Eye of the eclipse...

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I have some SLR experience but have mostly been using a point-and-shoot in the last few years. Now I would like to jump back into the digital SLR world specifically to do wildlife photography (mostly mammals and reptiles, not so much birds). I have settled on the Nikon D5200 for the body but am not sure about the best lens.

I definitely need the vibration reduction.

I'm wondering about the quality of zoom vs. fixed length. Which reduces quality more, zoom lens or teleconverter attached to good shorter lens?

Is 300mm pretty much the minimum for wildlife? I'm entry level and have a limited budget, but I don't want to "waste" money on something I'll quickly outgrow. Specifically, I have been looking at the Nikkor 55-300mm, 55-200mm, or maybe if there is such a thing a fixed 200mm and some kind of teleconverter. Thanks for any advice!

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Fixed 200mm are expensive and you wont get enough reach. There is a 300mm F/4 which is much more affordable though and with a tele-converter you would get good reach. – Itai Feb 7 '13 at 18:09
How much is your budget? – Omne Feb 7 '13 at 19:35
When it comes to wildlife, you need a long lens. The general rule is that too much is never enough. – Olin Lathrop Feb 7 '13 at 21:48

3 Answers 3

Although @Itai is right that 300mm is somehow short for usual wildlife photography, but IMO it really depends on how close you could get to the subject and how large you wish to print.

Nikon 55-300mm is about $400, if that's around your budget, I'm afraid it's the best thing you could get. if you could pay more, I recommend the Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED, it has better quality, just look it up in Flickr and read its review on photozone.de. see this list, choose what you can afford, look them up in Flickr and check their reviews in photozone.de.

Remember that you have a 24MP camera, that's pretty big and very useful if you need to crop your images. also I would rent/borrow a lens before buying it, it helps to understand the lens better.

Because D5200 doesn't have an AF motor, you should choose a lens with internal focus motor to have auto-focus, for Nikon line, that means all AF-S and AF-I.

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I lucked out, and B&H had a discount on the 70-300mm lens -- also, your detailed info saved me from buying the wrong 50mm lens by mistake. Thanks to everyone, these answers were very helpful and I am looking forward to returning to SLRlandia. – Amanda Feb 10 '13 at 17:08

300mm is minimal for wildlife. Actually very minimal for smaller ones like reptiles unless they happen to be Komodo dragons (those are really big) or you happen to be in the Galapagos (where you can get really close), in which case you shoot them with a macro lens!

The lenses you looked at wont do also because they have very dim apertures at the long end. Look for something brighter, around F/4 for 300mm and F/5.6 for 400-600mm. Remember that a tele-converter will cause a drop of effective aperture too and your camera will loose the ability to autofocus, if you mind.

Primes do still have the edge on quality but depending on your situation, a zoom may be more practical. On Safari for example, you have little freedom of movement since you usually have to remain in the vehicle for safety reasons.

For budget considerations because such lenses are quite expensive, you should consider both Nikkor and Sigma lenses in both new and used conditions.

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Do you mean 300mm on a FX or a DX body? – Rene Feb 28 '13 at 13:08
Even on DX. The required focal-length depends on the animals and your distance from them of course. – Itai Feb 28 '13 at 13:56
You don't lose the ability to AF with all teleconverters. The lens-converter-camera combination determines if AF will work and how useable it would be. If you put a 1.4X on an f/4 lens most cameras will still AF with that combo. I've got a friend who shoots a lot of sports for a newspaper. His "standard" rig is a 300mm f/2.8 and a 1.4X TC on a Nikon D4. The AF is fast enough for sports at 10fps. – Michael Clark Dec 25 '14 at 22:40

I use a Sigma 70-300mm lens with my Nikon D5100 - you always have to wait and watch until the bird gets a bit close, at least 3 feet, then you can produce amazing pictures. Try out Sigma: it's pretty good value for the price.

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