Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Building Your Lens Kit For Digital Action
With the autumn migrations and rutting season approaching fast, now is the time to put together a set of lenses to help you capture all the action
Telephoto zooms offer compositional flexibility—you can change the framing without moving, which can be important when your surroundings make it physically impossible to move closer or farther away, or when doing so may startle your subject. Tele-zooms also make it easier to “find” a subject—zoom back to the widest focal length to pick up the subject, then zoom in for the actual shot. That’s a lot easier, especially when you’re starting out in bird photography, than trying to find a moving bird with a supertelephoto lens and its very narrow angle of view. A zoom also makes it easy to switch focal lengths silently when working from a blind—the noise of changing lenses may scare off a nearby subject.
Most manufacturers’ 70-300mm or 75-300mm zooms are reasonably priced, and zooms that go out to 400mm or even 500mm can be purchased for under $1,000 from the major independent lensmakers and around $1,500 from the camera manufacturers. The higher-end zooms in this price range will produce better results with wildlife than the lower-end 70-300mm zooms, but even the latter can deliver excellent images and provide long focal lengths without breaking the bank.
The drawbacks to zooms are that once you get below the pro-level models, sharpness suffers compared to prime lenses of equivalent focal length. Also, the zooms are slower—maximum aperture at their longest focal length is generally ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/6.3. This produces a darker viewfinder image, requires slower shutter speeds in any given light level and slows down autofocusing. Despite these drawbacks, you can save a lot of money and still get frame-filling shots.
When you’re able to get closer to a subject or want to include its surroundings, a long-range zoom is a good choice: 18-200mm, 18-250mm or 18-270mm for an APS-C D-SLR; 28-200mm or 28-300mm for a full-frame D-SLR or 35mm SLR; or 14-140mm or 18-180mm for Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds System cameras. Shooting at closer range expands perspective, doing away with the familiar “flattened” look of long-lens shots. Of course, it all depends on how close the subject animal will allow you to approach and the look you want in your image. For example, grizzly bears look more imposing with the flattened perspective of (and are much more safely photographed from) greater shooting distances.
The main drawback to long-range zooms is that they don’t provide the optical quality of pro prime lenses, but their all-in-one versatility and convenience make them valuable components to your wildlife lens kit.
Nikon wildlife pros like the AF-S VR 300mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED, 400mm ƒ/2.8G ED, 500mm ƒ/4G ED, 600mm ƒ/4G ED and 200-400mm ƒ/4G IF-ED Nikkors, all with built-in Vibration Reduction and Silent Wave focusing motors that permit prefocusing manually without leaving AF mode. All are superb lenses with excellent AF performance. Estimated street prices run from $5,300 to over $10,000.
For those on tighter budgets, good choices include the AF-S Nikkor 300mm ƒ/4D IF-ED (excellent AF performance, but no Vibration Reduction) and AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6D ED (has Vibration Reduction, but not the AF-S focusing motor). The AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G IF-ED sells for under $600 and has both the Silent Wave focusing motor and Vibration Reduction. The AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED zoom is a superb lens for DX- and FX-format Nikon users with larger budgets.
For users of DX (APS-C) format Nikon D-SLRs, the AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm ƒ/4-5.6G IF-ED zoom is very inexpensive and has both the AF-S focusing motor and Vibration Reduction.
Nikon offers one long-range zoom, the AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6G IF-ED, which can be used only with APS-C-sensor D-SLRs, not 35mm or full-frame D-SLRs.
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