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I want to buy a gift for the beginning bird photographer. She currently uses and has experience with 70 - 250 mm lens (the camera accepts Canon EF S). She says the birds just fly away as she approaches, or otherwise appear too small in the pictures - not enough zoom.

For my somewhat $1000 budget, I found the two lenses I could afford.

  • One of them zooms over various distances, with maximum of 600 mm, but the opening drops to 6.3 at the far end. I can buy it new.
  • Another that contra-intuitively used to be much more expensive, offers F 4.5 at 500 mm. I would need to buy it used on E bay.

The old lens is no longer in production, but I found many old 2012-like year reviews where it is claimed to be "legendary", even if it has no optical stabilizer. The similar new version with OS is absolutely not affordable. It looks to me more interesting.

How good is the idea to buy that old lens? I think it could give better images over far distance, or in low light, and also very different experience from the 70 - 250 mm zoom we already have.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this gift going to be a surprise? Or is she essentially picking the gift that you're paying for? \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Jun 17, 2023 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding surprise photography gifts (and whether or not it's advisable), see: How do I pick a good camera as a surprise present?, and What is a Cheap (less than USD50) Piece of Kit would make a Good Gift for a Photographer? While neither question (about specific kit) applies to your questions, most of the comments and answers discourage gift-givers from selecting gear for the recipient, because camera gear is so personal. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Jun 17, 2023 at 21:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ We both have no clue about any of these two lenses so saying "choose yourself" would result the same question being asked again. \$\endgroup\$
    – h22
    Jun 18, 2023 at 7:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you are looking at the wrong Canon 500mm f4.5 lens. The older FD 500mm f/4.5 sells for around $1000 on eBay but will not work with DSLR cameras. The newer EF 500mm f/4.5 sells for about $2000-$3000. Make sure you buy the right lens. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2023 at 12:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ For any "beginner" I would not recommend any lens longer than 300mm that does not have some form of lens-based image stabilization (IS, VR, OSM, HSM, etc. depending on the specific manufacturer's name for it). \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jun 19, 2023 at 15:28

2 Answers 2

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Personal experience (Canon 450D then 70D): I use a semi-recent (purchased new, some years ago), Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 (it replaced a 55-250mm)

  • Zoom is more universal
  • Zoom makes it easier to frame things
  • In addition to allowing longer exposure, stabilization makes it easier to aim and focus.
  • Going from the 450D to the 70D improved the results, and I ascribe this to a better AF system in the 70D (the 450D must have been struggling a bit) so your f/6.3 lens is OK if the camera is recent.
  • Don't overlook the weight of these things. When used without a tripod this becomes a rather important factor.

And a $30 ghillie suit will get you closer than a $2000 lens :)

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Unless you always use it on a tripod, image stabilization is necessary for a lens this long. The difference in speed is one stop, which you might make up in ISO. With image stabilization and careful technique you can get away with much slower shutter speeds than 1/focal length. The worrisome part is whether her body can autofocus at f/6.3 and if so how fast it will be.

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