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06-21-2009, 01:19 AM   #1
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Best lens combo for birds?

Hello,

I have the Sigma 70-300 (non APO), and it does the job for most of my shots of birds. However, I want a longer reach for an affordable price.

I've seen plenty of crazy zooms that go from 800mm to 2000mm, but these look very cheap and are by no-name companies.

What would be a good solution to get a 400 or 500 mm reach for less than $600? I would prefer that this combo have autofocus.

06-21-2009, 04:29 AM   #2
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I think getting something really good cheap is unlikely. I´m not much busy with long ranges, but I would start to think of teleconverters if I were in your position.
06-21-2009, 09:40 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by swhang Quote
I have the Sigma 70-300 (non APO), and it does the job for most of my shots of birds. However, I want a longer reach for an affordable price.

I've seen plenty of crazy zooms that go from 800mm to 2000mm, but these look very cheap and are by no-name companies.

What would be a good solution to get a 400 or 500 mm reach for less than $600? I would prefer that this combo have autofocus.
If what you want mainly is longer reach, and if you're on a tight budget, your best option might be to buy a Sigma-brand teleconverter to go with your Sigma lens. I'd recommend the 1.4x teleconverter rather than the 2x. A teleconverter is attached to the camera the way you attach a lens, then you attach the lens to the teleconverter. It basically magnifies what you're getting from the lens, so, for example, the field of vision you'd normally have with the lens extended to 300mm is now equivalent to the field of vision you'd get with a 420mm lens (300 x 1.4 = 420).

Note that Sigma cautions that you should use only Sigma teleconverters for Sigma lenses and vice versa. I have never used a Sigma teleconverter myself but I suppose this stipulation has something to do with the way the lens communicates with the camera. I'd personally follow their advice on this, if I were trying to extend a Sigma lens.

What's the downside of a teleconverter? The main downside is that you lose some light. A 1.4x teleconverter typically costs you about 1 stop, so for example, your lens at 300mm has a max aperture of f/5.6. If you use the Sigma 1.4x teleconverter, the max focal length becomes in effect 420mm, but the max APERTURE becomes, in effect, f/8 (one stop slower than f/5.6). A 2x teleconverter is slightly more expensive than the 1.4x and will cost you TWO stops: your max f/5.6 becomes, in effect, f/11. In other words, you pretty much need to be shooting in very bright sunlight for it to work.

I go back and forth with myself on whether teleconverters are worth the trouble. But the 1.4x isn't TOO expensive and perhaps you should give it a try.

*

Another inexpensive option is the Pentax 300 f/4 which you may find used if you look around. I tried one some time ago and didn't feel that the image quality was better than I got from my Tamron 70-300, and of course with the Tamron I could zoom, so I sent the Pentax 300 back.

Or, if you want better photos more than nominally greater focal length, you could sell your current lens and get the somewhat better APO version of the same lens from Sigma. Or you could get the Tamron 70-300, which is very similar and which many people feel is slightly better than the Sigma. I have owned 'em both (the Sigma APO and the Tamron). I didn't honestly notice any big difference between the two in image quality: I sold the Sigma mainly because I had several other Tamron lenses at the time and for a while I decided to go with Tamron. But I was a little less picky two years ago when I owned the Sigma than I am today, so I guess you might look at the reviews. If I need to go long right now, I use the Tamron + a 1.4x Tamron teleconverter.

Remember, you should not be thinking just about focal length. A lousy lens that goes to 500mm is going to produce much less satisfying photos than a good-very-good lens that goes to 300mm, used on a camera like the Pentax K20D. A nice sharp capture at 300mm, taken with a camera with high-res, may be able to be cropped very nicely so that you end up with a photo result that looks like it was taken at 600mm.

In fact, forget 300: you might get better pictures by going SHORTER, down to the new Sigma 18-250 HSM, which has in-lens shake reduction for your Pentax camera. Yeah, paying for in-lens shake reduction kind of defeats one of the main points of the Pentax system, but in-lens SR is supposed to be slightly better, and I'd be willing to bet that this 18-250 HSM, properly used, would equal or exceed the image quality of your current Sigma 70-300. Anyway, keep in mind the basic truth of GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. If the lens sucks, the fact that it has lots of reach isn't going to help you much.


*

Beyond that, this subject gets complicated. The short version is there are no telephoto zoom lenses for Pentax that have focal lengths greater than 300mm, excellent image quality AND a price under, oh, $700.

The cheap lenses you've seen for a couple hundred bucks (or less) from off-brand makes like Opteka or Phoenix are mirror lenses. You can read up on 'em, if you're interested. I've never used one. My understanding is that they CAN be okay, but they tend to have a lot of vignetting (in other words, they may be sharp in the middle of the photo but not at the edges).

Sigma makes a number of good-to-excellent long lenses, including the famous 50-500 "Bigma", but they're not cheap. The Bigma costs over $1000 right now at B&H Photo. In addition, it's BIG, hence the nickname. This means that it's a lot to carry out into the field if, say, you're a nature photographer. And at 500mm, well, you're really going to have to worry about camera shake. I've heard of people taking excellent photos at 500mm with a Pentax camera, hand held. But it's hard, and I'd imagine holding the camera with that huge lens on it would be really difficult. You're probably going to want a tripod.

If you have a few thousand dollars to spend, you have more options. :-)

Will
06-21-2009, 10:05 AM   #4
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For $679 at B&H you can get the Tamron 70-200mm f2.8. Add a kenko autofocus 1.5 or 2x teleconverter and you are ready to go. I have all 3 of these and they work very well together and produce very good images when used in combination. You could start with the lens and add the tc later. the 70-200mm is a very versatile lens and offers excellent image quality. While 200mm is a bit short for birds, it is near your $ range and offers great value for $s spent. There is always some degradation with a TC, but this lens performs admirably. That said, heres a quick shot with the 2xtc and 100% crop, no PP and 2 birds without TC


Last edited by ivoire; 10-04-2010 at 03:59 PM.
06-21-2009, 05:36 PM   #5
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Can you find a used Pentax mount Bigma (Sigma 50-500) for that price? I paid $575 for my Canon mount one in excellent condition and it's a quite good lens for the money. Sigma also made a 400/5.6 in several mounts that could be worth a look if you find a good copy.

I would not mess with teleconverters on anything less than a very very good lens.
06-21-2009, 11:09 PM   #6
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Although not cheap, I shoot the sigma 500mm f/4.5. I got it used from adorama for about half the price of a new lens. compared to others lenses of similar speed and focal length it is pretty small and light (only about 8 pounds). I do use the 1.4 TC on occasion for really far subjects. If you can find one it is a really sweet lens.
06-22-2009, 02:26 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by swhang Quote
Hello,

I have the Sigma 70-300 (non APO), and it does the job for most of my shots of birds. However, I want a longer reach for an affordable price.

I've seen plenty of crazy zooms that go from 800mm to 2000mm, but these look very cheap and are by no-name companies.

What would be a good solution to get a 400 or 500 mm reach for less than $600? I would prefer that this combo have autofocus.
A longer lens under 600 USD is hard to get, if you need a competent zoom lens. Very occasionally you may find a used Bigma (50-500) in that range. Another option is a used Sigma 70-200/2.8 with tc, but that is quite as rare - so you'ld need some patience.

May be a good mirror lens would fit the bill in terms of focal length versus price? A Tamron 500/8 or Tokina 500/8 provides good image quality at very reasonable price.
But of course these are no zoom lenses.

What I would NOT do, is adding a tc to your Sigma 70-300. It is a slow lens and a tc will loose another 1 or 2 f-stops. And the image quality is a compromise alreadyx before adding the tc.

Ben
06-22-2009, 03:02 AM   #8
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One of the best and most affordable ways to get 400mm with good image quality would be to get hold of a secondhand Tokina or Sigma 400mm f5.6

I've been through a couple of manual focus Tokina 400mm lenses, but there is no comparison with the AT-X AF 400 SD / "AF 400 close focus". It cost me less than 400 usd and that's a remarkable value. The only downside is that it's rather noisy while focusing. Image quality is excellent. It is certainly better than for instance the much more expensive combination of Pentax DA* 300 + Sigma 1.4x.

Ther are a few examples of my Tokina on my flickr account here if you're interested.

06-22-2009, 06:31 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
If what you want mainly is longer reach, and if you're on a tight budget, your best option might be to buy a Sigma-brand teleconverter to go with your Sigma lens. I'd recommend the 1.4x teleconverter rather than the 2x. A teleconverter is attached to the camera the way you attach a lens, then you attach the lens to the teleconverter. It basically magnifies what you're getting from the lens, so, for example, the field of vision you'd normally have with the lens extended to 300mm is now equivalent to the field of vision you'd get with a 420mm lens (300 x 1.4 = 420).

Note that Sigma cautions that you should use only Sigma teleconverters for Sigma lenses and vice versa. I have never used a Sigma teleconverter myself but I suppose this stipulation has something to do with the way the lens communicates with the camera. I'd personally follow their advice on this, if I were trying to extend a Sigma lens.
Will

The Sigma TC will not work with the Sigma 70-300 lens. The reason why Sigma has a list of "compatible" lenses for their TCs is that the front element of the TC protrudes far into the rear of the lens. This means that if you don't have enough clearance you will rub the elements of the lens/tc, potentially ruining both. The Sigma website has a specific list of Sigma lenses that are compatible. Any lens outside that list (other brands) is a trial and error type of things.


List of compatible lenses: http://www.sigma-photo.co.jp/english/support/faq/condaitr.htm#05

I think that there are a lot of good suggestions so far, especially the used Tokina AT-X 400 f/f.6 lens.. if you can find one. It might be worthwhile though to save up for a few extra months to get your budget into the e$1000 range and pick up one of the Sigma 400/500mm zoom lenses if you want something newer.



John
06-22-2009, 06:40 AM   #10
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Don't forget about the Tamron Adaptalls: 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/4. I just got the 60b (the 300mm), but my PK adapter has not yet arrived, so I can't tell you how the image quality is. These are all over eBay and regularly pop up on KEH, so you should be able to find them with some patience. They usually come with a 1.4x teleconverter specially designed for it, which is reported to be excellent. I'm planning on adding the Pentax 1.7x AF teleconverter because these lenses are manual focus only.
06-22-2009, 07:10 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by ballgofar Quote
Don't forget about the Tamron Adaptalls: 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/4. I just got the 60b (the 300mm), but my PK adapter has not yet arrived, so I can't tell you how the image quality is. These are all over eBay and regularly pop up on KEH, so you should be able to find them with some patience. They usually come with a 1.4x teleconverter specially designed for it, which is reported to be excellent. I'm planning on adding the Pentax 1.7x AF teleconverter because these lenses are manual focus only.
You will be pleasantly surprised by sharpness and contrast of the 60B. Go for a PK7A adapter for added convenience. It is worth the extra expense.
And the lens works very good with the Pentax 1.4x-L and 2x-L tcs.
Ben
06-22-2009, 11:10 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Another inexpensive option is the Pentax 300 f/4 which you may find used if you look around. I tried one some time ago and didn't feel that the image quality was better than I got from my Tamron 70-300, and of course with the Tamron I could zoom, so I sent the Pentax 300 back.
Which "Pentax 300 f/4"? I assume that you might mean the K 300/4, since you said "inexpensive". However, the M*/A* 300/4 is sometimes available for not too much more, and is a very different lens design. (But I guess I can safely assume you didn't mean the DA* 300/4 - <g>.)
06-23-2009, 09:15 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by fwcetus Quote
Which "Pentax 300 f/4"? I assume that you might mean the K 300/4, since you said "inexpensive". However, the M*/A* 300/4 is sometimes available for not too much more, and is a very different lens design. (But I guess I can safely assume you didn't mean the DA* 300/4 - <g>.)
By "inexpensive," I simply meant "less than $500". I meant "not expensive." Did not mean "cheap." :-)

Yes, you're right that it wasn't the DA* lens. This was an old lens and manual focus. Beyond that I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not sure which of the others it was. Would have to dig through my receipts from a year or two ago. Perhaps it was the M? As for the price, I can't remember, but it was used, from KEH.com. I don't think I paid much more than $300-$350 for it. It was not bad, but it was quite a bit heavier than the Tamron 70-300, and in my test shooting, I didn't think the image quality of the prime was any better than the image quality of the Tamron at 300.

Apparently there are several different Pentax 300mm primes. I will assume that the DA* is really good and I wish I could afford it right now.

Will
06-23-2009, 09:45 AM   #14
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When ever this question comes up, I reference the two solutions I have at present.

SMC Pentax 300mm F4 (K mount) plus SMC-F 1.7x AF TC

I like to use the 300 F4 with my *istD and a flash. as was done in the shot above.

Note that you can also use this TC with later versions, including the SMC-A 300 F4 which gives you all correct metering and flash functions.

Sigma APO 70-200 F2.8 EX and Sigma APO 2x EX DG TC


but you need to consider your lens on what birds you want to photograph. Clearly, a chickadee at about 5-6 inches long is harder to fill the frame than a heron at 40 inches high. (or even my little falcon at about 10-12 inches high)

When all else fails remember the math. (and that the sensor is 0.024 x 0.016 meters w x h)

Image size = subject size * focal length / subject distance
06-23-2009, 09:52 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
By "inexpensive," I simply meant "less than $500". I meant "not expensive." Did not mean "cheap." :-)
Understood. The K 300/4 would almost always fit that criterion, and the M* and A* 300/4's would generally do so.

QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Yes, you're right that it wasn't the DA* lens. This was an old lens and manual focus. Beyond that I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not sure which of the others it was. Would have to dig through my receipts from a year or two ago. Perhaps it was the M? As for the price, I can't remember, but it was used, from KEH.com. I don't think I paid much more than $300-$350 for it. It was not bad, but it was quite a bit heavier than the Tamron 70-300, and in my test shooting, I didn't think the image quality of the prime was any better than the image quality of the Tamron at 300.
No need for embarrassment. I only bring up the question because a criticism of a lens (and I'm not necessarily arguing about the validity of your criticism) has to be specific, or a number of diverse lenses matching a somewhat generic description could all be lumped together in the reader's mind without justification (for all but one of them, anyway). [The same would also be true about a glowing report, too - <g>.]

I suspect you might be discussing the K 300/4, or you might have remembered the obvious green "star" marking on an M* or A* 300/4. (You might check on Boz's K-mount site, Pentax Extreme Telephoto Prime Lenses, for visual and other distinguishing features.)

QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Apparently there are several different Pentax 300mm primes. I will assume that the DA* is really good and I wish I could afford it right now.
I have not used a DA* yet, but it does seem (from reports and online images) to be a really fine 300.

I most often use, for 300mm primes, F* 300/4.5's, which are really sweet lenses (and the FA* 300/4.5 is optically the same).

I still have an A* 300/4, which is quite a good lens (and very compact for a 300) (and I used to have an M* 300/4, which is optically identical).

I even still have a K 300/4, which, under the right conditions, can still be a good performer.

[And then, of course, there are the 300/2.8 big lenses, but they're beyond discussion here.]

Getting back to the "inexpensive" (less than $500) criterion, any of the Pentax manual focus 300/4's are, in my opinion, worth looking for. The K is bulky and heavy, but decent. The M* and A* are a wee bit sharper (and significantly smaller), and the A* adds ease of metering, too.

All of the autofocus Pentax 300's (and, of course, all of the 300/2.8's) are beyond the price criterion being used here.
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