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Long distance lenses

Discussion in 'General Equipment Chat & Advice' started by MiB, Feb 27, 2021.

  1. MiB

    MiB Member

    I'm currently looking at getting a better 300mm lens and hopefully a teleconvertor to increase distances and looking for recommendations.

    Currently have an EOS 600d and a Sigma 70-300 f4-5.6 which is ok but suffers a lot from poor quality at the longer distances and doesn't quite get a decent picture of the deer and birds I want to shoot. Lots of details my missed out.
  2. RogerMac

    RogerMac Well-Known Member

    There are many different possible reasons why long lenses dissapoint. Camera shake,best haze, mist, and inaccurate focussing for starters.Try to eliminate these before spending a!l? fortune. For a long time I owned a badge engineered version of that sigma and never saw any problem with it.. In fact an example is currently in post 147 of this month theme comp.

    If you decide you must spend money Canon do an excellent range of stabilized lenses and also a number of suitable bodies with IBIS
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2021
  3. Ceemac

    Ceemac Active Member

    Have a look at the Canon 400 f5.6L It's on my wish list. Used prices aren't too bad. You can use it with the Canon EF 1.4 Extender (but you'll lose autofocus.)
    Done_rundleCams likes this.
  4. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    Good optical performance at a long focal is quite demanding so lenses cost a lot. I’ll tell you what I did. I’m not saying you should do the same but it might help. As Roger said, other things like camera shake and poor visibility start to get in the way of image quality when using crops of images taken with focal lengths of 300 mm and longer.

    To go beyond 200 mm I decided needed a prime lens. This was over 10 years ago and zooms have improved a lot but back then the “long end” was often not that good, especially used wide open.

    I bought the Canon 300 F4 L and a x1.4 converter. The converter version then was the mk ii. The lens has IS.
    I then bought the 400 F5.6 L which is very widely considered a good starting lens for birding. It is light (as these things go) and has fast AF, quicker than the 300+x1.4 combination, but it has no IS. I was working abroad and one reason from”doubling up” was I kept having lenses in the wrong country when I needed them. I also doubled up the 70-200 L F4.

    Canon brought out the 100-400 mkii L F4-F5.6. This is as good as the 400 F5.6 wide open but exceeding heavy. I bought it for the flexibility of the zoom. Canon also brought out a new 70-300 L which is supposed to be very good but I already had the 100-400 mkii.

    In my opinion 400 mm is all well and good if you are going birding but too long of you are walking around the zoo.

    The other thing about bird photography is that you are never close enough. Fieldcraft becomes the deciding factor.

    There are super telephoto zooms made by Sigma and Tamron that have a lot of fans. I think you need to handle one to decide if they are right for you. Once the focal length goes beyond 400 mm everything gets very big and very heavy.

    I have no idea what the new Canon mirrorless super-telephotos are like. They have a 600 mm and 800 mm F11. I haven’t looked but I think the cost, together with an R5 is, may less than that of a 500 F4 or 600 F4. I’ve no idea how the results compare.
  5. nimbus

    nimbus Well-Known Member

    One factor to bear in mind is that part of the problem with apparent image quality at a distance is down to atmospherics, clarity varies quite widely. For birds you will need something pretty long, as suggested a 400mm f5.6 or a zoom which includes this range, ideally something longer again, I'm glad I'm not into bird photography! Part of the problem is likely to be camera shake, even with stabilised lenses or IBIS, any slight tremor becomes very apparent with long focal lengths, a monopod can help here, having the advantage of being able to move the camera position easily.
  6. MiB

    MiB Member

  7. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    In my experience, the search for image sharpness will empty your wallet but not fill your album. I've been very happy with the Sigma and Tamron "superzooms" I've used but then again, everyone's experience is different.

    Tamron 16-300...

    Crane operator at bus station construction site Exeter A65 DSC03443.JPG

    Sigma 28-300mm...

    Bearded man in wool cap at Exeter bus station 5D IMG_3554.JPG

    Tamron 28-300mm...

    Susie max tele Tamron 28-300 Test D600 4613.JPG
  8. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    Image shake you can manage to a degree. Keep exposure time small and, if the lens has a tripod collar, use a monopod with an adjustable head. I use the manfrotto tilting head.

    I don’t know that lens. I’d forget any idea about using it with a teleconverter for wildlife on the move. Not all Canon lenses take a Canon teleconverter, the converters intrude into the rear of the lens and they are optimised to work with some white lenses. I wouldn’t expect stellar performance wide open at 300 mm. There will be a review somewhere.

    AP rates the mkii version of that lens as good. What that means at 300 mm I don’t know without finding the review.

    Edit: MPB have a few copies of the 400 L F5.6 around the £800 mark. You do need the tripod collar. As Andrew said. You’ll empty your wallet looking for sharpness in a telephoto if you really want to get critical on detail.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2021
  9. ChrisNewman

    ChrisNewman Well-Known Member

    A teleconverter magnifies the central part of the image from a lens, to spread it over more pixels on the sensor. But the addition of extra lens elements will inevitably add to the optical imperfections of lens itself, degrading that image slightly more than the lens alone. If you had a high-quality telephoto prime on a large sensor body with a low pixel count, the teleconverter would still add lots of detail that the sensor would otherwise be unable to detect. But a body with a higher pixel count would bring the same gain without introducing additional optical imperfections. The EOS 600D, at 18MPx, has a reasonable pixel count for APS-C, although the EOS 90D and M6 Mark II far exceed that with 33 MPx (roughly equivalent to a 1.4× TC on 18 MPx, but their newer sensors are reputedly much better).

    The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM was introduced as a modestly priced telephoto, which has been replaced by a, presumably sharper, MkII version. Telephotos almost inevitably have inferior resolution at the long end than wide. So I doubt whether a teleconverter would add significant detail to your images compared to just cropping them.

    I started digital photography with a Nikon D90 (APS-C, 12 MPx), and my telephoto was the then current “kit” 55-200mm. I soon wanted more reach, and bought the Sigma 150-500mm. This was, of course, a huge improvement, although disappointingly soft at the long end. But being very big and heavy, I only carry it on a few occasions when I expect to need it. My telephoto selection stayed the same, despite having replaced the D90 with the full frame D800, until this spring. I decided one of the VR Nikkor 70-300 AF-P lenses would be light enough to carry regularly, and good enough to make the upgrade worthwhile. I was tempted by the light weight of the APS-C version (when I use a telephoto, the subject is usually too small and distant to fill the frame anyway), but finally chose the full frame. I’m delighted with the lens, but, unsurprisingly, on my D800 it’s noticeably sharper at 70mm than 300mm. And in turn, my excellent and particularly well regarded Sigma 50mm art prime is noticeably sharper than the similarly priced AF-P 70-300mm at 70 mm. So I doubt whether I’d gain much from the AF-P 70-300mm at 300 mm with a teleconverter. But my D800 has only 15MPx in the APS-C area, compared to 18MPx in a slightly smaller APS-C frame for your 600D. Also I suspect the Nikkor 70-300 AF-P is considerably sharper than the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. So I doubt whether teleconverter would add significant detail for you compared to just cropping a 300mm shot.

  10. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    Very true. I often crop down to a 1/10th or less of the original frame to get what I want. This is roughly 1/12th of a shot from a Panasonic G9 through a 100-400 zoom. It does what I want...

    Spitfire at Weston Super Mare Air Show P1010751 2.JPG

    Same lens, same crop, different show...

    Spitfire at Sidmouth Air Show P1012789.JPG
  11. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    Depends. It’s technically true but for a not so good lens you don’t get more detail by better resolving the lens imperfections. A good converter doesn’t add that much error, the lens imperfections just come through. So increasing pixels is only a good option for better crop if the lens will take it.

    I just checked Wex. The canon x1.4 extender is currently out of stock but priced at £459, unbelievable.
  12. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    That's also true but we do need to define "imperfection". A technical definition is one thing but when it comes to real world images, the viewer's perception is more important.

    As an example: this was taken, handheld, with a very cheap 400mm, two element lens. I think it's more than sharp enough but others might disagree. Is anyone more correct than the others?

    Young woman smiling at Swindon Mela CAN_4279.jpg
  13. Petrochemist

    Petrochemist Well-Known Member

    I find teleconverters are of limited use on affordable telephoto lenses. The apertures are just too small to begin with.
    If you're serious about wanting reach without spending a large fortune then I think the various 150-500 or 150-600 options from Sigma/Tamron are the best option. They are however rather heavy to carry around & are still far from cheap.

    Using such long focal lengths to the best of their capabilities is a real challenge (I've still got a long way to go on this)! Good posture 7 smooth operation is vital to reasonable results in anything less than bright light.

    As was mentioned up -thread with distant subjects atmospheric effects play a very large part. This shot (450mm on APSC) definitely shows atmospheric effects (The nearer turbines are ~7 nautical miles away):
    [​IMG]Wind power - old & new by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr

    Over more reasonable distances it's a bit sharper (same lens at 500mm):
    [​IMG]No hands! by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr

    I do have several lenses that are longer than my 150-500 but all are manual focus. The mirror lenses are at least light enough to carry when I don't KNOW I'm going to need extreme telephotos while the adapted telescopes offering serious reach only get used near the car!

    Shooting my 600mm f/8 mirror lens on MFT ends up with an effective focal length of 1200mm which I find is too much to handhold but adding a focal reducer into the system for a 900mm equivalent FOV & faster F/5.6 aperture is just about manageable:
    [​IMG]Handheld mirror test by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr
    [​IMG]Supermoon pre-eclipse by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr
    All above are handheld (often with some bracing against nearby surfaces)

    About the only shot I've got readily available where I've used a tripod for long lenses is this one shot in infra-red using the 600mm f/8 on MFT (1200mm equivalent FOV):
    [​IMG]Gaff Ketch 'Betty Alan' by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr
    (in need of sharpening bu this was more or less SOOC)

    FWIW my real 'long distance' shots are all with much shorter focal lengths such as this one:
    [​IMG]shooting star + lightning by Mike Kanssen, on Flickr
    but I assume thats not was intended with the thread :)
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2021
    Done_rundleCams likes this.
  14. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I know, but it is already said that for the case in point the lens imperfections are already obvious. That might have been cheap but it looks a fair enough lens.
  15. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately, we can't know what MiB is complaining about unless he posts a sample image or two. As I've attempted to show, even inexpensive, extreme range zooms are capable of acceptable performance at the top of their zoom range. Vague claims of "poor quality at the longer distances" doesn't give us much to go on.
  16. Petrochemist

    Petrochemist Well-Known Member

    Very true the 'poor performance' might just be in comparison with £50,000+ professional extreme telephotos, shot & carefully processed by experts. :)
  17. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    More likely is that detail looks blurred cropped to 100% , or same thing, viewed at 1:1.
  18. Bazarchie

    Bazarchie Well-Known Member

    The Sigma 70-300 f4-5.6 is a budget lens and quite old so I doubt it will ever perform is well as Canon L primes or the more recent Sigmas. Technique, settings and conditions play a large part. You need to get close to the subject to fill the frame.

    A zoom is more flexible than a prime. I have Canon converters but try not to use them.

    Usual advice is try before you buy, which is very difficult in the current climate.
  19. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    I have an ancient (20+ years old and an early autofocus model) Tokina 80-400 which I picked up second hand a few years ago. Its maximum aperture is F5.6 at 400 mm, but experimentation has shown that the best image quality comes at F 11 (sharpest image and least colour fringe problems), so I always try to use this aperture even if it means I have to use ISO 6-8,000 to allow a shutter speed of 1/1000 minimum for hand held work. My Pentax camera body has 'image stabilisation', but it's not much good with long lenses, so I work as if I had no image stabilisation of any kind, hence the shutter speed.

    So some questions:
    What lens aperture are you using? ('fully open' may not give the best image quality).
    Are you working hand held, or using a tripod? If hand held, what shutter speed are you using?
    Are the images with 'details my missed out' the whole image, or a cropped image that is only a small part of the original? I have tried photographing birds from a hide at an RSPB reserve, and even at 400 mm (600 mm equivalent on my camera body) they still look very small in the final image.

    Perhaps part of the problem is reading reviews of very expensive lenses and hoping to get similar results with more modest lenses that we can afford. Before 'upgrading', try to be sure that you are getting the best possible results from what you currently have - which may be down to how you use it.

    Also, a final question - what do want to do you do with your images? Will they be viewed only on a PC monitor or hand held device with a small screen, or will you be wanting large prints for display? I ask because perhaps only a large print will need the image sharpness and resolution of detail that you refer to.
  20. ChrisNewman

    ChrisNewman Well-Known Member

    I agree with all of that. While I believe a higher pixel count should give better results than a teleconverter, the differences will only be trivial. Anyway, neither can show detail the lens is unable to resolve. But I also think that when seeking maximum detail from a sharp lens, it’s more convenient to achieve it with a high pixel count than to need a TC, and that approach is also more flexible, as the crop becomes optional.

    I bought the Sigma 150-500mm for my Nikon D90 (APS-C, 12 MPx) aware of reviews commenting that it wasn’t very sharp at 500mm, but knowing there was no better alternative. I then upgraded to the Nikon D800 (FF, 36 MPx, with 15 MPx in the APS-C frame). But I don’t think that lens gives a noticeable increase in detail with the D800, because I believe it rather than the sensor’s pixel count is the main limiting factor. (But the D800 is a better camera to mount it on, offering more options such as lower ISO, and I find it easier to locate small subjects in the wider viewfinder frame.)
    When I used a film camera, I bought a 2nd hand third-party 2× TC to use with my 70-210mm f/4 telephoto (before image stabilization). The results weren’t very good, but getting crops from my colour print negatives would have been troublesome and expensive (and getting crops from slides far more problematic). Nowadays, it’s trivially easy to crop a digital image, while the resolution of digital sensors is increasing much faster than that of lenses. It seems to me that, with a planned outfit bought new, there’d be little reason for including a TC unless you used high class super-telephoto lenses, most of which retail at 5-figure prices. (However, I think the Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 should be sharp enough to gain from a TC, and they can also be used as an alternative to extension tubes for macro lenses.) If you’re spending those sums on a lens, you want the best TC you can get, and I can’t see much reason for buying budget TCs.


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