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Thread: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

  1. #1

    Question Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    I've been (very happily) shooting with a tamron 150-600mm on my Nikon D810. Its great value for money and has been a great starter lens for me to go into birding.

    I think I'm ready to start tuning my gear towards my style of shooting. I like that the tamron 150-600 doesn't require a tripod (monopod helps greatly) but its not weather sealed and quite heavy/bulky.

    I'm now pondering between 3 lens as a lighter walk about lens as a 2nd birding lens (Will upgrade my tamron 150-600mm to a 400/2.8 once i have enough money.. hehe)
    * 70-200/2.8vr2 (maybe with a 1.4tc)
    * 80-400/5.6vr2
    * 300mm/4 (maybe with a 1.4tc)

    I recently rented the 300/4 and except for the shorter reach, the quality jump is huge ! (it is a prime after all) I understand that the reach will be shorter then my 600mm, but with a nikon d810 I have good megapixels to crop slightly to get something like below..



    I will most prob rent a 80-400/5.6vr2 and borrow a 70-200/2.8vr2 to test out soon, but wanted to get some feedback from you guys.

    How's sharpness at the tele-end for these lens compared to the primes? I've a 28-300, which is nice, but at the 300mm end, its pretty soft and 36MP does show it. I've read forums that say the 70-200/2.8 is a better buy as I can fit a TC on it if i want. (And its cheaper then the 80-400/5.6) Its a pity the 300/4 doesnt have much weather seal as thats one of my requirements. (It tends to rain suddently,etc)

    If there's any good portable lens (less then 2kg?) for birding, I'll be more then happy to hear from your experiences ! I'm willing to compromise focal length for quality/portability.

  2. #2
    Moderator daredevil123's Avatar
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    Seriously speaking, for birding, tamron is actually considered light...

  3. #3

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    Quote Originally Posted by daredevil123 View Post
    Seriously speaking, for birding, tamron is actually considered light...
    haha.. yes.. thats why it got me started shooting birds ! i know compared to the 400/2.8, 600/4, 800/5.6 its very much lighter. :P

    If none of these 3 lens are good enuf, i might just stick to the tamron 150-600.. it just limits me how often i can go out to walk/shoot i guess.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    Hi Alfie.

    I have used all the three lenses & TC combo you mentioned.

    In terms of sharpness & contrast I'll rate them like this

    1) At 300mm f/5.6: AFS 300mm f/4 > AFS 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII + TC-14E II > AFS 80-400mm f/3.5-5.6 VR

    2) At 400mm f/8: AFS 300mm f/4 + TC-14E II > AFS 80-400mm f/3.5-5.6 VR > AFS 70-200mm f/2.8 + TC-17E II.

    The differences are only visible if you really pixel peep but to me all three lenses are very capable. The only caveat is 70-200mm which is the weaker combo when paired with the TC-17E II but the image from it is still very good..

    The AFS 300mm f/4 & 70-200mm f/2.8 are very sharp lens & takes TC-14E II very well. They regain some sharpness when stopped down to f/7.1 or f/8.

    I kept the AFS 300mm f/4 for its lower cost & true 300mm at MFD when compared to the AFS 80-400mm VR. The 300mm f/4 also has a close MFD which I find it very useful for shooting butterflies / dragonflies. The 70-200mm f/2.8 I kept it for its versatility. The AFS 80-400mm VR I returned it.

    My current birding setup is the AFS 300 f/4 + TC14E II for walkabouts.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    For birds in Singapore and around the SEA region, 600mm is inevitable as the birds are generally smaller and migratory birds are generally more skittish although there are exceptions.

    Speaking from experience, shooting and cropping with 36.3 MP for reach is not always a good idea as in low light with higher ISO, feather details are lost to noise as a result. Full frame shots with down sampling helps in such situations but nothing can substitute reach

  6. #6

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    most of the advises given above are very true especially mentioned by Luminare on the cropping part.
    generally speaking giving up weights means giving up on IQ.
    I had seen photos taken by Tamron,300mm F4 and 80-400mm and they are really good and they are really consider light options as mentioned by DD. Iam not exactly sure what is your shooting style,but if u have the magic to get close to the birds then 300mm is really good.
    Otherwise reach is one of the most important factors for birding. I will put 70-200mm as the last option due to the reach. and again my personal option as I mentioned I don't know what is your shooting style.
    Last edited by Turbonetics; 8th December 2014 at 05:28 PM.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    Thank you all for your valuable comments. Really appreciate you guys taking the time to reply

    Well, style is currently no style. I guess being mobile and being patient to slowly move around and wait is what I want to do. Enjoying the peace/nature at the same time.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    If you like moving around, options are limited when it comes to reach.

    It still revolves around being able to reach at least 600mm due to the size and behaviour of the birds.

    Personally, I am impressed by the IQ of the Tamron relative to the price. For Nikon, the next best placed bet on top of the options you have mentioned is the 300mm f/2.8G VR II with TC-20E III that is although twice the price of the 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR, is still light enough to haul around with a lighter weight tripod and tripod head (ballhead, gimbal head, fluid head).

    Otherwise, staying with the Tamron is a very good option.

    Investing in a good light weight tripod and head (Gimbal / Ballhead / Fluid head) will help improve the IQ quite a fair bit as it allows to shoot at low ISO with MUp which otherwise allow greater results and opportunities in cropping.

    Quote Originally Posted by alfie View Post
    Thank you all for your valuable comments. Really appreciate you guys taking the time to reply

    Well, style is currently no style. I guess being mobile and being patient to slowly move around and wait is what I want to do. Enjoying the peace/nature at the same time.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    An additional thought on the 400mm f/2.8G VR is that you need a very sturdy tripod and head and the entire setup could weigh you up close to 9kg to lug around.

    I do that as do many seasoned birdiers but if weigh is a concern, this will be your first consideration

  10. #10

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    Quote Originally Posted by Luminare View Post
    An additional thought on the 400mm f/2.8G VR is that you need a very sturdy tripod and head and the entire setup could weigh you up close to 9kg to lug around.

    I do that as do many seasoned birdiers but if weigh is a concern, this will be your first consideration
    Sidetracking a bit.. I've seen many seasoned birders with the 400/2.8 and 600/4.. Did you consider the 400/2.8 since you can 'stepup' with a 1.4TC ? Or is the new FL really that good ?

  11. #11

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    Maybe consider this - 60mm Nikon Fieldscope III ED

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by alfie View Post
    Sidetracking a bit.. I've seen many seasoned birders with the 400/2.8 and 600/4.. Did you consider the 400/2.8 since you can 'stepup' with a 1.4TC ? Or is the new FL really that good ?
    From my observation on the high end prime lenses I feel that 300mm is most common follow by 600mm and 500mm. In fact 300 and 600 I think are pretty close.

  13. #13
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    For me, 500mm is hand-held with benefit of reach. I use it for travel and hiking..but am considering a smaller lens or the Tamy.
    600mm is too big and heavier.
    300mm is nice to have but lacks reach and needs tc. But in for forests where bird can suddenly appear close by, this is good. And snap on a tc for reach.

  14. #14
    Member Weiwu Lah's Avatar
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    Hi TS,

    I used to use a AF-S 300 f4 without a tc for birding, and have recently moved to the AF-S 80-400 VR. To date, I do not regret my decision

    My style of shooting is handheld and prowling around, so VR is a big plus for me. My keeper rate with the 80-400 went up.

    Image quality wise, in lower light situation without VR, my 300 f4 seems to be slightly better, but sometimes blurry due to camera shake. But with the VR turned on, I can use a slower shuttle speed and lower the ISO/increase the f-stop, thereby producing a sharper and cleaner image. Under brightly lit condition, the IQ difference between 300 f4 and 80-400 is negligible to my eyes.

    I like the versatility of the 80-400 zoom as well, I do not have to worry about curious birds who fly near me

    AF speed wise, the 80-400 is noticeably faster. My 300 f4 is rather sluggish when compared to the 80-400.

    Price wise, the 300 f4 is truly bang for the buck. I would have kept using it if I didn't see the 80-400 good deal

    I hope my experience will be of help to you.

    Cheers,
    Weiwu

  15. #15

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    Initially i started out with the 80-400 - i found the image quality to be very good, but just that the aperture is too slow, so i changed to the 70-200 with 1.7x TC. I thot this way i have flexibility to play with f2.8. Without the TC, images from the 70-200 is superb! But once the TC is on, image quality drops below 80-400 by a noticeable margin. And as i was using the maximum range of the lens most of the time, the 70-200 + TC combo is sub par.

    Then i changed to the 300mm f4. The image quality is excellent, even with the 1.4x TC, nicer than the 80-400 & focus faster. But same issue: i lose the f2.8 flexibility. But since nikon doesnt have 400 f5.6, this 300mm combo seemed the best for image quality at long range..

    But if ur sole purpose is for birds, frankly 300mm + TC is too short although image quality is very good - its better to stick with ur tamron for birds.

    And btw, 400mm f2.8 isnt really suitable for birds - due to its weight and short range. For the same price/plus a bit more, i rather get the 600mm f4 or 800mm f5.6. The image quality of 400mm f2.8 with 1.4x or 2x TC isnt good. Of course 400mm is more versatile (and who doesnt love the f2.8!), but for birding the choices are really just 600mm or 800mm. Get the 500mm f4 for the light weight.
    Last edited by devilry; 13th December 2014 at 03:11 PM.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    thats a nice shot =)

  17. #17

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    Just sharing some images taken with the 400mm f/2.8G VR + various TCs, 300mm f/2.8G VR II + TC-20E III & 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II + TC-14E II

    Except for the Golden Eagle and Puffin, all other birds were photographed in Singapore

    #1 - 400mm f/2.8G VR + TC-20E III @ f/5.6 (focal distance: Approx. 7 meters)


    #2 - 400mm f/2.8G VR + TC-17E II @ f/7.1 (focal distance: Approx. 5 meters)


    #3 - 400mm f/2.8G VR + TC-14E II @ f/5 (Focal distance: Approx. 4 meters)


    #4 - 300mm f/2.8G VRII + TC-20E III @ f/8 (Focal distance: Approx. 15 meters)


    #5 - 70-200mm f/2.8G VRII + TC-14E II

    Last edited by Luminare; 18th December 2014 at 01:50 PM.

  18. #18
    Senior Member erictan8888's Avatar
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    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    stick with your tamron.... it is a good lens already for its reach and price...
    Nikon coming out with 300mm f4 VR (rumors, but pretty confirmed)...you might want to wait if you are into the 300mmf4....

    the one thing you need to consider is the bokeh... longer lenses give you fantastic bokeh (if it matters to you)
    you might have a D810 36MP cropping capability, but it cannot do 2 things:
    1.good feather details for distant bird
    2. nice bokeh (unless the background is already super clean)

    the tamron at 600mm will give you much better bokeh than say 70-200 with a tc 1.4/1.7/2.0 0r 300f4 with tc1.4

    the improved sharpness over shorter lenses combo can be observed mostly for birds that you can approach closer, for distant bird, tamron should yield better images...
    and there are many times that you cannot approach closer in birding...
    even 600mm with tc 1.4 on a DX and people are wishing they had more glass!!!

    ha ha, cheers
    Hope to learn from everyone here....

  19. #19

    Default Re: Small birding lens - 70-200/2.8 vs 80-400/5.6 vs 300mm/4

    spot on Bro. Second your suggestion/comments

    Quote Originally Posted by erictan8888 View Post
    stick with your tamron.... it is a good lens already for its reach and price...
    Nikon coming out with 300mm f4 VR (rumors, but pretty confirmed)...you might want to wait if you are into the 300mmf4....

    the one thing you need to consider is the bokeh... longer lenses give you fantastic bokeh (if it matters to you)
    you might have a D810 36MP cropping capability, but it cannot do 2 things:
    1.good feather details for distant bird
    2. nice bokeh (unless the background is already super clean)

    the tamron at 600mm will give you much better bokeh than say 70-200 with a tc 1.4/1.7/2.0 0r 300f4 with tc1.4

    the improved sharpness over shorter lenses combo can be observed mostly for birds that you can approach closer, for distant bird, tamron should yield better images...
    and there are many times that you cannot approach closer in birding...
    even 600mm with tc 1.4 on a DX and people are wishing they had more glass!!!

    ha ha, cheers

  20. #20
    Moderator daredevil123's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by erictan8888 View Post
    stick with your tamron.... it is a good lens already for its reach and price...
    Nikon coming out with 300mm f4 VR (rumors, but pretty confirmed)...you might want to wait if you are into the 300mmf4....

    the one thing you need to consider is the bokeh... longer lenses give you fantastic bokeh (if it matters to you)
    you might have a D810 36MP cropping capability, but it cannot do 2 things:
    1.good feather details for distant bird
    2. nice bokeh (unless the background is already super clean)

    the tamron at 600mm will give you much better bokeh than say 70-200 with a tc 1.4/1.7/2.0 0r 300f4 with tc1.4

    the improved sharpness over shorter lenses combo can be observed mostly for birds that you can approach closer, for distant bird, tamron should yield better images...
    and there are many times that you cannot approach closer in birding...
    even 600mm with tc 1.4 on a DX and people are wishing they had more glass!!!

    ha ha, cheers
    A very accurate analysis. Totally agree.

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