How to choose a lens for photo hunting and wildlife photography

How to choose a lens for photo hunting and wildlife photography.

Good afternoon friends. Choose a lens for photo hunting? Then this article is for you. In this article, we’ll talk about “glasses” for shooting animals.

This review is written for people who are fond of photography, and who want to use long focal lengths for filming. First of all, such need arises with animal photographers and reporters who take sports events. I got three lenses with a large focal length at the same time, and could not resist the temptation to make a small amateur review. I hope someone will find it useful.

There is a rule that states that in order to get a sharp shot, the shutter speed should be equal to the value, the reverse of the focal length of the lens. This means that when shooting at a focal length of 300 mm to obtain a sharp frame, the shutter speed should be 1/300 second or less. If the lens has a stabilizer, then the shutter speed can be used 2 or 3 times longer. If there is no stabilizer, then it is advisable to use a tripod.

For successful photography, the camera needs a servo AF. This will allow the camera to aim at the subject and not release it from the focus until a frame is taken. Also useful is the focus area selection function and spot focusing, which allows you to focus only on the subject, and not on its surroundings.

As a result, the device for shooting animals must meet the following requirements:

  • Have a long-focus lens
  • Create a little noise in the pictures at high ISO values ​​
  • Respond quickly to photographer’s actions
  • Work with an accurate and fast autofocus system
  • Have a high speed of serial shooting;

What should the lens be able to do?

The lens should have a focal length of at least 200-300 mm. This will make it possible to shoot small animals and birds close-up from a long distance. Lenses with a smaller focal length are suitable for shooting pets. It is desirable to use lenses with mechanical adjustment of the focal length. This will allow you to frame the frame with one hand, and press the shutter button the second time. In the case of electronic regulation of the FR, all actions must be performed sequentially, and this is a loss of time and, accordingly, the opportunity to miss the moment.

Which telephoto lens to choose

Each manufacturer of photographic equipment, as a rule, has a huge number of long-focus lenses. If you look at Canon, then at least a dozen models come to mind!

  • Canon EF-S 55-250mm f / 4-5.6 IS
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f / 2.8 USM L
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f / 2.8 USM L IS
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f / 4 USM L IS
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f / 4 USM L
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f / 4-5.6 USM IS
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f / 4-5.6 USM L IS
  • Canon EF 100-300mm f / 5.6 L
  • Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6 USM L IS

The rest of the producers have a similar situation. All this diversity is complemented by a large number of models of telephoto lenses from Sigma, Tamron. The cost of telephoto lenses can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars! How to understand all this diversity and choose a telephoto lens with an optimal ratio of price, functionality and image quality?

Comparison of popular and inexpensive telephoto lenses for wildlife photography

Testing was not carried out in “sterile” studio conditions. I just shot a little of each of the lenses, and folded my subjective opinion. Let’s take a look at the lenses themselves. In this test, three lenses of three different manufacturers more or less close for their purpose participated: Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150 -600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US.

All these models combine a number of common properties: they are telezums with a maximum focal length of at least 400 mm, they all lie in the price category up to $ 1,500, they are all equipped with an image stabilizer, all of them are equipped with a silent high-speed ultrasonic motor.

Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US

Actually there is no miracle: Canon, which has the smallest maximum focal length, is the most compact of the triad, having a length of only 189 mm. Sigma, as expected, took second place – 252 mm, well, and the longest was Tamron – 258 mm. However, Tamron and Sigma look almost identical.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US
An important parameter, who walks through the forest with technology knows this from personal experience, is the mass of the lens. Here again everything without surprises: Canon – 1380 g, Sigma – 1910 g, Tamron – 1950.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US
If the weight and width of Sigma and Tamron are almost identical, then the diameter of the filter, they differ. The filter diameter for Canon is 77 mm, for Sigma – 86 mm, for Tamron – 95 mm.

A little bit about the testing method.

  • Camera: Canon 6D.
  • Exposure Metering: Spot.
  • Focus: on the central cross-shaped sensor.
  • The ISO values ​​used are 400 and 800, which means that the photos are not as detailed as possible on whatever ISO 100 or 200, but on the other hand, animals often have to be photographed in low light conditions, so that Conditions can be called approximate to reality.
  • The focal lengths were chosen common for all lenses:
  • 150 mm (minimum common);
  • 300 mm (some average value)
  • 400 mm (maximum total).
  • Aperture opening: Selects the total maximum for each focal length.

I did two frames for each test and chose the best one. When shooting with a tripod I used a cable.

For a test with a tripod, I chose the model of the dear heart of every person, namely, a bill of 100 euros
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US

Whether a particular instance of Sigma sinned, or my hands are crooked. But to achieve sharpness from Sigma on 150 mm at me it has not turned out. Detailing is simply disgusting. In this test, I like Canon the most.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US
At three hundred millimeters, Sigma begins to catch up with competitors, but the difference is very obvious. Here I also liked most of all Canon.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US
At four hundred millimeters I like Sigma the most. I can not understand what is the focus, but Sigma really brought a surprise, making some confusion in the test results.
I do not know how to explain such instability. It is possible that my frail tripod succumbed to the vibration emanating from the camera, which brought some element of luck into the test, especially at a focal length of 400 mm and a shutter speed of 1/50 sec. Therefore, I decided to continue the test, especially to shoot birds from a tripod-tripod – it’s not always possible. Often have to be removed from the hands, and even in poor lighting conditions. To tear off ISO every time I do not want, but because the efficiency of the stabilizer is an important criterion, which in my opinion worth checking.
There is an unwritten rule (and maybe written?) That in order to avoid the “shake” (ie, blurring the sharpness of the micro hands), it is required to set the shutter speed to 1 second / focal length. What I’ve done. Trying to shoot alternately without a stabilizer and with it. By the target, I took a teddy bear to imitate a complex texture of feathers or wool.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US
At the test with hands Sigma any more does not seem such and soap. But all the same, according to my subjective perception, is inferior to competitors. However, to judge you.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US
At three hundred millimeters, I did not notice the stunning difference between the lenses, so I leave it to the readers to decide which picture is better. It is interesting to know a third-party opinion. But in general it seems to me that almost everything is the same. Moreover, there is practically no difference anywhere between frames with and without stabilizers. That once again confirms the rule of thumb about the length of aging.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US
Test at a long focal length. Personally, I like Tamron, but do not forget that when shooting with hands, the fact of luck is important, some of the frames can always be sharper than others. In general, the picture shows, as in the previous two examples, that the stabilizer does not play an important role in short exposures. For the sake of interest, I made another series of shots, where I extended the exposure by half to check the effectiveness of the stabilizer, after all, should a person understand why he pays money.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US

The last example shows that the stabilizer really benefits when you have to lengthen the shutter speed when shooting with hands. What kind of lens do you like more – then I’ll give my own conclusions to each of them below.
Another interesting point for someone is possible to compare how much clearer 600 mm is closer than 400 mm. For this, I took three shots corresponding to the three maximum values ​​of each of the lenses. As a target, I chose zebras on wallpaper in my daughter’s bedroom. Given that we have planned a trip to Africa, these wallpapers can serve as a good simulator :).
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM и Tamron SP150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC US
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM и Tamron SP150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC US
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM и Tamron SP150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC US
Another interesting factor, which I would like to draw attention to, is light transmission. On the general range of focal lengths it is different for all lenses. So:

  • Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM: 100-135 mm – 4.5; 135-250 mm – 5; 250-400 mm – 5.6
  • Sigma AF 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM: 150-180 mm – 5; 180-300-5.6; 300-500 mm – 6.3
  • Tamron SP 150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC USD: 150-200 mm – 5; 200-400 mm – 5.6; 400-600 mm – 6.3

As can be seen from the above values, Sigma is the most “dark” of the lenses, while the Tamron is only slightly inferior to Canon at a small focal length of 200-250 mm, which are not so significant for telezums.
Before drawing conclusions, I would like to touch on another issue, sufficiently important – the price. So, if you do not live in Moscow and do not buy a “gray” non-certified product, then the average cost of the lenses is:

  • Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM: $ 1500
  • Sigma AF 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM: $ 830
  • Tamron SP 150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC USD: $ 1080

Further a few of my own observations and conclusions. Let’s start with the outsider from the point of view of my subjective perception – with Sigma. The overall impression of most of the tests performed – Sigma loses in sharpness. Maybe I just got a non-Vazhnetsk copy, but, as they say “what we have, we have.” Of all the lenses Sigma is the darkest, and in terms of the ratio “maximum focal length / dimensions / weight” – the most unfortunate. The lens is almost identical with the Tamron, whose maximum focal length is 100 mm larger. Also it is worth noting that Sigma does not hold a “trunk” and constantly drops out if you do not use the latch under its own weight. But the tripod foot is the most snap and comfortable of all – it’s really comfortable to carry for it. In addition, complete with a lens there is a special bag, in which it is convenient to carry. And the most important thing in this lens is price. You can buy a decent copy for 20-22 thousand rubles. And if you do not bother with sharpness on a 100% scale, you can get quite decent shots, like this one, which I shot on Sigma during my trip to Sri Lanka.
Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US
Now a little bit about Canon. Needless to say, despite the excellent image quality shown in most cases, this lens has two significant drawbacks: the smallest maximum focal length and the highest price. However, due to the fact that Tamron is a new lens, it is not possible to find offers on the secondary market. But to find used Canon lenses in perfect condition is a very real task. So if you want, both can be found within $ 500. In addition, Canon also comes with a bag that is convenient for carrying this lens as a replacement.

A shot shot on a Canon.

Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM, Sigma AF 150-500mm F5 -6.3 APO DG OS HSM and Tamron SP150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC US

Well, and finally, Tamron. I will not hide, this lens is now among my favorites. It has several qualities that make me make my choice in favor of Tamron SP 150-600mm F / 5-6.3 Di VC USD. Firstly, it’s 600 mm. Anyway, 600 mm and 400 mm is really a big difference. Secondly – the quality of the picture Tamron is comparable to Canon, but the price is much lower. Thirdly, this lens, in my opinion, is the most chic stabilizer. Despite the fact that the competitors of the system are more complex and two-mode, I saw Tamron as the most visible effect of the stabilizer. The shortcomings include an inconvenient hand for a short tripod foot and a lack of carrying case.

Professional Reviews

Six of my friends of animal photographers share invaluable experience and observations.

Alex (Canon 400/5.6L)

I shoot on Canon EF 400 / f5,6L. I consider it a golden center in the choice of optics for photo hunting. The focal length is optimal, the price tag is quite tolerable. Shooting of small birds is quite comfortable to conduct from ten meters. At the same time, the composition model takes up a sufficient frame space. The speed is also fast enough. I shoot them dynamics. It is quite possible to focus on a fast moving object. On the aperture, you could wish for better, but again … all for your money.

Michael (Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f / 4D ED-IF)

I myself shoot the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f / 4D ED-IF (300/4). With the purchase of this lens, I stopped looking for image quality problems in technology and focused on the process, which allowed me to get the main results. Structurally it is necessary to note the dust-proof enclosure, which is of great importance, taking into account the conditions of shooting wildlife. Aperture of the lens allows you to separate the model from the background even when the distance to the object is still too high, it also appears the possibility of using a teleconverter with the preservation of the autofocus function, affects the operation of the focusing system. MDF – the minimum distance of focusing in 1.4 m, makes it possible to shoot close-up with a beautiful blurring of the background, in other words, it is quite suitable for household macro, of course it gives a full macro in a 1: 1 ratio (the maximum possible scale is 1: 3,7 ). The presence of the foot and the built-in blend are vital elements for photo-hunting. In general, I found myself with this lens. I note that the lens was designed for FX (full format, full-frame), so I have not yet revealed its full potential. It is necessary to continue improving and shooting skills, which means that there are many pleasant discoveries ahead and it’s great.

Henry (Nikon 70-300mm f / 4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR)

Friends, hello everyone! I want to share my experience. I shoot birds on a bunch of Nikon D7100 + Nikon 70-300mm f / 4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR. This is my first SLR, I’ve been using it for almost two years.
In principle, everyone is happy. Control of all shooting parameters is carried out by a set of buttons on the camera itself, i.e. Do not waste time and go into the menu, unlike budget DSLRs. As for the lens, there are also no complaints, the focus is rather bright and accurate in conditions of sufficient illumination. But, I will say right away that he loves light. In low light conditions, autofocus begins to scour and focus “past” the subject. For sharpness, I also like the lens very much, if you close the aperture to 7.1-8 – sharpness and detail at a height. Recently there was an opportunity to potter Tamron 70-300. It seemed to me that he was more dark, slower to focus, more misses. In my opinion, it is unlikely that the owners of Nikon will be able to find something more worthy of this lens in this budget. Well, like all avid bertwatchers, for myself, I realized that 300 mm is very small for shooting “from the approach” and I want more. Of the considered “substitutes” for myself, Tamron 150-600mm f / 5-6.3, Sigma 150-600mm f / 5.0-6.3 and the new Nikon 200-500mm f / 5.6. But so far these are only dreams with the current “overseas green” course.
But, I will say right away that he loves light. In conditions of insufficient illumination, autofocus starts to scour and periodically focus “past” the subject, but it is still possible to use the shot and shoot a good shot.
Thank you for your attention, interesting moments and successful shots!

Alexis (Canon 100-400 4.5-5.6L IS USM)

I was consciously looking for a zoom lens, as it is necessary to shoot not only birds that are at a considerable distance from me, but also their traces of vital activity, nests, etc. As a result, I chose between 100-400L and 70-300L, the first already (2011) was more than 10 years on the market and managed to prove myself, the second only appeared on sale in Russia. They stood then approximately the same (about 53 000 rubles). Despite the “freshness” 70-300 took a 100-400. And not in vain, only after realized that 300 mm, I obviously would not have enough, because even 400 mm is not always enough. For residents of the forest zone, especially those who shoot in spruce forests, the lens will be “dark”. Therefore, when foliage rises in the trees, it is hard. In an open area, it is almost perfect! Just do not forget that it is sharp, starting with the diaphragm 7.1 at the long end, at 5.6 will the pen be “in soap”. In clear weather I shoot on f / 8. The trombone-like structure of the lens will be convenient for beginners. We find the bird at 100 mm and quickly translate to 400 mm. I watched how people, accustomed to this method, were confused for a long time with the new 100-400II. The lens is slow for quick birds, for example, to remove the bearded owl flying on you or the shepherdess in flight, I did not succeed. In general, if you are just starting to shoot birds and other animals, I can recommend this lens, and if you have the means, then safely take the 100-400L II version, which I’m now eyeing.

John (Sigma 150-500 mm F / 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM)

Experience using a Sigma 150-500 mm F / 5-6.3 APO lens DG OS HSM (for Canon).

The period of use is less than one year. Experience with the shooting with similar lenses was not, CANON EF-S 55-250 mm f / 4-5.6 IS analog can be called with a lot of tension.

The first impression is a serious aggregate weighing almost 2 kg, quality assembly, no backlashes, everything is dense, the zoom ring and focuses rotate smoothly. Very impressed by the stabilizer. In comparison with the same Canon 55-250 – as the sky and the earth. The picture really freezes in the viewfinder. As practice shows, it is possible to shoot with a stabilizer with a shutter speed of 1/30 at a maximum focal length of 500 mm. The lens gives a very good picture both in color and in sharpness. On the fully open aperture, the image is somewhat soft (but not soapy) on the entire range of focal lengths, but it is worth holding down to 8 and the sharpness is excellent.

For work in the field, observations are as follows:
1) Weight. The first time it is unusual to carry this “Shaitan pipe”, but for a day or two you get used to it and any other optics on the camera seems frivolous. It should be noted that the lens is equipped with a very comfortable tripod paw and belt.
2) Pretty mark coating of the lens itself – there are fingerprints and literally sticking different garbage. To avoid this, a cloth cover was sewn for the lens and lens hood.
3) The stabilizer as already mentioned is very good. But! Whether I’m weak, or too temperamental, because after the first filming it turned out that a lot of marriage is obtained. Monopod solved this problem completely. Analyzing the reasons then made the following conclusions, for a calm unhurried shooting of song birds, the stub is convenient, for shooting large animals (moose, bear) it is difficult, and sometimes it is impossible to calm the excitement, there will still be a stirring of the hands. Therefore, in the forest I always screw the monopod and wear all this household equipment on my shoulder. In principle, it is convenient enough.

Jen (Canon EF 500 mm f / 4L IS USM)

Canon EF 500mm f / 4L IS USM
The lens is sharp and high-speed, autofocus is very bright. Canon 500mm works flawlessly with a 1.4x teleconverter and gives acceptable quality with TC 2.0x. Another advantage is the presence of 2 modes of stabilization and useful functions like “AF Stop”, “Fokus Preset”. Of the disadvantages – perhaps only the weight of the lens (more than three kilograms)).

I believe that for today, in conjunction with the Canon EOS 1D Mark III – it is an ideal choice for an animal photographer, as well as sports photography.

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