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05-19-2014, 12:55 PM   #1
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Lens for casual birding

Hi there,

I got a K3 and couple short lens and a low cost 300mm zoom, I am into 'casual' widelife and birding, I found 300mm is just too short for that, due to the high cost and size and weight of a decent long tele, I invested on the Samyang 500/f6.3 mirror. It is a low cost lens at this class, high quality construction, reasonably well handling, but the image quality barely enough even for 'casual' use, it needs heavy on camera enhancement for sharpness and contrast.

Then later I bought a used Tamron 500/f8 mirror, it is a wondeful lens, small, bright (for a mirror) and sharp also easy to shoot handheld, I am quite satisfied with it. But as time goes by I am getting greedy, I want little more than that, I want something between 600-800mm, of course to shoot with a tripod. I tried the old Pentax 1.7x AF adapter, but the lost of one stop is a lot on a f8 mirror lens, and the focus confirmation hardly works even I shoot in MF.

Then later I learned about 'digiscoping' and I tried that, but the result is far from satisfactory, the CA and distortion are more serious than an average tele lens, a high quality telescope can cost near a decent tele lens so why bother ?

Just recently I found couple Sigma 600mm mirror in the auction site, I heard good comments about it, although it is only 100mm longer it is much bigger than the Tamron, so I believe it performs similarly well, wonder if anyone had actual experience with it ?

05-19-2014, 01:18 PM   #2
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I really don't know much about birding, but did you think about the (fairly cheap) Samyang 500mm, but not the mirror one - the telescope one?
Samyang 500mm f/8.0 Preset Telephoto T-mount Lens SY500P B&H
Samyang 650-1300mm f/8.0-16.0 Zoom Lens (Black) SY650Z-B B&H
Samyang 650-1300mm f/8.0-16.0 Zoom Lens (White) SY650Z B&H Photo

But I should say that I have no experience with any of these and they might be really terrible. They certainly don't cost much. But I remember seeing quite a few threads on these forums complaining about mirror lenses being rather poor. Generally, I think the way to slightly improve the IQ was a very deep hood (some people even made their own), keeping the lens cool, and a filter (strong UV filter or polarizer, not quite sure). And of course using a heavy tripod and timer/remote trigger to avoid shake blur. Samyang also makes an 800mm f8 mirror lens btw.
05-19-2014, 01:24 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by lotech Quote
Hi there,

I got a K3 and couple short lens and a low cost 300mm zoom, I am into 'casual' widelife and birding, I found 300mm is just too short for that, due to the high cost and size and weight of a decent long tele, I invested on the Samyang 500/f6.3 mirror. It is a low cost lens at this class, high quality construction, reasonably well handling, but the image quality barely enough even for 'casual' use, it needs heavy on camera enhancement for sharpness and contrast.

Then later I bought a used Tamron 500/f8 mirror, it is a wondeful lens, small, bright (for a mirror) and sharp also easy to shoot handheld, I am quite satisfied with it. But as time goes by I am getting greedy, I want little more than that, I want something between 600-800mm, of course to shoot with a tripod. I tried the old Pentax 1.7x AF adapter, but the lost of one stop is a lot on a f8 mirror lens, and the focus confirmation hardly works even I shoot in MF.

Then later I learned about 'digiscoping' and I tried that, but the result is far from satisfactory, the CA and distortion are more serious than an average tele lens, a high quality telescope can cost near a decent tele lens so why bother ?

Just recently I found couple Sigma 600mm mirror in the auction site, I heard good comments about it, although it is only 100mm longer it is much bigger than the Tamron, so I believe it performs similarly well, wonder if anyone had actual experience with it ?
What about the Sigma 150-500mm? That'll give you more reach without sacrificing autofocus support or that much image quality.

Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM Lens Reviews - Sigma Lenses - Pentax Lens Review Database

You could also look at the 1.4x teleconverter from Pentax.

Adam
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05-19-2014, 02:08 PM   #4
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Sigma 150-500 is the cheapest decent quality lens fitting those requirements. A small jump it the 50-500 and the next real jumps are either some rare expensive old lenses or Sigma 500/4.5. Light, long, cheap and optically good is an impossible equation.
A Pentax Q with the official adapter and a nice K-lens is also an option but a completely different workflow.
QuoteOriginally posted by Na Horuk Quote
Samyang 650-1300mm f/8.0-16.0 Zoom Lens (Black) SY650Z-B B&H
Samyang 650-1300mm f/8.0-16.0 Zoom Lens (White) SY650Z B&H Photo

But I should say that I have no experience with any of these and they might be really terrible. They certainly don't cost much. But I remember seeing quite a few threads on these forums complaining about mirror lenses being rather poor. Generally, I think the way to slightly improve the IQ was a very deep hood (some people even made their own), keeping the lens cool, and a filter (strong UV filter or polarizer, not quite sure). And of course using a heavy tripod and timer/remote trigger to avoid shake blur. Samyang also makes an 800mm f8 mirror lens btw.
The Swedish store Cyberphoto.se sells and reviewed these lenses and even they scream avoid, it might hurt your eyes to look at the pics!

05-19-2014, 02:23 PM   #5
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For casual bird shooting how is 300mm not enough? Id try getting closer, and for better IQ add a flash for fill light (and perhaps one of those better beamer thingy). Ive also read about the Tokina 400mm f/5.6 AF lens and it goes for arround U$D300
05-19-2014, 02:51 PM   #6
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Yeah, 300mm should be enough for most casual birding. I've even seen award winning birding shots with wide angles.
05-19-2014, 02:51 PM   #7
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I'll second the 150-500 Sigma. If you have good light and can stop down to f8, it gives nice results. Otherwise the DA*300 with the TC is a nice combination, more money of course.

There is a reason why people spend thousands of dollars on long fast lenses.
05-19-2014, 02:58 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Na Horuk Quote
I really don't know much about birding, but did you think about the (fairly cheap) Samyang 500mm, but not the mirror one - the telescope one?
Samyang 500mm f/8.0 Preset Telephoto T-mount Lens SY500P B&H
Samyang 650-1300mm f/8.0-16.0 Zoom Lens (Black) SY650Z-B B&H
Samyang 650-1300mm f/8.0-16.0 Zoom Lens (White) SY650Z B&H Photo

But I should say that I have no experience with any of these and they might be really terrible. They certainly don't cost much. But I remember seeing quite a few threads on these forums complaining about mirror lenses being rather poor. Generally, I think the way to slightly improve the IQ was a very deep hood (some people even made their own), keeping the lens cool, and a filter (strong UV filter or polarizer, not quite sure). And of course using a heavy tripod and timer/remote trigger to avoid shake blur. Samyang also makes an 800mm f8 mirror lens btw.
I had the Samyang 500/8 telescope lens (or one that looks just like it) and it was a joke. I think I had it 2 days before I took it back. Something about the f/8, the IQ, and the whole setup made it difficult to understand how it could be anything more than a children's toy. There are many lenses I'd never buy, and I have strong preferences, but I think this is the only one I've ever used that's actually incapable of producing a good photo.

05-19-2014, 03:09 PM   #9
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I would have a cubic yard of bird, mammal and reptile slides. The longest lens I ever had for my film camera was 200mm. I feel spoiled with the choice of lenses I own with my digital gear. While I have the sigma 500, I get great bird material with my pentax 60-250.
05-19-2014, 04:03 PM   #10
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Unless you are planning on making poster sized prints 300mm should be more than enough. The DA L 55-300 is the lens I use the most. Check out my PPG and tell me it's too short.
05-19-2014, 05:44 PM   #11
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When I plan on going out and catching birds, I grab my 170-500. For "casual birding" the longest lens I carry is my 18-135. If you want quality shots, you just have to get closer...
05-19-2014, 08:58 PM   #12
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I pre-own a 50-300 it is very sharp and small and WR too, but I no longer have it I traded it for a Tamron equivalent for the added macro capability, but it is a very noisy lens lacking the quick manual focus shift make MF a pain in the neck, btw my 'wildlife' also covers butterfly and insect, so a macro lens is needed. Considering the cost and weight I've to settle on something '2nd class' that suit my kind of 'causal birding' needs, I want to see more detail on that beautiful Kingfisher 100' feet away at the pond, so 500mm is about right. I am interested in the Kowa modular telescope lens, but the price tag blows me off, and it is not so casual after all. Also interested in the old Tokina 80-400, but it is not a macro lens, yes I want a zoom, for casual multi purpose wildlife use, and may be the new 1.4x add on as well.

Btw for 3rd party lens I only heard of the new Sigma 120-300 which officially claimed weather seal, nowadays even cell phones are water resist why not the lens ? especially those high price lenses to be used in all weather wildlife shooting.
05-19-2014, 09:17 PM   #13
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If you look at the pics produced by the Pentax 55-300 posted here you'll see some pretty good results with birds and other wildlife.

I'm just starting to take photography seriously again and looking at the scores of bird pics I've taken with that model lens only a few are sharp. So for me the biggest improvement will come with fixing that. And that will allow larger crops. The advantage in working with a zoom of course is that you can frame and then zoom in - ideal when you're tracking a titch jumping around in the shrubbery.

I've also just acquired an old Tokina 400 f5.6, as carrrlangas mentioned. It has the advantage of being full frame, cheap and very compact for its focal length. Optical quality is OK.

Added: the Tokina focuses down to 2.5m. Here's some sample footage:

Last edited by Sigmund; 05-19-2014 at 09:33 PM.
05-20-2014, 09:27 AM   #14
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I know this will be met with some suspicion, but I have one of those 500mm f8 long lenses, and it is actually quite good. (Mine is the Tou/Five Star label, but there are many others.) It's big, but it's very light and does come with the tripod mount. It's a preset, but it has an easy way to open it up for focusing before closing it down to shoot. Yes, f8 is slow, but when you're shooting at long distances, f8-11 gives you some workable depth of field. BTW, these tend to be T-mount lenses, but T > K mount adapters are very cheap. You have to do everything in manual, though. And when I say it's quite good, what I mean is that it produces better images than cropping / enlarging pics shot w/ the DAL 55-300.
Here's a pic w/ the FiveStar 500mm. Handheld on a dreary day...
1/800 at f11 ISO 1000
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