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04-10-2009, 10:21 AM   #1
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Really random telephoto lens musings

I've been enjoying photographing birds lately, which has awakened in me a new interest in telephoto lenses that emphasize length over speed (shooting concerts, my focus was always the other way around). But I'm nowhere near serious enough to be even considering something like the Bigma, both for price and size/weight reasons. So I've been experimenting with some more pedestrian options, including your basic 50-200 and 70-300 consumer zooms, the M200/4, a Kenko 1.5 TC, and a Sigma 600/8 mirror lens that someone was nice enough to let me borrow. Here are some really random observations that have been floating around in my head lately as a result of this:

- For birds, whatever your longest lens is, it won't be long enough a lot of the time. Sure, the 600 gets me some closer shots than the 50-200. But there are still a frustratingly large number of situations where even the 600 is just hopelessly short.

- While of course the 50-200 leaves you high and dry in this respect even more often, I've been pleasantly surprised at the number of good pictures that can still be taken at 200mm.

- The difference between 200mm and 300mm is not particularly impressive at all in this regard.

- The DA50-200 focuses a *ton* faster and more reliably than the Tamron-made Quantaray 70-300. Capturing birds in flight is not particularly difficult with the 50-200, but very challenging with the 70-300, at least in AF mode. MF is a better option with the 70-300, and indeed, even with the 50-200, it's probably somewhat of a wash, but the M200/4 (MF only of course) probably beats the 50-200 AF or MF.

- I don't care what photozone.de says, the DA50-200 is a wonderfully sharp lens. It's noticeably sharper at 200mm and f/6.7 than either the M200/4 or the 70-300, and for the most part, cropping it to resemble 300mm does about as well as the 70-300mm.

- The 50-200 is also smaller and lighter enough than the 70-300 to make a very noticeable difference in how I feel about them.

- AF lenses without quick shift are a major drag. I love being able to switch from AF to MF from shot to shot by just putting my thumb on the OK button (K200D). If I decided I needed 300mm, the DA55-300 would look that much better than the 70-300 for this reason alone (presumably better IQ and the 55-70 range would be bonuses, of course).

- The 50-200 makes a suprisingly usable walkaround lens outdoors if your *main* intent is looking for wildlife but you expect to want to shoot some landscape too. Sure, there's no wide angle, and I might pop on the DA18-55 or M28/2.8 for some shots, but there's a lot of good landscape shots to be had in the 50-100 range - most of them right at 50, of course.

- I've yet to get results from the Kenko 1.5 TC with *any* lens that better what one could get by simply cropping. Between that and the fact that it complicates focusing, I can see myself knocking out the glass someday to make myself an extension tube.

- The Sigma 600/8 takes really nice pictures for a mirror lens. Sure, contrast is low, but that can be easily fixed in PP, especially if you shoot RAW. And of course, being a mirror lens, it's not going to win any awards for its creamy bokeh. But if they had a "best chunky style" category, the Sigma could be a contender.

- One advantage of mirror lenses is their relatively low weight for their focal length. But the Sigma is among the heaviest of the mirror lenses, weighing in at over two pounds. I don't enjoy having it on the camera as much as I otherwise would for that reason alone. The lightest mirror lenses such as the Samyang (aka Phoenix, aka Opteka, aka Vivitar, it seems) come in at a fraction of that weight. Between that and the price (around $100!), they remain somewhat intriguing to me even though they everyone says they are much softer. The Tamron sounds like a good compromise - IQ comparable to the Sigma, but weighing in somewhere between the Phoenix and Sigma. But like the Sigma, considerably hard to find and more expensive than the Phoenix.

- One other random thing I've realized: the extent to which I dislike carrying the camera with Sigma attached has pretty much put the final nail in the coffin of any thoughts I might have entertained of getting the DA*50-135 for concert photography. It's uncomfortably close to the Sigma in weight. My lightweight primes make me so happy!

- On the concert front, while the M100/2.8 remains my single favorite lens for concert photography, I have to admit the DA70 I just bought last month has its advantages too. And since 100mm isn't *that* much longer than 70mm, I find myself pairing the 70 with the M135/3.5 more than I do with the 100 when I want to keep things simple and just use two lenses. On the other hand, the 135 is only f/3.5, and too long just often enough, that I'm beginning to think the M120/2.8 (which I don't have) would probably make the ultimate partner for the 70. Of course, I don't *need* another lens in that range...

My point? I don't think I have one. I suppose one bottom line here is that I'm developing a renewed respect for the DA50-200.

04-10-2009, 10:33 AM   #2
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Random images in support of my random musings

Here are a few images (some posted before) to illustrate a couple of my comments.

200mm can be quite usable for birds if you're patient, lucky, or ideally a little of both. This one is cropped to more or less simulate 300mm:



50-200 as walkaround lens when mainly looking for wildlife but still wanting to catch some landscapes (this one at 50mm):



Sigma 600/8 - sharp lens, ugly bokeh:



While on the heavy side, Sigma 600/8 is still perfectly handholdable while the focus ring has a super long throw with lots of resistance, it's actually quite nice in use. It's perfectly possible to captures birds in flight with it:

04-10-2009, 11:05 AM   #3
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I have the Korean 500mm f8 mirror, Vivitar brand on mine. I paid about $50 for mine, $60 because I had to get a T-mount. It's not really any better than my 400mm Tokina cropped a bit, but it is far smaller and lighter. Focus is easier with the Tokina too. I don't think I would spend $100 on one, but having a better option skews my opinion. I will probably never take the Tokina on a vacation, while the Vivitar is an outside theoretical possibility. Your bird photos for Pentaxium were certainly better than I would hope for from my Vivitar - plus your weather was a lot better than I had that day.
04-10-2009, 11:15 AM   #4
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Wow, Marc....that first image is really sharp! I picked up a Sigma 135-400mm zoom in an effort to shoot more wildlife, birds in particular. I spent a lot more money that I would've liked (about 3x the 50-200) and i don't expect anything nearly as nice as that first image you posted here.

BTW, did you shootl that shot with some fill flash?

04-10-2009, 11:20 AM   #5
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Thanks! Your ramblings might be a little random, but your observations are pretty much spot on. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that there is a special set of skills associated with good bird photos. It also helps to have cooperative birds. Like you, I have had reasonably good luck shooting birds at 200mm. I think I would have even better luck if I set up a feeder near several convenient perches.
Food + perch + 200mm + flash + remote trigger = good bird pictures! (I think...)
I don't own the DA 50-200, but I have seen plenty of good results from that lens. I am surprised that you felt the M 200/4 had inferior sharpness, but don't doubt your results. The M 200/4 is a great lens, but I will put my Tamron 70-150/3.5 up against it any day of the week unless I need the extra reach.

Steve

(Actually...I think that my M42 Vivitar 135/2.8 with the Vivitar 2x converter may outperform the M 200/4...)

Last edited by stevebrot; 04-10-2009 at 11:26 AM.
04-10-2009, 11:51 AM   #6
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QuoteQuote:
Marc Sabatella: - For birds, whatever your longest lens is, it won't be long enough a lot of the time. Sure, the 600 gets me some closer shots than the 50-200. But there are still a frustratingly large number of situations where even the 600 is just hopelessly short.
I think your are %100 correct. Though I posted this image once in the "Post Your Photos" section of our forum, it illustrates your point nicely. I was deep in the woods this January, at high elevation, with nothing but my Tamron 17-50mm. I ran into these Grey Jays, and decided to bait them to my hands--just for the heck of it. So I composed on my hand and manually focused before I put the double, whole wheat fiber into my fingers. This is cropped.

@ 17mm--f6.3--ISO 400--1/50th--Manual foucs--Spot metered

Last edited by Jewelltrail; 09-25-2009 at 09:08 AM.
04-10-2009, 11:55 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Jewelltrail Quote
I think your are %100 correct. Though I posted this image once in the "Post Your Photos" section of our forum, it illustrates your point nicely. I was deep in the woods this January, at high elevation, with nothing but my Tamron 17-50mm. I ran into these Grey Jays, and decided to bait them to my hands--just for the heck of it. So I composed on my hand and manually focused before I put the double, whole wheat fiber into my fingers. This is cropped.

@ 17mm--f6.3--ISO 400--1/50th--Manual foucs--Spot metered
But EVERYBODY knows that camp robbers are not afraid of people. Nice shot anyway.
04-10-2009, 12:01 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
Thanks! Your ramblings might be a little random, but your observations are pretty much spot on. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that there is a special set of skills associated with good bird photos. It also helps to have cooperative birds...
My only really good shots are of cooperative cattle egrets. When I lived in Hawai'i, they would be attracted by any activity that disturbed the soil, like mowing the lawn, bulldozers, etc. They would follow the machinery looking for bugs to eat. I took some shots that were OK. My mother-in-law thought they were beautiful, so I put some more effort into it. I set the camera up on a tripod beforehand, then started mowing the lawn in time to finish before sunset. When I finished the lawn, I had a beer and took dozens of photos from quite close. The bugs lasted about as long as the beer.

My mother-in-law liked the photos but refused to believe the story of how they were taken. [I may have occasionally told her a tall tale in the past.] She had to see it first-hand to believe.

04-10-2009, 12:01 PM   #9
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QuoteQuote:
MarcSabatella: - While of course the 50-200 leaves you high and dry in this respect even more often, I've been pleasantly surprised at the number of good pictures that can still be taken at 200mm.
Pentax 67 200 f4 @ f11 cropped
& another one with same lens @ f8

Last edited by Jewelltrail; 09-25-2009 at 09:08 AM.
04-10-2009, 12:06 PM   #10
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QuoteQuote:
CanadaRockies: But EVERYBODY knows that camp robbers are not afraid of people. Nice shot anyway.
LOL Those Grey Jays are the boldest feathered creatures I've ever met. And in January, with extraordinary cold, near tree line in the White Mountains of NH, they become dam near ferocious. At times I had more than one on my hand at once.

Thanks Al
04-10-2009, 12:57 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by maxwell1295 Quote
Wow, Marc....that first image is really sharp! I picked up a Sigma 135-400mm zoom in an effort to shoot more wildlife, birds in particular. I spent a lot more money that I would've liked (about 3x the 50-200) and i don't expect anything nearly as nice as that first image you posted here.

BTW, did you shootl that shot with some fill flash?
Thanks for the comments! No flash. The light was really good - plenty of it from a bright sun but dispersed and bounced around by the surroundings, allowing me to stop down and still get a more than fast enough shutter speed to handhold at ISO 100 and have the bird not be *too* much darker than the sky. I'm sure SR helped, and I might have been leaning against a tree, too. I did, however, push the mid-range in my exposure curve adjustment to open up the detail a bit more, creating something of the "look" of fill flash.

Mostly this was having the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time and having an amazing cooperative bird. When I said I was probably leaning against a tree, I mean, the same tree he was sitting in, maybe 20 feet above me. And he never moved from that spot in the half hour or so we spent snapping away.

My guess is, when the conditions are as good as these, your 135-400 will perform as well as my 50-200, and the availability of 400mm should mean you don't need *quite* as much luck to be successful (ie, you wouldn't need the bird to be *as close*).
04-10-2009, 01:06 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Just1MoreDave Quote
I have the Korean 500mm f8 mirror, Vivitar brand on mine. I paid about $50 for mine, $60 because I had to get a T-mount. It's not really any better than my 400mm Tokina cropped a bit, but it is far smaller and lighter.
Now, I'd have the opposite point of comparison - even the lightest mirror lens is going to be much larger and heavier than my 50-200 and thus not as likely to come with me except on short walks in palces where I expect to see wildlife. And while I have no doubt the 500mm mirror wouldn't improve on a 400mm "regular" lens cropped, I'm still wondering if it would be likely to improve on my 50-200 cropped. The fact that you find it even close compared to your Tokina is actually the most encouraging thing I've ever read about the Korean mirror lenses.

QuoteQuote:
Your bird photos for Pentaxium were certainly better than I would hope for from my Vivitar - plus your weather was a lot better than I had that day.
For the record, temperature was in the 20's I think that day, and it was snowing on and off. Catching that cormorant in flight (the shot I posted above) with my fingers numb from the cold and trying to work that stiff, long-throwing focus ring and shutter button with my hands in wool mittens - I'm *amazed* I got that shot. The other cormorant shot was also with the Sigma mirror, but the hawk scratching his head was with the 50-200.

The shot of the hawk with its wings spread was from a few days earlier when the weather was fantastic.
04-10-2009, 01:06 PM   #13
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QuoteQuote:
- I've yet to get results from the Kenko 1.5 TC with *any* lens that better what one could get by simply cropping. Between that and the fact that it complicates focusing, I can see myself knocking out the glass someday to make myself an extension tube.
This is something that I have contemplated doing. Only I'm going to use spanner wrenches etc. to remove the glass.
04-10-2009, 01:12 PM   #14
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Yes, that Hawk shot is particularly impressive. Do you know what kind of hawk this is Mark? Looks a bit like the RedTails we have back here in the East, but from underneath it is hard for me to discern.
04-10-2009, 02:01 PM   #15
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Thank you for the thoughts Marc, and for the nice images. I know you're thinking birds, but I like the creek (as well as the Jay).

DA 55~300, purchased solely to photograph college lacrosse games, is the only lens I have with any reach at all. It replaced my 50~200, which is a much better lens than many think, especially in good light. In my observations so far the 55~300 is the equal of the 200 in color, brightness and sharpness, although I haven't really exercised it yet.

Sample action - AF-C ->


Last edited by monochrome; 04-10-2009 at 02:08 PM.
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