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Suggestions wanted for long, light telephoto zoom

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by Gordon Large, Jul 17, 2007.

  1. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    What I would like is probably impossible, at least with Nikon or Sigma glass, but I thought I would try. I shoot mainly birds (and grandchildren, but they aren't a problem). I've been using the Nikon 300/2.8VR with a TC-20EII, and I'm very pleased with the results and it gets me to 600mm. But I have a few problems with this rig: (1) I like to handhold and the VR is great for this, but it's a heavy beast 6.4 lbs. plus the TC) and I guess I haven't been to the gym enough because I can't hold it in shooting position very long. (2) I've got steadily increasing back and neck problems and just walking around with that much weight begins to cause pain after even a short walk. A tripod with Wimberley makes it worse. (3) I've used borrowed moderately long zooms and I love them for flight shots. Zoom out to find and focus on the bird, then zoom in for the shot.

    I had and sold the Nikon 80-400 but it focuses too slowly and doesn't get me out as far as I need. Sigma's new 80-400 has OS (their VR) and faster focusing with a HSM motor, but also isn't long enough. Neither lens has auto focus with any TC.

    I've used a borrowed Tamron 200-500 but it just feels cheap and I wasn't happy with the results.

    I can use my Nikon 300/4, which is a great lens, but I find focusing slow in low light with the TC-17EII, and the TC-14EII is too short. And no zoom.

    From what I've read, the Sigma 100-300/4 is a very good lens, but auto focuses only with a 1.4x TC. Sigma doesn't have a 1.7x, but perhaps I could modify a Nikon TC-17EII. That would get me just over 500mm, which is OK (I know I'm going to have to sacrifice some length to solve my problems), but I wonder about focusing speed. The HSM on this lens might make it workable.

    The Sigma 120-300 is too heavy And their 170-500 looks like a consumer lens.

    All that seems to leave the Sigma Bigma (50-500 but only 4.1 lbs., and the 2 lb. difference from my current rig might make it workable) and the Sigma 100-300/4 with a modified TC-17EII (if that focuses fast enough).

    OK, am I missing any other possibilities? Am I right in my assessments? Has anyone tried the Sigma 100-300 with a modified TC-17? If you have the lens but haven't tried this, do you think it would work?

    Thanks very much for spending the time to read through all this, and for your feedback.

  2. The chemist

    The chemist

    Jul 22, 2005
    You will have to change/compromise one of the following. Long, Light or zoom assuming you need the speed/ AF aquisition for birds.I think your best bet is a 30D and 400 5.6.

    edit: also you may want to invest in a lighter tripod like the new gitzo's 6x if you havent or learn to shoot from a vehicle if you can.
  3. Gordon, if you ever find the perfect lens, be sure to let me know LOL! I don't think what you're asking for is attainable without some sort of compromise.

    I owned the 70-300VR and wanted to "step up" in power and capability and jumped to the Sigma 120-300/2.8. But a little experience with that lens proved to me that I'm really more of a hand-held VR type of guy and so recently purchased the 80-400VR. I'm still testing this lens but in spite of its obvious shortcomings I think it has the best mix of options/features/performance in a walk-around zoom at this point. Anyway, I wouldn't want to carry anything much larger/heavier in a walk around lens. (BTW the Sigma 80-400 is larger heavier and HSM isn't really much faster than the 80-400VR from what I've read).

    I'm hoping Nikon updates the 80-400VR (100-500VR?) but I might expire before than happens.

  4. If you plan on "handholding" the rig (the 300/2.8 +tc), then I would simply go the monopod route rather than the tripod option. Now I understand that a monopod does not allow for easy tracking of birds in flight; that is not what I am recommending. My monopod suggestion is mainly for supporting the weight in between the flight shots.

    While walking, I find that the rig on a monopod over my shoulder is easier to carry than the rig on a shoulder strap since with the monopod over the shoulder, I can move it around to prevent the weight from bearing down on one spot as it does with the strap. I even carry the monopod mounted rig upside down (camera combo toward the ground) just in my hand swinging at my side for a bit when I want to spare my shoulder during a walk. The ability to shift the weight all around just works better for me than the strap.

    Also - while standing waiting for a bird to take off, land or fly by, if you shorten the monopod about a foot or so from the length you would ordinarily use if you were shooting with the monopod on the ground, this allows you to rest on the ground until you are ready to shoot. Then, just lift up the rig to your eye and handhold the shot. The additional weight of the monopod is insignificant since you are only handholding for brief periods of time.

    Of course, if you are shooting a stationary subject, using the monopod as it was intended is an added plus for stability. Rather than mounting any sort of heavy head on the monopod, just buy the inexpensive one axis Manfrotto (Bogen) monopod head (about $30 or so) so you can have quick release capability to ditch the pod fast if you need to. Go to


    and look at the "Better Idea".

    Seems to me that this might be a reasonable compromise for your dilemma since in my experience, once you get used to shooting with the 300/2.8 - NOTHING else is going to make you happy. The other lenses that you mention will seem agonizingly slow (in both aperture and auto focus) compared to the 300/2.8 - especially with the TC attached. Not to mention image quality........

    Of course another solution would be to bring the wife along and have her carry the rig for you, but last time I tried that, I found that I slept alone for quite some time......:biggrin:
  5. Doug


    Jan 17, 2006
    East TN
    Gordon, one thing that could help you with your camera and lens weight is a Think Tank belt system and a 2 part camera strap that allows you to hook into the shoulder straps, this takes the weight OFF your neck and distributes it among your shoulders and waist.

    I engineered this setup myself using 2 sets of camera straps with clips, and even suggested products to think tank for the modulus belt system, and I believe they have since introduced a camera strap that can be hooked into the harness. They soaked up my information like a spongue and brought it to market swiftly. So, basically I leave dangling hooks on the belt system and hook in my camera, and carry my strap elsewhere. Then if I need my camera strap, I unhook from the harness and hook back in.

  6. adaml


    Feb 21, 2006
    I second the monopod compromise. I too have the RRS arrangement with the Gitzo monopod which I use with both the 70-200 and the 80-400. It's not as convenient as handholding, but as I found out in comparing shots of the same event one year apart, handheld and then with the monopod, the difference in the overall IQ and the number of keepers was night and day.

    Besides that, I also agree that carrying the rig over the shoulder rather than hanging the lens on a strap, is far easier on the neck and shoulders.
  7. Hi Gordon,

    I'm not sure if you have checked this out, but we recently added the 70-300AFS-VR to our collection of lenses. For birds in flight, I like it better than the 80-400VR. I think the focus is almost as fast as the 70-200 with the 1.7TC. Most of the photos are sharper than the 80-400VR and I feel I can "crop" out my way for the missing 100mm (I'm still using the 6 Mpixel D70 & D100, you would do better on the D2/D200). It sure is easier to carry around, especially for Nan.
    I think Gale has used that lens with one of the Kenko 1.4 TCs, but I don't know how that would impact the fast focus ability. You might want to check with her.

    If you come up with a good solution, be sure to share it. The world seems to be Long-Light-Fast Focus pick any two.

    Bob & Nan
  8. Hi the sigma 100-300 will autofocus but it won't be very accurate as it will constantly overshoot and then readjust it self all the time, my copy is as good as my 300 afi nikkor sharpness wise, you could just get a monopod and a camera bag on wheels that's what I would do.

    And there is not many people sports photographers or otherwise who hand hold their 300 all day long most are attached to a monopod.

  9. Schnauzermom


    Apr 13, 2007
    I've used the 70-300vr with the Kenko 1.4 TC. The only time I've noticed a change in focus is in lower light - it hunts a bit if I'm at the maximum zoom. Haven't used it extensively, but for now it works. :) 
  10. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    Thanks for all your comments!

    I started my original post with "What I would like is probably impossible", and you all have me convinced that I was right. I was hoping for something that would get me close to my "dream lens" but......I was dreaming. I like the monopod idea and I think I'll try that. The RRS link was helpful and they are good folks to deal with, so I think I'll give them a call. I'll report back when I have had a chance to work with their setup.

    Again, many thanks!

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