Looking for a wildlife lens under $3,000

Netskimmer

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Hi everyone,

I apologize in advance for the long post...

I've been looking for a lens for wildlife photography, mainly birds. The fact that I want at least 400mm, preferably 500mm and don't have more than $3,000 to spend really limits my options. Here are the three that seem to have the most promise.

Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3
$1,069.00
Amazon.com: Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 AF APO DG OS HSM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras: Camera & Photo

Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3
$1,659.00
Amazon.com: Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM SLD Ultra Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital DSLR Camera: Camera & Photo

Tamron AF 200-500mm f/5.0-6.3
$899.00
Amazon.com: Tamron AF 200-500mm f/5.0-6.3 Di LD SP FEC (IF) Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras: Camera & Photo

I haven't found much in the way of reviews for the Tamron but I really like my Tamron 17-50. The 200-500 looks pretty ugly but I'm more interested in it's capabilities. Reviews for the 'Bigma' (50-500mm) and 'Bigmos' (150-500mm) seem to be inconclusive as to which is better. The consensus is that the 50-500 is better and the shorter end and the 150-500 is better at the farther end. My first inclination would be toward the 150-500 since most people think it performs better at the long end which is where I will most likely be using it and from what I understand, the shorter the focal range, the better the IQ. The 50-500 has a 10x range where the 150-500 has less than 5x. However, the 50-500 is designated as Sigma's pro level glass. I am also concerned with the apparent inconsistency with Sigmas quality control.

So what are your thoughts on these? Are any of them acceptable for bird photography or the occasional air show? Did I miss a lens I should consider? I will be picking up a Nikkor 70-200 2.8 at some point. Would that lens and a high end 2x TC be a better option?
 

DorkSterr

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I have the Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 and to tell you the truth at 500mm the IQ takes a dive. Now dont get me wrong I love the lens (chose it over the 70-200f2.8) any focal length below 400mm is astonishing even wide open, but if you're going to do a lot of 500mm shots with the Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 you will be greatly disappointed.
 

Derrel

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How about a used Sigma 500mm f/4.5 prime??? OR, the 500mm f/4 Nikkor-P.
 

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A 70-200mm f2.8 VR II (I think that is the right name for nikons newest) should easily be able to take a 2*TC and deliver optical quality roughly in line with Canons popular 100-400mm (based mostly on the assumption that 70-200mm f2.8 performance between canon and nikon is pretty much equal). Plus you could use Nikons 1.7 TC and get a good amount of range gain with not as much optical quality loss (always a little annoyed that Canon hasn't made a 1.7TC).


As for additional options consider:
Nikon has an AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF which would fit your budget - add a 1.4TC and you should have a good 420mm lens (though I note B&H has this on backorder so stock might be a problem).

If you can push the top limit of your budget you could also consider a Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 OS - which can take up to a 2*TC and give good performance (provided its stopped down around one stop from wide open). Though you might have to go second hand here since new its $3200 so pushing the very top of your budget limit.

Derrels suggestions would also be worth considering (esp since he knows way more about older glass than I do). Plus they give you a native long prime without any zoom (So potentially will have a higher image quality to deliver over the zooms).
 
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Netskimmer

Netskimmer

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Thanks for all the responses guys,

Dorksterr, thanks for letting me know about the softness and 500mm, I probably will skip this one since I'll likely be using it at the longer end most of the time.

Darrel, are you referring to older G lenses? I can't find the sigma 500mm f/4.5 for under $5,000 or the Nikkor 500mm for less than $8,000

Overread, I will take a look at the Nikkor 300mm and the Sigma 120-300 2.8, I don't mind pushing my budget a little. I am a little leary of the lens + TC route as I have no idea what the TC will do to IQ.

I'm leaning towards the Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8 and the 1.7 TC, I know I want the 70-200 regardless and the 1.7 TC looks like a good investment. This setup would be far shorter than I am wanting but between the high IQ of the Nikkor pro zoom and my D7000's 16MP I could probably crop pretty heavily and still get a good image. I have heard that Nikon's high end TCs will only work with high end Nikkor glass, is this true or would they work on a Sigma or lesser Nikkor?
 

Robin Usagani

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if you want highest quality, go with a prime lens. Most of the time your zoom lens is extended all the way to the max anyway unless you are at a zoo. It will be ligther, sharper, faster and in some case cheaper.
 
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Netskimmer

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How about a used Sigma 500mm f/4.5 prime??? OR, the 500mm f/4 Nikkor-P.

Derrel, suggesting a SIGMA product?

Someone must be posting on his account for him... Either that, or the apocalypse is near.

Yeah, I seem to remember him not thinking too much of 'Stigmas' as he often puts it. I am assuming put his dislike aside because he is trying to help me while working within my limited budget.

if you want highest quality, go with a prime lens. Most of the time your zoom lens is extended all the way to the max anyway unless you are at a zoo. It will be ligther, sharper, faster and in some case cheaper.

I had considered that but most primes are way out of my price range. My only hope in that area would be a 300mm prime and a TC.
 

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Derrel has a love-hate thing with Sigma (a bit like his canon I think ;)). I know he loves the Sigma 150mm and I think he even uses a 180mm macro from them.

That aside Sigma do make some serious pro grade stuff for long reach (eg their 200-500mm is the only f2.8 500mm on the market barring maybe one or two special one-offs by others). I've also seen some very good reviews of their 500-800mm lens comparing it very favourably to a 500mm prime.

That said their superzooms are (like canons 100-400mm) a bit of a difficult area and they can be somewhat iffy as to copy variation. In general most are good, but they have a higher number of copy variation problems than common zooms and lenses - even Canon can't quite get it right (though I'll be fair and say that recent years they are a lot lot more reliable).


Teleconverter compatibility I'll let Nikon users specifically cover - though on the subject of teleconverters this can divide some people. In general using teleconverters gives you superior image quality over cropping to get the same angle of view, though of course using teleconverters will rob you between one stop (1.4*) and two stops (2*) of light from a setup. Some also say that you should never buy a lens that you'll intend to use a teleconverter on and should just buy the lens at the right focal length - however many times a teleconverter can let you get a good quality result out of a shorter lens and make a significant saving over buying a dedicated longer one -- this is important as there is no point lusting after a top end lens if you'll have to wait years to save for it and not have any capability to shoot with that range in the savings time.
 

Robin Usagani

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Yeah, im not familiar with nikon but for canon you can buy L prime 200mm, 300mm, or 400mm for under $1500
 

Derrel

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How about a used Sigma 500mm f/4.5 prime??? OR, the 500mm f/4 Nikkor-P.

Derrel, suggesting a SIGMA product?

Someone must be posting on his account for him... Either that, or the apocalypse is near.

One too many hits off the vaporizer this AM dude? Lemme' see....I own a Sigma 80-400 OS, a Sigma 18-125 DC, a Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX HSM Macro, and a Sigma 100-300mm f/4 EX HSM zoom lens...three of their "best" lenses and one consumer-grade Sigma....

And yes, I was referring to used lenses. The Nikkor 500 is the manual focus (feather-touch, mid-barrel IF focusing ring) f/4-P model, which has a CPU in it. Last time I looked on eBay they were bringing $2,000-$2,300, and the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 was also around the same price on eBay. I do not mean brand-new, retail on either the Sigma 500/4.5 or the 500/4 Nikkor-P, but used lenses, sold by private party sellers, not "The Big Five" web dealers...

Sigma makes some decent offerings in price ranges/niches that the big camera makers tend to neglect, or price VERY high. Sigma makes A FEW superb lenses, like their EX Macro line; I'd also really love to have the new 120-300mm f/2.8 EX OS HSM model Sigma recently re-designed and added OS to. While Canon and Nikon work on oddball crap, Sigma comes out with a lens that is just about the ONLY 3rd party big lens I ever see at FBS-level college football and NFL games...their 120-300, either old or the newer model...
 
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Netskimmer

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Some also say that you should never buy a lens that you'll intend to use a teleconverter on and should just buy the lens at the right focal length - however many times a teleconverter can let you get a good quality result out of a shorter lens and make a significant saving over buying a dedicated longer one -- this is important as there is no point lusting after a top end lens if you'll have to wait years to save for it and not have any capability to shoot with that range in the savings time.

This is why I'm leaning towards the 70-200mm + TC. I already know I want and intend to purchase this lens. If the TC allows me to use it as a bird/wildlife lens and save a few thousand dollars that's great but if not then I can still get a longer lens.

Thanks Darrel, I have to get to work but I'll hit ebay and take a look.
 

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I have the 300mm f/4 and 1.4 TC and my IQ is still very good so long as my technique is good. The 300 f/4 is reportedly one of Nikon's sharpest lenses. I think the TC issue is correct with Nikkor lenses because the TC extends into the back of the lens itself. It won't work on lesser glass because the rear element is not in-set enough. I haven't heard a lot of good things about the 80-400mm which is your only other Nikon option. Can't speak to the Sigmas though I did consider them before going with what I did.
 
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Netskimmer

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So many new lenses to research. The only Nkkior 500mm f4 p on ebay at the moment is going for around $2,800 but I will keep an eye out for them. I am a little concerned about the manual focus. I don't know if I could track a bird in flight while refining my focus manually. I don't know if I have the hand-eye coordination for that, probably just takes practice. I wonder how that Sigma 120-300 f2.8 OS stacks up against the Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 VR II. I don't think I would have a use for both of them, it seems like there would be too much overlap in their focal ranges.
 

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