Telephoto reach on a budget

a 600mm f/5.6 image stabilised outfit.


So here are my contenders for this test:

My Canon 1DMIII with my friends Tamron 200-400mm f/5.6 LD AF lens (lens cost ~$A1000 new I believe), the combination dwarfs my Olympus E510 with manual focus Sigma 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 II lens for OM mount which I picked up on EBay for about $A50 

and just for fun, here it still dwarfs my E510 combined with a 500mm f/5.6 Maksutov-Cassegrain mirror telescope which I thought I would try out.

So let's see how they fared:

In these images, I have just cropped the target and displayed it at 100% pixel peeping with just some jpeg compression as the only post-processing. I have not applied any noise reduction or exposure modification, sharpening, etc.

The E510 was set to Natural picture mode, normal gradation, normal contrast & saturation, -1 sharpness, noise filter LOW.

The Canon 1DIII was set to Standard picture style -2/3rds EV to compensate for more black background.

above, the Canon 1DIII with the Tamron lens at 400mm f/5.6 1/640th sec 6400ISO

There is a lot of purple fringing with this lens wide open and resultant loss of contrast even though it has a massive lens hood.

above, the E510 with Sigma 70-300mm at 300mm f/5.6 1/125th sec ISO 1600

perhaps a fraction under-exposed but much nicer contrast, less purple fringing, and similar image detail visible, although the 600mm reach of this lens has magnified the test target a bit more than the 520mm reach of the Tamron lens (1.3x crop camera).

Remember this is 600mm reach at 1/125th shutter speed hand held!

Just imagine what a modern, compact Olympus ZD 70-300mm could do!

above, the E510 with Hanimex 300mm f/5.6 mirror lens at 1/100th sec, ISO 1600

this lens tends to be soft with low contrast but it is very compact and light - don't think I would do prints larger than 8"x10" with this one.

E510 with the 500mm f/5.6 mirror lens, 1/200th sec ISO 1600

As the target took up much more of the image space, the exposure system converted the white into 18% gray and thus under-exposed it, but it will do for our purposes.

Firstly it shows you can hand hold this lens at 1/200th sec with the camera's IS despite it being an effective 1000mm lens although there is loss of image detail.

However, despite the increased magnification this result has not shown any more detail - this may be due to poor focus, camera shake or inadequate optics (the telescope was not designed for 12m subject range!), so thought I better repeat this on a tripod with IS off and manual focus accurately done using 10x live preview with IS button activated. You would probably be just as well using the 300mm lens and cropping it.

I was amazed at how long the 10x magnified image took to stabilise on the tripod after touching the camera - it vibrated severely even though it was on a good tripod and took 15 seconds to stop vibrating!

I thus took the next photo with mirror lock up set to 15secs and self timer to 12 secs to reduce any vibrations and in addition set exposure to +1EV:

OK, now we are talking, we get the best image detail so far, but can we do better?

Now we are on a tripod let's drop ISO to 400 and see:

hmmm.. we have got rid of a lot of the noise but it seems to have a little more blur, perhaps due to the 1/30th sec shutter instead of 1/125th in the previous image, and minor vibrations?

After these tests, I decided it was time to invest in an Olympus OM Zuiko 300mm f/4.5 lens given that I can now use image stabiliser with it on the E510, so let's see how it fares:

Above, on a tripod at f/4.5 wide open there is some flare but its very usable in the field, just watch for purple fringing on high contrast edges. The above shot was on a tripod at ISO 100 and 1/20th sec. Even at f/4.5 it easily beats the previous lenses in resolution.

Above, the OM 300mm at f/5.6, much nicer, and easily the best performer of all these lenses.

Now for the real crunch, can I shoot this lens hand held indoors at f/5.6, 1/125th sec with the IS on the E510, remember, we are talking effective telephoto reach of 600mm f/5.6 - let's see:

Wow! Not as good as on a tripod but still better than the other lenses when they were on a tripod!

Now, just for fun let's try some low light shots of real subjects with the OM 300mm on the E510 with IS HAND-HELD:

Above is a 100% crop of my pool on a cloudy day, hand held at f/8, 1/125th sec, fantastic for a 600mm equivalent telephoto! 

As you can see, even at f/8, at about 6m, there is not much depth of field, the rear material is only some 4-5" behind the face of the brick.

Resizes full image here

Now let's push it a bit and drop shutter to 1/60th sec hand held:

Above is a 100% crop of some maple leaves moving a little in the breeze at f/8 but at an incredible 1/60th second hand held with the E510's IS. Resized full image here

OK, now let's really push this outfit and drop shutter speed to a slow 1/10th sec, hand held, remember this is a 600mm equivalent telephoto:

What do you think the above is?

This is a 100% crop of a photo of my plasma TV screen while I was lying on my couch last night. Incredible performance for 1/10th sec, 600mm eq. focal length hand held with only visual manual focus, although this one is at f/4.5 from memory.

See here for resized full image.

You are not going to want to try focusing this lens on a moving target such as a bird in flight, and its extremely shallow depth of field means that pre-focussing will have to be precise but it's a great lens when you need a bit of reach and the image stabiliser on the new Olympus dSLRs means that the Olympus Zuiko OM 300mm f/4.5 now has a new life as an image stabilised 600mm f/4.5 (although better at f/5.6 or f/8).

Furthermore, the 1kg weight is pushing the limit of what the E510 can safely hand hold - when using right hand you tend to put a bit too much stress on the battery compartment cover, although it seems sturdy enough to cope with it.

Lastly, you will need to rely on the viewfinder for manual focus hand held as magnified Live Preview at this magnification is very difficult, I suspect the viewfinder focus will be much easier on the E3's larger, brighter viewfinder. I would aim to use it at 1/125th sec or faster as slower speeds you will need to take extra care hand held to get acceptable shots.

Of course, the Olympus ZD 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 ED lens with its auto-focus, internal focus, macro to 1m, 58mm filter and more compact size and weight (only 620g) will be much more versatile and easier to use. It will be interesting to see how well it performs at 300mm f/5.6 compared with this OM lens. But then the ZD will not fit on my OM cameras or my Canon 1DMIII as the OM lens does, cannot do f/4.5 at 300mm and it costs $A599 compared to $A200-300 for the OM lens on Ebay.

Now, for the best performance, one should perhaps consider the Olympus ZD 150mm f/2.0 lens with 2x TC but you need a big bank balance for this.

Alternatively, if you are a Canon user needing 600mm then it depends on the crop factor of the camera. The 1.6x cameras can get away with a Canon EF 300mm f/4 ISL with 1.4x TC to give 672mm f/5.6 while this combo on the Canon 1DMIII gives 546mm f/5.6. On a full frame, you might need the enormous 600mm f/4.0L IS.





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