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I am currently using a Canon EOS 1100D body with the kit lens and a Sigma Zoom 50-200mm 1: 4-5.6 DC OS HSM lens. I am almost exclusively interested in wildlife photography and feel I have outgrown both the camera and lens. Within the next year, I will purchase either a new camera or lens and within the year after that, I will purchase the other.

I am aware that in 99% of cases a new lens will be of much more use than a new camera body. My question is, whether matching that camera with a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 di VC USD or the Sigma equivalent would be a better option than buying a new body first and pairing it with the Sigma lens I currently own. I have considered purchasing a teleconverter but feel it would decrease the image quality too much.

Also, would there be better-suited lenses perhaps older canon models that would fall around the same price as the aforementioned Tamron and Sigma (approx $900) lenses that would maybe be a better option? Thank you very much in advance for any advice/expertise offered!

Grace

  • I'm liking some of the answers so far, but… "how big is your wildlife?" Moose, you'll be absolutely fine at 200mm. Wrens, you need something longer ;) Even squirrels are a struggle on 300mm, because of their 'flight' distance you can't get really close up to them, no matter how careful you are, 3 - 4m is as close as you'll get before they run. – Tetsujin Sep 19 at 17:35
  • If you are going to upgrade both I would say start with the lens as you sounds exited by it. Geting access to a new focal length will probably do more than whatever features the body will offer in your case. – lijat Sep 21 at 15:09
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I feel there is a lot of good news here.

Those lenses are Fx (Full frame) and thus, getting them at any point means that you aren't risking a later upgrade path.

Additionally, being that you are on Dx (crop body) now, by going to those lenses you sort of get a free 1.6x teleconverter.

The teleconverter for the Tamron at least on Nikon is a little hit or miss. I certainly wouldn't base the bigger choices on it. For example if a minor camera upgrade comes down to the cost difference of the 150-600mm + teleconverter (2x specifically) I'd skip the converter personally.

I'd note, wildlife is not one of my areas of concern, so I am not exactly speaking from that perspective. Although I have some decent wildlife shots. (Pictured)

enter image description here

That was shot with my 70-200 f2.8 on Fx (Nikon D850). I also had the 150-600mm previously and would have loved that reach!

On the body, I'd start with the lens. From there, maybe rent a more modern Dx and Fx camera and see if your results to you truly justify the additional purchase and which one you like more.

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I would say that if you continue shooting on a crop sensor camera, 100-400 for most situations would be just fine. 150-600 might be a bit too long on crop camera, i.e. getting the subject in the frame requires carefully aiming the lens. Also, 150-600 is heavy.

However, if the wildlife is not quickly moving, 150-600 on a tripod or a monopod might be wonderful, and a tripod or monopod can carry the weight of the lens.

Your choice, but I wouldn't start walking around with a crop sensor camera and a 150-600 mm lens. The weight is just needlessly large.

I do understand the need of a 150-600 on a full frame camera, though.

Before purchasing 150-600 for a crop camera, carefully crop all of the pictures you've taken with the 50-200mm lens. Then calculate the effective focal length of the cropped photo. Only that way can it definitely be answered if you will be using the 400-600 end of the 150-600, or if 100-400 is enough. I wouldn't tolerate the extra weight of 150-600 compared to 100-400 if only 15% or so of the photos actually need >450mm focal lengths.

If purchasing a used Canon lens, go for the Canon 100-400 (mk2 is sharper but more expensive) or the 400mm prime. If purchasing a new Canon lens, consider the 400mm/5.6 prime. The Canon 100-400 is not anywhere close to the $900 price point if bought new.

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Like most I would upgrade the lens first, but...

Sigma has a 120-400mm f/3.5-5.6 lens that could be a better fit(*):

  • Your camera has a rather ancient AF system, and it is normally spec'ed to work with lenses that can open at f/5.6. It can still work at f/6.3 but it may not be too accurate. Better try first. I have used the 120-500 on a 450D (that has the same AF system as yours) and it worked reasonably well, but when I upgraded the camera to a 70D it looked like I had a new lens. I also have a 1.4X extender so I can get 560mm if I don't need the AF.
  • At 600mm you need 1.5x faster shutter speeds than at 400mm, and with the smaller aperture you need more ISO, and your current camera isn't very good at this game (6400ISO max, so likely not too good over 800ISO).

After that it depends the kind of wildlife you are after. If you shoot static anmals you definitely need a lens that has a tripod mount (and strangely, some of the more recent long zooms can't take one), but if you shoot birds in flight having a lens that can be used as a push-pull zoom is useful (my Sigma is officially a rotating-ring zoom but can be used as a push-pull).

(*) In the same category you have the Canon 100-400mm. Pricey, but since a new version came out recently, the older versions can be found on the second-hand market.

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There's a phrase that has been around photography a long time:

Gear doesn't matter.

But that's only half the truth. The fuller truth is:

Gear doesn't matter... until it does.

What it means is that when the technical capabilities of your gear are not up to the task for the shots you want to capture, then and only then will the gear matter.

Applying the above to your case: both the camera body and the lens you are using are fairly limiting for the type of photography you want to do.

  • No matter what lens you hang on it, the AF system of the Rebel T3/1100D is going to be severely limiting for wildlife photography. Frame rate is also quite limiting. Since taking plenty of frames in burst mode is often one way to deal with poor AF system performance, the two combined are kind of a double whammy.
  • No matter what camera body you hang it on, the Sigma 50-200mm f/4-5.6 is fairly weak optically, particularly at the long end. It's also slow to focus. Even if it were sharper at 200mm, it would still be fairly focal length limited for most kinds of wildlife photography.

You can replace the lens first. You can replace the body first. But you're probably not going to get where you want to go until you improve both.

If you're on an extremely limited budget, you'll need to consider used gear that is a generation or two (or three) old.

The original 7D, for all of its faults, is capable of getting pretty good wildlife/action photos if you're willing to deal with its shot-to-shot AF inconsistencies. You'll have a lower "keeper" rate than with more consistent AF systems on later cameras, but you will be able to get some "keepers" with a 7D. The 70D has the same AF system but is not quite as built to stand up to punishment as the 7D. But a lightly used 70D may be a better deal than a worn out 7D. Either can be had for a lot less than a brand new 7D Mark II or 80D.

In terms of lenses, there's not as much price difference between new and used copies of the same models. I'd probably go ahead and buy new unless I stumbled across a really good deal from someone I trusted.

Sometimes the Canon USA refurb store has good promotional prices on refurbished lenses. I've bought an EF 17-40mm f/4L, EF 100mm f/2, and EF 135mm f/2L from the Canon refurb store. They all looked and performed like new when I got them. But some of the most desirable lenses are rarely in stock at the refurb store. I'd been waiting forever for a good deal on the 135/2 when I finally gave up and bought a 100/2 (which is also seems to be out of stock more often than not). A few months later a 135/2 showed up in stock and I snapped it up before it was gone.

In the U.S. there are a handful of used gear sellers with very good reputations and acceptable return policies. KEH, based out of Atlanta, is one. The "used" department at B & H is another. Lensrentals.com sells used gear via their in-house lensauthority.com.

In terms of specific lenses, the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is about as good optically as the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS when used on a crop body. Either are significantly better than the EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III which you should avoid.

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