Telephoto Lens Advice Needed

MyZeil in der Regen (MyZeil in the rain).

Image: GrrlScientist, 27 July 2010 [larger view]

My photography skills are improving, so I am looking at purchasing a telephoto lens for my dSLR Nikon camera, and I need your help choosing the appropriate lens for what I will use it for. Initially, I plan to photograph soaring/flying and not-close-to-me birds, running horses, and other fast-moving objects, mostly (but not exclusively) in color. The lens should have a fast autofocus option, should not be too heavy (I've already got three lenses that I drag around with me, and am eyeing a couple more) and of course, should not be terribly expensive.

So at this point, I am asking you for information regarding the choices I am faced with: I can go with anything from an 85mm lens all the way up to a 2000mm telephoto lens, all which come with dramatically different price tags, abilities and weights. I think the birders and sports photographers out there will have experiences and lenses that are most similar to what I am seeking, so please do fill me in on what I should be looking for! I am also open to purchasing a used lens, if any of you know a reliable source for a used lens and have experiences with this.

4 responses so far

  • Adrian says:

    Hi Grrl, as you know I use a 70-300mm lens from Tamron. This is ok for most bird shots, especially in flight as it focuses fast and has a macro function between 180 and 300mm. At under £200 I find this a good general purpose lens. I would like to buy a Sigma 300-500 zoom but can't afford it and am thinking of a fixed 300 with a 1.4 converter. If you tend to photograph from hides a longer lens is better but to get a fast speed you need to spend a fortune. I rely more on the software to get the results I want. I think my next purchase will be a dedicated macro lens of about 90 to 105mm as I take a lot of plants and insects. Nikon lenses are expensive but should give better results with their cameras although I haven't seen any comparisons to be sure of this.

  • lrlee says:

    Might want to check out dpreview.com . That is my go to site for most photo questions. Just bought a 18-270 mm lens from Tamron as my everyday walk around lens. Which means to say that I have only two lenses. The Tamron and the 18-70mm lens that came with my Nikon D70. So far really liking the Tamron, the Nikon goes into the closet probably never to see the light of day again.

  • David says:

    First set your budget. That will determine what trade-offs you have to make.

    Your photo targets don't all have the same lens needs. Bird photography requires, first and foremost, a long focal length. The second need is focusing speed. Shooting fast-moving objects benefits from a fast f-ratio (so you can shoot at high shutter speeds), and also fast focusing speeds. In the Nikon line, fast focus speed means "AF-S" (if you buy a sigma lens, look for "HSM"). No other manufacturer has similar high-speed focus. Another thing to consider is that at long focal lengths, Vibration Reduction is a great thing to have (Sigma: Optical Stabilized "OS"). Very hard to get a decent photo above 200mm focal length hand-held. Combining long focal length with fast f-ratio puts you into the 5 kg, $3k category. Nikon's 80-400 has VR but not AF-S. The 70-300mm family of lenses (various manufacturers) are not as good optically and have a slow f-ratio. Check out the Sigma 150-500 OS HSM. Great birder lens, about $1k. If your primary interest is sports then look more closely at the 80-200 mm f2.8 lenses, again preferably with both VR and AF-S. About $1.5 - 2k. not long enough for birding.

    good luck.

  • Moopheus says:

    I'm not going to have a lens recommendation for you, since my Nikons are 30+year-old manual-focus models, but for used gear, the first place to check is KEH.com. B+H Photo in New York has a good used gear department, too, but KEH will likely have the most inventory. Their prices are decent and their grade ratings are dependable.