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05-09-2014, 09:38 AM   #1
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Which telephoto lens would you get?

I am trying to figure out what telephoto lens I should get for an upcoming trip to Alaska this summer. Already I have decided on the Sigma 17-70mm "Contemporary" lens which I have just ordered. However, I have become convinced that I am going to want something that offers a bit more telephoto capabilities along for this trip as well. Unfortunately, my budget for a telephoto lens is $200 max! And even that is a stretch.

Also, I currently have a Sigma DC 18-200mm that was only about $200 new when I bought it a few years ago. Nothing about this lens is really great. However, if I can't find anything better for my $200 budget, holding on to this 18-200mm lens is always an option.

Here are the lenses I am currently looking at-
  • A used Pentax SMCP-DA 55-300mm ED lens. The one with green ring, no weather sealing.
  • A new Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG lens.
  • The Tamron 70-300mm f4-5.6 Di LD lens.

Really I just want something that is going to be sharper than my 18-200mm, have less CA, and preferably fast autofocus. If I can't get something that is going to be noticeably better, I think I will just continue to go with my 18-200.

05-09-2014, 09:48 AM   #2
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No experience with the pentax 55-300MM. But have experience with a couple of years old Sigma 70-300MM lens(standard version, got it in my collection). Have worked a few days on the borrowed apo version. Which worked very well. The tamron version was less. Borrowed this one as well. But prefered the Sigma. Quicker&sharper if I remember correctly. This is just personal.

If you get an opportunity to try in a shop, I would do that.
05-09-2014, 09:49 AM   #3
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Nearly everyone here will tell you the 55-300 is the optical champion of the three; if you search old threads you will hear more experience than I have. However, if you have no closeup options in your bag the 1:2 setting might be persuasive on the other brands - otherwise the 55-300 is an easy pick.

If you feel like spending $50 or so on a test, I found the Quantaray or Sigma 100-300mm f/4.5-6.7 to focus noticeably faster than the 55-300 and have decent optical quality; its problem is that f/6.7 after 250mm or so, low light is its enemy I had one copy with rather low contrast, but my current $30 copy needs very little post-proc work done.

I had the Sigma 18-200, once with my Sony A200 and once with Pentax; like you said it isn't excellent at anything but it's as good a superzoom as most of them, and color fringing was better than others I'd tried. I'd keep it for a while until you cover the range with lenses you really like.
05-09-2014, 09:50 AM   #4
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If you can get a 55-300 for $200 or less, then that's what I would go for. Of course, that's the only one of the lenses mentioned I own or have tried, but I am very happy with the performance. It has got me lots of wildlife pictures (mostly from Africa).

When it comes to autofocus speed, I doubt any of them are really great - at least on my K-5. The situation will be a whole lot better for you since you have a K-3.

Edit: Some examples (mostly) with the DA55-300 from Zambia/Zimbabwe.


Last edited by savoche; 05-09-2014 at 09:55 AM.
05-09-2014, 09:53 AM   #5
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55-300.
05-09-2014, 09:58 AM   #6
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I had old Tamron 70-300 LD-Di and currently have the 55-300. Without question, the 55-300 is better on every dimension. Its IQ is very good. see in depth review on this forum. it comes close to my DA*300 (but not equal, as the 300 is an exceptional lens).
05-09-2014, 09:59 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by savoche Quote
If you can get a 55-300 for $200 or less, then that's what I would go for. Of course, that's the only one of the lenses mentioned I own or have tried, but I am very happy with the performance. It has got me lots of wildlife pictures (mostly from Africa).

When it comes to auto focus speed, I doubt any of them are really great - at least on my K-5. The situation will be a whole lot better for you since you have a K-3.
I don't need outstanding auto focus speed, just something that is usable.

My current Sigma 18-200mm the auto focus is almost unusable. Even in direct sunlight, with a scene that has lots of contrast, it will sit and hunt for several seconds before it finally locks... That is if it manages to find focus at all. When i say fast, I guess I am speaking relatively. Like faster than ten seconds.

Technically I can't find the Pentax 55-300mm anywhere for less than $200. B&H has it used for $269.95 and I have a $70 gift code for B&H which will bring it into my budget.

I know people have said some very good things about the Pentax 55-300, but I wasn't sure if this applied to this version of the lens I am looking at, or only applies to newer versions.
05-09-2014, 10:18 AM   #8
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The HD coating is really not all that much of an improvement IMO. Any version of the 55-300 - even the 'L' - should be indistinguishable from the next optically.

05-09-2014, 10:29 AM   #9
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For my AF needs, I would have gone for the 55-300 if I had the budget, but I went for the Tamron 70-300 LD Di because it was 1/3 of the price in the used market... I'm not unhappy with that lens, it does its job and is better than people probably give it credit for. But one day I'll have the 55-300.
For MF I'm pretty happy with my A 70-210mm.
05-09-2014, 10:42 AM   #10
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Well, I went ahead and placed by order at B&H for a used Pentax 55-300mm. Should be here on Thursday next week.
05-09-2014, 10:45 AM   #11
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Well I guess you found your lens then (with the $70 credit)! This is the version I had - the original. Since it's not the DA L it has better construction. The optical design has never changed from the original. On the latest HD version the lens coatings and the WR are the only notable changes. This one you're looking at is a much better value.

EDIT: looks like you ordered one while I was posting. Good choice!
05-09-2014, 11:08 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Grunseth Quote
I don't need outstanding auto focus speed, just something that is usable.

My current Sigma 18-200mm the auto focus is almost unusable. Even in direct sunlight, with a scene that has lots of contrast, it will sit and hunt for several seconds before it finally locks... That is if it manages to find focus at all. When i say fast, I guess I am speaking relatively. Like faster than ten seconds.

Technically I can't find the Pentax 55-300mm anywhere for less than $200. B&H has it used for $269.95 and I have a $70 gift code for B&H which will bring it into my budget.

I know people have said some very good things about the Pentax 55-300, but I wasn't sure if this applied to this version of the lens I am looking at, or only applies to newer versions.
Mine, too, is the "old" SMC DA. I find the autofocus quite good in decent light. But one great thing about the DA (as opposed to the DA-L and the Sigma and Tamron) is the quick-shift. It makes it so much easier to override the AF if it starts hunting.

QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Grunseth Quote
Well, I went ahead and placed by order at B&H for a used Pentax 55-300mm. Should be here on Thursday next week.
Congratulations! I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do
05-09-2014, 11:50 AM   #13
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Yes, good choice. The DA 55-300 (with quick-shift) is a pretty decent lens. Its bokeh can be a bit busy at times, and the colour rendition not as vibrant as most Pentax lenses, but I'm sure it will give you plenty of great images in the Alaskan summer. I have some real stunners from it. Enjoy!
05-09-2014, 12:45 PM   #14
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Yes, the 55-300 is much better than the Tamron, which suffers from purple fringing. You pay for the quality difference.
05-09-2014, 04:05 PM   #15
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I own a Sigma 70-300. It's a decent lens but has some drawbacks also. It has a close up/macro mode which is very good. It works between the 200-300 mm range. I believe the lens is optimized for macro as there is an IQ drop in telephoto shots usint the longest end of the zoom range. However, if the light is strong and you can stop down to f/11, you can get very sharp shots at 300mm. I dropped mine a few years ago and while it still works fine optically, the zoom isn't right. Since I have 135, 200, and 300mm MF primes, I haven't been in a big rush to replace it. From reviews and what I have seen in posted shots, the DA is the better lens. The Sigma is very good up to 200mm and does an excellent job with close up with it's macro mode. If that fits your need, then it's a great lens for under $200 new. I use it mostly these days for close up shots on the water from my kayak where it does a great job.
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