Lenses for wildlife shooting

HarrybHarryb old and lazyPosts: 22,718Super Moderators moderator
edited October 16, 2014 in Wildlife
Hi y'all,

We got lots of pictures going up all the time but very little discussion about the lenses we use to get those pics. I thought it might be interesting to share our experiences about the glass we shoot with.

The Nikon lenses I usually shoot with are:

500mm AF-S F/4D IF II
This is usually my main lens when I shoot wildlife. It is a very heavy beast (7.6 lbs.) and a tad expensive. Its a fast focuser and very sharp even when shot wide open. It works extremely well with the 1.4 TC and backgrounds are very nicely defocused. Its not a lens to be shot hand-held and besides its initial cost one will probably be spending $ for a lens bag, tripod and head for it.

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Nikon VR 80-400mm 4.5-5.6D ED
This was my main wildlife lens for a long time. Its a Swiss Army type of lens thats does a lot of things well but not extremely well. I have a love/hate relationship with it but every time I'm about to put it up for sale it does something wonderful and I change my mind and keep the bugger. Its my main lens when I'm shooting handheld or doing a lot of walking. It weighs only 2.9 lbs and its VR is good for 2.5 or 3 stops. Its a slow focuser but that's been less of an issue since I started shooting with Nikon's D2 series of bodies. Its not the sharpest pencil in my box but the image quality can be excellent when used properly.

I won third prize in the Alligator Farm's photo contest last year with a shot from the 80-400.
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300mm F/4D AF-S ED_IF
This is my main lens for shooting flight shots. It's easily handheld or shot from a tripod. It works extremely well with the 1.4 TC. I used it with a 1.7 TC and the image quality was fine but the AF performance slowed down too much for my liking. It focuses fast and accurately and tracks moving subjects extremely well.

I have found the F/8 is the sweet spot for this lens but the loss of image quality is very slight when shot wide open. Its probably the best buy out there in Nikon long glass on a performance to price basis.
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Nikon VR 70-200mm F/2.8 G-AFS ED-IF
IMHO the best Nikon zoom around but its reach is extremely limited for wildlife shooting. It does work well with a 1.4 TC giving you 280mm which can work in some situations. It is extremely sharp, a fast focuser. It focuses and tracks better than the 300mm F/4.
61171654-M.jpg

That's my story. Lets hear some others.
Harry
http://behret.smugmug.com/ NANPA member
How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb, and forty-nine to say, "I could have done that better!"
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Comments

  • Osprey WhispererOsprey Whisperer Bird Man Photographer Posts: 3,803Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 6, 2006
    Bird shots in my gallery = Canon EF 200mm f/2.8 USM II "L" (prime baby...no zoom) and sometimes I slap on the Canon EF 1.4x II teleconverter (280mm).

    That's it. We don't need no stinkin expensive huge mongo break your neck 500mm lens. :uhoh :D rolleyes1.gif Having said that..if anyone has one of those pretty white lenses they want to give me. eek7.gif :D The trick is to whisper sweet nothings into the bird's ear....and if that doesn't work....... try fresh fish. umph.gif


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    Have I ever mentioned...I LOVE THIS LENS ? iloveyou.gif iloveyou.gif iloveyou.gif It's sharp...very sharp. Good color/contrast. Fast tele lens. It's sharp wide open at f/2.8. (sweet bokeh). Autofocus is also fast. Nice and light..very light and compact. Almost always use it handheld for EVERYTHING. It also works well for portrait work and if you add an extenion tube..makes a pretty good macroish lens. Not super cheap..but compared to the majority of the "L" lenses from Canon..it's a steal. WOuld never part with this one..and will ALWAYS carry it with me. Can't recommend this one ..enough. The only thing I "might" replace it with would be the (now retired) Canon EF 200mm f/1.8 "L"..but it's about $4K eek7.gif

    The Canon 1.4x TC is pretty nice also. This works well with my 200mm and the only time I can see a decrease in image quality is under really poor low light when I have to shoot WIDE open at f/4. If you can stop down to f/8 you can't notice a difference compared to the lens alone. Nice combo for those that have not saved up for the 300mm f/2.8 umph.gif I don't really notice any lag in autofocus speed with the TC. If there is one...it would need special timing equipment to measure the micro seconds differences. rolleyes1.gif

    Almost forgot... I use the Canon 50mm f/2.5 compact macro. It's a nice lens for the inexpensive price. Very sharp but slow auto focus (often the case with macros). The build quality leaves a lot to be desired..but then again it's just over $200. I use it for bugs, fish and flowers for the most part. It is a flexible lens that works well as a "normal" lens. It is very light and small so you can always throw it in your bag or pocket.

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    If you are a Canon rep and reading this....you can send a check to my Pay Pal account...or some payola to me thumb.gif
    Mike McCarthy

    "Osprey Whisperer"

    OspreyWhisperer.com
  • gildcogildco Earning by Learning Posts: 179Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 6, 2006
    Canon's primo lens
    I, like Birdman, love my Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L telephoto, and use it almost exclusively for my bird shots. It's clarity and quick autofocus are two key attributes. However, I am still learning its best combinations of settings under low-light conditions, and will keep experimenting until I get the combos that "pop." These shots were taken with this lens. I occasionally use the 1.4 TC, and I find that it does a very good job without degrading the images--i.e., doesn't go soft.

    Snowy Egret-partial
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    SnowyEgret--full
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    Pelican
    85748171-M.jpg
    Gil
  • bfjrbfjr Which Way Did They Go Posts: 10,980Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 6, 2006
    Harryb wrote:
    Hi y'all,

    We got lots of pictures going up all the time but very little discussion about the lenses we use to get those pics. I thought it might be interesting to share our experiences about the glass we shoot with.


    300mm F/4D AF-S ED_IF
    This is my main lens for shooting flight shots. It's easily handheld or shot from a tripod. It works extremely well with the 1.4 TC. I used it with a 1.7 TC and the image quality was fine but the AF performance slowed down too much for my liking. It focuses fast and accurately and tracks moving subjects extremely well.

    I have found the F/8 is the sweet spot for this lens but the loss of image quality is very slight when shot wide open. Its probably the best buy out there in Nikon long glass on a performance to price basis.
    59380175-S.jpg

    That's my story. Lets hear some others.

    Excellent Harry and a post worth pinning up on top
    I can not add much to what you've already said, except to echo your words especially about the 300F4AFS.

    It is my only birding lens as of now and I'm quite happy with it.
    I use mine with both TC 1.4 & 1.7 and yes with the 1.7 it is just to slow to my liking as well.

    The 300 also focuses quite close and with either TC you can get some good close-ups
    85464534-O.jpg

    I might add that I also have begun trying to use shorter focal length lenses as in 45P & 85F1.4.

    2 reasons come to my mind as to why
    1st sometimes when conditions are right (rarely) the shorter focal lengths provide a depth and context to my shots whereas telephoto compresses.

    2nd reason I got no $$$ for the big guns !!! :cry :lol
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  • Dick on ArubaDick on Aruba My name is Dick. So what? Posts: 3,484Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 6, 2006
    Good thread, valuable info.

    Thanks.
    "Nothing sharpens sight like envy."
    Thomas Fuller.

    SmugMug account.
    Website.
  • raptorcaptorraptorcaptor Raptorcaptor Posts: 3,968Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 6, 2006
    The lens that I use most of the time is my Canon 400mm DO IS. I usually use it with a 1.4 tc.
    Most of the time I am really happy with it as it is light enough to hand hold, (I usually remove the tripod mount) and is sharp at F5.6 and F4.
    It has problems focusing in contrasting settings. I usually manually pre-focus to nudge it along.
    86390752-L-1.jpg
    I also use a Canon 300mm L IS lens which I use as a hand hold when I really don't want to lug a bunch of gear, and also
    when I'm shooting from my kayak.
    It is a nice sharp lens. I also usually throw a 1.4 tc on it.
    77526706-L.jpg
    And sometimes I use a Sigma 150mm APO 2.8 Macro lens when I need a shorter focal length.
    80913832-L.jpg
    Glenn

    My website | NANPA Member
  • HarrybHarryb old and lazy Posts: 22,718Super Moderators moderator
    edited August 7, 2006
    I might add that I also have begun trying to use shorter focal length lenses as in 45P & 85F1.4.

    2 reasons come to my mind as to why
    1st sometimes when conditions are right (rarely) the shorter focal lengths provide a depth and context to my shots whereas telephoto compresses.



    I have used my 85mm on a few occasions and its one sweet piece of glass.
    64034322-M.jpg
    Harry
    http://behret.smugmug.com/ NANPA member
    How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb, and forty-nine to say, "I could have done that better!"
  • HarrybHarryb old and lazy Posts: 22,718Super Moderators moderator
    edited August 7, 2006
    And sometimes I use a Sigma 150mm APO 2.8 Macro lens when I need a shorter focal length.
    80913832-M.jpg

    Hey Glenn,

    How do you handle the macro len's shallow DOF when shooting wildlife?
    Harry
    http://behret.smugmug.com/ NANPA member
    How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb, and forty-nine to say, "I could have done that better!"
  • raptorcaptorraptorcaptor Raptorcaptor Posts: 3,968Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 7, 2006
    Harryb wrote:
    Hey Glenn,

    How do you handle the macro len's shallow DOF when shooting wildlife?

    I try to shoot at around f8 if possible. I hope to eventually add a Canon 70-200 F2.8 L IS to fill that void, and just use my macro for what it was intended.
    Glenn

    My website | NANPA Member
  • HawkmanHawkman snapped Posts: 93Registered Users Big grins
    edited August 8, 2006
    Canon lens I use
    I use mainly the 500/4L and 400/5.6L. I haven't used the 400/5.6L for a while mainly because I would feel guilt after spending the big bucks on the 500/4L :D I often use the 500 in conjunction with extension tubes to get closeups of small birds or other small subjects. I use a tripod with either whenever possible - a tripod will almost always give superior results.

    The 400/5.6L is a super nice lens for the money and especially shines for flight shots but is not, as some would claim, a "specialty" lens for just flight IMO. I have used it quite often for stills and I believe my hand-held/tripod use of this lens is 80%/20% on stills. It is as sharp or sharper wide open than any other aperature.

    The 500/4L is difficult to hand-hold for flight except for short periods. For longer durations, like when shooting eagles all day, it gets mounted on a gitzo 1325+AS-b1+sidkick - i.e. is gimbal mounted.

    I try to avoid using teleconverters to maintain a high image quality. I'd rather try to get closer to the subject and use extension tubes if necessary.

    Barnswallow fledgling. 500/4L @ f4.5 with 68mm of extension tubes:

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    Adult Barnswallow: 500/4L with 68mm extenstion tubes, f8 1/90s:

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    Black-capped Chickadee 500/4L, extension tubes, f8 1/500s

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    Snowey Egret, 400/5.6L f6.7 1/3000s

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    Black-crowned Night Heron, 400/5.6L f5.6, 1/200s

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    Gene
    Walk softly and carry a big lens!
  • mushymushy snaphappy Posts: 642Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 9, 2006
    Anyone using the Canon 100-400 IS USM L ?? its possibly my next purchase so any comments positive or negative would be appreciatedthumb.gif
    May I take your picture?
  • Ric GrupeRic Grupe Hampshire Prairie Posts: 9,522Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 9, 2006
    mushy wrote:
    Anyone using the Canon 100-400 IS USM L ?? its possibly my next purchase so any comments positive or negative would be appreciatedthumb.gif

    Since you will probably be using it at 400mm 95% of the time (at least that's what I do with my zooms), I would recommend that you go for the 400 prime and get excellent quality at the focal length that you'll be at most of the time. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find my subject with the long fixed length.....you get used to it.
  • gluwatergluwater SmugMug Technical Account Manager Posts: 3,599Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 9, 2006
    mushy wrote:
    Anyone using the Canon 100-400 IS USM L ?? its possibly my next purchase so any comments positive or negative would be appreciatedthumb.gif
    As Ric stated, the 400 f/5.6 is sharper but if you need the range of 100-400 than don't hesitate getting the lens. Many Pros use this lens for its versatility.
    Nick
    SmugMug Technical Account Manager
    Travel = good. Woo, shooting!
    nickwphoto
  • HawkmanHawkman snapped Posts: 93Registered Users Big grins
    edited August 9, 2006
    mushy wrote:
    Anyone using the Canon 100-400 IS USM L ?? its possibly my next purchase so any comments positive or negative would be appreciatedthumb.gif

    100-400L is versatile, 400/5.6L has better IQ, especially wide open. The 100-400L has some IS issues. Infrequent lockups of the camera that require the lens to be reseated (only happens with IS on, and always when you have the perfect shot rolleyes1.gif ). I have seen a number of reports of IS failure, a number early on, as mine did. That is the main reason I recommend the 400/5.6L over the 100-400L, besides the IQ wide open.

    Gene
    Gene
    Walk softly and carry a big lens!
  • wxwaxwxwax Immoderator Posts: 15,471Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 9, 2006
    Great shots here, kids. clap.gif
    Sid.
    Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam
    http://www.mcneel.com/users/jb/foghorn/ill_shut_up.au
  • mushymushy snaphappy Posts: 642Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 10, 2006
    Thanks all for the responses, I think I will go with the 100-400 just for the versatility. My camera shooting is too all over the shop to be tied down to one focal length and buying lots of lenses is a little on the not going to happen front!headscratch.gif
    May I take your picture?
  • DalantechDalantech No cropping zone... Posts: 1,519Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 10, 2006
    Hmmm... most of the people posting here are into birding, but I'll add my .02 on the macro side of the house...

    My first macro lens was the Canon EF-S 60mm F2.8 macro -a lens that will only work on the 300D, 350D, 20D, and 30D (cameras with a 1.6x crop factor). The lens is so sharp that it almost exceeds the resolution of the camera's sensor! From F2.8 to F8 the lens is razor sharp, still acceptably sharp at F11, but diffraction robs the lens of image quality so I don't recommend shooting at F16 (a lot of detail is lost). Color and contrast is good, but not as good as Canon's 100mm macro. The working distance from the front of the lens is about 4", and a lot of people who've never used the lens will tell you that it's not a "bug lens" but that's not true. I've shot bees with it, and I've seen photos of dragonflies as well (I could get close enough to shoot dragons with it). It's small and light weight so it's easy to take with you everywhere. Here's a sample taken when I was first learning macro. Minimal post processing and no cropping.

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    I picked up the Canon 100mm F2.8 macro lens next. Not bad wide open at F2.8, sharp from F4 to F11, and I consider it to be acceptably sharp at F16 (better than the EF-S 60mm). Color and contrast is excellent -so good that I'm having a tough time convincing myself that I need Canon's 180mm F3.5 L. The working distance from the front of the lens is about 6 inches, only 2" more than the EF-S 60mm. It doesn't sound like much, but the extra reach does help, not so much in my ability to get close to the subject but with the angle that I'm shooting from. Sometimes with the 60mm lens I was right on top of what I was shooting and shading the subject -not good when you're shooting macro since you need all the light you can get. It's about twice the size and weight of the EF-S 60mm but the increase in color, contrast, and working distance are worth it. The 60mm started collecting dust once I bought the 100mm. Here's a sample photo taken at life size just to show you what's possible with the lens -again minimal post processing and no cropping.

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    Here is a shot that I took at F16 with the 100mm lens and a 25mm extension tube. About 1.4x life size and the working distance to the dragon on this shot is approximately 5 inches (the tube reduces the normal focus range of the lens). No cropping and minimal post processing. Most lenses do not perform this well at F16...

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  • LCDLCD Major grins Posts: 494Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 11, 2006
    Canon 100-400 IS L
    Dalantech,
    I was really glad to see your input from the macro side. I went from fixed lens to the Canon 20D and have been dying to get a macro lens. Thanks for the input. Great shots!

    Actually all the sample shots are wonderful.

    Mushy, I have the 100-400 IS L. I love it!! I shoot handheld all the time. I need to get a good tripod and to learn how to use it. (it's on my to do list). Because I'm hand held, I have the IS on all the time. I have had zero issues with lock up.

    before I got the 100-400, I had the EFS 75-300. Not too happy with it overall.

    Here are some of my recent shots with the L


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    I just realized I'm posting this from the wrong computer. I will come back on and add the exif info for anyone interested.

    Lisa
  • craftcraft Christina Craft Posts: 10Registered Users Big grins
    edited August 12, 2006
    Nikkor MF 300mm ED-IF f4
    I just bought a manual focus Nikkor 300mm ED-IF f4 lens for only $350 (Canadian) and used it on my D200. I got amazingly sharp results on recent trips to Costa Rica and up Vancouver Island (British Columbia). Although I find noise/grain a bit awful past 200ISO on Nikon DSLRs, I'm happy I can purchase such affordable lenses for wildlife photography. I use manual focus a lot of the time anyway so it's great for me.

    I am now bidding on a 600mm Manual Focus Nikkor 5.6 on eBay. Wish me luck.



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    I shot this little guy with my regular old 80-200mm f2.8 Nikkor using the macro setting:
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    I actually think I like it better than the 105mm 2.8 macro.
    http://craft.smugmug.com
    Thousands of Nature & Wildlife Images Online
  • gildcogildco Earning by Learning Posts: 179Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 12, 2006
    Very nice captures, LCD. I particularly like your butterfly on the cone flower. Great clarity, color, and composition. Nice work.
    Gil
  • gusgus Major grins Posts: 16,209Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 12, 2006
    Ric Grupe wrote:
    Since you will probably be using it at 400mm 95% of the time (at least that's what I do with my zooms), I would recommend that you go for the 400 prime and get excellent quality at the focal length that you'll be at most of the time. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find my subject with the long fixed length.....you get used to it.

    I wont leave home without it thumb.gif
  • gildcogildco Earning by Learning Posts: 179Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 12, 2006
    Hawkman wrote:
    I use mainly the 500/4L and 400/5.6L....



    Magnificent pictures, Hawkman. The detail quality is superb. Excellent work.
    Gil
  • LCDLCD Major grins Posts: 494Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 13, 2006
    gildco wrote:
    Very nice captures, LCD. I particularly like your butterfly on the cone flower. Great clarity, color, and composition. Nice work.

    Thanks Gil. That's one of my favorites too!
    Lisa
  • mushymushy snaphappy Posts: 642Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 13, 2006
    Nice shots LCD, I am sold on that lens and am just waiting the tax return to go buy a new toy:D
    May I take your picture?
  • DalantechDalantech No cropping zone... Posts: 1,519Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 14, 2006
    LCD wrote:
    Dalantech,
    I was really glad to see your input from the macro side. I went from fixed lens to the Canon 20D and have been dying to get a macro lens. Thanks for the input. Great shots!

    Actually all the sample shots are wonderful.

    Lisa

    Thanks! :):
    My SmugMug Gallery

    Looking for tips on macro photography? Check out my Blog: No Cropping Zone.
  • DalantechDalantech No cropping zone... Posts: 1,519Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 14, 2006
    LCD wrote:
    Lisa this image...

    86016130-L.jpg

    ...deserves to be printed large and framed -composition, lighting, background, you really nailed it! clap.gif
    My SmugMug Gallery

    Looking for tips on macro photography? Check out my Blog: No Cropping Zone.
  • LCDLCD Major grins Posts: 494Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 16, 2006
    Dalantech wrote:
    ...deserves to be printed large and framed -composition, lighting, background, you really nailed it! clap.gif

    Thanks Dalantech. It's really nice to know that occassionaly I can do justice to the equipment.
  • kriskentkriskent Big grins Posts: 60Registered Users Big grins
    edited August 22, 2006
    Happy to be here shooting
    I use the 300mm 2.8L IS on all these shots

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  • PhotoHoundPhotoHound photo pro Posts: 113Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 24, 2006
    Great Work
    Excellent examples and aurguments by all. I use Canon gear mostly because of the superior ISO performance, but still wish I could use that Nikon 200-400 f/4 VR... iloveyou.gif So, until Canon decides to match that (and I don't think the 100-400 f/5.6 IS comes close), I will continue to use my absolute favorite lens, the 70-200 f/2.8 IS. With a 1.4x converter, it gets me pretty close to the range I use most. When combined with the 500 f/4 (which also works well with the 1.4x), I am very satisfied with my wildlife equipment:

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    Cheers,
    Scott
  • TomaSTomaS If it moves, shoot it Posts: 314Registered Users Major grins
    edited August 26, 2006
    My long lens experience (Nikon)
    Great thread and very good info and images here. Wish I had seen it sooner!

    As luck would have it, I did finally make the 'right' purchase of a long lens for my D200 - the Nikkor 300mm f4. I love it. Fast AF, super sharp, and is light enough to backpack. The close focus distance allows for some 'semi-macor' shots as a bonus. Now I just need to bite the price bullet and get the TC14.

    Previously my main long lens was the Sigma 70-200 f2.8. It is fine for sports but a bit soft with the 1.4TX. Does not focus as fast at the Nikkor.

    Anyone have the 200-400 f4 VR? iloveyou.gif That looks like one sweet lens for wildlife. If you can handle the weight. Which apparently one must do for great bird shots like I see posted on these forums. Guess I better head out to the gym for some upper body work.rolleyes1.gif
  • HarrybHarryb old and lazy Posts: 22,718Super Moderators moderator
    edited August 26, 2006
    TomaS wrote:
    Great thread and very good info and images here. Wish I had seen it sooner!

    As luck would have it, I did finally make the 'right' purchase of a long lens for my D200 - the Nikkor 300mm f4. I love it. Fast AF, super sharp, and is light enough to backpack. The close focus distance allows for some 'semi-macor' shots as a bonus. Now I just need to bite the price bullet and get the TC14.

    Previously my main long lens was the Sigma 70-200 f2.8. It is fine for sports but a bit soft with the 1.4TX. Does not focus as fast at the Nikkor.

    Anyone have the 200-400 f4 VR? iloveyou.gif That looks like one sweet lens for wildlife. If you can handle the weight. Which apparently one must do for great bird shots like I see posted on these forums. Guess I better head out to the gym for some upper body work.rolleyes1.gif

    The 300mm F/4 is a great buy. It really works well with the 1.4 TC. I haven't shot with the 200-400 but all the folks I know who have it love it. Here's one in action
    37227073.jpg
    Harry
    http://behret.smugmug.com/ NANPA member
    How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb, and forty-nine to say, "I could have done that better!"
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