Big test

Go tele­scopic with an ex­tra-long zoom lens. Matthew Richards com­pares the lat­est and great­est con­tenders

NPhoto - - Contents -

Get closer to the ac­tion with a su­per-tele zoom, for wildlife and sports

Whether you’re shoot­ing wildlife, sports, boats or just about any­thing else you can’t get close to, it’s frus­trat­ing if your zoom lens can’t cover the dis­tance. A zoom range of 70-300mm is fairly stan­dard for tele­photo zooms, and on a DX-for­mat Nikon, the 1.5x crop fac­tor bumps the ‘ef­fec­tive’ fo­cal length up to a mighty 450mm, but that can still come up short.

Su­per-tele­photo zoom lenses have been grow­ing in stature and tele­scopic power over the past few years. A max­i­mum reach of 400mm used to be par for the course, and in­deed Nikon’s two most up­mar­ket zooms in this cat­e­gory are still based on this fig­ure. How­ever, Sigma and Tam­ron stretched the en­ve­lope to 500mm, and then to 600mm, mak­ing even the lat­est, more bud­get-friendly Nikon 200-500mm lens look a lit­tle be­hind the times.

Nat­u­rally, if you’re used to shoot­ing with a 70-300mm lens on a DX body, and then up­grade to

Even if you’re stick­ing to DX-for­mat shoot­ing, the ef­fec­tive reach of 900mm makes these lenses very tempt­ing

an FX (full-frame) Nikon, you’re likely to be dis­ap­pointed by the shrunken tele­photo reach. In­deed, up­grad­ing to a 400mm lens still wouldn’t give you as much reach as us­ing a 70-300mm on a DX body, while Nikon’s 200-500mm would only give you slightly more. In this case, you might feel that one of the Sigma or Tam­ron 150600mm lenses is the best op­tion. And even if you’re stick­ing to DX shoot­ing, the ef­fec­tive reach of 900mm makes these lenses very tempt­ing.

Apart from the older of the Tam­ron 150-600mm lenses (not the new G2 edi­tion), all of the lenses on test are com­pat­i­ble with the lat­est ver­sions of tele­con­vert­ers from the same man­u­fac­tur­ers. But there’s a catch when it comes to aut­o­fo­cus: a 1.4x tele­con­verter nar­rows the widest avail­able aper­ture by a stop, so an f/5.6 lens ef­fec­tively be­comes an f/8 lens. With a 1.4x tele­con­verter at­tached, aut­o­fo­cus will only be avail­able in re­cent, up­mar­ket DSLRs that fea­ture aut­o­fo­cus at f/8, which rules out D3XXX and D5XXX cam­eras. At­tach a 2.0x tele­con­verter that nar­rows the aper­ture by two stops, and aut­o­fo­cus will be un­avail­able on any cam­era.

Hand­held pho­tog­ra­phy can be some­thing of a strug­gle with a cou­ple of the heav­ier lenses on test, and with these a mono­pod might be­come your new best friend. Ei­ther way, blurred images caused by cam­era-shake are an ever-present dan­ger. The rule of thumb for hand­held shoot­ing is that you need to have a shut­ter speed that’s at least as fast as the re­cip­ro­cal of the

ef­fec­tive fo­cal length to get con­sis­tently sharp shots. So, if you’re shoot­ing at 600mm on a DX-for­mat cam­era, which gives you an ef­fec­tive fo­cal length of 900mm, you’d need a su­per-fast shut­ter speed of at least 1/1000 sec – and steady hands – to avoid blur due to cam­era-shake.

Bear­ing in mind that su­pertele zooms typ­i­cally have a ‘slow’ aper­ture rat­ing of f/5.6 or f/6.3 at the long end, get­ting a fast enough shut­ter speed un­der any­thing other than bright sun­light can be a chal­lenge, even if you bump up your ISO set­ting. It’s no sur­prise, then, that all cur­rent su­per-tele zooms for Nikon DSLRs fea­ture op­ti­cal im­age sta­bi­liza­tion, or Vi­bra­tion Re­duc­tion in Nikon par­lance.

A fast aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem is an­other ‘must-have’ fea­ture for su­per-tele zooms. This is be­cause this type of lens is so of­ten used for shoot­ing sport and wildlife, where you need to be able to track mov­ing sub­jects. All of the lenses on test there­fore have fast (and quiet) ring-type ul­tra­sonic aut­o­fo­cus sys­tems – but, as we’ll see, some ex­am­ples are more re­fined than oth­ers.

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