Prime for low light (UK) Birding/Wildlife

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Marcus1970 Forum Member • Posts: 65
Prime for low light (UK) Birding/Wildlife

Hi all

I have been weighing up various options for birding and wildlife in the UK.

Anyone who takes images in the UK will be very aware of the lack of light throughout the year, coupled with the fact that (not all) but a majority of wildlife feeding times are either very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. So the light gathering of any potential (lens) + body (sensor) will be a main deciding factor.

My aim is to be as mobile as possible, getting closer to my subjects where possible using field craft, good hand holding technique etc, so a hefty 600mm prime is probably not going to be for me, I have more or less ruled that out.

Subjects will probably mainly be perched small flighty birds in and out of cover, Estuary/River/Coastal/wading/ birds, Deer, foxes and other critters that may appear whilst I am out in this environment. BIF would be nice too, but not an over all priority (will likely live to regret saying that though!)

My next thoughts are on bodies, interoperability of lenses, compatibility and future proofing. Admittedly my general knowledge is not very broad, so below I have made a list of systems and cameras I have been looking into and my thoughts on them with Nikon bodies and lenses being top of the list so far:

Nikon D850 or D500 with the 500mm f5.6E PF ED AF-S

What are peoples thoughts on whether the D500 crop sensor would be beneficial for me given the equivalence (740mm I think?), or better to go with the D850 (better low light?) and crop accordingly.

My thoughts and potential concerns on the 500mm f5.6E PF ED AF-S lens itself from reading forums are:

  • What is it like at F5.6 when the light fades, am I going to struggle and wish I had a brighter prime?
  • How is the stability? Is the VR stability still an issue at low shutter speeds (approximately 1/60-1/200 sec range). And any way to mitigate it if so?
  • At f/5.6, will I need to be careful about the background (DoF)in my photos. Small birds spend lot of their life in branches. At f/5.6, will I be battling the distraction of these branches.
  • Otherwise it seems like an ideal length to weight ratio for my needs if the above are non issues, or at the least very negligible.

Brighter (But shorter) primes

Also I have considered the potential that one of the brighter primes might be worth considering because of available light, with the only real caveat being the ones I could likely afford will be a bit shorter and I may need a TC for when I am challenged with distant subjects.

For small perched birds I gather it’s good to have around the 600mm range given they are generally fairly spooky, with the odd exception. So I am looking at one of the previous two Nikon bodies above with either:

AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR (with a TC-14E III)

or AF-S 300mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR II (with a TC-14E III)

A 400mm would be preferable (but not so the price tag) am I missing anything?

Again, what are your thoughts on possible benefits of either an f2.8 or f4 prime with a TC for closer subjects, will an F2.8 or F4 with a TC negate any benefit and be more comparable to the F5.6 PF with the loss of stops? In general it looks like the f2.8’s to f4 take the sharper shots in poor light, especially on full frame systems (from what I have seen and my limited knowledge), but would need to understand how TC’s would potentially undermine the benefits of the brighter lenses.

This now leads me on to zooms, I have thought about Nikon D850/D500 with something like the 200-500mm f/5.6 - I feel, largely based on the limitations I have experienced of the short reach on my current system (G9, Oly 40-150 Pro), that I would be shooting at the long end primarily, and that reach is more important than closer focusing on nearer subjects, or the ability to do so, but please throw some thoughts in if you really feel I am missing something. I could always look to get a smaller lens for these eventualities at some point.

Other systems I have looked at are:

Sony A9: FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS + With or without Teleconverter 1.4?

Sony a7 III - FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS

Olympus body - Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO (TC14)?

Sorry this is so long winded, and by asking the question I will likely open up a Pandoras box and add to my confusion, but please bear in mind I want a system I can grow with. I am not adverse technically to using any system, I pick stuff up quickly.  Thanks for any comments in advance, and if possible it would be great to hear of any UK, or Northern Hemisphere shooters!

With regard to budget I would likely look to buy used, but would appreciate knowledge from people regarding wether or not it is better to buy the whole system used, or pay outright for one of the elements and buy used for the other part (body and or lens)

If you got this far I thank you!


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