Big test

Keep pace with ac­tive sub­jects. Matthew Richards re­veals the lenses to cap­ture ev­ery mo­ment

NPhoto - - Contents -

Get closer to sports and wildlife with one of our eight ac­tion lenses, all de­liv­er­ing length and a wide aper­ture

We’ve all been there, done that and got the lens envy. Al­most any high-ac­tion event you can think of nowa­days, from athletics to air shows, seems to be at­tended by massed ranks of pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers wield­ing whop­ping tele­photo lenses that cost a for­tune. Prime ex­am­ples, so to speak, in­clude Nikon’s re­cently launched flu­o­rite-rich 400mm, 500mm and 600mm op­tics and their five-digit price tags. Top-flight zooms don’t come much cheaper, like the Nikon 200-400mm VR at around £5200/$7000. But if you’ve been in­spired by this year’s sum­mer sports spec­tac­u­lars, fast-mov­ing wildlife, or some other speedy sub­ject, the good news is that there are some se­ri­ously good tele­photo lenses on the mar­ket, at much more af­ford­able prices.

A main con­cern when pho­tograph­ing sports and wildlife is how much tele­photo reach you need. For the former, you’ll of­ten be con­fined to spec­ta­tor ar­eas and sim­ply won’t be able to get as close to the ac­tion as you’d like. For the lat­ter, you may well be con­fined to a hide. Thank­fully some of the

least ex­pen­sive lenses in this test group have tele­photo reach of up to 600mm, equat­ing to a 900mm ‘ef­fec­tive’ fo­cal length on DX-for­mat bod­ies.

For other high-speed sce­nar­ios, you might be able to get much closer to the thrills and spills, so a clas­sic 70-200mm zoom lens might suf­fice. An ob­vi­ous choice is Nikon’s own highly ac­claimed 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II which, while be­ing a fully pro-grade op­tic, is still rea­son­ably ‘af­ford­able’ at £1800/$2100. The f/2.8 con­stant-aper­ture de­sign not only en­ables fast shut­ter speeds for freez­ing the ac­tion, even un­der dull light­ing con­di­tions, but also de­liv­ers a tight depth of field for iso­lat­ing the main sub­ject by blur­ring the back­ground. That said, you can still get a tight depth of field when us­ing longer fo­cal lengths of 400mm or 600mm at f/5.6 or f/6.3 re­spec­tively.

Zoom into ac­tion

Al­most all the lenses that we’ve cho­sen for this round-up are zoom lenses. Again, if you’re lim­ited to a hide, or a seat in a grand­stand, and can’t move about, the ver­sa­til­ity of a zoom lens is great to have.

An in­ter­est­ing ex­am­ple that takes zoom­ing to the ex­treme is the Sigma APO 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM, at £850/$1460. Orig­i­nally nick­named the ‘Bigma’, it’s some­what unique in be­ing a sort of ‘tele­photo su­per­zoom’, with its over­sized 10x zoom range. It can be ideal if you’re at an event where you need to con­tin­u­ally switch be­tween stan­dard and su­per-tele­photo fo­cal lengths but, ul­ti­mately, it can feel a bit of a pain us­ing a two-kilo­gram lens for stan­dard-range shoot­ing. It’s also been some­what over­taken by Sigma’s newer 150-600mm lenses, which come in Sports and Con­tem­po­rary edi­tions, both of which are re­viewed on the fol­low­ing pages.

A no­table ex­cep­tion to the nearly all-zoom line-up is the re­cently launched Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR prime lens. Un­like the big-money, heavy­weight primes that we’re not fea­tur­ing, this is Nikon’s first ever F-mount lens to fea­ture a PF (Phase Fres­nel) el­e­ment, which en­ables a com­par­a­tively com­pact and light­weight build. At just 755 grams, it’s about half the weight of 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses while of­fer­ing greater tele­photo reach and a still rea­son­ably fast f/4 aper­ture.

To help keep up with the ac­tion, all the lenses on test fea­ture ring-type ul­tra­sonic aut­o­fo­cus sys­tems. Even so, some are quicker than oth­ers and more able to track fast­mov­ing sub­jects. Let’s take a closer look at what all the con­tenders have to of­fer.

If you’re lim­ited to a hide, or a seat in a grand­stand, and can’t move about, the ver­sa­til­ity of a zoom lens is great to have

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