Light lens for birding?

Started Jun 16, 2013 | Discussions
kipling
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Light lens for birding?
Jun 16, 2013

Hi,

I am looking for a lightweight combination that will give me reasonably good image quality for birding.

I have some Canon gear that gives great IQ but is now too heavy for me. I haven't tried Pentax before, but from what I read the 55-300 is pretty good and is 450mm on a crop body. All the primes are heavy.

What I'm after is some advice as to what would be a good body to use with the zoom. I'm leaning towards the K30 because of its great viewfinder light weight and performance. Alternatively a used K5, which seems more highly regarded but is heavier. Or the older bodies such as the K200D etc, but I think they are also a bit heavier. But cheap.

Your thoughts would be much appreciated. As to the zoom for birding too. Lightweight zooms with good IQ suitable for birding are thin on the ground. (And yes I know 450mm is short for birds, but anything longer is expensive and heavy, whether it be Canon or Pentax or whatever.)

Cheers

Pentax K200D Pentax K-30 Pentax K-5
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ASR45
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

I actually came from canon myself, i use a 60-250 for birds im lucky i can get close to them so it fit the bill for me, i dont know about the 55-300 i have been told its slow AF, but other than that it might help you, good luck.

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Avi Lewis
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

I'm sorry to say that I doubt any DSLR/lens combination will really fit your criteria because anything that reaches over 300mm w/any reasonable f/ stop will be heavy, and I don't regard 300mm as adequate for general birding shots; I've seen too many photographers try to get too close to subjects because they were shooting w/ a 250 to 300mm.  Perhaps the answer is a "super zoom", especially as you say your only looking for reasonable quality.  A super zoom could probably generally yield pix adequate to document sightings (as in Cornell's e-Bird), and will be far lighter than any DSLR + lens.

Of course it all depends on what you feel is reasonable IQ and what you feel is a reasonable weight.  I've shot a lot w/ various Pentax DSLRs (K100D Super, K200, and K5) and an original Bigma (50-500) with reasonable satisfaction.  (My photostream at flickr.com/photos/avipix is mostly shot w/ that combo.)  But that still leaves the question as to whether you'd think of that as adequately light.  Incidentally, the quality of the Bigma "improved" as subsequent bodies worked well at higher ISOs, and therefore tolerated smaller apertures.  The advantage here w/ Pentaxes (which would also apply to Sonys, I guess,) is the in-body SR).

When I really wanted to minimize weight & size I also have carried the same bodies w/ a 500mm f/8 mirror, but with significantly less success (smaller %-age of shots in-focus, adequate IQ, acceptable bokeh.)   That size/weight/focal length was certainly pretty reasonable; just the maximum aperture and final IQ were lacking, although some do much better than I did with that combo; take a look at flicker groups devoted to mirror/reflex lenses.

Hope the above is in some way helpful.

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ozdean
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

55-300 is a good light lens, it is a screw drive so a bit noisy, but for its price and weight good value and works well on a K30 if you are after light.

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iTrax
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to ozdean, Jun 16, 2013

DA 55-300 is very capable lens indeed, it has quick shift , very handy while photographing flying birds.

few photos taken with K-x , K-7, K-30 and K-01 , some with birds:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/itrax/sets/72157625966165711/

more birds with K-7:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/itrax/sets/72157628659894151/

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jthommo101
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

From my experience the 55-300 is a slow lens with slow focus but good IQ in good light. It is too short for birding, but a 1.4x gets in in to the ball park but with a stop less off course. The alternatives - bigma etc - are quite heavy.

I would stick with Canon if I were you. A crop camera like the 7D or 60D with the 100-400 or 400 5.6 is far lighter and sharper than the Pentax bigma combo.

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RonakG
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

I don't have experience with long lenses other than 55-300, but it's one of the best for the price. I have the DA L version. It's definitely slow to focus and little noisy too, but gets the work done if you use it right.

Here's one BIF I took recently that I'm pretty happy with.

Note that this was taken with Pentax K-x. With K-30 it should be little easier with improved AF performance.

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ASR45
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to RonakG, Jun 16, 2013

RonakG wrote:

I don't have experience with long lenses other than 55-300, but it's one of the best for the price. I have the DA L version. It's definitely slow to focus and little noisy too, but gets the work done if you use it right.

Here's one BIF I took recently that I'm pretty happy with.

Good shot.    

Note that this was taken with Pentax K-x. With K-30 it should be little easier with improved AF performance.

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Wanganuilad
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to ASR45, Jun 16, 2013

The 55-300 works on various birds

this at f11 using TAv, well munted by flickr

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kipling
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

Thanks everyone for your input.

I think I'll go with the k30/55-300 combo.

The best birding setup I have had was the 7d with a 400 5.6, a great lens but a bit heavy for me now. I have a 6D with shorter lenses which gives top quality, and the K30 will be quite adequate for those occasions when the birds decide to be cooperative. (referring of course to the feathered ones!).

Thanks again

Cheers

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iTrax
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

kipling wrote:

Thanks everyone for your input.

I think I'll go with the k30/55-300 combo.

The best birding setup I have had was the 7d with a 400 5.6, a great lens but a bit heavy for me now. I have a 6D with shorter lenses which gives top quality, and the K30 will be quite adequate for those occasions when the birds decide to be cooperative. (referring of course to the feathered ones!).

Thanks again

Cheers

Pentax australia :

https://www.crkennedy.com.au/pentax/index.php?q=node/305

good value if you want a new one

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Barry Pearson
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to Wanganuilad, Jun 16, 2013

Wanganuilad wrote:

The 55-300 works on various birds

this at f11 using TAv, well munted by flickr

I like the composition. What shutter speed? You have some nice blur on the propellers, which I think is important. (I would probably try 1/250th to start with for a plane, 1/125th for helicopter, then go faster if I think from the review on the back I can get away with it, or perhaps slower for a Chinook).

I think TAv mode is very good for aircraft, and some motor sports as well. It deserves more attention.

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kipling
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to iTrax, Jun 16, 2013

Yes and the K30 can be had for $512 which is OK value.

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Walt_A
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

My response in a recent thread discussing exactly this http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51614440

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paulkienitz
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

kipling wrote:

Hi,

I am looking for a lightweight combination that will give me reasonably good image quality for birding.

I have some Canon gear that gives great IQ but is now too heavy for me. I haven't tried Pentax before, but from what I read the 55-300 is pretty good and is 450mm on a crop body. All the primes are heavy.

I've done a lot of birding with the 55-300.  I often wish I had something longer, but just as often I'm glad it's so light and hand-holdable.  Because there's never enough length in birding, I often end up taking 100% crops from it, and it's sharp enough at the long end to make those crops entirely reasonable in quality.

Here's a 100% crop of an Anna's hummingbird... or it will be if you click to see full size.

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Q with 02 zoom and Nikkor 180/2.8 ED for birding
K10D, Sig 17-70, DA 55-300, FA 50/1.4 "billy bass"
discards: DA 50-200 "zipper", F 100-300, Sigma 135-400 "piglet", M 400/5.6 "the Great Truncheon"

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Nicols
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to paulkienitz, Jun 16, 2013

That's pretty good. Better then I expected.

Cheers - Klaus

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paulkienitz
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to paulkienitz, Jun 16, 2013

paulkienitz wrote:

kipling wrote:

Hi,

I am looking for a lightweight combination that will give me reasonably good image quality for birding.

I have some Canon gear that gives great IQ but is now too heavy for me. I haven't tried Pentax before, but from what I read the 55-300 is pretty good and is 450mm on a crop body. All the primes are heavy.

I've done a lot of birding with the 55-300. I often wish I had something longer, but just as often I'm glad it's so light and hand-holdable. Because there's never enough length in birding, I often end up taking 100% crops from it, and it's sharp enough at the long end to make those crops entirely reasonable in quality.

Here's a 100% crop of an Anna's hummingbird... or it will be if you click to see full size.

-- hide signature --

Q with 02 zoom and Nikkor 180/2.8 ED for birding
K10D, Sig 17-70, DA 55-300, FA 50/1.4 "billy bass"
discards: DA 50-200 "zipper", F 100-300, Sigma 135-400 "piglet", M 400/5.6 "the Great Truncheon"

The lens's biggest drawback for birding is focus hunting.  Just now, right after posting that hummy, I got called into the back yard because western tanagers had shown up.  I went out there with the 55-300, and got a few seconds glimpse of the bird, and could not get a single shot for failure to lock focus, because there was one frond of another plant in front, and the bird kept intermittently going behind it.

-- hide signature --

Q with 02 zoom and Nikkor 180/2.8 ED for birding
K10D, Sig 17-70, DA 55-300, FA 50/1.4 "billy bass"
discards: DA 50-200 "zipper", F 100-300, Sigma 135-400 "piglet", M 400/5.6 "the Great Truncheon"

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audiobomber
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to paulkienitz, Jun 16, 2013

paulkienitz wrote:

The lens's biggest drawback for birding is focus hunting.

That's when you need quick-shift focus. Do you have the DA version or DA L?

The 55-300 is sharp enough when stopped down to F8, but that much light is often not available in Northern Ontario where I live.

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DarylK
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to kipling, Jun 16, 2013

kipling wrote:

Thanks everyone for your input.

I think I'll go with the k30/55-300 combo.

The best birding setup I have had was the 7d with a 400 5.6, a great lens but a bit heavy for me now. I have a 6D with shorter lenses which gives top quality, and the K30 will be quite adequate for those occasions when the birds decide to be cooperative. (referring of course to the feathered ones!).

Thanks again

Cheers

I think you'll be satisfied with the k30/55-300 combo based on your stated expectations/rationale above.

Sometime in the future, you might want to consider buying the new Q7 with lens adapter and take advantage of the crop factor to achieve really long equivalent FLs.  I'll be watching posts by early adopters/experimenters with interested in seeing how this might work out.  I bought the original Q (when it was dirt cheap) and an inexpensive adapter to K mount with this in mind.  However, my 55-300, as good as it is, doesn't have the optical resolution to meet what I was hoping for.  No fault of the lens...just trying to push the envelope a little too far beyond it's design purpose.  The larger sensor in the Q7 will certainly mitigate this to an extent yet to be determined.

Enjoy you're experience!

Daryl

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Holger Bargen
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Re: Light lens for birding?
In reply to audiobomber, Jun 16, 2013

Hi,

I own the 55-300 mm lens and I love it. But for my Job I work with the 60-250 mm - and if I am honest: it is another world! The 60-250 is sharp up to the edges of the photographs - but the 55-300 loses sharpness if you do not look at the center of the picutre (even at f=8.0).

For my privat use the 55-300 is a nice lens and maybe best of its class - but if I would need high end - the 60-250 would be my lens.

What about primes like the 300 mm lens? For birding this would be my favorit.

Best regards

Holger

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