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Author Topic: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?  (Read 742 times)

shadowblade

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Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« on: June 07, 2019, 08:59:43 am »

With Sony about to release its 600/4 supertele prime, and already having a 400/2.8, we now have three separate systems ready for dedicated, high-end wildlife photography with full-frame bodies. But just because multiple options are available doesn't mean carrying multiple superteles in the field is all that feasible, whether due to weight when carrying them, airline luggage restrictions (particularly on small planes) or simply the expense of owning them. One must be selective in what they carry, and usually this means one big lens, as well as a secondary lens.

For flying birds, it's pretty obvious - as long as possible.

Dense jungles and places like the Galapagos Islands are another obvious exception - animals are close enough, or line of sight is limited enough, that shorter focal lengths are frequently in play. A 180-400/4 or 200-400/4 on full frame, with a 70-200 as close-range backup, would be good for these environments.

But what about for other, non-birds-in-flight wildlife in more open areas - large game on the African savannah, black bears and grizzlies in forests, penguins in South Georgia or polar bears in Svalbard?

The way I see it, there are several viable combinations:

1) 800/5.6 and a zoom (100-400/4.5-5.6, 200-500/5.6, 200-600/5-6.3 or 150-600/5-6.3) - long reach, but the prime is going to be too long for many closer or larger animals, leaving you heavily reliant on the secondary lens, and with limited options in low light.

2) 600/4 and 100-400/80-400/other similar zoom - a much more flexible big lens, with better low-light capability and more ability to use it for closer or larger animals. You're still going to have to resort to the backup lens in many cases, although not nearly as often as with the 800/5.6. With teleconverters, you can reach 840/5.6, or even 1200/8 in a pinch, although that may be really pushing the boundaries of practicality due to low light and atmospheric distortion.

3) 400/2.8 and 100-400/80-400 - bright, fast lens for low-light shooting at dawn or dusk. At 400mm on full frame, you'll be able to use your primary lens for most wildlife subjects, although you'll frequently be using it with a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter (not that that brings a huge image quality penalty with these lenses, although there may be more of a hit to AF).

4) 400/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 - same as option 3, but swapping out the 100-400 for a 70-200/2.8 for improved low-light performance. The 70-200 becomes a 98-280/4 with a 1.4x TC, reducing the gap between the upper end of the secondary lens and the focal length of the prime.

5) 180-400/4 or 200-400/4 - only goes up to 560/5.6, but leaves you with a main lens that will work in almost all situations, with little need to resort to a secondary lens.

(500/4 is really just a lighter and slightly shorter version of 600/4 and can probably be lumped into the same category)

What would be your choice of lens combination and why, and what environment would your choice be tailored towards? I'd personally lean towards 600mm for Arctic/Antarctic and 400/2.8 with 70-200 for Africa, but would be interested to see what others think.
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Kirk_C

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2019, 12:46:43 am »

With Sony about to release its 600/4 supertele prime, and already having a 400/2.8, we now have three separate systems ready for dedicated, high-end wildlife photography with full-frame bodies.

I'm still on the wait list for the Sony 400. They can't meet demand but I've seen 3 of them today at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. They stand out in the sea of Canon 400s. I'm using a 300 2.8 IS L II and 1.4 TC III and have arranged to compare some images with one of the guys who had the Sony 400.

But of course an F1 car coming down the straight at over 320 KPH is a different scenario.

As to your list for birding / wildlife, you don't mention which gimbal you'll use. Hand holding a 400 is doable but exhausting. Anything longer requires a gimbal or fluid head on a monopod.

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David Sutton

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2019, 04:33:39 am »

In general a long lens is a waste of time in the Antarctic. I never used mine. My best shots for penguins were taken with a 70-300 and a 24-105.
I tried a 400mm for BIF from the ship and all I could get were head shots, and had to go below for the 70-300. Even that was used at the short end. Mostly I was within 5 to 30 ft of wildlife.
BTW, have you tried a really long lens for BIF? It took me months of practice with the 400mm to even find the subject in the viewfinder quickly enough. Now I've gotten lazy and  look for places where I'll catch them on an updraught. A 70-200 works well for that.
I'd hire before buying.
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shadowblade

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2019, 05:32:09 am »

I'm still on the wait list for the Sony 400. They can't meet demand but I've seen 3 of them today at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. They stand out in the sea of Canon 400s. I'm using a 300 2.8 IS L II and 1.4 TC III and have arranged to compare some images with one of the guys who had the Sony 400.

But of course an F1 car coming down the straight at over 320 KPH is a different scenario.

As to your list for birding / wildlife, you don't mention which gimbal you'll use. Hand holding a 400 is doable but exhausting. Anything longer requires a gimbal or fluid head on a monopod.

I normally hire or otherwise borrow lenses for wildlife trips, so have the luxury of being able to tailor equipment to individual destinations. But the question is, which one would you buy, if you could only buy one big lens and had to use it as your primary wildlife lens? Presumably, not many people are going to buy multiple big lenses, each the price of a small car. Even if you did, you're unlikely to take more than one big lens per person on a trip.

As for support equipment, it depends on the situation. Beanbag when in a vehicle. Tripod-mounted gimbal when staking out a position. Monopod when on foot. Also a selection of clamps and straps in order to do such things as attach a monopod to a rail in a vehicle, or a gimbal to the basket of a hot air balloon or the saddle of a horse.
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shadowblade

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #4 on: June 08, 2019, 05:37:49 am »

In general a long lens is a waste of time in the Antarctic. I never used mine. My best shots for penguins were taken with a 70-300 and a 24-105.
I tried a 400mm for BIF from the ship and all I could get were head shots, and had to go below for the 70-300. Even that was used at the short end. Mostly I was within 5 to 30 ft of wildlife.
BTW, have you tried a really long lens for BIF? It took me months of practice with the 400mm to even find the subject in the viewfinder quickly enough. Now I've gotten lazy and  look for places where I'll catch them on an updraught. A 70-200 works well for that.
I'd hire before buying.

I rarely shoot birds anyway, and almost never in flight.

As for subject tracking with telephoto lenses, there's always this:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1116753-REG/olympus_ee_1_dot_sight_for.html

I think Nikon makes one, too.
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Tony Jay

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #5 on: June 08, 2019, 06:21:16 am »

I have never been to Antarctica so cannot comment with any authority on what would be the focal lengths that need to be covered, however I have shot birds and wildlife extensively in Australia and Africa....

I use a combination of lens including a 70-200mm f2.8, a 100-400mm f4.5-5.6, and a 500mm f4.0 prime. Given that newer lenses are lighter than older iterations I would definitely consider a 600mm f4.0... In addition, I often pair these lenses with a 1.4X tele-extender, and occasionally, a 2.0X tele-extender.

When using the 500mm 4.0 I am usually shooting from a vehicle and favour a specially made (designed and constructed by myself) bean-bag. If that is not possible, say because the vehicle is an open game-viewing vehicle I use a monopod with a fluid head.

I tend to have each lens on a different body and so only need to pick up the appropriate combination.

However, I also tend to pick specific lenses for specific environments. When shooting birds and wildlife within rainforest environments in Australia the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 easily encompasses the longest focal lengths that are practical. However in open environments like the Australian deserts or the bush environments of Africa really the only limit to focal length becomes a practical one marrying cost and weight...

If I was shooting with the Sony A9, I would include the 70-200mm f2.8, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6, and the 600mm f4.0 along with tele-extenders as my basic lens/body kit.

It is also true, though, that, especially when in Africa, I also like to shoot wildlife with lenses one might think are only appropriate for landscape - and that is because I want to shoot exactly that: landscapes containing wildlife... Tough gig to get really memorable shots this way - but when one gets it right...
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Jeremy Roussak

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #6 on: June 08, 2019, 08:06:17 am »

I wouldn't presume to advise, but my own experience in a trip to Antarctica was that I used the Canon 100-400 on my 5Ds about 90% of the time. I didn't find myself wishing I'd brought anything longer, but birds (other than penguins) weren't my primary focus. At times, we were so close to whales that even 100mm was too long.

One of our group had a Canon 600mm and used it a lot. He is a lot younger than me, though, and his arms are a great deal stronger. None of us had tripods. He did get some fantastic shots, but of course he wasn't without photographic ability either.

FWIW

Jeremy
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Martin Kristiansen

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #7 on: June 08, 2019, 12:59:45 pm »

If I had one body i would take a 100 to 400. Stuff happens quickly and nothing quite like having a 400mm prime on a single body when a pair of elephants appear on the side of the road having a mock tussle and you can basically get just an eye ball in frame. It happens.

I think the body is a big component. I would be more likely to take the A9 for various reasons.
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shadowblade

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #8 on: June 08, 2019, 02:46:39 pm »

If I had one body i would take a 100 to 400. Stuff happens quickly and nothing quite like having a 400mm prime on a single body when a pair of elephants appear on the side of the road having a mock tussle and you can basically get just an eye ball in frame. It happens.

I think the body is a big component. I would be more likely to take the A9 for various reasons.

Obviously I'm assuming two full-frame bodies here. You don't spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wildlife shooting trip and not bring a backup. Generic ones, not specific models, since you're likely to go through many bodies in the lifetime of a supertele prime.

A single 100-400 is nowhere near enough for serious wildlife shooting in wide, open spaces. Obviously you need a shorter option (hence two bodies and at least two lenses), but, even at 600mm, you'll frequently find even large animals only occupying a small part of the frame.

And, if I only had a single body, I'd make it the 180-400/4 (with inbuilt teleconverter) rather than any small lens as my primary lens, with a 70-200 in the bag. But going on a wildlife trip with one body is just tempting fate and asking for a body failure.
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Dan Wells

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #9 on: June 08, 2019, 06:35:48 pm »

Another thing to consider, depending on how far you're going to be moving from the vehicle, is whether a PF (Nikon's name) or DO (Canon's version of the same thing)is right for you? They're quite a bit smaller and lighter than a conventional big lens, although they're usually also a stop slower than the fastest available lens.

 Nikon has a 300 f4 PF that looks kind of like a 24-70 f2.8, and is significantly smaller and lighter than their 24-70 f2.8 (DSLR version - it's about the same weight as their z-mount 24-70 f2.8). They also have a 500 f5.6 that looks roughly like a 70-200 f2.8, and is within a couple of ounces of Nikon's 70-200 f2.8. Those are both "one size" smaller than would be expected, even taking their aperture into account (a 300mm f4 is usually around the size of a 70-200mm f2.8, while a 500mm f5.6 is generally almost the weight of a 300mm f2.8, although longer and skinnier).

I agree wholeheartedly with the various people who have suggested renting lenses of interest before buying - compared to their prices, lenses are cheap things to rent. A week with a supertelephoto could cost anything from under $100 (for a $2000 zoom) to $500 or more (for a $12,000 600mm f4 or 800mm f5.6).
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David Sutton

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #10 on: June 08, 2019, 10:44:38 pm »

I would also consider the limits. There are limits to what can be safely and easily transported to another country. Limits to what can be carried and used in practice.
And focal length limits. I have the 100-400mm telephoto on my Fuji. An incredibly sharp lens and the IS lets me use it at low shutter speeds. I tried it with the 1.4 teleconverter, giving a FF equivalent of 800mm. Due to atmospheric distortion the images were unusable, even when not zoomed to the limit. Maybe at dawn there may be an opportunity?
If I wanted wildlife images now, I would set the camera to silent shutter and use a hide, or for dangerous animals set up the camera on a trail and use a remote.
Otherwise I just come back with the same photos as everyone else.
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shadowblade

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2019, 05:10:57 am »

I'm not looking to buy - I have easy access to any of the long lenses out there (Sony 400/2.8 notwithstanding, due to availability) and can just borrow the one I need for several weeks at a time, so have the luxury of tailoring my equipment to the trip. But not everyone does - they get to own one. But which one would you own, and why? Just interested in what the consensus is.

I would also consider the limits. There are limits to what can be safely and easily transported to another country. Limits to what can be carried and used in practice.

Hence the limit of one big lens. You can get a single big lens (as well as any number of small lenses - and, where wildlife is concerned, I would count 70-200/2.8 and 100-400/4.5-5.6 lenses as 'small') pretty much anywhere you would want to shoot wildlife. But two lenses would be stretching it. So you get to bring one big lens of your choice, and the rest has to be made up for with small lenses. Which one would you bring, or which one would you choose to own, and why?

Where space and weight allow it, an 180-400/4 or 200-400/4 (depending on whether I'm using Canon or Nikon gear for that particular trip) is usually my choice of second lens. Where space and weight are restricted, it's usually a 100-400. For certain environments, it also makes for a great primary lens (on full frame). But it wouldn't be my first choice in wide-open spaces.

Quote
And focal length limits. I have the 100-400mm telephoto on my Fuji. An incredibly sharp lens and the IS lets me use it at low shutter speeds. I tried it with the 1.4 teleconverter, giving a FF equivalent of 800mm. Due to atmospheric distortion the images were unusable, even when not zoomed to the limit. Maybe at dawn there may be an opportunity?

This is much more of an issue with landscapes, since there's usually more atmosphere between you and a landscape than between you and an animal, when using the same lens. It's rarely an issue when shooting over seawater, and is generally better at dawn - right when many animals are most active and lighting is best.
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BernardLanguillier

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #12 on: June 09, 2019, 06:55:03 am »

I would take my 70-200 f2.8 E FL and 500mm f5.6 PF on the D5.

Cheers,
Bernard

shadowblade

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #13 on: June 09, 2019, 07:14:26 am »

I would take my 70-200 f2.8 E FL and 500mm f5.6 PF on the D5.

Cheers,
Bernard

Interesting - why the 500/5.6 rather than a 500/4, if you had one available?

Agree about the 70-200 with TC as backup if shooting Nikon - the 80-400 just isn't in the same league as the Canon/Sony 100-400s, whereas the 70-200 is super-sharp.
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BernardLanguillier

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2019, 07:32:55 am »

Interesting - why the 500/5.6 rather than a 500/4, if you had one available?

Agree about the 70-200 with TC as backup if shooting Nikon - the 80-400 just isn't in the same league as the Canon/Sony 100-400s, whereas the 70-200 is super-sharp.

Having worked extensively with 200 f2.0, 300 f2.8 and 400 f2.8 lenses, I find the light weight of the 500mm f5.6 to be a total game changer. Itís the first time I enjoy shooting with a long lens. Plus image quality at f5.6 is outstanding.

Cheers,
Bernard

P.s.: but I do of course understand that the purpose of your post is to advertise the new Sony 600mm f4, no issues. ;)

shadowblade

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #15 on: June 09, 2019, 07:48:21 am »

Having worked extensively with 200 f2.0, 300 f2.8 and 400 f2.8 lenses, I find the light weight of the 500mm f5.6 to be a total game changer. Itís the first time I enjoy shooting with a long lens. Plus image quality at f5.6 is outstanding.

Cheers,
Bernard

P.s.: but I do of course understand that the purpose of your post is to advertise the new Sony 600mm f4, no issues. ;)

Never shot a Sony supertele. Usually, it's one of the big Canons on a 1Dx or 5D4. Sometimes a Sigma 120-300 if expected distances are smaller (or animals are larger).

Wildlife gear can be very different from your general kit. There's not much overlap in the equipment, so you can easily run a completely different system to the gear you bring on a non-wildlife trip.
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luxborealis

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #16 on: June 09, 2019, 10:49:38 am »

I recently purchased a Nikkor 200-500mm. It is fabulous on my D800E. If you need longer (and Iím considering it for smaller birds), add a DX body. Nikonís VR in this lens is excellent. I most often use it on a monopod.

I lived in Tanzania for 4 years with extensive safaris, and sure wished I had this lens to use. At the time, I was using a 300/2.8 with 1.4TC when needed (which was often) then returned with a 100-400 which was great, but too short for the lilac-breasted rollers, bee-eaters, etc. The 200-500 on a DX body would be ideal for the small birds, and on an FX body for everything else.

Iíve also travelled to the GalŠpagos twice and south Florida for wildlife, and this lens would have been ideal. Even in Iceland this lens would be suitable; I found I was shooting landscapes with long telephoto focal lengths, as the air is so clear.
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Martin Kristiansen

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2019, 11:25:05 am »

My partner is working a two and a half month contract in Tanzania at the moment. When she finishes at the end of July I will go up and join her for a week or two holiday. It will be my third trip to Tanzania.

I am taking a 100 to 400 Sigma, good enough for me. I donít do ďseriousĒ wildlife photography though I enjoy a trip to a reserve at least once a year. I will also take a 16 to 35 and my normal 24 to 70. I may change that to the 24 to 105 actually. Not so fond of the Sony 24 to 70.

Havenít decided about bodies. Most likely leave the A7riii at home and take just the A9. If it breaks then I will just not shoot but I will be surprised if that happens. Anyway I will risk it. Itís not a trip to do just wildlife, Iím not getting paid to do it, itís a holiday, it wonít cost much money as itís not a long flight and accommodation is pretty much taken care of.
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shadowblade

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #18 on: June 10, 2019, 09:00:02 am »

I recently purchased a Nikkor 200-500mm. It is fabulous on my D800E. If you need longer (and Iím considering it for smaller birds), add a DX body. Nikonís VR in this lens is excellent. I most often use it on a monopod.

I lived in Tanzania for 4 years with extensive safaris, and sure wished I had this lens to use. At the time, I was using a 300/2.8 with 1.4TC when needed (which was often) then returned with a 100-400 which was great, but too short for the lilac-breasted rollers, bee-eaters, etc. The 200-500 on a DX body would be ideal for the small birds, and on an FX body for everything else.

Iíve also travelled to the GalŠpagos twice and south Florida for wildlife, and this lens would have been ideal. Even in Iceland this lens would be suitable; I found I was shooting landscapes with long telephoto focal lengths, as the air is so clear.

So, presumably, if you were going with a big lens (for more background blur and better low-light capability), you'd go with the 180-400/4 or 200-400/4? The inbuilt teleconverter takes it to 560/5.6. This would give you great image quality and flexibility for larger/closer animals. But 560/5.6 still isn't particularly long on full frame, particularly for smaller or more elusive animals (think warthogs or cheetahs), while cropping heavily (either in post-processing or by using a crop body) sacrifices image quality and amplifies noise.

Or would you stick with the 200-500/5.6 and add a longer lens (say, 600/4 with various teleconverters) to extend your reach, relying on the smaller lens for closer/larger animals?

I agree 200-500 would have been ideal in the Galapagos, paired with a 70-200/2.8 - many animals there get too close even for 200mm on full frame. I used a Sigma 120-300/2.8, which worked well. The same lens also came in handy for gorillas and chimps in Congo/Uganda/Rwanda, given the dim lighting in the forest.
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degrub

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Re: Which supertele for wildlife, and why?
« Reply #19 on: June 10, 2019, 09:02:22 am »

take a look at what Glenn Bartley uses for his images.
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