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Manual lens for bird photos
  
 
dkerins
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Manual lens for bird photos


I have a Sony a7 and would like to try getting some photos of birds.

What would you recommend as a good manual starter lens for birding?



Oct 23, 2017 at 12:03 AM
jcolwell
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Manual lens for bird photos


What's your budget and focal length preference ?


Oct 23, 2017 at 12:52 AM
dkerins
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Manual lens for bird photos


Thanks for helping. I think I would like the budget to be humble, say less than $400. Not sure what focal length I am looking for. My longest lens at the moment is a CANON FD 135MM F3.5 which I haven't even used yet, got it as a gift. I have used my Contax G 90mm f2.8 len quite a bit though.


Oct 23, 2017 at 12:56 AM
jcolwell
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Manual lens for bird photos


I'd go for something like a 300/4 or 300/5.6, or maybe 400/5.6. The SMC Pentax-M,-A 300/4 is excellent (and small), but maybe a bit above $400. The Tamron SP 300/5.6 is very nice, and usually about half your budget. The SMC Pentax -A 400/5.6 is also very nice, and about on-budget. I'm not too familiar with similar lenses from Nikon, Canon FD, and some of the other usual suspects.

I'd want to use it on a monopod or tripod, and so a tripod mount ring would be nice, esp. at 400mm. The two 300's I mentioned above are both quite small, and OK when camera-mounted, but the 400 is not (OTOH, it has a tripod mount).



Oct 23, 2017 at 01:22 AM
Frogfish
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Manual lens for bird photos


I wouldnít. Irene the email if Iím wrong but you donít seem a very experienced bird photographer.

I started off with a Tokina 300/2.8 MF lens before on to fast long AF lenses, 300, 500 and the relatively slow but decent Nikon 200-500.

I would strongly advise you saving up just a little more and going for a used Tamron or Sigma. One of the variants using a zoom around 150/200 to 500/600.
Buy a Canon mount and use it with a Metabones. You will need to check with others for compatibility.

It will get you better shots and the AF will save major frustration as birds almost never stay still and seem to be in perpetual motion.

Failing that look for an old Sigma 500/4.5



Oct 23, 2017 at 03:03 AM
Frogfish
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Manual lens for bird photos


I wouldnít. Correct me if Iím wrong but you donít seem a very experienced birder or photographer.

I started off with a Tokina 300/2.8 MF lens before quickly moving on to fast long AF lenses, 300, 500 and the relatively slow but very decent and sharp Nikon 200-500.

I would strongly advise you saving up just a little more (if needed it may not be) and going for a used Tamron or Sigma. One of the zoom variants around 150/200 to 500/600.
Buy a Canon mount and use it with a Metabones. You will need to check with others for compatibility and the AF will be slow.

It will still get you better shots and the AF will save major frustration as birds almost never stay still and seem to be in perpetual motion.

Failing that look for an old Sigma 500/4.5



Oct 23, 2017 at 03:03 AM
dkerins
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Manual lens for bird photos


Thanks for the input Frogfish. Agreed, I am not a very experienced photographer and have zero experience as a birder photog. I know that I am being obtuse but I want to continue my photography journey with MF lenses. I understand that this will mean that only 1 in 10 shots will work out for me but I can live with that.


Oct 23, 2017 at 05:53 AM
Frogfish
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Manual lens for bird photos


dkerins wrote:
Thanks for the input Frogfish. Agreed, I am not a very experienced photographer and have zero experience as a birder photog. I know that I am being obtuse but I want to continue my photography journey with MF lenses. I understand that this will mean that only 1 in 10 shots will work out for me but I can live with that.


Then I'd look out for the Tokina 300/2.8 I mentioned above, there is also a Tamron 300/2.8 and look for MF 500s (once you start it quickly becomes apparent that 500-600mm is what you really need for birds unless in a hide, which is why 300/2.8 AF lenses are popular, you can add a x2.0 convertor to give you a 600/5.6 = excellent with a Nikon exotic).

Maybe it's worth trying out a 500/8 mirror lens for fun (it'll only cost you ca. US$100 and will give you a good idea of what MFing long lenses is like, without the heft and cost of a long lens. The crazy bokeh with specular highlights can be very off-putting but some like it). The Tamron 500BB, which I had early on, is one of the highest rated and will give you decent shots.




Oct 23, 2017 at 10:01 AM
jcolwell
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Manual lens for bird photos


Frogfish wrote:
I wouldnít. Irene the email if Iím wrong but you donít seem a very experienced bird photographer...


That's what I did, when I was an inexperienced bird photographer.



Oct 23, 2017 at 11:36 AM
telyt
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Manual lens for bird photos


300mm is the shortest lens I'd suggest for bird photography. The Canon FD 300mm f/4 L (note the L) is a good lens and within your budget, but unless you are using a blind and luring the birds with feed it's unlikely you will get many good photos. Having said that this focal length is my favorite and manual focus with the a7-series isn't as onerous as some would have you believe. This photo was made with the Canon FD 300mm f/4 L and a7II:



I also use a much more costly 280mm f/4:









The above photos were all made in my yard, the jay and goldfinches were lured close to my blind by seed; a blind isn't necessary with hummingbirds.

I would not suggest any 300mm f/2.8 lens because the DOF at f/2.8 is too shallow at close range, and with this focal length you'll always be working at close range if you want good images. The f/2.8 lens's large entrance pupil also looks much more threatening than the smaller entrance pupil of a 300mm f/4, making it more difficult to get close to the birds.

For many years (pre-digital) I used a Leica 400mm f/6.8 manual-focus lens which is now about within your budget. It has several quirks but is a good choice for a lightweight inexpensive 400mm lens. It's usable at full aperture, was originally sold with a shoulder stock which makes hand-holding it somewhat easier and has a unique sliding focus mechanism which takes some practice to use effectively but once it's been learned it's quick and accurate. Optically it's not going to get anyone excited in 2017; it's a nearly 50-year-old design. It's sharp in the center and somewhat softer toward the edges and corners with field curvature and color fringes evident in out-of-focus objects. A few photos made with this lens (on film):












These 400mm photos were all made the first winter I had the lens, in the Everglades where birds are accustomed to seeing people and are relatively easy to approach.

Edited on Oct 23, 2017 at 11:56 AM · View previous versions



Oct 23, 2017 at 11:47 AM
 

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Frogfish
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Manual lens for bird photos


jcolwell wrote:
That's what I did, when I was an inexperienced bird photographer.

Fantastic Apple auto-correct isn't it ! Irene the email' for 'correct me if I'm wrong' !




Oct 23, 2017 at 11:52 AM
sebboh
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Manual lens for bird photos


dkerins wrote:
Thanks for the input Frogfish. Agreed, I am not a very experienced photographer and have zero experience as a birder photog. I know that I am being obtuse but I want to continue my photography journey with MF lenses. I understand that this will mean that only 1 in 10 shots will work out for me but I can live with that.


i definitely agree with this mentality. i personally much prefer shooting birds with manual focus too AF as the experience is much more rewarding imo. the first thing you should work on is finding out about the birds Ė where to find them how to spot them. if you can put up a feeder by a window at home too just to practice manual focusing on them.

i would recommend either the previously mentioned canon FD 300/4 L or the pentax A* 300/4. both are sharp, lightweight, and easy to focus. if you can't get close enough with a 300mm, you need to work on your stalking/patience more than your lens selection. there are some nice 500/8 mirror lenses (i like my rokkor), but f/8 is often too slow to get a dood shutter speed for 500mm shooting.

i've been mostly using shorter lenses for birding lately, but here's a few old ones with the leica 350/4.8:

eye of the kinglet by sebboh, on Flickr

wren closeup by sebboh, on Flickr

eddie b&w by sebboh, on Flickr

bringing home the bacon by sebboh, on Flickr

coot up close by sebboh, on Flickr

redtail inspection IV by sebboh, on Flickr

sun bathing redtail by sebboh, on Flickr



Oct 23, 2017 at 08:30 PM
ZoneV
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Manual lens for bird photos


On my few birding photo hours with manual lenses I have far less than 10% good images. This is at least particially beacuse I want bird in flight with the Canon FD 400mm/2.8 and 800mm f/5.6, and no hidding from great distance.

I am far from a birding expert :-)

As a cheap entry lens the Sigma 400mm f/5.6 Apo could be an option. The soft-plastic finish could be a real problem, I have cleaned it away. And some of these older Sigma lenses have lens separation / delamination. So take care not to buy a lens with kind of small bubbles inside the lens.



Oct 24, 2017 at 06:06 AM
dkerins
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Manual lens for bird photos


Thanks for the advice everyone! I think I will keep an eye out for a decent FD 300/4 L since I have a FD/NEX adapter.


Oct 26, 2017 at 03:26 AM
MAubrey
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Manual lens for bird photos


For what it's worth...

There are a lot of Tamron SP 400mm f/4's on the 'bay for well over $1000 as "Buy it Now's", but on the very rare occasion that a copy of the lens shows up for an actual auction, they tend to go for about $500.

Unfortunately, who knows when that would be...but it would make an excellent MF birding lens: relatively fast (f/4), relatively light (2200g), and good image quality.



Oct 26, 2017 at 03:47 AM
dkerins
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Manual lens for bird photos


Any thoughts about a MC TELE ROKKOR - HF 1:4.5 f = 30cm. There is one for sale in my home town for $150 CAD. Some initial research says it doesn't suck.


Oct 26, 2017 at 04:09 AM
sebboh
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Manual lens for bird photos


dkerins wrote:
Any thoughts about a MC TELE ROKKOR - HF 1:4.5 f = 30cm. There is one for sale in my home town for $150 CAD. Some initial research says it doesn't suck.


might not suck, probably a lot more CA and not as sharp as the FD 300/4 L.




Oct 26, 2017 at 04:49 AM
Frogfish
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Manual lens for bird photos


dkerins wrote:
Any thoughts about a MC TELE ROKKOR - HF 1:4.5 f = 30cm. There is one for sale in my home town for $150 CAD. Some initial research says it doesn't suck.

Again, for what it's worth, I'd say try out the MF 500 mirror lenses first. Unless you have bird-craft, which you don't (not a criticism, a long time birder speaking here and it's always difficult for newbies to start spotting birds and know which birds can be approached and how and when).

I still think a 300 is far too short for you (unless you are happy with garden or hide birding. The Rokkor or Tamron BB can be picked up for under $100 and are very light with (I found) a long focus throw and can be very precisely focused. The only major negative is the bokeh (which some people grow to like, I'm not too against it myself) - Google it for images of the lenses and bokeh.

The f8 is an issue but then you won't be shooting an MF 300/4 at f4 either (unless you like soft and CA ridden shots), especially if you are starting this endeavour in Winter.

Another option which no one has mentioned and which is used by many birders, are the super-zoom cameras, e.g those from Nikon and Panasonic are especially popular. These will likely give you far better shots, and far more keepers, than any old MF lens.

Some of these superzooms are expensive now but others are selling new for around your budget. Maybe look for a bargain on Black Friday or buy a used camera. The Nikon B700 is even in your reach new.

You can get super-slo-mo video, 4k, 12 fps, Wi-Fi, 20MP, f2.8, weather-sealing, super-macro etc. etc. and an equivalent to 25mm to 800mm with some lenses supplied by Leica etc.

Here's an old thread on the Canon I used to have as a backup to my DSLRs on trips (not my pics) but which gives you an idea of the IQ you can get from these cameras (that is, much better and with far more reach than an old 300-400mm MF lens) :

https://www.ephotozine.com/article/top-11-best-ultra-zoom-bridge-digital-cameras-2017-16928

Tip : make sure it has a monopod/tripod mount as the incredible zoom will give you shake, even if they have some form of stabilisation (not sure if they do - it's been a while since I was in that arena). Also MF override is important for when a bird is partially screened by twigs in a bush or tree. Check the many birding websites for better and up to date info. I was always on Birdforum (British but a huge forum).

Anyway whichever way you go good luck !




Oct 26, 2017 at 05:58 AM
sebboh
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Manual lens for bird photos


Frogfish wrote:
The Rokkor or Tamron BB can be picked up for under $100 and are very light with (I found) a long focus throw and can be very precisely focused. The only major negative is the bokeh (which some people grow to like, I'm not too against it myself) - Google it for images of the lenses and bokeh.


i'm not sure either the rokkor or tamron BB can be found easily for under $100 anymore, i see them usually go for over $250.

also, here's a sample of the mirror lens donut bokeh:











Frogfish wrote:
The f8 is an issue but then you won't be shooting an MF 300/4 at f4 either (unless you like soft and CA ridden shots), especially if you are starting this endeavour in Winter.


the FD 300/4 L definitely will not produce soft CA ridden shots at f/4 (feel free to check out phillip's samples), the rokkor 300/4.5 probably will.




Oct 26, 2017 at 07:00 AM
Frogfish
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Manual lens for bird photos


sebboh wrote:
i'm not sure either the rokkor or tamron BB can be found easily for under $100 anymore, i see them usually go for over $250.

also, here's a sample of the mirror lens donut bokeh:
http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4259/35426666421_ee1ea57385_b.jpg
https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7676/17403400039_22936f48c6_o.jpg

the FD 300/4 L definitely will not produce soft CA ridden shots at f/4 (feel free to check out phillip's samples), the rokkor 300/4.5 probably will.


Wow you are right Derek - I didn't realise the 500/8 prices had risen so much. Prices here (new & used) are generally similar to those in the USA and the lowest prices I can find on them is : Tamron US$150 and Rokker US$210. Just a couple of years ago (it seems - maybe the failing memory is playing tricks) they could all be had around US$100 !

Makes the Superzoom a no-brainer for me considering excellent image quality, range and range of functions.

Nice review by Phillip as to be expected. However those are large, captive, birds - you can't expect ever to be that close in the wild and a small songbird takes up a small percentage of a 300's frame (though noted on the lack of CA with that lens). The only time I was happy using a 300 (f2.8 version - usually used with Nikon's excellent x2.0 extender) was when I had to, in the dark rainforests of both Borneo and Taman Nagara .... or when in a hide.

Here's a few samples from the old Canon SX50HS superzoom (I don't have many as I used the camera/lens as a backup when traveling to my main birding lenses) :

Macro


View across my (in this photo unkempt !) garden to ..... (just uploaded these to TinyPic for this thread, so not the best IQ jpgs)


My target - that's about 50m away. That's some impressive detail - look at the lines in the moss - for a superzoom.


Edit : OK since it seems FM doesn't like TinyPic I've loaded them onto my repository and am linking from there.


Edited on Oct 26, 2017 at 04:40 PM · View previous versions



Oct 26, 2017 at 12:10 PM
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