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12-11-2014, 09:32 AM   #1
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Wildlife Lens Opinions

Hey guys and gals I've been looking at getting a wildlife lens and have been looking through various options and reading reviews and looking at sample pics. As background I'm new to photography but have had a long time passion to start. The lens will be going on my new K-3. Most of my picks will be sitting in bushs taking pics of deer,moose, bears,fox,coyotes etc or sometimes nearby ponds waiting for heron's, ducks etc or the local park or corn field for geese.I should be able to get within 70-80 yds of all these animals easily but 100-150yds shot would be takin at the far end of field I see deer in.
What are your thoughts on the options I've been looking at? Any others I should be lookig at?
Pentax DA* 300 f4 - this would be at the high end of the budget at just over $1400 new here in Canada. The used one in the buy and sell is tempting if still available in late jan when I plan on buying.
Pentax DA 55-300 - Budget wise this would work best as I have some other items I'd like to get fornmy set up but I can work around getting those right now.
Sigma 120-400
Sigma 150-500
Pentax 60-250

12-11-2014, 09:45 AM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by gastch Quote
Hey guys and gals I've been looking at getting a wildlife lens and have been looking through various options and reading reviews and looking at sample pics. As background I'm new to photography but have had a long time passion to start. The lens will be going on my new K-3. Most of my picks will be sitting in bushs taking pics of deer,moose, bears,fox,coyotes etc or sometimes nearby ponds waiting for heron's, ducks etc or the local park or corn field for geese.I should be able to get within 70-80 yds of all these animals easily but 100-150yds shot would be takin at the far end of field I see deer in.
What are your thoughts on the options I've been looking at? Any others I should be lookig at?
Pentax DA* 300 f4 - this would be at the high end of the budget at just over $1400 new here in Canada. The used one in the buy and sell is tempting if still available in late jan when I plan on buying.
Pentax DA 55-300 - Budget wise this would work best as I have some other items I'd like to get fornmy set up but I can work around getting those right now.
Sigma 120-400
Sigma 150-500
Pentax 60-250
This first thing you have to ask yourself is - what are you IQ requirements?

The lenses you have listed are in different leagues so it's not an apples to apples comparison.

Rated by IQ:

Pro Quaility- 1A)DA* 300 1B) DA*60-250

Adv Quality - 1)150-500
2)50-500

Good Quality - 55-300

Thanks for playing - 120-400

The world of wildlife shooting is NOT budget friendly, so you will always have to make choices between IQ, weight, speed and price.
(See the FA*600 or FA* 250-600 in marketplace for perfect example)

So if you want pro IQ you have 2 choices from your list. If you are willing to settle for middle of the road but better than average IQ for a good "dollar per millimeter" lens, the DA 55-300. If you want as much reach as possible and a little less IQ than the best, the 150-500.

For less than $1500, those are basically your choices. Things start getting a little more exciting when you eventually have $3k+ in your budget.

Last edited by nomadkng; 12-11-2014 at 09:50 AM.
12-11-2014, 09:48 AM   #3
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Avoid the Sigma 120-400. The 150-500 appears to be pretty decent. In your situation, I'd probably go for the Tamron 70-200 and DA*300 with 1.4 converter. As for the distance you shoot... that's going to be an issue. Its a very rare day when the atmosphere where you live isn't going to cost you major resolution issues. Long lenses are great 4000 feet up with the thinner atmosphere and drier weather.

At present I shoot with a DA*60-250 and HD DA 1.4 TC and an A-400.
Given your budget, the Sigma 150-500 is likely to be your best bet. Or even a 50-500. The problem with this lenses being they suffer more when shooting at a distance, than a DA* will. But it may turn out that isn't even that important to you.

Here are the issues...
Sigma lenses other than the 300 ƒ2.8 and 500 ƒ4.5 are not DA*sharp.
DA*s are expensive and ƒ4 just isn't all that fast, you can probably only afford one, and they don't cover the range the sigmas do. But they have the advantage, they are all sharp enough to work with a TC.
DA 55-300- if I were you that's where I'd start. The least capable, but most affordable, and strong in the long end. perhaps the only lens in this category that doesn't get real fuzzy as it gets long.

I'm not sure how long a lens you need to shoot 150 yards... you're going to have to figure out how to get closer.
12-11-2014, 10:00 AM   #4
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"DA 55-300- if I were you that's where I'd start. The least capable, but most affordable, and strong in the long end. perhaps the only lens in this category that doesn't get real fuzzy as it get long."

I agree. I love mine! Easy to handhold. At 300mm, the only pp I have to do, is perhaps some cropping.

12-11-2014, 10:01 AM   #5
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If you aren't sure how much you'll actually get into wildlife photography, I'll suggest a used 55-300 to start learning. It's an inexpensive entry point and then you can upgrade if needed. You can sell the 55-300 later or you might keep it as a small backup lens. If you are more confident of your commitment to wildlife photography, maybe start with the DA* 300 or Sigmas instead.

Pentax DA 55-300: the least expensive and most portable of your options. On the downside, I think it has lowest image quality of your listed choices; it gives acceptable images but not as sharp as the others. The 55-300 is small enough to keep in a camera bag just in case you need the reach when you're out doing other types of photography. It also gives you the versatility of taking landscape shots at 50mm without changing lenses.

Pentax DA* 300: I think the best option for deliberate telephoto work, when you know you'll be out specifically for wildlife shooting. It's relatively compact but much larger than the 55-300. It can be paired with a teleconverter for more reach for small birds.

Sigma 50-500 or 150-500: Much larger than the 2 choices above but yield more reach. If you want to get beyond 400mm yet still want the the versatility of zooming out, and don't mind carrying the extra weight, these lenses are strong contenders. Better image quality than the Pentax 55-300, not as good as the 300.
12-11-2014, 10:04 AM   #6
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yeah shooting anything other than an elephant at 150 yards you can't forget about IQ... You will have to get closer.

I would forget all the zooms you named and look at the DA* 300/4 and 1.4 TC. I think if you buy the one of the zooms, you will be disappointed with the resolution and end up selling it for a prime later anyways.

I particularly find the 55-300 disappointing. Its a waste of $200 bucks frankly.

Last edited by Venom3300; 12-11-2014 at 10:51 AM.
12-11-2014, 10:16 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by gastch Quote
.I should be able to get within 70-80 yds of all these animals easily but 100-150yds shot would be takin at the far end of field I see deer in.
For guidance, plug your shooting distance into this focal length calculator.
Be sure to enter the appropriate camera type from the drop-down menu. Rule of thumb with wildlife is the longer the focal length the better, balanced with aperture considerations--budget issues not included.

I'd add that you should be sure of the quality of image you require. Basically you can photograph wildlife for mostly identification requirements, or you can photograph wildlife for artistic purposes. When things are good both missions are accomplished, but it's not easy, especially from afar.

M
12-11-2014, 10:18 AM   #8
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QuoteQuote:
"I particularly find the 55-300 disappointing. Its a waste of $200 bucks frankly."
I strongly disagree! For the OP, go to the 55-300 thread & look at some of the images posted there. I've had excellent results handholding mine at 300mm!

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/130-lens-sample-photo-archive/153150-pent...d-samples.html


Last edited by csa; 12-11-2014 at 10:28 AM.
12-11-2014, 10:43 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by csa Quote
I strongly disagree! For the OP, go to the 55-300 thread & look at some of the images posted there. I've had excellent results handholding mine at 300mm!

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/130-lens-sample-photo-archive/153150-pent...d-samples.html
Count me in the corner of the anti 55-300 club. It's a decent lens at a decent price, but it does not age well. As you get more experience with tele work and start expecting better results, you very quickly learn that its IQ and functionality (skittish focusing/long focus throw/f5.8/skittish focusing - I've watched it go from infinity to min and back to infinity before locking somewhere in the middle countless times) is lacking. For $200 it's a very good "dollar per mm" lens, but it's no more than a consumer long telephoto lens.

Call it a bridge lens, or even an hors de ouvres. It gets your appetite going for wildlife photography, but it's not the main course. Unfortunately the main course is being served by Ruth Chris so you better be prepared to foot the bill or stick to the happy hour menu.

Here's my rant about using "good but not great" lenses in wildlife photography - Sometimes you only get ONE shot at it. How many times will I get to Yellowstone? Maybe 2x in my life if I'm lucky. Let's say I have a DA55-300 and I've managed several good shots, maybe from my favorite zoo or local pond. And I've accumulated these shots over several visits and hundreds of photos. And then I post them on PF or Flickr and from what I've posted, you would be believe the DA55-300 to be a potentially very good lens. Well now I'm in Yellowstone, my bucket list trip and it's early am in the fall, low light. Well my F5.8 lens isn't really happy with the low light, and it's really not happy with the lack of contrast. So a once in a lifetime moment with 2 bear cubs happens and the DA55-300 spins and whirs and won't lock and then spins and whirs again and finally locks! So the moment where the cubs stopped and looked at me, one head above the other, framed by dawn light on grass was over in one spin and one whir. Did I get my photo of the moment I saw? NO. Did I even get a useable photo? Well f 5.8 pushed my iso to 1250 instead of 800. Probably not useable. Oh and the lack of contrast of the fur caused the camera to Front Focus on the grass despite center spot focusing and the grass was in the right 1/4 so my cubs are slightly out of focus on top of everything else.

This is a real life true story that happened to ME. This was the defining moment in my wildlife photography, that almost caused me to switch to Nikon. For full disclaimer, I had a pro lens, and the K5iis PDAF was to blame for the missed shot (FF on grass). But I added the spinning and whirling DA55-300 because that's the lens my GF had on HER K5iis right next to me. Her lens NEVER did focus lock, and I heard it spinning away for the whole 8 seconds the cubs were visible.

The epilogue, the K5iis are both gone and the DA55-300 is gone. They have their use but they failed because they weren't up to the task. We both have K3 now and she has upgraded to the Sigma 150-500. Will we get another shot at the bear cubs to see if things turn out differently? Probably not that exact same situation, but I CAN tell you, she RAVES about her 150-500 and how much more responsive and decisive it is. How quickly and quietly it focuses compared to the old 55-300. After just 3 months, she loves photography again because she doesn't miss as many shots. that's the most aggravating thing, to be in the right place at the right time after hundreds of hours of planning, and then have your EQUIPMENT fail you. Do I hate the DA55-300. No and I owned one once when they first came out and quickly sold it. Would I ever put it in my bag? No. Do I hate the K5iis? yes...lol. Does my GF hate the DA 55-300? yes. So maybe that's why Venom so vehemently hates the DA55-300. It failed him.

So yes, there can be hundreds of great photos taken by a lens, but that doesn't tell the whole story. What about the hundreds or even thousands of photos the lens missed, not through photographer error, but because it was asked to function beyond its design limits. Understanding the limits of any lens you own is important, and the problem with wildlife lenses is that the price goes up exponentially to overcome these limitations.

Last edited by nomadkng; 12-11-2014 at 11:12 AM.
12-11-2014, 11:01 AM   #10
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Thanks for the thought so far guys. Keep in mind I'm not seting up for 150 yd shot. As a bow hunter I'm confident in getting to within 50yds of these animals but after sitting in a hide all day waiting if a deer to walks out at the far end I'm gonna want to take a few shots just for the sake of it and not expecting anything really good quality. Pretty sure this will be a passion of mine very soon. As mentioned above as a hunter this allows me to hunt 365 days a year in places couldn't with a gun or bow and not kill any animals at the sametime as our populations are in tterrible shape due to deforestation here in NB.
12-11-2014, 11:04 AM   #11
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I've been using the Sigma 50-500 with K5 (and now K3) for wildlife and quite like the IQ.
12-11-2014, 11:29 AM - 1 Like   #12
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I disagree with those saying the 55-300 for $200 is a waste of money. Yes, it's not as good as a $1000+ lens but it is adequate for a new wildlife photographer who may or may not stick with the hobby long term. The focus system is limited for birds in flight but works okay for slower terrestrial targets.
12-11-2014, 12:11 PM   #13
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I recommend a fixed focal length lens with the largest aperture you can afford. Wild critters hang around edges of trees at dawn and dusk. The 55-300 has trouble locking on hummingbirds ten feet away. That being said, I admit to being in the "trying" stage of wildlife photography. So you may sneak closer with a 55-300 preset focus and nail the shot. I hated the AF on the 55-300. Noisy, tentative and failed to nail focus more times than I count. With a steady setup, and lots of time to focus, the 55-300 worked well and was remarkably sharp racked out.
12-11-2014, 12:20 PM   #14
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I own the 55-300 (never used it again when I got the 60-250) and the 60-250. If I had to choose one of the ones you listed, it would 100% be the Pentax DA* 300 f4. Zoom is nice but I find Im always maxed out with the 60-250. You will love the extra reach of the 300 to get those skittish fauna. Second choice would be 50-500 Sigma (not on your list but it should be).

Here's one I took with the 60-250 - heavily cropped (if I recall).

12-11-2014, 12:21 PM   #15
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The 55-300 is an excellent starter lens. It was my primary lens until I got the 150-500.
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