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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Find Your Wildlife Action Lens

How to pick the right lens to match your photo needs and your budget

Labels: Lenses

This Article Features Photo Zoom

From top: Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG APO HSM II; AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 D ED; Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50-200mm ƒ/2.8-3.5
AF Performance
The fast pro lenses autofocus more quickly and more accurately due to their better AF motors and algorithms, and the wider base they provide for the phase-detection AF system. You need a higher-end DSLR to take full advantage of this.

It’s true that a skilled action shooter can get sharp images with just about any SLR and lens, while an unskilled one won’t get good results even with the most costly gear. But it’s also true that a lens/camera combo that acquires focus on the subject more quickly and tracks it more accurately will, in skilled hands, deliver more sharp action images than lesser gear. If you know what you’re doing, and that merely takes lots of practice, you’ll be happier with better gear. But if you’re one of the many budget-limited photographers, we’ve listed some lower-priced lenses that can do wildlife action quite well (see the accompanying chart).

The fast pro lenses cost a lot more than midrange lenses. They’re worth it in terms of image quality and AF performance, and their ability to stand up to harsh field conditions. But they can be beyond the means of many of us. For example, a 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens costs around $5,000, and a 600mm ƒ/4 is close to twice that, so you probably have to look first at your budget when selecting a lens or lenses for wildlife action. Here’s what to look for in wildlife-action lenses on various budgets.

Under $1,000
In the under-$1,000 category, you’re looking at the tele-zooms; the single-focal-length superteles cost more than $1,000. In this price range, you’ll find 70-300mm zooms from Canon, Nikon and Sony (we suggest you stick with the ones in the accompanying chart), and longer zooms from independent lensmakers, including Sigma’s 120-400mm, Tamron’s 200-500mm and Tokina’s 80-400mm. While the under-$1,000 zooms don’t offer the speed of the higher-end superteles, they can do the job and get you up close to wildlife action.

This is the sweet spot for many dedicated wildlife shooters. In this price range, you get better-quality optics and better AF performance. Many shooters can’t afford the pro superteles, but a good 300mm ƒ/4 lens from Canon, Nikon and Pentax is doable. Used on an APS-C-format DSLR, a 300mm lens is equivalent to a 450-480mm lens on a 35mm or full-frame digital SLR, and works well for birds and other animals. Yet it costs less than one-third the price of a 300mm ƒ/2.8, and also is much smaller and lighter, making it easy to carry in the field and to use handheld. This category also includes Canon’s very handholdable 400mm ƒ/5.6 and 100-400mm supertele zoom, Nikon’s 80-400mm supertele zoom and Sony’s 70-400mm superzoom, plus Sigma’s 150-500mm supertele zoom.

Starts With A Zoom
It’s not easy “finding” a moving subject through a long lens, so you might want to start with a telephoto zoom because you can zoom to the shortest focal length’s wider angle of view to more easily find the subject, then zoom in on it. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to find the subject easily at the long end of the range and can progress to a fixed-focal-length supertele.

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