What is the best lens prime or zoom for wildlife and bird photography for an FX body Nikon?

MinispudMinispud Posts: 10Member
edited December 2013 in Nikon Lenses
I currently have a D4 and want to purchase a Lens or a combination which allow bird photography in Peru on an Amazon cruise and a safari in the Masai Mara which will be for wildlife and birding.
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Comments

  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 4,605Member
    Depending upon your budget here are the alternatives I would recommend:
    ++++Nikon 80-400mm (new version, not the slower focusing old version)
    +++Nikon 300mm F/2.8 + 1.7X or 2.0X telextender
    +Nikon 300mm F/4
    +Tamron 150-600mm telephoto, Nikon mount ships on 1/17/2014. I have used my Tamron 200-500mm for wildlife and BIF, and bird pictures with good sucess.
    +++Nikon 70-200mm + 1.7X or 2.0X tele extender

    You could buy the 300mm used on eBay. Just be patient.
    Number of plus signs represents the cost implications.
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
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  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 4,006Member
    edited December 2013
    Depends on how much money you have. The best lens for wildlife and birds would likely be the AF-S 500mm F4 with a TC or AF-S 600mm F4.

    On a more limited budget? The AF-S 200-400mm F4G VR, or on a tight budget the AF-S 300mm F4 IF-ED and TC14EII. Don't waste your money on variable aperture zooms.
    Post edited by PB_PM on
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    edited December 2013
    @Minispud: My recommendation would be the 300 2.8 + 1.7 or 2.0 teleconverter. This lens, according to those that have use it, will yield itself more favorable to hold by hand. While the others with longer focal length, will most likely require a tripod with a good gimbal head.
    Post edited by Golf007sd on
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • MinispudMinispud Posts: 10Member
    Thank you guys for your frank advise. My thoughts are with the 300mm F2.8 with 1.7 teleconvertor. The next dilemma being Nikon or Sigma and can you mix a Nikon and Sigma lens/teleconvertor together.
  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 4,006Member
    Nikon teleconverters will not physically mount on Sigma lenses unless you files off a tab on the converter. There are also known auto focus issues. If you get Nikon lenses, get Nikon teleconverters and Sigma with Sigma.
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member
    I really would look into the mode of transportation you have on those safaris.
    The 500 or 600 f/4 are transported in a backpack with only very limited space for other gear, let alone water and food. So you need a buddy taking care of such things. Those two lenses are definitely the preferred birding and wildlife gear. But they are limiting your mobility.

    A 300 2.8 + TC 17 should be the right combination. I do not like the TC 20, the loss in sharpness to me is too significant.

    Also you should get a second body. My recommendation would be the Nikon 1 AW 1. With this combination you are most flexible.
    When cruising on the Amazon, you have the D4/300/TC 17 for the longer distance and the AW 1 for snapshots around your neck. The advantage of the AW 1 is, you do not have to worry too much about it. It is a solid build equipment.
    If you see you need more reach, lets say on your African safari, you can mount the 300 f/4 on the AW 1, even with a TC if you like.

    Jürgen

    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    While it is possible to handhold a 400mm f/2.8 on a D4, the 300mm f/2.8 plus TC is far more manageable. More versatile is the 200-400mm f/4. I think some of our members may use this and will provide their testimonies here.

    To really got to the birds, the 800mm f/5.6 plus the matched TC will get you 1000mm. Have your sherpa hold it until actual image capture begins…LOL. A tripod and gimbal head are nice, but there is some restrictions on its mobility as the birds I have attempted to capture seem to fly very fast. Here is one at 800mm:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fantinesfotos/7646638140/in/set-72157630700786770/
    Msmoto, mod
  • DaveyJDaveyJ Posts: 885Member
    I am almost shocked at what I found with the Nikon AW 1. I agree with Juergen that it could be the around your neck camera. Of course the lens would not be as tough as the camera as the longer lens for the 4/3rds mirrorless camera would not be yet available. When Nikon makes a 120 or up mm Nikon I AW 1 lens I will buy it ASAP! On to the lens I think the variable aperture leaning here is wrong. I have some great wildlife shots and enough were on Nikon F5 that I think the slant against variable aperture is misguided. I owned some of the highly touted Nikon fixed aperture glass with tele converters the 2.0 (a DOG!) and the 1.7. I think the 70-300VR is surprisingly good if you are close enough. I also have taken photos with the 80-400VR The new one and they were not that far different than some 200-400 Nikkor lens shots. The fixed aperture lens come at weight penalties I for one do not accept as necessary. They also are way more expensive. My answer? Get closer or use the lighter variable lens.

    There are also some speed issues as many of the best photo opportunites I have had recently would have required more something like the repetitive race track where you know about where the action is going to take place. If I took one lens that HAS been touted here it would be the 200-400 which is versatile, high quality, and heavier than all get out.

    have been in the right place with another photographer when he had that lens and I had a 70-300 VR and the actual event we were there to try to capture happened way closer to us than we anticipated. I got the shot and he took a facial portrait that although it was very nice he admitted mine was better. The 70-300VR though is a lens I own and use...but would not buy another as I already have two, and the 80-400 VR variable is I think a good compromise.

    Minispud should almost first look at the 200-400 f4. And go from there.
  • ChasCSChasCS Posts: 309Member
    I would also add my vote for the new Nikon AF-S 80-400mm as well,.
    Ah yes, but I'm not sure, you would want to use it with a TC, as it will lose 2 Fstops.

    These are a very sharp lens, and combined with your awesome D4, would make a great birding combo.
    The AF is good enough too. And yes, it can be hand held.
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  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member
    DaveyJ,
    could you please for my benefit say in different words (simpler) what exactly you are shocked with (with respect to the AW 1)? English is not my mother language and I am really interested in what you are talking about.

    As for my recommendation for the AW 1 as a second body:
    I have the J2....actually my wife has, but it is ending up in my bag once in a while. I am very pleased with the results of the j2 coupled to any Nikon AF-S lens. I have posted some of the wildlife shots also here.
    The only reason, why I did not buy the AW 1 yet is that I am not interested at all in the Nikon 1 system lenses. Currently the AW 1 is only coming with a kit lens. I only would be interested in the 10mm, not in the zoom. The 10mm would be my beach/rough terrain/underwater lens/walk around lens. For any other photography I would attach an f-mount lens.

    Wildlife photography is about speed. Most of the times there is just not enough time to select a nice framing with a zoom lens. I see zooms even disadvantageous. Imagin you are using a 200-400 with a TC and you accidentally zoom in only have way. Most wildlife photogs I know are taping off the zoom anyway. Hence my recommendation to use a prime.

    Jürgen
    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
  • WestEndBoyWestEndBoy Posts: 1,456Member
    I would also add my vote for the new Nikon AF-S 80-400mm as well,.
    Ah yes, but I'm not sure, you would want to use it with a TC, as it will lose 2 Fstops.
    It seems to me the 70-200 2.8 with a 2x tc would be a better alternative than the 80-400mm. You would get faster superior image quality in the 70-200 range and likely just as good in the 140-400 range. The 70-200 plus tc option is only a few hundred dollars more than the 80-400.

    This is something I may invest in so I would be curious what people think the relative merits of those two options are.
  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member
    I would also add my vote for the new Nikon AF-S 80-400mm as well,.
    Ah yes, but I'm not sure, you would want to use it with a TC, as it will lose 2 Fstops.
    It seems to me the 70-200 2.8 with a 2x tc would be a better alternative than the 80-400mm. You would get faster superior image quality in the 70-200 range and likely just as good in the 140-400 range. The 70-200 plus tc option is only a few hundred dollars more than the 80-400.

    This is something I may invest in so I would be curious what people think the relative merits of those two options are.
    Maybe whatever you gain in image quality, the TC 20 spoils for you. And 70-200 is just too short for most wildlife. It is also a practical handling issue. You just do not mount a TC on and off on a fly.
    So if one wants a zoom, the 80-400 makes sense in my opinion.

    Jürgen
    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
  • tc88tc88 Posts: 344Member
    jshickele, anything that has TC20 connected will take a significant impact on your AF speed, and I'm not sure you want to keep on swapping the TC on and off in the field as Juergen mentioned.
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    The new 80-400mm at 400mm vs. the 70-200VRII at 200 MTF curves are very very similar. This would suggest adding a TC-20EIII to the 200 would produce results possibly close but not better than the new 80-400.

    Having said all this, and having shot with the 70-200 plus TC-EIII, either combination is as sharp as one would want unless you are looking at greater than a 20" x 30" print, and even then it may not show differences up to 40" x 60". If the prints are viewed at the correct distance….doubtful anyone could tell the difference. The cost of the 80-400 is of course less, but the versatility and speed of the 70-200 may make this a wise decision as well if one likes f/2.8.
    Msmoto, mod
  • WestEndBoyWestEndBoy Posts: 1,456Member
    I would also think that if you are shooting wildlife exclusively, then the 80-400 has more pros.

    My application would be as a travel lens where I would want an occasional extra reach for about 5% of shots. This way I would have better speed and IQ in the range that I would primarily use. If your use is 200mm plus, than certainly the calculus is different.

    MSMoto's comments about the MTF at 200mm is a bit of a surprise. I knew the80-400 was good but not that good.
  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member
    I would also think that if you are shooting wildlife exclusively, then the 80-400 has more pros.

    My application would be as a travel lens where I would want an occasional extra reach for about 5% of shots. This way I would have better speed and IQ in the range that I would primarily use. If your use is 200mm plus, than certainly the calculus is different.

    MSMoto's comments about the MTF at 200mm is a bit of a surprise. I knew the80-400 was good but not that good.
    For your use the 70-200 makes sense.
    I hate to disagree with MsMoto, but at least my TC 20 does not perform. I find it creamy especially if I compare it with the TC 17.

    Jürgen
    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    edited December 2013
    Well, here is a test with the 70-200 plus TC-EIII:

    70-200mm f/2.8 VRII Nikkor w/TC-20EIII at f/11, 1/100sec, ISO 250

    Cropped:

    70-200mm f/2.8 VRII Nikkor w/TC-20EIII at f/22, 1/30sec, ISO 320
    Post edited by Msmoto on
    Msmoto, mod
  • ElvisheferElvishefer Posts: 329Member
    I currently have a D4 and want to purchase a Lens or a combination which allow bird photography in Peru on an Amazon cruise and a safari in the Masai Mara which will be for wildlife and birding.
    I think you are faced with two scenarios that don't have a single lens solution.

    For pure birding, reach is paramount, so as was suggested, the 500 mm or 600 mm f/4 would be best, because you would get the best of both worlds in terms of focal length and speed.

    But for a safari, (I've researched, but never been on one), flexibility is supposedly key as vehicles can get quite close to the animals, which is why the 200-400 f/4 is a common first choice - typically backed up with a second body and a 70-200.

    A long prime would probably get in the way of reliably good animal compositions but still be good for bird shots.

    I think I'd be partial to the 200-400/70-200 combo unless birding is something you're going to do a lot of and the safari is a one time thing, in which case I'd go with one of the longer (500/600) primes and a 70-200 backup.
    D700, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, 24-70mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4G, 200mm f/4 Micro, 105mm f/2.8 VRII Micro, 35mm f/1.8, 2xSB900, 1xSB910, R1C1, RRS Support...

    ... And no time to use them.
  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member
    Well, here is a test with the 70-200 plus TC-EIII:

    ...see how creamy the tree in the mirror is.... :-)

    ok, I will dust off mine and try it again.

    Jürgen
    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 4,006Member
    @Jurgen You might need to use AF fine tune to get the TC working properly. It has focus calibration effects, so keep that in mind.
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member
    @Jurgen You might need to use AF fine tune to get the TC working properly. It has focus calibration effects, so keep that in mind.
    Yes, that is what I am thinking to. Just need to take the time an do it.
    Jürgen

    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
  • sevencrossingsevencrossing Posts: 2,800Member
    edited January 2014
    ....... but at least my TC 20 does not perform. I find it creamy
    I have the 70 -200 f2.8 and a TC-20E AF-S Teleconverter III
    I also have the new 80 -400

    The new 80 -400 is far superior to the 70-200 +TC 20E

    IMHO TCs + zooms are not a good commination, with the current generation of sensors you are better off cropping




    Post edited by sevencrossing on
  • WestEndBoyWestEndBoy Posts: 1,456Member
    ....... but at least my TC 20 does not perform. I find it creamy
    I have the 70 -200 f2.8 and a TC-20E AF-S Teleconverter III
    I also have the new 80 -400

    The new 80 -400 is far superior to the 70-200 +TC 20E

    IMHO TCs + zooms are not a good commination, with the current generation of sensors you are better off cropping




    What would you rather have in the 70-200 range?
  • tc88tc88 Posts: 344Member

    IMHO TCs + zooms are not a good commination, with the current generation of sensors you are better off cropping
    I agree. Unless the lens can resolve every pixel line, digital zooming will work as well as optical zooming.

    What would you rather have in the 70-200 range?
    Of course for general usage, 70-200 f/2.8 should be a higher priority item than 80-400.
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