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photo:lenssupertele

super telephoto lenses

African safari shooting

    • ideally need a focal length range of 200-600mm in 35mm terms on a camera with a good buffer so that you can take several minutes of slow sequences (1 fps or slower is often adequate but buffer on the 1Ds could not cope with this)
    • best shots are often taken in low light levels around dawn so a super telephoto with wide aperture and good low light AF system combined with a camera that gives good image quality at higher ISO levels such as 1600 combined with effective image stabiliser to minimise the camera shake with long telephotos is needed.
    • African safaris tend to be very dusty affairs so you don't really want to be changing lenses and you really need a camera & lens system that is dustproof and weatherproof - and the best in this regard is the Olympus E5 system. 
    • the current ultimate safari camera (2007) would be the 1D MarkIII with its 1.3x crop for more telephoto and its better buffer - a 10mp picture in the hand is worth a 100 16mp pictures missed because buffer was BUSY.
      • Canon 1DMIII /MIV with EF 300mm f/2.8L IS with 1.4x TC gives 546mm f/4 with 2-3EV IS but able to use ISO 6400
        • this kit weighs in at about 4kg and requires a monopod to support it and would cost over $A13,000
        • the lens is 252mm long, so not so compact.
      • alternatively the lighter EF 400mm f/4 IS DO L lens gives better image quality than the 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4x TC although you may not like the DO artefacts and the price, and you would need another lens for shorter telephotos or when you need wider apertures as light levels fall (perhaps a 70-200mm f/2.8L IS).
    • BUT a serious contender to the best safari set up in 2016 may be:
      • Olympus OM-D E-M1  with Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 PRO lens to give effective 600mm f/4 with 5-6EV image stabiliser in a robust kit which is dustproof and highly weatherproof (you could pour a bottle of water on it to wash the dust off if you had to, although I would use other means)
        • this gives 16mp at 10fps with accurate low light AF
        • this is light enough to be used hand held which makes life so much easier in the back of a safari truck full of tourists and the lenses are black so they won't stand out like the Canon white ones.
        • combined weight is about 2.3kg and the lens is only 227mm long
        • this would cost ~$US3,500 - almost a quarter the Canon cost and almost half the weight and size, for the difference you could buy a 2nd EM1 body and add a Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 pro lens to give you 80-300mm range in a zoom on a second  camera.
        • for more versatility, you could add a 1.4x TC to give you a handholdable 420mm f/5.6 option.
        • in addition, the lens takes a 77mm filter instead of a 48mm drop-in filter as does the Canon.

Summary:

  • if light weight and telephoto reach are your prime importance and you can afford to shoot at < ISO 1600 and don't need faster burst than 5fps with C-AF then the Olympus OM-D E-M1 would make it high on your list.
  • if ability to use higher ISO with low noise, wider dynamic range and fast burst rates are your prime importance and you don't mind carrying large, heavy, expensive equipment with large heavy tripods, then consider the Nikon D4s sports dSLR or Canon 1D X sports dSLR with possible lighter, cheaper alternatives of Nikon D300s or Canon 7D.

introduction:

  • in this page when I talk of effective focal length, it is in 35mm effective terms unless giving the actual focal length of a lens.
  • super telephoto here is approx. 300mm effective focal length and higher
  • cropped sensors give you more reach at the super-telephoto end:
    • a Nikon D3 12mp (36×23.9mm) dSLR using a 300mm lens gives 4256x2843pixels at full frame, this could be cropped to:
      • 5:4 format in camera (30×23.9mm = 3552x2832pixels = 10mp)
      • 1.3x crop (~28.7×18.7mm = 3393x2224pixels = 7.5mp) in PS giving an effective reach of 390mm lens
      • 1.5x DX crop in camera (2784×1848 pixels = 5.1mp) giving an effective 450mm reach
    • a Canon 1D Mark III using a 300mm lens with its 1.3x sensor crop will give a 10mp image with effective reach of a 390mm lens
    • THUS if it is reach you need, then the Canon 1D Mark III will give this at higher resolution than the Nikon D3
    • BUT if maximal reach is needed and you can get away with lower ISO values, lesser AF functionality, slower burst rates then consider the 2x crop factor of the Olympus & Four Thirds cameras with their specially designed lenses:
    • NB. using cropped sensors with more than 135pixels/mm such as Canon APS-C, Nikon DX and Olympus E series cameras with 35mm lens technology and not high res. digital designed lenses means that although you get more reach, it is unlikely that the lens will have enough resolution to match the sensor wide open and thus in effect you are losing sensor mp resolution, this is why these companies are producing dedicated lenses designed for these cameras, particularly, Olympus. 
  • a super telephoto lens, like other lenses is a trade off on:
    • cost
    • focal length
    • maximum aperture
      • be aware that using teleconverters effectively reduces your aperture and may make AF impossible with some cameras.
    • optical aberrations
    • lens flare
    • resolution and contrast
    • features such as image stabilisation
    • zoom vs prime
    • manual focus vs AF
    • speed of AF
      • USM is faster and quieter than non-USM
      • AF range stops on lenses
      • faster apertures
    • hand holdability, size and weight:
      • cannot reasonably hand-hold these lenses (>4kg):
        • Sigma APO 300-800mm f/5.6 “Sigmonster” (5.9kg)
        • Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS (4.5kg)
        • Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS L (5.36kg)
        • Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS L (5.37kg)
      • following could be hand-held but rarely seen handheld (2.5-4kg):
        • Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS L (3.87kg)
        • Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L (2.55kg)
        • Olympus ZD 300mm f/2.8 = 600mm f/2.8 IS (3.29kg) or 840mm f/4 with EC-14
        • Olympus ZD 90-250mm f/2.8 = 180-500mm f/2.8 IS (3.27kg)
        • Nikon AF-S VR 200-400mm f/4G  (3.275kg)
      • easily hand-held but still a bit heavy to carry around all day (ie. lenses 1-2.5kg):
        • Canon EF 400mm f/4 IS DO L (1.94kg)
        • Canon EF 300mm f/4 IS L ( = 480mm f/4 on 1.6x crop cameras)
        • Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS (= 480mm f/5.6 on 1.5x crop)
        • Olympus ZD 150mm f/2.0 with EC-20 equates to 600mm f/4 IS
        • Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD with EC-14 equates to 140-560mm f/3.9-4.9 IS
      • light, compact lenses that can be carried around all day (<1kg) :
        • Olympus ZD 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 ED - only 620g but gives effective 600mm f/5.6 IS when on E510 or E3.
        • Olympus OM 200mm f/4 - only manual focus but gives a nice 400mm f/4 IS when on E510 or E3 (see here)
  • astronomy usage:
    • for astrophotography where optical aberrations become paramount, the general wisdom is to stick with a high quality prime lens (preferably without optical IS) such as the Canon 200mm f/2.8 L which on a 1.6x cropped sensor becomes a 320mm effective lens.
    • the smaller the aperture, the longer you need to have your exposures and thus the better guiding and mount you need - try to go for a great quality f/2.8 lens as it will simplify your life.
    • the greater the focal length, the more guiding errors and aberrations become magnified & thus the better guiding, mount and lens you need.
    • converting a camera lens to a telescope for use with eyepieces or webcams:
      • consumer Scope converters are OK for terrestrial use but not for astro use, instead its better to use 1.25“ diagonal with a Barlow and eyepieces via a home-made lens adapter ( a lens rear lens cap with centre removed or a 12mm extension tube join to a 1.25” tube so that total extension is no more than 30mm)
  • indoor sports photography:
    • often a 85-200mm range with wide aperture (f/2.0 - f/2.8) is desirable eg. 135mm f/2.0.
    • many settle for a compromise 70-200mm f/2.8 IS zoom
    • Olympus make a ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 which equates to 70-200mm f/2.0 
    • a 135mm focal length in 35mm terms allows 6' high subject in landscape orientation at about 11m (fov = 2x3m) and at f/2.0, DOF range = ~0.8m.
  • outdoor sports photography:
    • a 400-600mm range with f/2.8-5.6 aperture is desirable - usually mounted on a monopod.
    • a 500mm focal length in 35mm terms allows 6' high subject in landscape orientation at about 40m (fov = 1.9×2.9m) and at f/5.6, DOF range = ~2.1m
  • wildlife photography:
    • focal length, contrast and resolution become paramount, and effective focal lengths of 200-600mm are often preferred. When you are not sure what size creature and how far away they will be, then the advantages of a zoom may outweigh their disadvantages.
    • for lenses in the 300mm f/2.8 - 500mm f/4 range, most wildlife photographers prefer mounting on a Wimberley Sidekick
    • if you are just walking around the local zoo without a tripod, then a 400mm effective lens will give you the reach for most shots and f/4 or f/5.6 are reasonable apertures.
  • bird photography:
    • usually 500-800mm focal length is needed, and many prefer a zoom:
      • Olympus ZD 90-250mm f/2.8 = 180-500mm f/2.8 IS
    • for a bird with wing span of 0.6m, using a 500mm effective lens means you need to get to within about 10-15m to reasonably fill the frame (fov at 10m = 0.5×0.7m DOF range at f/5.6 = ~13cm, fov at 15m = 0.7×1.1m DOF range at f/5.6 = ~30cm).
    • by using 800mm effective lens you do not need to be as close, perhaps 15-20m for a close crop.
    • if you can get to within 3-4m of a non-flying bird, then a 200mm effective lens will be fine - perhaps a 70-200mm f/2.8 in case it happens to come closer then you can zoom out.
  • bushwalking:
    • here one needs to often change focal length significantly as the subject may be of unexpected size or distance and making too much movement by changing lenses may mean a missed shot.
    • a light, compact, zoom is often a good choice eg. Olympus ZD 70-300mm f/4-5.6 ED (140-600mm eq)
  • use of teleconverters / tele-extenders:
    • teleconverters are accessory lenses that are placed between the camera and the main lens to increase the magnification by effectively increasing the focal length.
    • they usually come in 2 “strengths”:
      • 1.4x which will obviously increase the effective focal length by 1.4x and decrease the effective aperture by 1 stop
      • 2x which will obviously increase the effective focal length by 2x and decrease the effective aperture by 2 stops
    • in general, image quality tends to be better with the 1.4x than the 2x, but in either case not as good as using a equivalent quality main lens with a longer focal length (ie. a 135mm f/2.0L with 2x converter will not be as good an image quality as a 300mm f/4L lens wide open even though it should give 270mm f/4 equivalence).
    • you can often get away with shooting wide open with a 1.4x teleconverter but you will see a reduction in image quality shooting wide open with a 2x teleconverter, especially when it is mated to a zoom lens.
    • Canon EOS teleconverters are compatible physically with only a few lenses:
  • tips on hand holding a super telephoto:
    • do not stand up - you are MUCH more stable sitting down - maybe carry a portable walk-stool to sit on.
    • stabilise your upper body - “lock” your camera onto forehead via rubber eyepiece onto eyebrow and camera body onto cheek and nose
    • support end of lens with left hand but allow arm to be freely moving to allow tracking - don't hug elbow to your side
      • ensure your arm holes in your clothing a large enough to allow free movement - consider sleeveless vests
    • breathe naturally - no need to hold your breathe
    • depending on your subject either:
      • make sure you have image stabiliser turned on, or,
      • for birds in flight where IS may introduce strange feather patterns with major camera movements, select a fast enough shutter speed, such as:
        • 1/750th sec for 600mm eq. focal length in 35mm terms
        • 1/1200th sec for 600mm + 1.4x TC
        • 1/2000th sec for 600mm + 2x TC
    • plan your shooting position:
      • birding - sun behind you, wind from right or left, and shoot birds flying INTO the wind as it is easier
    • practice

Canon EOS

Nikon Digital:

Olympus dSLR

Micro Four Thirds:

The classic Pro 70-200mm f/2.8 image stabilised lens:

The classic Pro 300mm eq. f/2.8 image stabilised lens:

  • Olympus E5 + ZD 150mm f/2.0 = 2.6kg approx and approx. $A5000 and you gain 1 stop at f/2.0
  • Nikon D300 + Nikkor AF-S VR 70-200mm f/2.8G = 2.5kg and approx. $A6000
  • Canon 1DMIII + EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L = 3.9kg and approx. $A11,500 (no 200mm f/2.8 IS lens available for the cropped cameras)
  • Nikon D3  + Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/2.8 VR = 4.2kg and approx. $13,000

The classic Pro 600mm eq. f/4 image stabilised lens:

  • Olympus E5 + ZD 150mm f/2.0 + ZD EC-20 = 2.8kg approx and approx. $A6000
  • Nikon D300 + Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/2.8 VR + 1.4xTC = 4kg approx and approx. $A8000
  • Canon 1DMIII + EF 500mm f/4 IS L = 5kg approx and approx. $A14,500
  • Nikon D3 + Nikkor AF-S 600mm f/4G VR = 6kg approx and approx. $A17,000?

The unique Pro 180-500mm f/2.8 "IS" lens:

  • Olympus 90-250mm f/2.8 3.27kg, $A10,000 CCD IS; 105mm filter;
  • the closest zooms of that telephoto reach for 1.3x crop Canon or full frame Nikon are f/5.6 at the long end:

The classic Pro 600mm eq. f/2.8 image stabilised lens:

  • Olympus E5 + Olympus 300mm f/2.8 = 4.2kg; and approx. $A11500
  • Nikon D300 + Nikkor AF-S 400mm f/2.8 = 5.3kg and approx. $A14,000
  • Canon 1DMIII + EF 400mm f/2.8 IS L = 6.7kg approx and approx. $A15,500 and only 520mm eff. focal length
  • Nikon D3 + Nikkor AF-S 600mm f/4G ED VR = 6kg approx  and approx. $A17,000 but only f/4 not f/2.8

800mm hand holdable, image stabilised auto focus lens:

  • now we are talking!
  • a lens and camera that you can walk around with (2-3kg for lens and camera combined) and really get close to those smaller creatures at a distance (ie. 800mm telephoto reach) without needing a tripod or a monopod (ie. image stabiliser is a must), and it needs to have reasonable AF capability (this usually means an aperture f/8 or brighter).
  • when portability and reach are the prime considerations, the winner is the Olympus or Panasonic combo.
  • you can't achieve this with a 1.3x crop or full frame camera and have it portable, and optical image quality and size is a problem with the DX/APS-C options.
  • Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 PRO lens + MC14 teleconverter = 840mm f/5.6 5-6EV image stabiliser
  • Canon APS-C dSLR (eg. 40D) with either:
    • 300mm f/4L IS + 2x TC
      • 960mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens, white and Canon 2x TC’s image quality is not as good as Olympus EC-20
      • apparently no AF with 2x teleconverter?
    • 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x TC
      • 900mm reach at f/8 but that’s a bigger lens and no IS.
      • apparently no AF with teleconverters?
  • Canon 1D MIII with either:
    • not possible, but closest are:
    • 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS + 1.4x TC:
      • 182-728mm reach at f/6.3-8
      • not quite the reach and image quality may be an issue wide open with this combination
    • 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x TC = 728mm reach at f/8
      • but that’s a bigger lens and body and no IS, although you can increase ISO by 1-2 stops and you get 10fps.
      • close focus 3.5m, max. magnification = 0.17x with TC14.
      • no AF with teleconverters.
      • ~2.7kg
    • 400mm f/4L IS DO + 1.4x TC
      •  728mm reach at f/5.6 but VERY EXPENSIVE and DO aberrations may be an issue
      • > 3kg for kit
  • Canon full frame:
    • not really possible, closest is the 400mm f/4L IS DO + 2x TC:
      • 800mm reach at f/8 but  VERY EXPENSIVE and DO and 2xTC aberrations may be an issue
      • > 3kg for kit.
    • of course, if you are using a 21mp 1DsMIII, you could use just 10mp of it and this would give you a similar crop as the 1DMIII - well actually more like a 10mp Nikon DX with ~1.5x crop or 1.5x digital zoom.
    • if you can carry a 6kg outfit plus tripod with gimbal head and you have lots of money then the EF 800mm f/5.6 may be useful:
  • Nikon DX with either:
    • 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 + 1.4x TC
      • 840mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality and no IS.
    • 300mm f/4 + 2x TC
      • 900mm reach at f/8 but lower image quality and no IS.
  • Nikon full frame:
    • not possible, closest is the 3.3kg lenses, not really a walk around lens!
photo/lenssupertele.txt · Last modified: 2016/01/11 04:11 by gary1