Orquid "Phoenix"

Orquid "Phoenix"

by ceinmart

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Currently, the zoomiest lens I have is a Nikon 18-200mm. I want to be able to take photos of wildlife, or in most cases birds, which I can't do at 200mm.

For a long time, I wanted to purchase a Nikon AF VR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED. It is very small and weights nothing; it's also really cheap (approx. $1000). On the other hand, I suppose that the quality of this lens is not very good, especially at 350 to 400mm.

Nikon also has a big and heavy AF-S f/2.8G ED VR at +$9000, and an even larger and heavier AF-S 500mm f/4G ED VR at +$8000. Those two lenses are not a solution: they are too expensive for me, and their size and weight makes it impossible to take them in a bag for long walks.

Is there a lens somewhere between, compatible with Nikon D7000? In other words, is there a lens with a slightly better quality at 400mm or more (including fixed-length lenses) than a Nikon 80-400mm, but not as expensive as Nikon's 400mm and 500mm lenses and not as big and heavy?

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I know this doesn't answer your question, but a mate of mine on a tight budget spends a long time sitting in his "hide" with a 200mm lens, and gets amazing photos. If you can't afford the upgrade, perhaps you could invest some time to improve your bird photography routine. –  fmark Feb 7 '11 at 9:55
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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

It's tough to get something ideal for birds that is both affordable and of quality. One of my favorite long zooms is the Sigma 100-300 F/4, it is not expensive and goes further than your current lens. Its also of excellent quality (certainly one of Sigma's best) but I honestly thing 300mm even on a cropped-sensor body can feel limiting for birds, then again it depends when and where you shoot birds.

If you don't want to pay the big bucks for something longer, then you're going to have to give up some quality and very importantly some light gathering ability. Luckily your cameras has a good high ISO performance. The most commonly used lens I see among birders (those who dedicate themselves to bird photography) is the Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3. The quality is nothing great but you get awesome close shots. Remember that framing and composition make a shot much more than the ultimate quality of your less. Just make sure to select an ISO high enough to keep your shutter-speed at a level where you can freeze the bird's motion.

Nikon themselves make excellent telephoto lenses too, unfortunately you noticed the price is quite expensive. Sigma definitely carved itself a niche in super-telephoto lenses and offers a wide variety of lenses that reach out to 500mm.

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I own two Nikon long lenses; the 80-400 VR and the 500 f4 VR. Both lenses take excellent photographs. The problem with the 80-400 for shooting birds is the slow focus. You will be very lucky to photograph a bird in flight with it. If the birds are stationary, it will work just fine but it is not, nor was it designed to be, an action lens.

The 500 is a great bird lens. It focuses very fast and the picture quality is impeccable. Plus, and this is a big plus, you can use with teleconverters. I've used mine with both the 1.4 and 2.0 II's. The 2.0 teleconverter slows the focus to a crawl so rules out action photos but you get the equivalent of a 1,500mm lens on a DX body. the 1.4 teleconverter allows the 500 to focus just as fast as without the teleconverter.

I have also rented the 400 2.8 Nikon and it is a fantastic lens as well. Two things held me back on the 400. the first is that the lens is so fat, 2.8 you know, that it is hard for me to hand hold. The other is the price which is quite a bit higher than the 500. The 400 is probably the more versatile lens.

My smugmug account has several examples taken with both. labboy.smugmug.com

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Another option is a catadioptric lens, which utilizes a mirror in addition to glass optics. Very cheap, compact, and light for 500mm, 600mm, or even higher.

The downsides are numerous — fixed slow aperture (usually f/8), weird donut bokeh, no AF, and relatively low contrast. Image quality is not going to be top notch, but that might actually be because most such lenses are made to be sold cheaply. I don't think you'd want to use one hand-held, or to track flying birds, but I've seen some impressive results.

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Also known as reflex lens or mirror lens. –  koiyu Dec 26 '10 at 2:21
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Taking a look at Nikon's Lens site, I see this as your best bet is AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED. Aside from that, well, good glass costs lots of cash.

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I think that's the best fit. I use to have one and the pics are really sharp even at f/4.0. I used it after a while with the TC-14 E extender (x1.4) and even the quality decrease a little it was still nice. The only cons for that 300mm: there's no VR at all, which means use the tripod (or monopod at least) more often. –  ruffp Jan 20 at 22:03
    
Photozone.de shows that even with a tc14 extender the 300 is still better quality than the 80-400. After it is a fix focal and without VR. –  ruffp Jan 20 at 22:14
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