-250mm might be a better choice- remember, a 1.4x SDM TC will likely be coming out next year!

Here's a little review of the Bigma:
Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO OS HSM - Review - PentaxForums.com

Notice how small the resolution gain is between 250 and 500mm.

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11-24-2012, 12:49 AM   #10
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Miguel h some very good points, many of which I rais time and time again about birding. If you want reach, light weight, good optical quality and affordability then I have an alternate option.

Hey yourself the SMC-F 1.7x converter, and a 300/4 any version will do, but the A version will let you use full auto controls and flash, and you will come away with a 500mm lens that has selective AF. (You focus manually to get close and the AF converter does the rest) My K300/4 weighs less than a kilo, in fact lighter than the DA300, and the converter is a few hundred grams. Nothing gets you to 500 mm in a lighter package.

Check out the lens archive for shots I have posted for this pairing They are definitely better than just record photos

Of course I also shoot with an older sigma APO 70-200/2.8EX and 2X sigma TC, as well as a tamron 200-500/5.6, but my 300/4 plus the AF converter is the lightest smallest option I have, and that does have its merits
11-24-2012, 01:37 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
Miguel h some very good points, many of which I rais time and time again about birding. If you want reach, light weight, good optical quality and affordability then I have an alternate option. Get yourself the SMC-F 1.7x converter, and a 300/4 any version will do, but the A version will let you use full auto controls and flash, and you will come away with a 500mm lens that has selective AF. (You focus manually to get close and the AF converter does the rest) My K300/4 weighs less than a kilo, in fact lighter than the DA300, and the converter is a few hundred grams. Nothing gets you to 500 mm in a lighter package.
My 500mm mirror lens is probably lighter, but it's not AF. Thanks for the suggestion! I don't like my chances of finding one second hand though. Although - I'm planning a trip to Japan, so perhaps I could track down a second hand one in Shinjuku? That's worth a try!
11-24-2012, 01:40 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
The 60-250mm might be a better choice- remember, a 1.4x SDM TC will likely be coming out next year!
Here's a little review of the Bigma:
Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO OS HSM - Review - PentaxForums.com
Notice how small the resolution gain is between 250 and 500mm.
Good points, Adam, especially about the lack of resolution on the long end of the Bigma. That would make the DA300 f4 a better investment. Interestingly, looking at the reviews of the DA60-250, there's mention of softness at the long end of the zoom range, which is likely to get worse with a TC. On the other hand, most reviewers raved about its image quality for a zoom.
11-24-2012, 01:45 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Miguel Quote
I've borrowed a 300mm f4 and enjoyed it immensely. I think it is a significant step up from Bigma quality wise, and with the latest Pentax body you are equipped to do things well. I think the best 1.4/5x TC would be worthwhile testing with the 300mm as well. It's too bad they are so hard to find in the Pentax universe.
Thanks for your detailed response! Your statement about the difference in quality is really significant to me. I don't see the point in spending significantly more than the purchase price of the DA300 to get a low quality lens. Hopefully Adam's rumour about the 1.4TC also provides the option of getting to 420mm with a lighter combination than the Bigma and getting the same or better resolution.
11-24-2012, 10:11 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by RobG Quote
Considering that the Bigma is considerably more expensive than the Pentax, it sounds like the price is hard to justify. The reviews seemed to indicate otherwise. It's useful to have feedback from someone who has one - thanks! Unfortunately it begs the question - which lens would you recommend instead?
If magazine quality images are not a concern and you want a long lens that can be taken along on a hike without exhausting yourself then I see nothing wrong with the 50-500. Nothing else out there will give you the range and flexibility. I have both the 55-300 and the 50-500, different lenses and different applications. The 55-300 is always in my bag, it doesn't weigh enough to not go. The 50-500 I take when I am thinking I will get some wildlife shots, airplanes, boats on the river, whatever. But it is a deliberate choice to take along unlike the 55-300.

I recently took a Caribbean cruise. On deck to photograph a Spanish fort as we entered port. Far enough away that the only thing that could fill the frame was the 50-500. Suddenly I notice a sail boat and the pilot boat coming alongside. I just zoomed in to 50mm and took those shots then back out to 500 to get the fort. No other combination could have given me the flexibility to do that.

I have also used it with the Pentax 1.7x AF TC with OK results. If you want to really reach out there the combination works but IQ does suffer. But if you want to prove you really saw that ruby warbler at 300 feet it will work.
11-24-2012, 01:49 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
I recently took a Caribbean cruise. On deck to photograph a Spanish fort as we entered port. Far enough away that the only thing that could fill the frame was the 50-500. Suddenly I notice a sail boat and the pilot boat coming alongside. I just zoomed in to 50mm and took those shots then back out to 500 to get the fort. No other combination could have given me the flexibility to do that.

I have also used it with the Pentax 1.7x AF TC with OK results. If you want to really reach out there the combination works but IQ does suffer. But if you want to prove you really saw that ruby warbler at 300 feet it will work.
Good points, thanks!
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