Birding on the cheap - my solution

Started May 28, 2007 | Discussions thread
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tnielsen Regular Member • Posts: 372
Birding on the cheap - my solution

For quite some time now, I have been looking for a cheap way into birding, and judging from the posts here I am not alone.

I have read numerous reviews and hands on reports here, and have been considering a lot of options:

"Bigma-class" (Sigma 50-500 and Tamron 200-500) : A lot of great photos from these lenses have been posted, so there's no question that very good results can be obtained. However living in Scandinavia, where light is pretty limited for half of the year, the slow max aperture of these lenses seemed too limiting for me.

300/4 + tc : Absolutely fabulous images has been shown here, and I have been very close to buying into this combination

Used 400/3.5 : Tempting but reportedly not as stellar on high res digital bodies as on film.

Used 500/4P : Well this is still a wet dream, but unfortunately was stretching my budget. Especially as I am still unsure as to how far my interest in birding will go

Finally I have been considering two rarely seen but very high rated lenses:
The old Sigma 400/5.6 apo macro and the elusive Tamron SP 400/4.

Especially the last mentioned have had my interest due to the fast aperture. Reviews on this fellow are scarce but Photodo gives it a 3.6 rating (Which is on par with the 300/4 and the 400/3.5). Twice I have bid on two second hand copies of this lens and twice I lost. And then finally yesterday I succeeded. $660 in excellent condition.

As an attempt to provide more information on this lens for others, I will try to present me impressions as I get to know this fellow over the next weeks. This may not end up as a formal review as nice as others have done here, but I hope to be able to contribute to the publicly available information on this lens. Please bear with my english

The lens comes in original packing including protection cap, fabric purse, rear filter holder including a 43mm UV filter and a 1.4 x teleconverter.
Both lens and teleconverter are fitted with the Adaptall-2 adaptor.

Given the large front element this lens is obviously quite heavy weighing in a 2.3 kg. It leaves a first impression of being very well built, and both focusing and aperture rings turns very smoothly. The focusing ring is equipped with a "mechanical memory" allowing you to preset a focusing distance by turning and locking a separate ring. The focusing ring will now give a small click everytime you pass the preset distance.

The adjustable tripod collar seems quite stable and the lens barrel is equipped with two attachment rings for a strap.

Picking up this lens involved a drive of 550 kilometers (340 miles) so by the time I got back home light was already disappearing. So I haven't had the chance to test the capabilities oif this lens thoroughly yet. I did however do some quick shots with the lens mounted on my D200 and my first impressions are as follows:

Overall images are very well defined and contrasty at all apertures. Wide open at f/4 there is an ever so slight but detectable softness but images are very usable. Even when shot RAW and with zero sharpening. Definately better than my push-pull 80-200/2.8 at 200 f/2.8. By f/5.6 the softness seems to disappear and so far there is not much to be gained by stopping down further.

By attaching the teleconverter you of course end up with a 560/5.6. As could be expected image quility is noticable affected by the converter and even though I did not expect much I was at first ready to skip this option all together. Later I discovered that a lot of the apperant softness may have more to do with my limited (as in "none") experiance with anything longer than 200mm. By placing the camera directly on a firm table results seemed to improve a lot, so I probably have to work on my long lens technique and find a way of stabilizing my tripod. First impressions with the teleconverter attached are pretty positive as well and results are definately usable even wide open.

My first shots with the Tamron SP 400/4 were done under circumstances that very well may have affected the results in a negative direction. Such as bad light and poor technique. Therefore I have decided not to post any of them here so so far you will have to make do with my very unscientific comments. I promise I will post examples later on as I get the time to get to know my new friend. In the meantime I will happily take suggestions as to how to conduct tests that can be compared to other lenses.

best regards
Thomas

 tnielsen's gear list:tnielsen's gear list
Nikon D800 Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S +9 more
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