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Author: lakdasun (36 Posts)
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|Back in 1998 all we had was an all manual canon A1 with a 28mm and 70mm-210mm macro zoom from then popular lens manufacturer VIVITAR® and canon 50mm Prime. In late 2005 we decided to move in to the digital space and started the Digital SLR research.
For nature and wildlife photography we are interested in three main areas, Landscapes which need focal lengths in the range of 25mm, Macro lens (for those small flowers and creatures) with reasonable working distance and telephoto over 400mm for the birds and other wildlife
We currently own two Canon EOS 350D (Rebel XT), an entry level canon DSLR released in 2005. The present model of this range is Canon EOS 1000D (Rebel XS).
The first factor in choosing this range was the cost. This body cost less than $800.
Another plus you get with entry level (As well as mid – range) Canon DSLR’s is the 1.6X crop factor which multiplies the focal length of any lens by 1.6! I love it because it makes my 400mm prime lens an amazing 640mm effectively. Well you suffer on the wide angle side since your 17mm will effectively become 27mm but wide-angle lenses are much cheaper than long telephotos.
Having used the 350D for two years now we are thinking of upgrading to a canon 40D, a mid-range DSLR (still with 1.6X crop).
The imaging core of this range is identical to that of the entry level but 40D has got many value added features as well as faster and better focusing system.
What really makes us move from entry level (350D) to mid range (40D) is the focusing speed. I have realized that the 350D (or even the present 1000D) cannot keep up with our L series telephoto lenses in tracking fast moving animals (such as birds in flight). If not for that I have no real reason to upgrade to mid-range from the entry level.
Wide Angle Lens
With the 1.6 crop factor you need at least an 18 mm lens to get an effective focal length of 28mm which is my minimum requirement for landscapes. The kit lens which comes with the entry level bodies (canon 18-55mm) was not good enough in image quality so I settled with a Sigma 17-70mm EF-s lens.
We have used this Sigma for about two years now and I can say that it is superb value for money. Reasonable Image quality, solid built and it can also be used as a Macro lens to a certain extent (the working distance is not enough though). We can recommend this to anyone who needs decent quality with a tight budget.
Our next upgrade in this range will be the canon EF 17-40mm L. Twice as expensive as the 17-70mm Sigma but this is much superior in image quality.
Recently canon has unveiled a 17-55 F/2.8 IS EF-s which people claim to be better than the 17-40mm L (hard to believe that Canon will produce a non “L” lens which is better than a competing “L” lens). The lens specifications looks very interesting with F/2.8 through-out making is a nice portrait lens as well (even though I’m not in to people photography)
I wanted a minimum of 400mm in my telephoto lens. Anything shorter than 400mm is not long enough for most animals and birds except the very big ones (like elephants). Even the 400mm is short for birds if not for the luxury of 1.6 crop factor of the camera body which makes the 400mm a 640mm lens effectively.
Again working with a tight budget we started with a used Sigma 170mm-500mm, and it is a true “Value for Money” lens. Good image quality (tend to become some what soft at 500mm) and solid build. On the negative side it takes it’s time to achieve focus and the zoom creeps. Still you cannot complain since you get this good glass for just $600 where as the cheapest 400mm in the professional range (like Canon L) costs over $1000! There are some memorable shots we have got with this lens and some of them have been enlarged up to 24”X36” with acceptable results. If you are on a tight budget and still want a decent long lens this is THE lens.
Later we bought the canon 400mm F/5.6 L which gave me the true taste of professional prime lenses. Image quality is unbelievable and focus is lightning fast (now I realize the limitation of the 350D entry level body).
When we were researching on this lens we infact had another option. That is Canon 100-400mm “L” zoom. We bought the 400mm prime instead of the zoom and a year later I can confidently say that we made the right choice.
The reasons are,
Our next upgrade in the telephoto department is the Canon 500mm F/4.0 L or a Canon 600mm F/4.0 L.
There are two important aspects in choosing a macro lens
Magnification – The size of the object that appear in the sensor(or film) compared to its life size
Working distance – The distance between you and the subject at maximum magnification
Generally for nature photography it is advisable to go for a lens which gives 1:1 (life size) or at least1:2 half life size magnifications. Most Macro lenses in the market offer this range.
Second most important aspect of a Macro for nature photography is working distance. Remember the little creatures you want to photograph with a macro will not like too much if you have only few inches between the lens and the subject!
During our search for a Macro we narrowed down choices to two lenses, canon 100mm F/2.8 Macro and canon 180mm F/2.8 L Macro. The second lens costs more than double the price of the first one and therefore we bought the Canon F/2.8 100mm Macro.
After using it for more than a year I can say that it is a superb piece of glass. Excellent image quality (sharpness, contrast), light weight, quick focusing and fair working distance at 1:1: magnification.
I presume that the Canon 180mm F/2.8 L would be better than the 100mm in all the above aspects especially considering the longer working distance it would provide (180mm Vs 100mm). If we ever upgrade to the 180mm this would be the sole reason for that.
Nothing improves the quality of work of a nature photographer more than a solid tripod with a ball head. I’m using a Bogen tripod with a Bogen ball head which costs about $200. There is much better and lighter Wight ones (carbon fiber tripods and better ball heads) if you can afford.
Using a professional tripod for nature photography takes a significant amount of practice. When you first start using them you will find it a pain. You will miss more shots than before but you will slowly realize the frames that you do manage to capture are of highest quality. We have made “Huge” prints with our pictures because the tripod made it possible to get a tact sharp image.
A tripod will also allow you to compose a frame, evaluate and re-compose many times without going through the pain of holding the camera. This is specially true with landscapes and some of the macro work.
For shooting from a vehicle and for extreme low level macro work needs a bean bag. A bean bag is simply a cloth sack filled with some mid size grains which you can use to rest the camera or lens against on a car window or ground.
Using one of these will improve the quality of the shots that you take from a vehicle dramatically. A bean bag is the only practical support that you can use without compromising flexibility while shooting from a vehicle (especially if you have to drive as well)