Over the last week I have been helping a friend spend some serious (for her) money on a 'birding/wildlife' kit.
With the unfortunate passing of a close relative, came the fortunate inheriting of some money that was unexpected. So she decided to splash out on herself and get 'seriously' into her passion for shooting birds.
Now bird photography ain't my thing - largely because it's so darn hard! You have to have stealth, patience, and an almost uncanny understanding of your subject to get halfway decent images - none of which I possess. I've tried, and failed, to get any decent bird images, until finally I've come to the understanding that it just isn't me.
So when she (Nicki is her name and I don't think she'd mind me saying it) - so when Nicki asked me to advise her on a birding kit, I had some serious research to do.
From her own experiences with bird photography, she knew she was heading into 'super-telephoto' territory to help get her close enough to the 'action', while still maintaining good distance so as not to alarm her subjects. Trouble is, 'super telephoto' lenses are horrendously expensive - and her budget wasn't 'that' big.
Naturally, then, Nicki was considering a Tamron 200-500mm f4.5/6.3 (or something like that - I forget 'exactly'), pointed in this direction by a well-meaning sales person at a camera store she had called. These lenses (Sigma does one as well) by the 'third party' lens manufacturers, seem to offer the best of both worlds - a rather impressive zoom range, reasonably low price, and relatively light weight (from all that plastic).
Trouble is (and maybe it's just me) I've never really been impressed by any third-party lens I've ever used/owned, over an equivalent lens made by the camera manufacturers (i.e. Canon/Nikon/Olympus/Sony/Pentax etc). In Nicki's case it happened to be Canon, as she already owns a 450D with standard kit lens and 70-300mm f4.5/5.6 that she had been using for her bird photography previously (and highly successfully I might add).
My advice to her (he said, cutting to the chase), was to go for a Canon lens - and within her budget there was really only one choice that kept coming up time and again on internet reviews - the 400mm f5.6 L. Many call it the ideal 'bird in flight' lens, because it's the start of the super-telephoto range, is 'relatively' light and so can be hand-held in good lighting, is super fast to autofocus, and it's also super sharp - all the ingredients you want in a lens.
So that's what I advised her to get - and that's what she got. Together with a new Canon 50D for increased ISO use, faster and more reliable autofocusing, a more rugged chassis, and more megapixels (15+) so she can crop in more seriously on the final image. The 50D also gives her an extra x1.6 cropping factor on the lens as well, giving her an equivalent 640mm f5.6 lens! pretty cool.
Is she happy with her new kit. Well, by all accounts she is. I haven't seen her since she got it - I guess she's been too busy out taking photos. So yeah - I'd say she's on to a winner.