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I'm a enthusiastic newbie photographer - 2 camera's and 2 lenses, I would like to know which lens to use on which camera to get best results when shooting wildlife.
Canon 650D and Canon 6D - lenses Canon 24-105mm 1:4 L IS USM and a Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 IS lens.

How would using the 24-105mm on the 6D and the 150-600mm on the 650D be different from using the 150-600mm on the 6D and the 24-105mm on the 650D?

I have both cameras and both lenses and am just trying to figure out if the 150-600 is better on the 650D or on the FF 6D. I do a fair amount of wildlife photography and like to take both cameras and lenses so I don't have to keep changing lenses, just thought that maybe the 24-105mm would be better on the FF 6D - hope this makes sense.

When I travel I usually tend to only take the 24-105 with me. This question is specifically for a safari trip I'm doing next year where I will need both lenses and we will be in a vehicle.

  • Are you using a tripod? – user50888 Nov 1 '17 at 22:56
  • Yes I am - although we will be in a vehicle for the wild-life photography, so I will be using a bean bag. – Jenni Nov 6 '17 at 7:07
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    For wildlife photography, the rule of focal length is too much is never enough. – Olin Lathrop Nov 6 '17 at 12:32
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The basic question is one of focal lengths as compared to angles of view (AoV) when using the same focal lengths on cameras with different size sensors. The AoV will also affect needed shooting techniques, particularly at the very narrow AoVs given by very long focal lengths. The different maximum apertures will also have a bearing on the decision.

To understand the angles of view, we can use the EOS 650D's 'crop factor' to express the angle of view a particular lens would provide if a lens with 1.6X the focal length were mounted on a full frame camera such as your EOS 6D.

If you use the EF 24-105mm f/4 IS on the 6D and the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 OS on your 650D you'll get an angle of view with the 650D + 150-600mm that would look like a 240-960mm lens used on the FF 6D.

On the other hand, if you use the EF 24-105mm f/4 IS on the crop body, you'll get and angle of view that looks like a 38-168mm used on a FF camera.

In terms of angle of view, your choice is between:

  • A 24-105mm AoV with the 6D + 24-105mm and a (FF equivalent) 240-960mm AoV with the 650D + 150-600mm
  • A (FF equivalent) 38-168mm AoV with the 650D + 24-105mm and a 150-600mm AoV with the 6D + 150-600mm

The first option provides the widest range of coverage. 24mm on the 6D gives a diagonal AoV of 84°. 600mm on the 650D gives a diagonal AoV of only about 2.5°. There is a large "gap" in between 105mm on the 6D (≈ 23° diagonal AoV) and 150mm (240mm FF equivalent) on the 650D (≈ 10° AoV). That 105mm to 240mm (FF equivalent) AoV is an area many find extremely desireable.

The second option provides less total range of angles of view, but there is no gap between each camera/lens. In fact, there is a bit of overlap. 24mm on the 650D gives a diagonal AoV of ≈60°. 105mm on the 650D is ≈14°. 150mm on the FF 6D gives an AoV of ≈16°. At 600mm on the 6D an ≈4° AoV is provided.

The next thing to consider is maximum aperture. The EF 24-105mm has a constant maximum aperture of f/4 throughout its range. The Sigma 150-600mm has a maximum aperture of f/5 at 150mm and that narrows down to f/6.3 at 600mm. Thus the 150-600mm lens is anywhere from 2/3 to 1 1/3 stops 'slower' than the 24-105mm lens.

Aperture affects two things:

  • How much light is allowed through the lens per unit of time. This affects the fastest shutter time we can use to get a desired exposure level.
  • How much distance in front of and behind the point of focus appears acceptably sharp. This is what we call depth of field (DoF).

In both cases, a wider maximum aperture (lower f-number) is usually considered better. You can always stop down an f/2 lens to f/8 if you desire more depth of field. But you can't open up an f/6.3 lens to f/4 if you need a faster shutter speed.

How this applies to photographing wildlife, particularly at longer focal lengths, is significant. This is especially the case when photographing them in the early morning hours or late afternoon hours when they are most active. The dimmer morning/evening light combined with the movement of the subjects create the need for wider apertures in order to enable shorter shutter times (faster shutter speeds) without raising the ISO too high.

The sensor size is also significant with regard to how much total light is collected at a specific aperture and the depth of field rendered for a specific aperture. Larger sensors collect more light from a wider area for the same scene and exposure settings. In general, if both cameras have sensors with the same type and generation of technology, the FF camera can usually shoot at one stop higher ISO than an APS-C camera and get about the same signal-to-noise ratio (if we can raise the ISO one stop, it allows us to use a shutter time half as long, i.e one stop 'faster', to get the same exposure level). Larger sensors also give shallower DoF for the same focal length, aperture, and shooting distance. (Keep in mind that any cropping done after the fact has the same effect on DoF as shooting with a smaller sensor that would have given the same FOV as the crop would have given.)

With a 150-600mm lens, shooting technique must enter into the discussion as well. 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 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.

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).

The final major consideration when shooting wildlife with these two bodies and these two lenses is the difference between each camera's non-sesnor related features: the AF system and handling speed.

There's not a lot of difference in the number of AF points, but the 6D's centerpoint is a little better in low light than the 650D's. My experience has been that Canon's FF cameras focus more consistently accurate from shot-to-shot than their APS-C bodies with the same generation AF systems. For example, the FF 5D Mark III has the same basic AF system as the newer 7D Mark II. I've found that the FF 5D Mark III gives me a higher 'keeper' ratio with regard to nailed/missed AF than the 7D Mark II does (they're both very good - but the 5DIII is better). I would expect the same difference between the 6D and 650D.

One difference that can become more significant with longer focal lengths combined with wider apertures is the ability to do Autofocus Micro Adjustment (AFMA). The 6D can, the 650D can't. At f/5-6.3, though, the increased DoF compared to using a wider aperture lens makes it less critical. In the case of your Sigma 150-600mm lens, if it is one of the new 'Global Vision' series of Art, Sports, and Contemporary lens lines, you can adjust the lens directly via the Sigma USB Dock. It's a fairly technical undertaking that can be a time consuming process, but it's worth the trouble to calibrate the lens and camera to work together.

In terms of handling speed the 6D is quite a step up from the 650D. Although it can only shoot at 4.5 frames per second as compared to 5 fps for the 650D, it can maintain that rate for much longer. The 650D bogs down after only 6 RAW or 22 JPEG images. With a fast UHS-1 SD card the 6D can shoot 17 Raw files or over 1,000 JPEGs before it fills the memory buffer. The additional controls on the 6D also allow faster changes of settings without having to press multiple buttons or dig into the menu. This is important when you want to be able to make those changes quickly without taking your eye from the viewfinder. To take advantage of it you will need to practice and become very familiar with using the controls with your eye at the viewfinder.

What works best for you and what you are shooting will have to take all of these factors into effect. Luckily, you don't have to make a fast decision and stick with it forever. Since you own both lenses and both cameras, you can try both combinations to see what gives you the best results.

Based on your own statement that you are a newbie, my personal recommendation would be to start out using the EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS on the 650D and learn to use the 150-600mm f/5-6.3 with the 6D. I'm not usually a fan of putting the EF 24-105mm on a crop body because it limits the wide angle end too much, but if you are shooting mainly wildlife it's probably wide enough for most of the other things you'll want to do while you are out shooting wildlife. For other situations where you need a wider AoV you can put the 24-105mm on the 6D.

Once you're comfortable shooting at 600mm with the 6D and have learned how to control the longer focal length and deal with the narrower aperture you can swap things around and try that. If you find that you want to keep the 150-600mm on the 6D and the 24-105 isn't wide enough for the 650D, maybe consider trading or selling the 24-105mm for something like the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS.

From a comment made by the OP to this answer:

When I travel I tend to only take the 24-105 with me, this question was specifically for a safari trip I'm doing next year where I will need both lenses and we will be in a vehicle. I will practice with both lenses on both bodies before we leave though!

The specific requirements of a safari adds a few unique twists as well.

  • You'll be shooting most of your wildlife from a vehicle which may or may not be moving when you are shooting. A tripod may or may not be practical or even possible. Be sure to take a good, heavy duty monopod with a quick detach type head for attaching your big lens. Bean bags have their uses and are great for static animals, but a monopod allows one to pan a big lens more smoothly to follow running wildlife.
  • At times the need for reach trumps everything else when shooting wildlife encountered on a safari type tour. It really does depend on how close your guides can get you to your subjects and how close your subjects are willing to allow you to come. Some tours are so regular that the animals are very used to the presence of the vehicles and humans and may even approach the caravan. Other tours can take a more arms-length approach to getting close to the wildlife and the animals are not conditioned to be approached as closely and will be more skittish.
  • You don't want that large gap between a 23°AoV (105mm on FF) and a 10° AoV (150mm on a 1.6X crop) if the animals are approaching close to your vehicles or allowing the vehicles to approach very close to them. For reasonably close work of medium to large animals within a few dozen yards, between 10-20° AoV is where you'll want to be able to shoot. On the other hand, if the animals are never closer than a few hundred yards, you're going to want as much focal length as you can use effectively. The difference between 600mm on the 6D (≈4° AoV) and 600mm on the 650D (≈2.5° AoV) will be a major one if your shooting technique can get the most out of the lens at the narrower angles of view.
  • A 'once in a lifetime' trip (which is what a safari is for many of us) is not the time to learn how to shoot with tools such as a 150-600mm lens, particularly one mounted on an APS-C body. Find similar situations close to home that you can practice with. Although you might not be excited about taking photos of run of the mill farm animals, if you practice shooting horses, cows, goats, pigs etc. from similar distances and shooting platforms you will be more prepared when you get those limited opportunities with more exotic subjects on your trip. If there are farms with livestock in your area, contact some of them and see if they would let you practice using their animals, even if you might only be shooting from the side of public roads that border their property. A local farmer's co-op might be a place to start to find someone to ask.

Full Disclosure: I often shoot with two bodies. My default setup when I'm not in extremely low light is an EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS on a FF body and a 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II on an APS-C body. There's a big difference between 70-200 and 150-600mm, though. Even on the crop body, the 70-200 acts like a 115-320mm lens would on a FF body. That segues nicely from the 24-105mm on the FF camera.

I love the 24-105mm on a FF body because of the useful angles of view it provides and the pounding and punishment it can take and it still keeps on going. But if I need absolute image quality, I'm reaching for a better (usually prime) lens. When my primary body was an APS-C camera I used a 17-50mm f/2.8 as my main lens. Although I didn't own the 24-105mm at the time, it would not have been wide enough for my needed usage on a crop body.

  • Thank you Michael - when I travel I tend to only take the 24-105 with me, this question was specifically for a safari trip I'm doing next year where I will need both lenses and we will be in a vehicle. I will practice with both lenses on both bodies before we leave though! – Jenni Nov 6 '17 at 7:11
  • It would have been nice if you had included that info in the original question. It's still a tough call, though. Anything beyond 600mm on a FF takes some real practice and skill to control, especially from a moving vehicle. Putting the 150-600mm on a crop body would limit you to the 150-300mm or so end of the lens' range, and you'd have a rather large gap in coverage between 105mm on the 6D and 150mm (240mm AoV) with the crop body. On the other hand, sometimes you'll probably want to get some wide angle vistas, and that will only happen with the 24-105mm on a FF body. – Michael C Nov 6 '17 at 7:31
  • Answer updated to include addressing the requirements of a safari. – Michael C Nov 6 '17 at 8:19
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How would using the 24-105mm on the 6D and the 150-600mm on the 650D be different from using the 150-600mm on the 6D and the 24-105mm on the 650D?

The 650D has a 1.6x crop factor, meaning that any lens you put on it will have a field of view similar to a lens that has 1.6 times longer focal length on the 6D. That is, a 100mm lens on the 650D will have the same field of view as a 160mm lens would on the 6D.

So, if you want to be able to capture both very wide and very narrow fields of view, put the 24-105mm on the 6D, and the 150-600mm on the 650D. That will let you shoot at effective focal lengths ranging from 24mm to 960mm, since the 150-600mm lens on the 650D will look like 960mm at the long end. If you do it the other way around, then you won't be able to get as wide a shot (since the 24mm end of the 24-105mm lens will act like a 38mm lens) or as far (since the 600mm lens on the 6D will act like a 600mm lens).

On the other hand, the 600mm end of your Sigma lens has a maximum aperture of f/6.3, which is pretty darn slow. That's a real liability if you're shooting in the morning or the evening, when the light is nicest for wildlife. The 6D is very good in low light, so you can crank up the ISO setting to help compensate for the small aperture and keep the shutter speed fast enough to get a sharp photo of a moving animal. Fast exposure is also especially important to help avoid camera shake when you're working with a long and fairly heavy lens.

So, there's not really a single "best" answer. The good news is that you don't have to decide ahead of time. If you're out in the middle of the day with plenty of light and want the most magnification, put the long lens on the 650D. If it gets late in the day and you want to keep using the long lens as it gets darker, swap lenses so that the long one is on the 6D. If changing lenses makes you nervous, just practice a little -- it's not a big deal as long as you're not doing it in the rain or a dust storm.

Also: experiment. Try it both ways and see what works for you -- it won't be long before you'll just know what you want to do. There are other factors to consider besides maximizing zoom range or low light performance -- for example, carrying the 150-600mm lens is a quick way to make a long hike unpleasant.

  • Thank you Caleb - that's what the thought was. I certainly am going to put in a lot of practice :-) - because we'll be in a vehicle for the wildlife photography the changing of lenses becomes easier. – Jenni Nov 6 '17 at 7:06
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The 6D lists more features, has a full frame sensor, and sold for over twice the price of the 650D when introduced in 2012, so this could theoretically produce the "best" results, but if you're new to photography there's an argument for getting the hang of a simpler camera before getting into serious amateur / semi professional kit (though the 650D is a lot more than most people would start with).

With lenses, the 24-105mm covers the standard range (wide angle to short telephoto), so if you're looking for a lens to cover most situations, this would be the one. The 150-600mm is long telephoto, so is a bit more specialized.

But as Philip says, it all depends what you're looking to photograph. And "best" will often be subjective. At this point, if you like the "feel" of one more than the other, that's the one I'd use.

Wildlife photography suggests the 150-600mm (as you can stay further away from the subject), but if you also wanted to take landscapes, portraits, street scenes, it would probably mean changing the lens (using a "normal" interpretation for the best length lenses for each kind of subject).

Though the 6D has a full frame sensor, the linear resolution isn't going to be much different (20Mp vs. 18Mp), so you would still see less close detail on a cropped 6D / 24-105mm shot than one taken with the 650D and the 150-600mm lens.

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The most important thing is that taking photographs makes you happy. For one person that might be getting the 1 out of 100 shot of a hummingbird in flight by hand holding 600mm on a crop sensor. For another, it might be a bison at 24mm swallowed in the landscape's vastness. Those two different people might both be you and on the same day. A photographer only gets the shots they get and not the one's they did not.

Better photography takes taking pictures

There are only two combinations. Try one combination and see what shots you get. Then try the other combination and look at those shots. Odds are that both combinations will be 'better' sometimes but not other times.

Practice shooting with your tripod. Practice shooting with your beanbag from a running vehicle. Practice shooting handheld because sometimes the other camera will be on the tripod or the tripod and beanbag will be in your bag.

Moose

The internet is filled with "experts". They will tell you the shots you want to take are only possible with eight thousand dollar lenses, thousand dollar carbon fiber tripods and $600 gimbal heads. My advice: Don't listen. Shoot.

Personally, I have been learning a lot from watching wildlife photographer Moose Peterson on the Youtubes. In particular I find his Sharpness Series: Basic techniques improved my long lens photographs...well that and practice. Just go out and take pictures.

Cessna 172S and windsock

Shot handheld on an APS-C (1.5 crop) camera using a 500mm catadioptric four days ago at the local airport. The Cessna 172S was travelling around sixty kilometers per hour, and my goal was to catch the plane passing the windsock.

The lens is manual focus. It was $99 on ebay. It's not a collector's item. The image is uncropped. The image is what matters. Learn from trying and succeeding and failing. As much as I enjoy the success of this shot, the silver nose cone on the white building is where my planning failed...I missed the bright object in the background. And of course, the light could have been better. That's why it's practice.

Switching lenses

Switching lenses is something that can be practiced. Part of that is figuring out how to arrange gear in your camera bag and on your body so that it is easy. All things being equal, nobody wants to switch lenses. But if switching lenses is what it takes to get the shot, then that's what what it takes. Usually it is worth switching lenses to get the shot. The easier switching lenses becomes the more likely it is worth it.

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