I went on vacation with my Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G lens. I did a lot of bird watching and whale watching. I had a lot more fun taking these types of pictures than I thought I would. I think I took some great photos, however some didn't turn out exactly as I thought they would. The biggest issue is the sharpness when zoomed in. I took a picture of a white flower on a lily pad. I was zoomed in to the max. The edges of the flower where it overlaps other parts of the same flower aren't very visible. The other main issue was the actual amount of zoom, in some cases, such a birds, I couldn't get any closer to the subject and the lens just didn't get close enough to fill the frame in the way I wanted it to.

I do think this lens is pretty amazing for the price, but I would like to find something with better zoom and more importantly sharper.

  • W.r.t. your flower photo, that doesn't sound like a lens issue; it sounds like that part of the image was just out of focus. When zoomed in to 200mm your depth of field gets smaller. Post that image as an example and you'll probably get good suggestions here. Aug 10 '11 at 17:07
  • 1
    posting an example always helps
    – rfusca
    Aug 10 '11 at 17:37

Well under a 1k, long reach, and sharp limit your field quite a bit. Pretty much all more advanced long telephoto Nikon brand glass is out of the price range, so I'll be looking mainly at 3rd parties.

On the long reach end you've got the Sigma 150-500 which is pretty much at 1k - but its not known to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, especially wide open (which at the 500mm end is a whooping 6.3!). You'd need to stop down to beyond f/8 just to get past lens quality issues, and then you start hitting diffraction issues!

The new Tamron 70-300 VC is a little longer and probably a little sharper than your 55-200, but still definitely in the consumer class. You may notice a better quality, but its not really a lens I'd want to lay out almost 600 for and get a mediocre improvement on.

If you can live at the 200mm limit, but want a lens that will be sharper and overall much better, try a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 EX DG. It'll double as a great portrait lens and give you the ability to shoot some indoor shots. It is however, definitely at the very short end of birding lenses. There's other techniques to get closer to birds (in some situations) however - see the links at the end of this answer.

If you want to go over your budget, you can look at something like a 300mm f/4 Nikon, but you'll pay about 50% over your budget.

You'll have to compromise somewhere to get significantly better reach or sharpness.

For birding in general, take a look at this other links - here and here.

  • a used nikkor 80-200 f/2.8 AF is actually under $1k (a bit more than $1k new) and it's a tough, high quality lens. After all one must not forget it makes little sense to buy a camera from "big names" and not use their great brand glass.
    – MattiaG
    Aug 11 '11 at 11:26
  • @Mattia I couldn't find a seller that had a used 80-200 in stock (apart from ebay) and its got a rather slow focus for photographing birds (AF vs AF-S/HSM/USD). Its also possible his Nikon may not autofocus with an AF lens.
    – rfusca
    Aug 11 '11 at 13:31
  • In fact I noted it's AF, but that's not so great a defect. He didn't say if his camera has a built-in af motor, if not, peace. I just thought it deserved a mention :-) By the way you can find it (both used and new) at amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, bhphotovideo.com, adorama.com and calumetphoto.com (it's in stock at least at calumet and at b&h, and there are some used and open-box for less money at adorama)
    – MattiaG
    Aug 11 '11 at 14:47
  • Ah, I didn't check adorama, everywhere else I could find was new. I knew you mentioned the fact that it was AF, I was just pointing out AF vs AF-S and the like in this situation.
    – rfusca
    Aug 11 '11 at 14:52
  • I assure you every implication of your objection about AF and AF-S is crystal clear to me. just for the record, I wanted to point out a lens which is arguably optically and (even more) mechanically superior if compared with the first two lenses you mentioned, and at least as good as the third; its price NEW is just slightly higher than the budget we're talking about, still used it's quite easily available for less. Not criticizing your answer, just adding to it :-)
    – MattiaG
    Aug 11 '11 at 15:17

I have a nikon 55-300mm dx vr, and when i bought it, i was also considering the 55-200.

After using it, i can tell you that the 200 to 300mm difference is not that significant; if you upgrade from your 55-200 to a 55-300 or 70/300, besides the extra bulk, you will not be able to get that much closer to your subjects (which i think is what you really want). Don't get me wrong, its nice to have that extra zooming bit, but when you already have a 55-200, i don't think it's a very interesting investment.

If image quality is something you're willing to sacrifice for focal distance, i'd look into some 500/800/1000mm tamron mirror lenses, on ebay. They are way below your 1k mark (about €200 i guess) and will get you smack on top of pretty distant subjects, but have some quirks (search for examples on flickr for a visual proof).

Nikon makes an 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR which is about £1k new (amazon). I am guessing that is an interesting bet for your usage needs, price range, etc. It is an AF lens, though; will not autofocus on a low end nikon DSLR.

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