View Full Version : 300mm enough? Or splurge for a 400mm lens?

03-09-2006, 10:52 AM
Hey all, long time a.netter, first post here...

I'm moving to Valley Stream next week and I've been checking out the spotting maps for some good JFK shooting locations... I notice on some of them they say you need a 400mm lens for decent shots. Along with my move I'm also shopping for a new lens, and I'm wondering if that 400mm recommendation applies to film or digital - the 1.6 crop factor on my Rebel XT makes a 300mm lens equivalent to a 480mm on a film camera.

Basically I'm trying to decide between several lenses in different price ranges... I could go for the cheapie Canon 75-300 (or the Sigma equivalent) that retails for under $200, or alternatively if I think I can swing the higher price I'm also considering the Canon 70-300 IS (so I can handhold those long telephoto shots better) or if I do need a 400, the Sigma 135-400. Would one of the 300mm models be enough or should I only really consider 400 and up? (I'd love the Bigma, but no way I can swing $1,000 for a lens right now.) If I do need 400, I guess the Sigma is it.

One other thing to consider is that my new place is right on one of the takeoff patterns, and I've been watching out from my rear deck and most of the planes taking off fly over just to the left before making a sharp right turn... beautiful, and the turn means I have a perfect side view of most planes. Problem is they're probably at around 1,000 feet at that point, so I'm sure the longer the lens, the better. But still, in the film days I remember a 500mm lens being considered pretty darn long... so maybe the 480mm equivalent of a 300 on my Rebel XT would be enough even for that?

I'm not really looking to get all of my rear deck shots accepted on a.net or anything, more just for my own amusement/documentation. I'd probably hit the real spotting points for anything serious.

03-09-2006, 04:59 PM
When we say we use the 400mm lens, that is also considering the 1.6 crop factor. So your 300mm plus crop factor does not really equal what the 400mm lens is doing. Not to mention there is a huge difference out quality output.

A lot of it depends on what you are looking to accomplish with your photos. There are many locations that most of us employ that just don't offer dull-framed shots with anything under 400mm capability.

Regardless, I'm sure you'll have a great time with the 300mm.

I also wanted to welcome you a aboard, SpaceCadet. You are the same from Anet, right?

03-09-2006, 06:30 PM
I also wanted to welcome you a aboard, SpaceCadet. You are the same from Anet, right?

Yeah... I'm really not thinking to take photos to post there, though, as I was a bit controversial last time I tried hanging around the photog forums there :)

(I'm still on the general forum.)

I've lived near SFO, LGA and now JFK, though, and I've never even taken photos for my own enjoyment. I lived right on an SFO takeoff pattern and in full head-on view of two of the runways in 1980 and I didn't take a single photo - I kick myself for that every time I think about it. I'd love to have some vintage photos from that time now (I remember watching those Flying Tigers 747's flying over our house!). I won't make the same mistake at JFK.

Anyway, I'm leaning towards the Sigma 135-400 now, after everything I've read. I'll just pick up a monopod to go with it if I go that route. I was hoping to get a 300 so I could at least somewhat reliably handhold, but from what I'm reading there's just no way to do it with that Sigma because of the weight and size. I'm a tripod guy, not a monopod guy, but tripods are a little bulky to carry around all over the place. Which is why people buy monopods, I guess.

It's really between the two Sigmas now... that Canon 75-300 is supposed to be basically crap, so if I go the 300mm route I'd probably go with the Sigma also. I doubt IS is gonna help me much in bright sunlight pointing at the sky...

03-09-2006, 07:24 PM
How about the Sigma 170-500? It's a good lens for the price and 500mm is always nice to have. It cost around $500.


Edit: I notice you're talking about mono and tripods, that shot above was handheld at 500mm, it's not a very hard lens to shoot with, I doubt you'd need a monopod.


03-09-2006, 07:35 PM
How about the Sigma 170-500? It's a good lens for the price and 500mm is always nice to have. It cost around $500.

It actually looks like the prices on both of these lenses have gone up at some point. In the reviews at Fredmiranda, for example, the average price paid for the 135-400 is $401, but I can't find it for less than $450 and that's grey market. The US version is $589 almost everywhere.

The 170-500 is more like $700. I wonder if Sigma jacked up the prices on these at some point, given how good of a value everybody was saying they were.

The 170-500 is a little bit out of my price range and it's also f-5-6.3, which is a little higher than I'd want. I understand it's a longer zoom, though, so maybe it's ok (assuming the f-stops are the same at the same points in the focal range as the 135-400). But it's just a little too expensive.

It's nice to see that handheld shot, though. I'm sure I could get the same results from the 135-400, then. I'm basically sold on the 135-400 at this point; I just need to decide if I think I can get more real resolution handholding (or monopod-holding) at 400mm than I could get with IS at 300mm. If I've gotta resize all my 400mm photos down because they're too soft, then it's less worth it given how big this lens is.

03-09-2006, 10:10 PM
http://www.sigma4less.com/sess/utn;jses ... 0F5CA%3D29 (http://www.sigma4less.com/sess/utn;jsessionid=154410edd0b56a1/shopdata/0020_Lenses/0010_Zoom/0040_Tele+Zoom/product_details.shopscript?article=0890_Sigma%2B17 0-500mm%2Bf%3D26slash%3D3B5-6%3D252E3%2BAspherical%2BAPO%2BRF%2Bfor%2BCanon%2B AF%2B%3D28SG170500F5CA%3D29)

170-500 for $550.

http://www.sigma4less.com/sess/utn;jses ... F45CA%3D29 (http://www.sigma4less.com/sess/utn;jsessionid=154410edd0b56a1/shopdata/0020_Lenses/0010_Zoom/0040_Tele+Zoom/product_details.shopscript?article=0790_Sigma%2B13 5-400mm%2Bf%3D26slash%3D3B4%3D252E5-5%3D252E6%2BAspherical%2Bfor%2BCanon%2BAF%2B%3D28S G135400F45CA%3D29)

135-400 for $450


03-09-2006, 10:35 PM
170-500 for $550.

135-400 for $450

That's grey market, though... Also, the DG 170-500, which is the one I'd want, is also $630, not $550. The 135-400 DG is $509. I guess I should have clarified that it's the DG I'm after.

But, I was probably going to go grey market if I went with the 135-400, and I did look at this site. But I'd want the full 4 year warranty, so if you add a Mack warranty onto that it's back up to around $550. (And close to $700 for the 170-500 DG).

Ah, decisions decisions. I think the bottom line is I just gotta find the store with the best return policy and try one of these bad boys out for a little while.

03-14-2006, 08:36 AM
Just a little update, I got my new toy:


I went with the Sigma 135-400. I haven't had a chance to really test it in my back yard yet (I wanted to today, but it's raining and it was the wrong pattern in use anyway), but it does seem like 300mm wouldn't have been enough now.

I do wish I could have afforded the Canon 100-400L IS, as I really can't see hand-holding this thing at 400mm, but I'll try it and see what sort of results I get. Otherwise maybe I can jury-rig some sort of faux-monopod out of my old lightweight tripod until I can save up enough money again for something better.

Anyway, thanks for all the advice - you guys did help convince me to go with the 400 and I doubt I'll regret that. (Feeling a little buyer's remorse now for spending $550, but I'll get over that!)

03-14-2006, 04:25 PM
Congrats on your purchase Space cadet, I'm sure you'll be very happy with your lens. Sigma makes fine products and I've been more then thrilled with my two Sigma lenses.

03-14-2006, 05:40 PM
Congrats on the new lens!!

I hope you come join us soon. :)