Which Lens for Birding ?

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Andrew Ellis
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Which Lens for Birding ?
2 months ago

the longest lens I currently own is the Nikon 300mm F4 AFS, which is a super lens, but with anything other than a 1.4x TC, doesn't play as nicely (as least my copy anyway).

I've recently really started to get into bird and wildlife photography, and very quickly came to the conclusion that my 300mm (and 420mm with the TC attached) is a little too short. I've saved some cash, and am now looking to splash out on a better tele lens, but could do with some advice.

I have 4 bodies, 2 FX and 2 DX (D4, D800 & D300s & D7100), and can see that aside from the D300s (probably), all 3 of the above would be suited to this type of photography. It's just what lens to partner it with. I have come up with the following lenses, which are within my budget, and would welcome your thoughts.

1. Nikon 300mm F2.8 VR1 (used).

This lens and it's replacement (the MK II), seem to get amazing accolades and is rated by everyone that uses it. I have the full suit of Nikon Teleconverters (so TC14E II, TC17E II and TC20E III), and from what I have read the 300mm F2.8 plays nicely with them all, so could get me 600mm F5.6 (with the TC20E III) on the D4 or D800, or up to an amazing 900mm on the D800 in DX mode or the D7100 (and even a staggering 1200mm Effective with the D7100 in 1.3 crop mode). About the only downside that I can see is the weight and cost, as it's right at the very top of my budget.

2. Nikon 200-400 F4 AFS VR I (used).

Again from what I have read, this lens seems to be a stunner and close and medium distances, but not so hot nearer infinity. Apparently works OK with the TC14E II (for an effective 560mm on FX @ f5.6). Has the advantage over the 300mm f2.8 that's it's a zoom so could potentially be more flexible ? Downsides, again at the top end expense wise and only works with the TC14E, and is by far the biggest and heaviest.

3. Nikon 80-400 F3.5-5.6 AFS VR

Seems to get some superb reviews, and is 400mm straight our of the bag. Has, like the above the advantage of being a zoom, but a stop slower than the 200-400 @ 400mm. Advantages, it's smaller, lighter and cheaper than the above two options. Downsides, I've heard it doesn't play very well with TC's - even the TC14E II (which would be F8 @560mm anyway) ?

4. The new Tamron 150-600 F4-5.6 VC

Not a lot known on this as it's very new and very few Nikon owners seem to have it, however for those few that do, it seems to be reported as a decent lens, but apparently a touch soft beyond 500mm ? it's by far the lightest and smallest of the current listed lenses, and by far the cheapest, but would the resolution hold up on the high pixel count D800 and D7100 cameras ?

5. Sigma 120-300 F2.8 Sport

Apparently another peach from the Sigma stable, very sharp (from what I have read), and takes TC's well (although sadly not my Nikon TC's without modification). so I would have to purchase Sigma TC's as well. It's reported as being very heavy, and brand new, it's almost as much as the 200-400 and 300mm F2.8 second-hand.

6. Finally, the venerable Sigma 50-500 (Bigma) OS

Seems to have been around for ages in various incarnations, with (from what I have read) variable build and image quality. Apparently if you get a good one, they are very good and sharp wide open at 500mm, but it's a bit of a lottery as to what sort you will get. Doesn't take TC's (as I understand it), and has one of the slowest apertures (as does the Tamron) @ 500mm (although only by a 1/3 of a stop over the 80-400 VR). Price wise, it occupies the middle ground, and is relatively light and hand holdable.

I think that's about it, but if I've missed any please advise. Any comments or thoughts appreciated.

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 Andrew Ellis's gear list:Andrew Ellis's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 Nikon Coolpix P7100 Nikon D3 Nikon D200 Nikon D300 +12 more
Nikon D300S Nikon D4 Nikon D7100 Nikon D800
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