Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)

Started Jun 3, 2013 | Discussions
Colin Stuart
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Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
Jun 3, 2013

Hello all,

I have a partner now who's into birding and the more I do it and get into it, the more I wish I had the right lens so I could bring my D200 along with me.

In the past the longest focal length I've had experience with was 105mm (Nikon's 18-105) but I sold that off awhile ago as I didn't have much need for the reach, f5.6 is too slow, among other reasons.

I feel like a 300/4 would be an awesome step for me when it comes to capturing pictures while birding.

Obviously the Nikon 300/4D AF-S is what I wish I had... but it's pricey. $1100-1350 new, used it's not much cheaper. But there are some other older options:

  • Nikon 300/4 AF
  • Tokina AT-X 304 AF 300/4
  • Sigma APO 300/4 Macro
  • Sigma APO 300/4 HSM Macro

It seems like I can find all of these on ebay or elsewhere. Is there anyone who's owned and has compared multiple of these lenses and can tell me how they stack up? If I can score one for $400-600 and still be pleased with the results... awesome! Checking out flickr, it seems like they're all plenty sharp, I'm just trying to find out if there's any glaring pros/cons to having the Sigmas or the Tokina or the Nikon. The AF-S is simply too rich for my blood right now.

Thanks to anyone that can help!

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PHXAZCRAIG
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to Colin Stuart, Jun 3, 2013

I suspect they are all going to be fine, though I've only used the 300 F4 AF-S myself.

But for birding, 300mm is nowhere near long enough.   Even 400mm barely qualifies on DX when it comes to birding.

There is way to make 300mm work though - extreme cropping with high pixel count.   And by that I mean mounting a 300mm lens on a Nikon V1 or V2, using an FT-1 adaptor.   10mp at 2.7x crop factor on the V1 gives an effective 810mm F4.   The V2 gives you 14mp with the same crop factor.

Unfortunately, you'll need the expensive AF-S version to have autofocus work, but it's the only way I see a 300mm lens being long enough for general birding work.    Birding is probably the second most expensive photography specialty, after underwater.

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mironv
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to PHXAZCRAIG, Jun 3, 2013
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Since you are on budget and still using D200 and shoping for older lenses ( there is nothing wrong with that) I can pitch in as to which 300mmf4 will be a best choice. I have Sigma AFD400mmf5.6 MACRO and I'm very happy with a lens so I get 300mmf4 Macro for my son. Yes 300mm if short for birding but it takes Kenko 1.4TC Pro very well making 420mmf5.6 lens and on top of it it has AF distance limiter to speed up AF in usefull ranges. Sigma is best choice as when you in a field traying to get some birds you can use a close up abilitys as well for all flowers,bigger insects and other smaller objects. It is very well build lens with good tripod collar but it is hard to get. On eBay  they show up no more than 3-4 a year but if you take time you will be reworded with super lens at your budget point. 1:3 magnification is very usefull on longer lens and at 48" close focus gets you planty of working distance to shy critiurs. AF is fast to track bigger birds in fly like Eagels even with CAM1000 you have ( I had Fuji S5 so same AF module) . Just to remember that no amount of focal lenght can substitud for skill of getting closer to your object so 300f4 is a good start for tele work.

If you are not at all into closeups ( I just can't understund anyone that they not) look into a mix of lenses you picked and add Tokina AF100-300mmf4 SD but I must worn you it will not AF meter with newer Nikon DSLRs like D700 and up ( I had to sale it but like that zoom) Tokina no longer changes CPU for that zoom but works just as indended on D200 D2X D2H D70.
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ralphcramdon
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to mironv, Jun 3, 2013

nikon's 70-300vr would be a good and somewhat inexpensive option

Check fredmiranda.com for a used one

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joneil
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to ralphcramdon, Jun 3, 2013

ralphcramdon wrote:

nikon's 70-300vr would be a good and somewhat inexpensive option

Check fredmiranda.com for a used one

If going that route, check out a good used, manual focus 300mm F4.5 first.   I had one of those 70-300mm zooms, not a bad lens, but at 300mm my old MF 300mm F4.5 was sharper.  Also built like a tank

good luck

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ralphcramdon
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to joneil, Jun 3, 2013

joneil wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

nikon's 70-300vr would be a good and somewhat inexpensive option

Check fredmiranda.com for a used one

If going that route, check out a good used, manual focus 300mm F4.5 first.   I had one of those 70-300mm zooms, not a bad lens, but at 300mm my old MF 300mm F4.5 was sharper.  Also built like a tank

good luck

probably so but MF for BIF is a nightmare

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jdrpc
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MF a nightmare? Is it??????
In reply to ralphcramdon, Jun 3, 2013

ralphcramdon wrote:

joneil wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

nikon's 70-300vr would be a good and somewhat inexpensive option

Check fredmiranda.com for a used one

If going that route, check out a good used, manual focus 300mm F4.5 first.   I had one of those 70-300mm zooms, not a bad lens, but at 300mm my old MF 300mm F4.5 was sharper.  Also built like a tank

good luck

probably so but MF for BIF is a nightmare

A nightmare for who?

How did photographers work before the days of AF?

I have been using AF since 1987, but these past years use more and more MF.

And I'm not getting younger, nor my eyesight better!

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150536681 far

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/148244196 small

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150550174  an impossible macro....

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/149973272 speed....

ALL with a MF 400mm Nikkor!

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Tidewater
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to Colin Stuart, Jun 3, 2013

I use the 70-300mm for larger birds in flight and also the 70-200 2.8 VR. It really depends on the size of the birds and the usual distance. I have been satisfied with the sharpness. You can check my gallery to compare them because the 70-300 is very reasonable in price

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NikonHaoleboy
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to Colin Stuart, Jun 3, 2013

I agree that shorter than 400mm is not likely to give you the results you're after and a good quality 400mm AF lens will be expensive. I had the old Sigma AF 400mm, f/7.2, lens and can't recommend it. If you go with a 300mm, the f/4 AF Nikkor is a good performer and possibly in your price range. In manual focus I would pick the 300mm, 4.5, ED IF lens. The ED version will have less noticeable color fringing. The manual focus 400, 5.6, ED IF Nikkor is compact and good quality. The Nikon lenses I have mentioned should be satisfactory with TC-14A or TC-14B convertors.

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ralphcramdon
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Re: MF a nightmare? Is it??????
In reply to jdrpc, Jun 3, 2013

jdrpc wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

joneil wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

nikon's 70-300vr would be a good and somewhat inexpensive option

Check fredmiranda.com for a used one

If going that route, check out a good used, manual focus 300mm F4.5 first.   I had one of those 70-300mm zooms, not a bad lens, but at 300mm my old MF 300mm F4.5 was sharper.  Also built like a tank

good luck

probably so but MF for BIF is a nightmare

A nightmare for who?

How did photographers work before the days of AF?

I have been using AF since 1987, but these past years use more and more MF.

And I'm not getting younger, nor my eyesight better!

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150536681 far

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/148244196 small

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150550174  an impossible macro....

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/149973272 speed....

ALL with a MF 400mm Nikkor!

you gotta be kidding with those pics......i'm still glad I suck at MF, I way prefer to use modern tools but that's just me

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PHXAZCRAIG
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to mironv, Jun 3, 2013

I agree - a good 300mm lens with a good 1.4tc is pretty much the minimum you need to get good bird shots.   With good IQ, you can crop a lot and still get some feather detail, though a 10mp camera like a D200 doesn't give a lot of leeway.

I've also seen the Kenko Pro 1.4TC give excellent results (on a Nikon 300F4 AF-S) and would not hesitate to recommend it.

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noirdesir
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Birds in Flight
In reply to jdrpc, Jun 3, 2013

jdrpc wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

joneil wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

nikon's 70-300vr would be a good and somewhat inexpensive option

Check fredmiranda.com for a used one

If going that route, check out a good used, manual focus 300mm F4.5 first.   I had one of those 70-300mm zooms, not a bad lens, but at 300mm my old MF 300mm F4.5 was sharper.  Also built like a tank

good luck

probably so but MF for BIF is a nightmare

A nightmare for who?

How did photographers work before the days of AF?

I have been using AF since 1987, but these past years use more and more MF.

And I'm not getting younger, nor my eyesight better!

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150536681 far

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/148244196 small

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150550174  an impossible macro....

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/149973272 speed....

ALL with a MF 400mm Nikkor!

And none of these are BIF (birds in flight). I have done BIF with a MF 400 mm, I got some that were reasonably sharp but none were perfectly sharp.

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Island Golfer
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to Colin Stuart, Jun 3, 2013

I'm affraid that I have to agree with the statement, "There is way to make 300mm work though - extreme cropping with high pixel count".  The D200 is going to be very limiting for you. I have owned three versions of the Nikon 300mm lens. I used my two prior versions on a D300 body. I was less than impressed with the results. I now have the f/4 version that I have been using on a D800. The 36mp's of the D800 makes it more usable because of the tremendous crop factor that is available to me. Without being able to bring the distant images as close as the D800 permits, I would most likely sell the lens (as I ended up doing with my prior two versions that were used with my old D300). I would suggest that you rent one for a weekend. See if you can live with the results. It may save you a large cash outlay for something you will regret buying.

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truview

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ralphcramdon
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Re: Birds in Flight
In reply to noirdesir, Jun 3, 2013

noirdesir wrote:

jdrpc wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

joneil wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

nikon's 70-300vr would be a good and somewhat inexpensive option

Check fredmiranda.com for a used one

If going that route, check out a good used, manual focus 300mm F4.5 first.   I had one of those 70-300mm zooms, not a bad lens, but at 300mm my old MF 300mm F4.5 was sharper.  Also built like a tank

good luck

probably so but MF for BIF is a nightmare

A nightmare for who?

How did photographers work before the days of AF?

I have been using AF since 1987, but these past years use more and more MF.

And I'm not getting younger, nor my eyesight better!

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150536681 far

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/148244196 small

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150550174  an impossible macro....

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/149973272 speed....

ALL with a MF 400mm Nikkor!

And none of these are BIF (birds in flight). I have done BIF with a MF 400 mm, I got some that were reasonably sharp but none were perfectly sharp.

it's kinda like VR and AFS and even like color TV, new computers, high mileage cars, I could go on.....sure you can do it the hard way and people did but what's the point ?

Move on, embrace technology.

Now if money is an issue that's a different story and a very good reason but he's shooting a D700, why isn't he shooting a D100 then

I understand why alot of shooters MF for macros but I even use AF for that, it sure works for me and it's alot more fun

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ralphcramdon
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to Island Golfer, Jun 3, 2013

Island Golfer wrote:

I'm affraid that I have to agree with the statement, "There is way to make 300mm work though - extreme cropping with high pixel count".  The D200 is going to be very limiting for you. I have owned three versions of the Nikon 300mm lens. I used my two prior versions on a D300 body. I was less than impressed with the results. I now have the f/4 version that I have been using on a D800. The 36mp's of the D800 makes it more usable because of the tremendous crop factor that is available to me. Without being able to bring the distant images as close as the D800 permits, I would most likely sell the lens (as I ended up doing with my prior two versions that were used with my old D300). I would suggest that you rent one for a weekend. See if you can live with the results. It may save you a large cash outlay for something you will regret buying.

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truview

great point and to further that the D7100 is even more cropable....these new high mp bodies are like virtual lenses

I shot the 80-400 on the D7100 on 1.3 Image Area which gave me a 160-800/5.6 handheld lens

I know it's technically not supposed to natter but I prefer in camera cropping like the D800 on 1.5 mode or the d7100 on 1.3 mode

Here's a D7100 80-400 shot at 800mm

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wasserball
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to Colin Stuart, Jun 3, 2013

You are getting confusing suggestions.  One says even a 400mm on DX is not long enough, while other suggest a cheaper option in 70-300mm.  What's your take so far?  Me?  I go with the prime over a tele anyday.  A 300mm f4 would be the choice on DX body.

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Island Golfer
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to ralphcramdon, Jun 3, 2013

I also find that my best results come by using a tripod, a cable release and a high shutter speed. Here are two that i shot in Santa Barbara. The gull was fairly close. But, the pelican was a good 100+ yards off in the distance. I believe I cropped it at 67% to get this image.

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Brian in Montana
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Re: Thoughts on 300mm primes (for someone new to telephoto and birding)
In reply to Colin Stuart, Jun 3, 2013

I'll chime in to support the choice of a ~$600 used Nikon 300mm F4 AF ED, the old tank style.  It's not the fastest to focus, but the focus limiter will help a lot once you learn to use it.  Shoot in shutter priority at faster than 1/500 for best results handheld.  The tripod mount is solid (better than the newer AFS version, so I've read). It's not long enough for every bird, but is fine for larger ones within 50 yards and smaller ones within 20.  I think it's a bargain for the price.  Sorry I can't comment on your other choices.  Here are three shots with the 300 tank on a D7000 - no cropping, all handheld.  First the pelican at ~30 yards, second another peli with coots in tow at ~60 yards and last a small flight of godwits at ~100 yards.  Look at full size.  These are not great, I know, but you can see that detail is pretty good in the first and maybe acceptable in the second.  The godwits were about at the end of the range and borderline at best.  Regards.

e

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Kris in CT
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Don't count out the Tokina 300 F2.8 AT-X II..
In reply to Colin Stuart, Jun 4, 2013

I got one 6 weeks ago dirt cheap.  I've been shooting it on a D300 with and without a Tamron 1.4x pro TC...  I'm an Osprey guy...

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jdrpc
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Re: MF a nightmare? Is it??????
In reply to ralphcramdon, Jun 4, 2013

ralphcramdon wrote:

jdrpc wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

joneil wrote:

ralphcramdon wrote:

nikon's 70-300vr would be a good and somewhat inexpensive option

Check fredmiranda.com for a used one

If going that route, check out a good used, manual focus 300mm F4.5 first.   I had one of those 70-300mm zooms, not a bad lens, but at 300mm my old MF 300mm F4.5 was sharper.  Also built like a tank

good luck

probably so but MF for BIF is a nightmare

A nightmare for who?

How did photographers work before the days of AF?

I have been using AF since 1987, but these past years use more and more MF.

And I'm not getting younger, nor my eyesight better!

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150536681 far

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/148244196 small

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/150550174  an impossible macro....

http://www.pbase.com/jdrpc/image/149973272 speed....

ALL with a MF 400mm Nikkor!

you gotta be kidding with those pics......i'm still glad I suck at MF, I way prefer to use modern tools but that's just me

Kidding? You are much better?

No time for fools....

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