Monday, 19 January 2009

Long Lens - Part 2 - Which BIG one?

In the first part, I talked about a progression path through a number of the smaller lenses that many people find themselves on. In Part 2, I am going to explore some of the thinking that you might have gone through if you already are an owner of one of the big 'uns, or some of the things you need to think about before you part with a lot of money.

I will talk about the Canon primes today essentially, although the same basic logic will also apply to the Nikon offerings too, as I am sure Dave will agree.

The first issue most amateurs go through is the justification of such a significant amount of money - but before you get your mind set on your dream lens at a particular price, you need to think about how you are going to carry this prized bit glass around and how you are going to support it. Your tripod and head that you have been happy supporting anything below something like the 300f2.8 will probably not be anything like sufficient for your 500 f4 or 600f4!!. Dave's article here sets out some of the main things you need to think about. As a guide, I spent almost a further £1000 on tripod, head and Wimberley Sidekick to support my 500f4 before anything else.

But nevertheless, you understand that and you NEED a long lens. So what are your choices?

From the most practical point of view in terms of cost, weight, support, carry-ability and size, the 500f4 offering is probably the most popular choice for wildlife. They are substantially lighter than both the 600f4 and 400f2.8 models from either range. They can be used hand held for short periods of time, and their cost is relative more affordable than the others.

As we have said before, reach is everything in wildlife, and to that end the 600f4 will give that extra reach, meaning less cropping of images for distant subjects. I would like one of these but the majority of people I have spoken to who use them, never carry them that far. So if you believe you will never need to venture far from your car, then the 600 f4 would be the kiddie for you.

When I took the pictures of the Short Eared Owls here, I could have taken all these with a 600 if I had one, as I was never more than 10 metres from the car.

All of these primes lenses work exceptionally well with the Canon 1.4EFTC, and it is possible to get some images with the 2X, but more of that in another part at a later date.

One great offering that Nikon have in their range is the 200-400f4VR zoom, something that would do quite well in the Canon range if only they would make it. Dave will do a more detailed review of this lens at a later date no doubt, but I do know he is enjoying using the flexibility and quality that gives him.

In terms of portability, the Canon 500f4 IS L weighs in at 3.87Kg whereas the 600f4IS L comes in at a hefty 5.36Kg, which is substantial. I have no problems carrying my 500, plus body plus a few other bits in my bag all day and hiking up mountains with it.

The other consideration is the bag you use, particularly if you wish to travel overseas by air. Again the 500 is easily manageable with carry-on bag allowance, both in terms of weight and size. Although, make sure you check specifically with your individual carrier, and Do NOT rely upon them adopting universal carry on allowances particularly here in the UK

So, you pay your money and you take your choice. The 500 is generally the best compromise for wildlife photographers, certainly judging by the numbers that I see out in the field being used, and numbers of images posted on forums.


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