Wildlife photography without having to rob a bank :)

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by ganz_schrott, Dec 19, 2009.

  1. I have a couple of Nikon DSLRs as well as a 200mm VR zoom lens, which I find rather limiting when shooting tigers and lions, let alone birds perched high on tree tops. I also have a non-VR 70-300 zoom, which I have not even attempted to use for wildlife photography, simply because it is impossible to use a tripod in locations that i find myself most often.
    So I was looking to gift myself a respectable lens when I got the shock of my life, seeing prices ranging anywhere from $6,000 all the way to almost $11,000.
    Needless to say, that is waaay beyond my means. So do any of the bright souls here have any ideas on what I could do, besides being doomed to blurry shots from my handheld 70-300 without VR?
  2. I also have faced the impossible location for a tripod, so I compromised with a lightweight monopod. Try it. When hiking, strap the camera around your neck and use the monopod as a hiking stick. You will see a world of difference, for not too much money or awkwardness. By the way, experts say turn off the VR when the camera is mounted on tripod/monopod.
  3. as well as a 200mm VR zoom lens​
    What is the actual lens you have? 200mm indicates a prime but then you state zoom. The 200 f2 VR does quite well with the TC14. For about the same price as the TC14 you could get the 70-300VR or for around $1400 the 80-400 VR. There are also 3rd party options.
    Why can't you use a tripod? Can you use a monopod? Are your shots blurry from low light causing a low shutter speed, AF missing, or camera shake?
  4. On quite well option is the 300/4 AF-S with an 1.4 or even 1.7 extender. Used on a crop-DSLR this gives you quite some reach to beginn with.
    There is a Sigma 500/4.5 that seems to be quite good (i have no personal experience with it). It should be quite less expensive than the Nikon options.
  5. I don't have 200mm or 70-300mm but shoot some wildlife. But before anything, where are you planning on shooting? Africa in the wild, zoo or sanctuary, similar to that in Montana (or is it MN)? Tigers in India?
    I think if you are thinking of Africa or tigers in India, there's no way u can use tripod. More on this after more info.

  6. Without the highest quality, faster, and longer reaching optics that do cost thousands, you will not be able to work among the best wildlife photographers. It is an elite group who can afford the travel and the equipment to photograph in the wild and to bring back the stunning images to which we've become accustomed. I'm made aware of this, whenever watching a nature documentary and the camera pans to the working photographer and his or her equipment.
  7. I am a bit confused. If you were looking at lenses costing $6000 to $11000 then they must have been f2.8 and f4 supertelephotos, do correct me if I am wrong. They likely had VR but they are certainly not meant to be handheld for very long and they certainly can't be hiked with very far. I assume you must be hiking somewhere strange since you can't use a tripod, I have never found that to be the case for myself. Quite honestly I have no idea how VR and IS got into supertelephotos because just how often is one going to handhold a 10 LB lens. IS and VR were really added for pros to get that extra 1% of keepers and for bragging rights. Of course if you are shooting from a vehicle on safari that would explain the tripod thing. In this case you would need some sort of support device that the "wildlifers" can tell you about and VR won't do a heck of a lot of good since you need shutter speed to really beat the movement of the vehicle and any movement of the wildlife.
    What I am trying to get at is that if you can live with a manual focus telephoto lens that you really can't handhold then you can choose between the Nikon 300mm f2.8 AIS, Nikon 400mm f2.8 AIS, Nikon 500mm f4 P AIS, or Nikon 600mm f4 AIS, each for under $2000. You may be able to add the Nikon TC-16A, with or without modification, to your DSLR to provide at least some autofocus capability to these supertelephotos, not to mention the extra length.
    If you want to handhold something that is light enough to backpack with and you want autofocus and you think you need VR then your only option is the Nikon 80-400mm VR. My autofocus preference would be the Nikon 300mm AF-S with TC-14E.
    It has just occurred to me to ask which 200mm VR lens you have. Is it the 18-200 VR or the 70-200mm f2.8 VR zoom. The f2.8 would work well with a TC-20E until you decide which long term option would be best.
  8. The answer to you problem is the Nikkor 400MM F3.5 AIS. Its a manual focus lens, but is sharp, with good reach, and can be handheld. It has some of the best manual focus feel of any Nikkor. You can find this lens on the used market for about $1,200.
    I will never sell mine.
  9. Folks, thanks for the fast responses. As Sen Babu rightly pointed out, there is no way one can use a tripod. Some recent trips have been to Botswana (cruising hippo + croc infested waters in a canoe), 4WD safaris in South Africa, boat cruises in the Bangladesh Sunderbans (the throbbing diesel engine made even a bean-bag useless, let alone a tripod or a monopod) and a 'tiger safari' in Ranthambhor, India, again from a bumpy 4WD. Another trip was to the Kakadu NP in Australia, which was again from a boat, albeit much smoother than the ride in Bangladesh. The next trip is being planned for Kanha, India.
    Sorry, I should have been more specific about my lens inventory: A Nikon AF 70-300 /f4-5.6 (the non-VR lens which is rarely used on my trips) and a Nikon AF-S 55-200 VR zoom /f4-5.6 (which I use mainly due to its VR function).
    I guess my problem is that my images lack sharpness due to my own unsteady hands (primarily) as well as the somewhat difficult shooting conditions which do not allow for a whole lot of time to keep the subject in the viewfinder. Since I can't afford the megabucks, I can certainly try a manual-focus lens if a good one could be had for around $1,000-1,500.
    Please keep the comments coming!
  10. The limitation you are having is this: distance between you and your subject. There are 2 ways you can do this:
    1. get a much longer lens, which you already said you cannot afford
    2. or get closer to the subject --- much closer, or should I say much much much closer
    For [2], one technique which people do is to sit in a blind in the middle of your subject's habitat and wait for them to get closer for you to shoot. Some people would use food to lure the subjects. The obvious downside for [2] is that you need 10x more patience than [1] and you need to exchange the $$$ you saved from not going with [1] for the time you will have to foot out.
  11. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Some recent trips have been to Botswana (cruising hippo + croc infested waters in a canoe), 4WD safaris in South Africa, boat cruises in the Bangladesh Sunderbans (the throbbing diesel engine made even a bean-bag useless, let alone a tripod or a monopod) and a 'tiger safari' in Ranthambhor, India, again from a bumpy 4WD. Another trip was to the Kakadu NP in Australia, which was again from a boat, albeit much smoother than the ride in Bangladesh. The next trip is being planned for Kanha, India.​
    Are you somehow getting free trips to all of those places? I find it hard to believe that one manages to get to all of those exotic places but cannot afford some better lenses.
    For example, I have been to the Kakadu National Park in northern Australia. The river boats a bunch of us on were reasonably large and we all used tripods. In fact, I used my usual Gitzo 1325 to support my 500mm/f4 on the bost.
  12. Ganz, it may seems strange my proposal but it could be a solution. What if you purchase a (1) Tamron 18-270 VC that's for crop camera or (2) a Tamron 28-300 VC that's for full frame?
    The VC of these new Tamrons is better IMHO than VRII from Nikon or at least the same effective.
    I have (1) and I am very pleased with it and a good friend of mine has (2) and I have a very good input from him.
    The only disadvantage is that AF is not so fast like Nikon's pro zooms but for the price you pay for it is very good and anyhow is much better than a MF lens. I do not disconsider MF lenses, I have some that I like, but it seems hard to get in focus with such as lens from a 4WD in safari...
    If you shoot in daylight and I believe that, you can add a Tamron 1.4 TC... and unbelievable even sometime is hunting you have AF... at least I have with my zoom.
    Another advantage of this option is that these zooms are lightweight and you can manage the camera very well with no tripod or monopod.
    You may consider to rent a Tamron for a couple of days and you can test to see how it works before to make a decision.
  13. All those places have quite a bit of light...is VR really a must?
    I'd second the AF-S 300 f/4 and TC14E if you're serious about it. Would stretch the budget slightly, but it's a great pair.
    Plenty of other options too, though. For a lot less, the 70-300VR is the obvious choice (it is better than the 55-200VR and the 70-300 you already own). Nikon 80-400VR would not be a bad choice either, but it's tight with your budget.
    The Sigma 150-500 might also be an option, or the smaller 120-400. Tokina 80-400, Tamron 200-500. No experience with them, but most of these are tested quite well. And all these should go within your budget.
  14. Now that we have more info, v can dissect ur situations....
    In Africa, 'm sure u can use beanbags from 4x4. But what I like the most is having a window pod. I use groofwin with wimberley. Have tried monfrotto gimbal (think 393) on a few trips, which wasn't bad, but wim is better. I try to use this combo as much as I can. Haven't shot from a boat. I was contemplating on Bots this Nov, where I wud've taken boat rides but ended up going back to Masai Mara. I was also wondering abt shooting from boats. I used 200-400mm on D200/300 for most of my trips but this time around I got the 600mm, and used that on D700. But, 200-400mm on a crop sensor will be perfect. BTW - VR is very useful on 200-400mm. I've sharp pics hand held on it at 1/60 sec from elephant back in India shooting tigers. On 600mm, VR is less useful as hand holding is very diff. Its useful in some select cases, such as shooting in the last available light even when bumping up ISO on D700 wasn't sufficient. But one can certainly live w/o it.
    Shooting tigers is a totally different story. In Africa, its open plains, whereas tiger habitat is thicker forest. I have twice been to Bandhavgarh, India, which is supposed to have highest tiger density. U shoot from open 4x4's, with very low supports. So even bean bags are difficult, though I have used them. Of course, tripods are outta q. I did see someone shoot with a tripod, but it seemed impossible. In such situations, I think VR is invaluable, as u might have shoot hand held, esp that setting up supports takes time and good tiger sighting can be very brief (from photography pt of view). Again, 200-400mm is perfect. I've met a few other photographers; one used monopod, which seemed a very nice option. Another guy used clamp mounts, which also seemed very good. 'm thinking of taking both on my next trip for tigers.
    Now coming to your specific situation. I think, if you can't afford to buy 200-400mm, renting is a nice option. But looks like u r taking quite a few trips. So renting cost will add up soon that u r better off buying one. I went thru the same dilemma, twice actually. First time, it was with 200-40mm. I thought long and hard, and in the end took a loan to buy it. Very recently, it was with 600mm. Again, the rental cost wud break even in 5 yrs or less if you rent it at least 10 days each x 3 trips. So its for u too foresee a little bit on ur future trips and decide. But whatever it is, if you taking all these trips mainly for photography, you ought to have good lenses, otherwise, you waste your trips. Now, if you taking pics casually along with just traveling, it might be a diff story. But from ur post, it looks like u r serious.
    Going to tigers (one of my favs), heard good things abt Ranthambore from a few folks who have gone there, and 'm planning on going there during my trip back home. But Bandhavgarh is great place to see them. Reaching there is a pain, but I guess, that's probably a reason why they r preserved better. Heard abt Kanha. Apparently, its a bigger park with fewer paths to drive thru. So its more of a hit or miss. Photography wise, tigers r generally very difficult as compared to African wildlife.
  15. I am a birder or bird watcher but with lesser interest in pursuing Bird Photography since one cannot do both at the same time. From the latter perspective, the poor man's bird lens is this "Bigma" or Sigma 50-500. Otherwise, in Nikon, the choices will be 500 f4 VR for tripod shots or 300 2.8 (plus 2x) for handheld (tripod) shots. Please see below for further information:
    http://www.birdingworld.co.uk/Sigma Photos.htm
  16. I was watching one of the outdoor specials the other day and they profilled William Finley who was a Bird Photographer in the early 1800's. He managed to get great shots of Condors and other birds using glass plates. He packed the camera's on his back and hiked and climbed and made his shots. So I am figuring a guy with a DSLR (crop sensor) and say the Nikon 70-300VR is not that bad off. A friend of mine has a 500mm mirror lens and is snagging a lot of suprising wildlife shots. Use your gear and find a way to make the shot..Sometimes a person has to get creative and certainly you must work for it...For Birders who wish to view and snap birds, Zeiss now has a spotting scope that has a built in 7mp camera. It has a focal zoom reach to about 1600mm. Runs about $6000.00 which is nothing to sneeze at. If I were passionate about birding I would certainaly take a look at this camera/spotting scope.
  17. Unfortunately there is no free lunch - as they say. I you need the reach and if you cannot use a tripod, then you will have to spend lots of money to achieve what you want. How come you have the means to travel to all these exotic places and not have the money for a decent lens? If I were in your shoes and photography was important to me, I would start saving money towards a super tele lens.
  18. What Juergen says is very true. You are traveling to expensive places for wildlife photography. I wud seriously consider saving some money to buy good long lenses, even if it means u have to sacrifice a trip or 2. It'll serve u much better in the longer run.
    300mm 2.8 AFS + 1.4x on crop sensor too is a very good option. My friend tried sigma 50-500mm on trips to Masai Mara and Bandhavgarh. Seeing the pics from my 200-400mm during the same trips, he got rid of it, and bought 200-400mm for the next trip; he is very happy with it.
  19. My partner (Chris Weston) lives in the UK and he travels the world photographing endangered species. He also has written over 20 books, many "how to." If you'd like, I can post the web site here, through which you can email him for more tips. But as these things go, I don't want to do it without permission lest I am accused of shameless promotion!
  20. I bought the Nikon 80-400 mm VR lens for a trip to East Africa in 2008. It worked well. Most of our shooting was done from inside a vehicle and a tripod was impractical. I strongly recommend the use of a beanbag. I used this lens for most of my shots and a 18-200 of a Canon G9 for the rest. Here's the link to my Africa photos on flickr:
  21. Your basic problem is you are not holding the camera steady enough. Getting a more expensive lens simply means you will have spent more money to get the same blurred photos. The solution is better technique.
    To minimize body shake, you need to shoot at a faster speed. For your focal lengths, this means 1/500 or faster. To minimize focus problems you need to get reasonable depth of field at the long focal lengths. You need a small aperture such as f16. If you cannot get such a combination of speed and aperture due to poor light, increase your ISO setting.
    How you hold the camera is also important but any beginner's book on photography will have tips on how to hold the camera steady.
  22. the only thing that you can do is get a better lens. i'm afraid i have to echo shun's comment on this one. ....
    don't waste those trips! get better tools to document them. have more fun.
  23. The lens you want is the Nikon 80-400mm VR. The VR works. I really doubt you'll get many sharp photos from inside a vehicle with other people moving around if you use a non-VR lens. Find a used 80-400mm VR on e Bay. It has the reach and the VR works. Optics are good, AF is slow.
    Kent in SD
  24. Ganz,
    There is no way around it, no way to cheap out in this regard. Big glass costs big money. Save up to buy new if you can't afford the outlay. Buy used if you want to save. Tripods are another reality you have to accept.
  25. I'm trying to imagine someone using a 600/4 from a canoe... :)
    If the platform is unstable for a tripod, then you really need a lot of light to get a sharp shot without and the longest lenses are out of bounds anyway. VR could help a bit, but you need to be realistic in what you are trying to achieve. The affordable lens that comes to mind is the 80-400 VR, although it's getting a bit old by now.
  26. Dear Ganz,
    You need more than millimeters ............
    1. time, much time to wait for the wild getting close enough to your spot.
    2. An itinerary that doesn't push you.
    3. Patience, much patience.
    4. Luck, just luck.
    About the millimeters, did you considder renting lenses?
  27. Your going all these expensive places without adequate equipment seems like a non sequitur to me, too.
    But if you simply can't get past the expense of better/faster glass, then you'll have to get closer with the best glass you can afford, either in a blind or hide, or with remote cameras.
  28. There is a very nice looking 400mm f/3.5 EDIF AIS Nikkor on Fleabay right now for under $900 including a TC-301, making it an 800mm f/7 lens. If you are using DX, that means 1200mm f/7
  29. Even folks with 600mm glass have to get very close to the little birdies, big ones too. Many, many bird shots are taken near the food that is put out to attract them. 'Reminds me, oddly enough, of bear bait camps I have seen in Canada for great white hunters who want an easy shot at the poor critter without actually going on a hunt. Photos, though, are a much more respectable activity.
    I am becoming a convert to what I always thought of as "lousy" teleconverters, believing that a possible shot is better than no shot at all. Even the cost of shorter Nikkor telephotos is becoming beyond reason for many people.
    Did I mention getting close?
  30. David,
    Teleconverters are not the dogs they used to be in the early 70's when I first started this photography jazz. Nikon's TC's are fine pieces of optical design. But by virtue of how they work, the prime lens has to also be of very high quality. I have a Nikon TC-14B I use with both my 300mm f/4.5 AIS and 500mm f/8 Reflex Nikkors, and I have to tell you, I cannot tell the difference on the baseboard with and without all the way up to 16 x 20.
    Of course the TC-200 and TC-300 series offer more magnification, and the amount of image degredation will be greater, but they are not not "just for emergencies" anymore.
  31. How about the Nikon AF-S 70-300mm VR? It goes for between $600-700.
    Also, a monopod is a great tool, but not very practical if you're shooting birds in trees from the ground. The VR in the 70-300mm should eliminate that need in any case.
  32. Thanks again for all these great suggestions, which I will research more thoroughly a.s.a.p. Meanwhile, just to clarify, no, I don't get free trips to all these places (I can only dream). I do spend a lot of my disposable income on travel and am also a (frequent flyer) mileage junkie - hence the trips to faraway places. Photography is a hobby and I allocated whatever resources I could - but I suppose you have a point - perhaps I should scrap a trip and use the money thus saved to buy better glass :)
  33. I advise against getting a manual focus lens. Based on the problems you describe, I just can't see it helping. It sounds good on paper, but getting back into wildlife work myself just now with a D3, I'm having a heck of a time getting anything good at all from my old 500/4 P. Based on my testing so far, by far the most important determinant is AF, becauase even my old 300/4 AF of the same vintage of my 500 is kicking the 500's ass in the sharpness area, despite having loud, slow AF, because AF just works that much better. Even when the animals aren't in motion, however, I'm really struggling with the 500/4. I fear that, as described on a lot of blogs around the web, this particular vintage of lens suffers badly from CA on digital that wasn't a problem with film. I've read very similar comments about several contemporary lenses, including the 400/3.5 which was considered superb in the 90s with film. Plus, the 400/3.5 is massive and forget hand-holding.
    What's missing from the Nikon line right now is a good hand-holdable option. All the people around me shooting wildlife this year are Canon people, both here in L.A. and in Costa Rica last month. They all have those hand-holdable slow 400s with with or without TCs and they probably play with ISO. So far I'm coming up short because Nikon doesn't even have an entry in this category to combat Canon for the FX world. For DX, however (the OP didn't say what cameras he has), that 300 VR or 400 VR would be the answer. Get it and you're done, as long as you have a body that can deal with medium or higher ISOs.
    I would also point out that, similar to other comments here, having several Nikon DSLR bodies kicking around but no proper lenses also suggests a misuse of your available funds. Glass is always the most ciritical thing. I hope you don't have multiple DSLRs because of upgrade fever.
  34. "I hope you don't have multiple DSLRs because of upgrade fever."
    Bro, you've hit the nail on the head! I started with a D70, then 'upgraded' to a D80, then bought a D40 (because "it was such a deal" and I thought a spare body would be useful) and after having succumbed to the temptation of a D90, I have finally seen the folly of my ways! So I am definitely NOT in the market for another body anytime soon.
    Having read the comments and wonderful advice yet again, it seems that my choices are really limited to either the 70-300 VR @ $500 or the 80-400 VR at three times the price. I suppose I could swing for the 80-400, if the 3x price factor is worth it in your opinion.
    All other lenses mentioned (e.g. 200-400, 200 f2 VR etc) with price points of $5K+ are beyond reach right now; perhaps if the (stock) trading gods smile on me in 2010, I can take another look. Renting gear seems to be uneconomical, since my trips tend to be somewhat long.
    Senthil, thanks for your detailed comments. I had never heard of stuff like groofwin & wimberley...and perhaps I should be getting them. But if I buy the 80-400, there will be no money left over for these accessories.
    Leo Grillo, yes, please post the website of your partner ... thanks
    Danny Low - yep, another bullseye. f16 & speeds faster than 1/500 are an unimaginable luxury, especially when the critters are sitting in the shade in a dense forest. But I have been hesitant of pushing the ISO much beyond 200, because I have been afraid of the grain devil, especially after the inevitable cropping. What, in your collective opinion, is the max ISO that can be used safely without ruining 11x14 or 16x20 prints?
    Finally, back to Steve...yes, I wondered about the alternatives from Canon as well. However, I think it was more a question of irrational behaviour that made me think of that horde of Nikon bodies and hence dismiss any thoughts of flirting with Canon. But may be, just may be, I should before plonking down $1,500 for that 80-400 Nikkor.
    Again, thanks everybody!
  35. Steve, I wonder how well that 500P would focus if it were tried on a body with a Katz Eye split prism ground glass?
    My old manual focus lenses, none longer than 200 mm (and I do have a TC200 for them, which I have used once in a while and seems just a tad soft), are hard to focus on the digital focusing screen. My tired eyes do not trust that little green dot that much. The only one I have success with in my old 105mm F4 Micro, but which I usually use on dead still flowers and the occasional butterfly.
    A couple of months ago I put a roll of film through my old F for a couple of portraits in B&W for the first time in years. How easy it was, and a pleasure, to get dead accurate focus on an eye with that split screen in the F. But, the models are not moving, are not distant animals, and I do not plan to shoot another roll of film for another couple of years. Digital is where it is at, and autofocus seems to be the way to go.
    The 500P is one supertele that I have toyed with as a long lens that I might be able to afford. I am sorry to hear that your shots are not sharp. I had heard that it was supposed to be a very sharp lens. If you have assured that focus is accurate, and if the lens is clamped down. then I guess the may be a problem.
    Too bad.
  36. Sometimes it's a matter of of using what you have to the fullest. This was taken with a Nikon D80 and a 300mm f4.5 Ais ED manual focus lens with a 1.4x Tamron teleconverter.
  37. Hi Ganz,
    Chris Weston (UK) can be reached through our site:
    He's a great guy and will answer freely. He's also been to most places. Mention that I said to email him.
    Good luck --
  38. Ganz, you might think about getting the 70-300 VR right now. The 80-400 VR is pretty long in the tooth and rumored to be uprgraded soon. In 6 - 8 months there might be some pretty good deals on this lens, or you might prefer to begin to slowly save for what could replace it. Thom Hogan has mentioned the possiblity of a 100-500 AFS/VR. Sounds like something like this could be Nirvana for you ( and at variable aperture, probably within your price range at some point in time ).
  39. If you have been happy with your VR 55-200mm lens, you may be really happy if you check out the VR 70-300mm AF-S Nikkor lens. It would have a bit more reach and the glass gives good results. And it would be lighter to carry around than a 500mm lens.
    Taken with the VR 70-300mm AF-S Nikkor lens
  40. I see Nikon 80-400mm VR regularly selling for around $1,000 on E bay. That lens will do what you want. I would not buy a new one. There is also the very similar Sigma 120-400mm OS HSM. "OS" is Sigma's equiv. of VR and it works well. The lens also has HSM, which is Sigma's version of AFS for faster focus. This lens sells new for just under $900 and is worth a VERY serious look by you. If you can find a used one that would likely be a terrific deal. Either lens will do what you want. Long range and doesn't need a tripod. I bought the Nikon 80-400mm VR to photo birds from my kayak. It did the job.
    The only other lens with VR/OS in your price range is the Nikon 70-300mm VR. I think I'd rather have a Sigma 120-400mm OS, myself. BTW, I don't think you went crazy with your purchase of camera body. The D90 is a good value.
    If Nikon actually were to come out with a 100-500mm VR AFS lens, I'm betting it would cost $1,800 like all the other lenses they've been releasing. Groan.

    Kent in SD
  41. I have heard rumors of a new Nikon 100-500 variable apperture zoom and am impatiently waiting. A lot of Canon shooters very successfully use their 100-400/4-5.6 and Nikon really does not have a competitive option. I too would love the 200-400 with TCs, but the price is just too high. I'm thinking of getting the new 70-200/2.8 with the new TC-2.0 III. That would be 140-400/5.6 and could be a be an option. I have the 70-300 VR, but it's just too slow and won't take tc's.
    If the 100-500 has both superior optics and build quality, I would imagine it costing at least as much as the new 70-200/2.8, or about $2,500.
  42. hbs


    I disagree with Kent about the Sigma 120-400mm OS lens. I had one and sold it recently. It wasn't as sharp as I had hoped (at least my copy wasn't), it seemed very big and heavy for its optic size, and the OS (Sigma's VR) was noisy. I now have a Nikkor 300mm f/4 AF (not the AF-S) and a Tamron 1.4x TC that I'm much happier with.
  43. I have owned the Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 OS for about a year. I bought it new for about $1000. Not much can touch it for the price. I recommend the lens, however it only works well in bright light because of the small aperture and some copies are a little soft. The OS is as good or better than VRII but can be noisy and power hungry. This is one of the best price/feature values around.
  44. I used the cheapo Canon 75-300mm lens for years and got many great shots. My best buddy at that time was a bean bag. Rest it on you knees, branches, walls or whatever. It makes a huge difference. I've been on a shoot with Andy Rouse (one of the world's best) and he got me into bean bags. Don't spend money on something that you may regret in the future. Try the cheaper options first.
  45. Ganz
    a manual focus 400mm 5.6 used is available from KEH for $449 this is probably by far the best bang for the buck, I know there is a whole generation of people unable to use or even consider a fixed focus manual focus lens but they are very useable and with care can yeild extraordinary results. I bought a 400mm 3.5 Nikon on the auction site a little beat up but very useable for less than $800. You will find for wildlife photography a zoom will spend 90% of it's life at full length so why not consider an older fixed focus lens with a good solid monopod off course. A 500mm F4 would be my choice but of course it is much bigger and more expensive as to the poster who finds his 500mm unsatisfactory I'll happily take it off your hands because my experience has been quite different.
  46. enlarged section
  47. Ganz, you dont need one of those exspensive lenses. I use a 300mm f/4 with 1.5 TC and 1.5 crop DSLR. I shoot tiny songbirds with this setup. With a monopod you can shoot all day long. You can also buy used.
  48. I agree with the thought about the 300/4, particularly for DX, although I've read bad things about the degredation of the original 300/4 AF with TC.
    Further thoughts on my 500/4 P. I completed a brief test yesterday, images I was actually downloading from my camera as I made the above post. Now that I've looked at them, I have unexpected results. Based on a tripod-mounted test, the lens appears remarkably sharp and aberration free (far as I can tell, I'm not an experienced lens tester) at f/8, with good but noticeably diminished sharpness at each adjacent f/stop (5.6 and 11), and incredibly degraded results at all other apertures. Wide open at f/4 the results appear virtually indistinguishable from results at f/32. These results (to be confirmed with more testing) really surprise me as this lens had the reputation for being very good wide open. Interestingly, the shutter speed at f/4 was 1/500s, compared to just 1/125s at f/8, yet the f/8 results are shockingly better. In fact, f/11 was also far sharper than f/4 despite a shutter speed of only 1/60s. This seems to suggest that my long lens technique was at least acceptable, and doubly reinforces the limitations of the lens wide open. Doh.
    But at least there seems to be a pair of usable apertures. The problem is, f/8 was clearly the winner, not 5.6 as reported elsewhere, and f/8 is going to be very difficult to use with wildlife in motion. In fact the f/11@1/60s is slightly sharper than the f/5.6@1/250s. My task now seems clear, go forth and see if I can make good at f/8. That'll be fine for the relatively static bird portraits I've been focused on lately, but my ambitions definitetely lean towards action. For that I'm hoping the current generation of long Nikkor lenses are sharper wide open (the claims certainly suggest it, with bloggers proclaiming wide open is the sharpest aperture in some cases), and combining that with super fast AF and VR seems like it should be night and day over my classic. I plan to rent and test.
    Regarding some comments above, I certainly agree that in wildlife it's usually all about the prime. I want to be as long as possible, as I found out early on that my zooms (before I sold them) spent all their time at the long end when wildlife was the target. Right now I'm salivating over the newish 800/5.6 IS from Canon, yet another place where Nikon isn't even in the game. Arthur Morris's love letter to that lens in the current Nature Photographer magazine seems persuasive to me. At FX sizes, 500 is a length I used to consider adequate, but there is no doubt that having a lens almost twice as long without a TC would really deliver more results. That said, the original poster specified hand-held, so that's why I pointed to the VR zooms. But, on a cropped body I think the first gen 300/4 AF would also get you there even without a TC, so good options there on a budget.
    To Steve Hughes : nice parrot shots, very impressive, thanks for the 100% crop. What aperture was the shot taken? To other photo posters, remember if you don't post at 100% crop, it tells us almost nothing about the quality of the image.
    Shout out for Avatar: those of you interested in wildlife and nature, this film is a pleasure. Skip 3D, which gave us all a headache, see it in 2D, which was glorious, with fantastic textures we seemed unable to perceive with the 3D gimmick. My wife and I just returned from Costa Rica and this film put us right back there.
  49. Sigma 150-500 ??
  50. Sigma 150-500mm
  51. To Steve Hughes . BTW, were your parrot shots taken from a moving vehicle in less than optimal light conditions? Those were the conditions specified by the OP, and that's why I'm recommending against manual focus lenses. Without AF and if possible some VR, I just don't see much of a hit rate being possible under the conditions specified. Especially not with a slow monster like the MF 400/5.6.
  52. Disclaimer: I'm not a wildlife photographer but I do occasionally shoot with telephotos while in a boat.
    I think using a manual focus supertele hand-held in a moving vehicle of the canoe variety is not something you want to be doing. From larger and more stable vehicles, sure. I think the 70-300 VR would be effective in such situations though it's not the sharpest at 300mm (should be better than your current lenses though). The 80-400 VR is its optical superior according to several reviews but it has somewhat dated VR and AF. I think these are your budget choices (within the Nikon brand) that would work in such shooting contexts. The 70-200/2.8 (either version, but the Mk II has VR II which should be more effective in a moving vehicle) would also work but they're shorter so you need to get closer to the animals or settle for more environmental shots. On the other hand the f/2.8 zooms generally speaking have (much) better image quality than the slower variable aperture ones and you would be able to get good results in low light also (if you're in a forest, this could be a factor, also at dusk/dawn). The 300/4 is the "long" lens which I use myself; it's sharp, reasonably fast, compact, relatively lightweight, and not that expensive. With modern bodies and their (ISO) sensitivity range it's hand-holdable and would probably work reasonably well in your shooting situations but it lacks VR so you need to use relatively high shutter speeds (I try to be around 1/1000s or faster to be sure).
    If you want a super-tele for more wildlife shooting opportunities, and if you can afford one, that is obviously great, but I think you'd still want to have a more lightweight and easier to handle lens such as one of the ones I mentioned above for the rough situations where lugging a 4kg lens isn't the most comfortable.
    Personally I'm contemplating the purchase of either a 500/4 or the 200-400/4 myself but thankfully I have more sane friends that try to talk me out of it. ;-)
    BTW. do post some images from your next trip. ;-)
  53. "I'm recommending against manual focus lenses. Without AF and if possible some VR, I just don't see much of a hit rate being possible under the conditions specified."
    In the old days before AF, one technique that worked well in such situations is zone focusing. You figure out an f stop and focusing distance that made everything from X meters to infinity in focus. As long as your subject is more than X meters away, everything was in focus and you can just shoot. This technique is actually better than AF for quick shooting under rapidly changing conditions as you do not have to wait for the AF to lock on your subject and avoids the problem of the AF locking on the wrong part of the scene. So a manual focus lens can be the better solution in this case. Just make sure to tape down the lens so the zoom length and focusing is not accidentally changed.
    The problem is figuring out the f stop and focusing distance. In the old days lenses had depth of field markers on the lens to aid in this. Today, such markers are gone from zooms although prime lenses still have them. OTOH there is probably an iPhone app to do this. :) The other problem is figuring out what X should be. You need some idea of how close you will be be to the subject and select a value for X.
  54. "I guess my problem is that my images lack sharpness due to my own unsteady hands (primarily) as well as the somewhat difficult shooting conditions [jeeps, boats, canoes] which do not allow for a whole lot of time to keep the subject in the viewfinder."
    OP, you've set up an impossible task. However, I'd go with the earlier suggestion of a 400mm f/5.6 prime lens. Light weight and you can easily shoot at ISO 800 and probably get away with 1250-1600 with your D90. Unless you are photographing in bright, mid-day light - which isn't the best kind of light - the odds of coming back with sharp images made with a telephoto, even one with a large aperture, are almost nil.
    While you're at it, why not purchase a 70-300VR, and sell your old one or keep it as an emergency spare? The VR version and the 400mm lens should set you back no more than a grand.
  55. Steve
    the parrot pictures were shot in good but very overcast lighting I can't remember the actual aperture used but I never stop down past 5.6 it was probably shot at 4.5. The original post mentioned nothing about shooting from a moving vehicle if I had read that I would advised to stop right there, it's pretty much going to be impossible to get decent shots from a moving vehicle in low light conditions if thats your only option my advice would be to relax enjoy the scenery and take photos when the 4x4 stops. Here's what I'd do if I were Ganz firstly stop apologizing because he's wasting his money on fantastic trips instead of hugh Nikon Bazooka lenses for mega bucks. It's really a sorry state of affairs when people have to apologise for there inadequate equipment on this site. My advice buy a big old Nikon MF 400-500-or even 600mm lens the more beat up and cheaper the better, then get a good solid monopod and a pocket full of greenbacks, when you see a shot you like wave the money in front of the driver and get him to stop,{you will actually have to give it to him too} then take you pic, that's my advice and I stick by it and for the record if you had to fight off a hungry lion an old Nikon 600mm would be a much more effective weapon than some plastic 20-300 afs vvr crapo consumer do everything lens.
  56. Zoo is another option for using a less expensive lens ... don't count this option out.
    CLICK on image to see full res
    70-300mm ED shot in the zoo
    70-200VR shot in the zoo
    500VR shot in the wild
  57. since you have a couple of dlsr's to choose from, I expect one of them to be a dx camera. Get a 70-300 VR it has relative fast AF-S focussing, VR and on the dx body benefits from a 1,5 crop factor. It should cover your needs.
    Why not rent one for the weekend and go visit a Zoo or a marketplace with people moving around. That should give you some ideas on its usability.
  58. As Arthur Yeo says "2.or get closer to the subject --- much closer, or should I say much much much"
    This photo of an egret was taken with a Nikon 50mm f1.4 lens at 1/200's f7.1 No cropping of the photo was performed.

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