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Just wanted to get a few opinions since I'm a beginner. I recently purchased a Sigma 150-600mm lens, and I'm wondering if I made the wrong choice. I still have time to return or exchange.

I'm wondering if a prime 300mm lens would be the better choice. I have a Canon Rebel T7i.

I live in an area with abundant wildlife, woods are in back of house... lake in front. I wanted a zoom lens to be able to get wildlife and birds (probably in the trees), but after using this lens twice, now I am wondering if zoomed in at 500-600mm, whether I am going to get crisp photos.

As I said, I am very new to DSLR cameras, so I don't know if learning more will help to eventually get the crisp photos I want or if I chose the wrong lens. I've read that prime lenses are better.

Another issue is that I will have to use a monopod or tripod with the 150-600mm lens because it is too heavy to hold by hand.

I know that with either lens I'm not going to get details like a macro lens but so far the photos taken with it are a bit grainy when cropped. I'm sure that some of it (or maybe all) is due to my newness. I don't want to be stuck with a lens that I'm not happy with, that will not give me clean pictures (once I do learn what to do). I could definitely use some advice.


After the first person answered I added this info along with a photo.

Hummer was approx 35 feet away (maybe a little farther), 15 feet up in tree. Using Program AE, 1/500, Ap 6.3, ISO 6400, at 600mm, handheld (although very shaky!). I only cropped and resized it.

I went from a PowerShot SX500 to a DSLR. I understand that I have a lot to learn. When I look on my computer monitor and enlarge this photo, it's grainy. Sometimes I am restricted as to where I can go and what I can do because of my health. Meaning I will mostly be taking photos out an open window, from my deck, and sometimes in the yard. I know that I will have to use a mono/tripod. I took this photo w/out because I was anxious to try it.

Maybe my question should be "how will photos be different using the 150-600mm lens vs a 300mm WITH an extender ring (maybe not the correct word?? And something that I've never used)?" I assume that I will not be able to get as close to wildlife with the 300mm, but how big of a difference does the extender ring give? And again, I am still learning. A lot of the photo lingo I do not understand without reading a little... so your reply will not offend me if you answer my questions in simple terms.

I'm sure you want to ask "WHY did you get such a lens?". My answer is: I was not happy NOT being able to photograph wildlife with my 18-135mm lens, and my health limits me. With a camera, I can see things that I normally wouldn't be able to see up close. Thank you again for any help. I DO appreciate it.

humming bird

  • Hey Lisa, my answer is below but I wanted to reiterate that photography is mostly about technique - and there are many questions on this site about just that (like this one photo.stackexchange.com/questions/13539/…). For more ideas about improving your technique, please pose a photo and explain exactly what you don't like about it along with the specs it was shot at (focal length, aperture, iso, shutter speed). Good luck! – Hueco Aug 28 '18 at 18:14
  • Related: Image stabilization with monopod: on or off? – Michael C Aug 28 '18 at 20:33
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With any lens of greater than 300mm focal length on a full frame camera you're probably not going to get results you're happy with shooting handheld. On your 1.6X APS-C camera, the same angles of view are provided by any lens 188mm or longer.

It is true that lenses such as the Sigma and Tamron 150-600mm telephoto zooms are weakest at their longest focal lengths. But they are still pretty good. It is also true that the 300mm f/2.8 series of lenses from Canon are almost breathtakingly sharp.

But without using proper shooting technique, including adequate stabilization, you won't be able to get results that match the capability of those lenses when properly used. You probably won't be able to tell much of a difference at all when hand holding unless your shutter times are close to your camera's fastest shutter speed of 1/4000 second, and even then you'll probably still have detectable blur due to camera movement when pixel peeping images taken with a 300mm prime.

No matter what lens and camera body one is using, 600mm focal length requires excellent shooting technique. Rare is even the seasoned pro that can shoot at 600mm handheld and not get some blur from camera movement. Yes, optical stabilization helps in this regard. But OS/VR/IS/etc. isn't perfect or foolproof at such long focal lengths.

Even on a FF camera, at 600mm much more care must be taken to prevent camera movement from affecting the photographs taken. This is magnified even further when such a lens is used on an APS-C crop body. The narrower angles of view mean that the same amount of camera movement creates more blur than it would with a shorter focal length lens that gives a wider AoV. The narrower AoVs also mean the same amount of subject motion will cross a wider area of the frame (if the subject is at the same distance from the camera). Shorter shutter times can help, but support from a tripod or monopod is almost always required for best results at focal lengths in the 300mm+ 'super telephoto' range. If one is tracking wildlife in motion at very long focal lengths, a gimbal mount that can support the weight of such lenses can be rather expensive, but is also almost indispensable.

Most of the seasoned sports photographers I know (some of whom have been published in major publications such as SI, ESPN The Magazine, the NY Times, etc.) rarely if ever shoot above 200-300mm handheld. You can get good results handheld past 300mm with a FF sensor, but rare is the photographer that can get great results at those focal lengths without more stable support. Monopods are very popular with sports shooters for 300mm+ lenses (on full frame bodies). For notable Wildlife photographers, tripods with gimbal mounts are near universal for anything approaching 600mm.

I added a photo and additional info. I do have a mono/tripod but am unhappy w/it and will be exchanging.

Hummer was approx 35 feet away (maybe a little farther), 15 feet up in tree. Using Program AE, 1/500, Ap 6.3, ISO 6400, at 600mm, handheld (although very shaky!). I only cropped and resized it.

Your results are surprisingly good considered you shot at ISO 6400, 600mm, and f/6.3 (wide open) while hand holding the camera. Just stopping down to f/8 will improve the center and mid-frame resolution performance of that lens. Of course, when you're already at ISO 6400 and 1/500, there's not a lot of room to stop down even two-thirds of one stop.

Here's a comparison between the Sigma at 600mm and the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II + EF 2X III when both are used on a Canon 7D Mark II (which has a similar sensor to your Rebel T7i/800D) at f/8. The test images were taken from a tripod under laboratory conditions. The 300mm prime is a little better, but nowhere near the price difference between the two setups.

If one compares the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 C to the much cheaper and older design EF 300mm f/4 + EF 3X III, the Sigma is clearly better. Here's the link to that comparison at The-Digital-Picture. The EF 300mm f/4 is also a non-stabilised lens, so proper stabilization using a tripod or monopod is even more critical in this case.

I'm unsure how hard it would be to move one around while trying to quickly focus on an animal/bird.

The way the best wildlife photographers get their keepers is to accurately predict in advance when and where their quarry will be. That, and a lot of patience. Set up your rig and then wait for the shot to come to you. You may not get it on your first try, or even your first several tries. But eventually you will be in the right place at the right time pointed in the right direction. Increasing the odds of being in the right place and time without spooking your subjects is what is known as field craft. It's a big part of shooting animals and wildlife.

In your case where you are mostly restricted to shooting your back yard from your window or deck, placing feeders in the right places can increase your chances of catching your desired subjects from your more or less fixed shooting positions.

You might also consider a permanent mount for your lens and camera built into a rail on your deck. It might be something as simple as bolting a good tripod head directly to the rail. If the rails are solid they might be more stable than even a very heavy and expensive tripod would be.

The next step would be to get your hands off the camera. I've got a couple of friends who have cameras they set up pointed at their feeders and trigger the camera remotely from inside a window. They either manually prefocus the lens on the feeder or use AF with a specific AF point selected that is pointed at the right spot.

  • If you have the time, I added a photo and additional info. I would appreciate it if you could answer the question in the 2nd to last paragraph. I do have a mono/tripod but am unhappy w/it and will be exchanging. Are you allowed to post the name/model of a descent one? Thank you. – Lisa 951 Aug 28 '18 at 19:39
  • Answer updated. Tripod selection is an issue all in itself. We're not supposed to recommend specific product here. YOu might consider asking another question such as "What should I look for in a tripod for..." and be very specific about your unique use case. We already have a few such questions, so yours needs to show why it is different from those. – Michael C Aug 28 '18 at 20:15
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tl;dr — Keep the Sigma and learn to shoot it rather than buying a prime instead.

From your post, it's tough to tell if you've simply read about unsharp photos with zooms or if you're actually disappointed with the Sigma.

At the end of the day, the choice is completely yours and gear only helps so much. Photographer skill should be talked about more than gear, but alas, we're all gear-aholics at the end of the day.

Is it true that primes are sharper than zooms? Yes. Simply put, one trades a bit of pixel-peeping sharpness for the ability to zoom. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Also note that your Sig has twice the focal length of a 300mm prime. Imagine having to crop into your shots to get the same field of view as that 600mm Sig - do you think your image quality will suffer doing this?

Let's talk about technique. Starting wide and zooming in is easy and a great way to shoot wildlife. Using a prime means learning to know where the camera is aiming and to get on target without starting wide. It means learning how to do this and also how to zoom with your feet. Want to get closer to that bird? Walk closer and try not to scare it off.

You mention not wanting to use a monopod. Long focal lengths demand good technique and there's only so much optical stabilization can do. The monopod will dramatically affect your ability to keep stable, which will improve your shots. You'll also need to learn the limits of your lens, where it shines and at what apertures. You'll need to learn the limits of your own technique, what shutter speed you can effectively hand hold at 600mm, for example. At long focal lengths, your technique matters so much more.

Choosing a prime will not automatically give you better photos. With wildlife and long focal lengths, you need to learn what you can hand hold and what you can't (and thus, need a monopod for). You need to learn your zoom, which apertures at which focal lengths produce the sharpest photos. You need to learn about your camera, what max ISO's you can use (because you'll need to bolster your shutter speeds at 600mm).

In response to your question edits:

Your image is actually quite good, and I second MC's assessment in his answer. Side note: no reason to explain yourself. I started shooting animals with a 28-105... then a 70-200... then a 300... and now a 400... and I'm eyeing the 500 with envy. Trust me, we understand :-).

how big of a difference does the extender ring give?

Both the 1.4x and 2x extenders will rob you of some image quality. They'll also rob you of 1 and 2 stops of light, respectively. This is especially important because it can begin to affect your camera's ability to autofocus when pairing an extender with an already small aperture lens. Personally, between the Sig and a Canon 300 f/4 with a 2x, I'd take the Sig.

Sometimes I restricted as to where I can go and what I can do because of my health.

When shooting at 300+ mm, you need some form of stabilization. A tripod would be most stable, but a monopod will be lighter and more maneuverable. If there is a photo rental business in your area, then I would advise renting both a monopod and a tripod to see which is more conducive to your shooting style. Keep in mind that, with the tripod, you will essentially want the lightest one you can get that can still support the weight of your gear.

  • I don't have an opinion on your particular lens but what @Hueco says is spot on. I would recommend using a tripod and working to get as close as possible to your subject. Your example of a humming bird is one of the hardest birds to get filling the frame because the move so fast and they are so small. Watch the birds, especially around food, and find the perches they like and setup as close as they will allow you. – Ian Lelsie Aug 28 '18 at 19:05
  • I could have worded that sentence better. I meant that with either lens (150-66mm or 300mm) I will have to use a tripod. I have rarely used one. Usually I rest the camera on something. Im unsure how hard it would be to move one around while trying to quickly focus on an animal/bird. I added a photo and more info if you have the time to look. Also, if you're allowed to answer.. is there a tripod you would recommended that doesn't cost a house payment. Thank you. – Lisa 951 Aug 28 '18 at 19:51
  • @Lisa951 - I am very fond of the manfrotto 190go in carbon fiber and the sirui k-30x ball head. I take mine hiking and the weight is good, for me at least. However, it may be more than you need. You need to compare the weight of your kit to how much the tripod can handle, and compare that to how sturdy it is and how much weight you want to carry. – Hueco Aug 28 '18 at 20:32
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Assuming no functional issues, if 4/5 shots are as good as your sample image, I'd suggest keeping the Sigma 150-600mm lens because it has image stabilization and appears to perform very well.

I would consider around 3/4 to 4/5 to be a good rate at which to capture technically proficient images. Too much less than that would become frustrating.

Zoom vs Prime

  • Not all primes are created equal.

    • Whether a prime will give you better results depends on specifically which 300mm prime and extender you are considering. Since you already have a very good zoom lens, any prime you consider will have to also be very good to be able to match and exceed it.

    • A lot of newer zooms are very sharp and outperform older primes. Some zooms can nearly match the performance of some newer primes. It's not the norm, but I mention it to highlight that it is not a given that primes are "better" than zooms.

    • Many zooms have image stabilization, while many primes do not. If the prime you are considering does not have image stabilization, it will be very difficult to get good hand-held shots with it.

  • As Hueco mentions, it's easier to aim with a zoom by starting wide and zooming in than it is to aim with a fixed focal-length lens. If you can't get the subject in frame, you will miss the shot. He also mentions issues with extenders such as reduced image quality, aperture, and autofocus performance.

  • While a 300mm prime might work well for birds a good distance away, you'll have difficulty capturing a deer that happens to step up on deck. With the zoom, you'd at least be able to try a wider focal length before attempting to switch lenses. For these occasions, it's helpful to have your old camera on stand by.

Camera Support

  • A big difference between using a tripod vs some other support is the ability to dissociate yourself entirely from the camera so that any essential tremor, which we all have to some degree, won't affect the camera.

  • Michael Clark has many good suggestions, including using a gimbal mount, setting up a permanent mount, and putting out bird feeders.

Other Issues

  • You might like to put out bird houses and bird baths. In addition to attracting birds, they will provide some environmental variety. You will need to research the preferences of the types of birds you wish to attract because different birds have different preferences, as Hueco notes.

    Since you mention having health issues, you should discuss any plans to attract animals to the area with your physician. Animals may be carriers of diseases, like influenza, psittacosis, histoplasmosis, and west nile virus, among others. They may also bring pests to the area, like mites, ticks, or fleas.

  • I've been looking into building a birdhouse to attract some. After some research, I've learned that birds are awfully specific with what they like in both house size and shape. One can go after a specific species by building a house to suit that species' tastes. My birdhouse is still in pro, but the idea seemed sound. Do you have any thoughts on this? – Hueco Aug 29 '18 at 17:58
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    I recall reading similar, but have no experience, aside from building a few as a kid and then being forbidden to hang them anywhere because my parents didn't want to deal with the mess an increased population of birds would bring. – xiota Aug 29 '18 at 21:25

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