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Thread: Ultimate Supertelephoto for Travel

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    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Ultimate Supertelephoto for Travel

    I am about to head down to Florida and hope to snap a few (thousand) bird photos with Mike (Busted Knuckles). I am kicking around the idea of renting a lens for the occasion. Typically I take my Sigma 150-600S and it does do a great job. But it is always fun to play and I "might" be able to afford a white lens with some girth in the next year. This has me thinking and looking at my usage of the Sigma 150-600S, I take a good amount of pictures with it (~30%) in remarkably few events that usually involve travel. Matter of fact, the only events that didn't involve travel where two trips to take pictures of loons over the summer. Everything else came from trips that required air travel.

    So, the question is ---- What is the ultimate Supertelephoto lens for travel?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kayaker72 View Post

    So, the question is ---- What is the ultimate Supertelephoto lens for travel?
    I was very happy with the performance of a rented Canon 300 f/2.8 with 1.4X and 2X teleconvertors. It seemed to me about the most weight I would want to use over several hours, and just doable to carry on a plane.

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    Senior Member jamsus's Avatar
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    100-400 L II ?

    I really did everything with it, and i dont have a full frame camera... i can only imagine the possibilities with one. With a 1.4x teleconverter you can reach an interesting distance for wildlife.
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    Traveling with a Super Tele is totally different than traveling with the zooms mentioned.
    So no fair comparison there to draw.

    When I travel with the 500mm I have a Pelican bag it fits nicely in to. It is carry on and I have never had an issue.
    But any of the big whites is a chore to travel with.

    When it comes to Supertele's of course the smallest is the easiest to carry.
    Maybe the 400mm DXO II would be the option?


    But IMO you are asking the wrong question. The question should be what is the ultimate lens for birding, whether or not it is difficult to travel with is beside the point. If it does matter are you building your trip around ease of travel, or having the ultimate experience while you are there? (considering it that way maybe from my perspective it would be the 500mm or 800mm will always be the ultimate big white for travel). All the lenses can travel, so how much work are you willing to put in to getting the ultimate lens there?

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    I'd say it depends on your travel. If you're always in or near a car, you can take a heavier lens. If you're going to hike, you'll want something lighter.

    I'm going to assume you'll still take your 150-600 with you, as the large expensive lenses tend to primes, which can limit your framing and opportunities. Your experience with the 150-600 on previous trips should point out which prime focal length works best, so you'll get the same framing, but perhaps sharper, and thinner DOF. Maybe you could rent one of the newer DO lenses, as they're much more portable.

    Another option is to perhaps rent the 200-400mm + 1.4x. This would let you leave the 150-600 at home, so you only have one heavy lens. This would give much the same focal length as you're used to... but with Canon's focus, top tier sharpness (I would assume...). The downside is it's only a moderate aperture advantage compared to your existing lens vs. something like the previously suggested 300mm f/2.8
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    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone. I did leave the question intentionally vague as I wanted to see a variety of responses. Perhaps push me to think about this differently. I do agree with HD's point. If the purpose of the trip is photography, then it is more about having the best gear for what you are shooting and you do what you have to in order to get the gear there.

    But, for me travel is always about compromising between performance and portability. I should probably say I am very impressed with my Sigma 150-600S. I think the universal consensus has basically moved off of it as a good option, perhaps favoring the 150-600C for a consumer level supertelephoto, the 100-400 II for a more prosumer level, and Canon's big whites for ultimate durability, AF and IQ. But it has really served me well and I am getting a lot of shots I am happy with from it. In general, I disagree with the consensus I've heard (usually from people who have never used it).

    While I know that Canon's big whites test as having better IQ, I have actually never had an issue with the IQ from the 150-600S. The issue I know I have is with aperture. To get good IQ, I am almost always (98% at 600 mm) at f/7.1 to f/8. I am almost always increasing ISO (spikes at ISO 640, 1000, 2000 and 3200) and compromising on shutter speed
    (40% of my shots are 1/500 with another 35% at shutter speeds even slower than 1/500). Looking at those numbers, I am compromising too much shutter speed and I really want 1/1000 or faster.
    So, even dropping a stop would be nice and give me additional flexibility on shutter speed and ISO.

    Looking over the options, what gets me is the number of good options that exist in this market now. Good, but I would not call any of them "great". Each comes with a compromise, and this is where I get back to most of my shots being taken while traveling. The lenses with the best IQ, AF, etc are even larger and heavier than my 150-600S, which has a well earned reputation for size and weight. Of course, and I am aware of the physics involved, but to get smaller/lighter you are giving up aperture, build quality and, often, AF speed. I have always been generally aware that I use the entire focal length range of the 150-600S, but looking at my 2017 numbers, I am even surprised I am at 600 mm only 60% of the time. The other 40% is pretty evenly distributed over the rest of the focal length range. Put all that together, I would say my perfect lens would be something like the 200-600 f/5.6 that has occasionally been rumored assuming Canon doesn't make too many compromises on IQ/AF, etc. Granted, that is not that different from the 200-400 f/4 TC, which is even bigger and heavier than my 150-600S.

    I am going to kick this around a bit more, and I may end up testing a couple of combinations. First, I really do need to see if there is a difference with my 150-600S on the 5DIV. Maybe the improved sensor performance, I'll feel comfortable at higher ISO. After that, I need to consider some options, my current thoughts:
    • 300 f/2.8 II (with TCs). One of the lenses that has always tempted me. A bit short for what I want, but f/2.8, amazing IQ, and crazy fast AF.
    • 400 f/4 DO II. This may be in my future as it may be an excellent travel lens. This is high on my list for renting.
    • 400 f/2.8 II. I know this is thought of more of a sports lens. But as I've shot, sure for birds I am usually focal length limited, but for anything larger I am more often light limited. Size, weight and $$ are the issues with this lens. But f/2.8.
    • 500 f/4 II. This is the lens I have always thought I would end up with.
    • 200-400 f/4 TC. As mentioned above, if I were to replace the 150-600S, this is likely the logical choice. But, size/weight/$$. But I am very tempted to rent this one as well.


    I think the next thing for me to think about is something I know some of you already do. No lens does everything. On important events, perhaps I should have a supertele on one body and something wider on a second body.

    This is how I spend my winters.

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    Super Moderator Kayaker72's Avatar
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    Another question, for those of you that have used big white lenses. Knowing that I am more of a handheld wildlife shooter and that is the primary purpose of the supertelephoto lens for me, which would you recommend?

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    Senior Member Jonathan Huyer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kayaker72 View Post
    Another question, for those of you that have used big white lenses. Knowing that I am more of a handheld wildlife shooter and that is the primary purpose of the supertelephoto lens for me, which would you recommend?
    I can walk around with my 500 f/4, and hand hold for short periods of time without straining my wrist and arm too much. I use a Black Rapid strap and it works fairly well. I'm sure that I would not be able to do that with the 600 f/4. When I was taking photos from a ship in Svalbard, that is the setup I used as you can see below. I used a dual Black Rapid system, and had a 70-200 lens on the second camera (only partially visible at the bottom of the frame).



    The 500 f/4 is still a fairly hefty lens to have to hold up, so if you're not careful then you could end up causing some long-term damage to nerves in your wrist (or something similar to that) by trying to support it for longer than you should.

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    The local lens rental shop has a 400 2.8 for 250.00 for the friday a.m. to monday p.m.. I have the 2x mk3. 800 5.6 though i doubt it is hand holdable
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    Senior Member Dave Throgmartin's Avatar
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    The 400 f/5.6 is a lot cheaper than most of those mentioned, but does a really nice job even wide open if you can get the shutter speed high enough.

    Dave

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