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Old Sunday 5th February 2012, 16:34   #1
baofeng
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Next upgrade from 400mm f5.6l - Sigma 300mm f2.8??

What is the next upgrade?

Sigma 300mm f2.8? This lens is cheaper and only cost US$2k second hand. With a 2x teleconverter, will it beat 400mm f5.6L?
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Old Sunday 5th February 2012, 17:27   #2
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You may want to tke a look at the new 120-300mm f2.8 - I believe you will get much more lens for the money with that one.
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Old Sunday 5th February 2012, 21:14   #3
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I have the Sigma 300f2.8 EX. As a bare lens it is wonderfully sharp i.e. it will render fine detail. With a 1.4X converter it is about equal to the Canon 400 prime except that with a 1.4X converter it should bring you a little nearer owing to FL , but I have not tested this out. With the 2X converter it will obviously render more detail since the bird will be much larger in the frame than with a 400 prime but the IQ will drop somwhat. Having said that when I have viewed some images where I have used the 2X converter I have been surprised when I realised a 2X converter was used.

You will obtain faster focus with flight shots using the 400 prime. With practice you can improve your technique for faster focus with the Sigma. The Sigma does not have a distance limiter and it is only slower because it is hunting through a longer range. It is otherwise fast and it tracks very well in fact it tracks extremely well. The Sigma allied with converters offers far more flexibilty but the Canon prime is a winner for flight shots. If you do a lot of hide work where you are near to birds the Canon may be preferable. The Sigma is a bulky heavy lens and the Canon is very light enabling you to position it quickly. I like the fact that you do not have to overcome inertia when using the canon prime.

The older version of the 120-300 is reputedly sharper than my version of the prime according to MTF charts. However when I tested it out the copy I tested did not match my expectation, perhaps it was a calibration issue. If it did match expectation I would most certainly have got it. The new 120-300 OS version is another matter and secondhand copies will be as rare as rocking horse droppings.

Good luck with your choice and always test out a seconhand lens if you can.
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Old Monday 6th February 2012, 06:24   #4
baofeng
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Anyone can recommend me an upgrade alternative to 300mm f2.8 sigma? I always need the 300mm end so I am not sure whether 120-300 is value for money and zoom is sharp enough
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Old Monday 6th February 2012, 09:50   #5
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If I am understanding you correctly it seems the only other alternative you have is the Canon 300F2.8 L IS with converters.
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Old Monday 6th February 2012, 12:03   #6
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Originally Posted by baofeng View Post
Anyone can recommend me an upgrade alternative to 300mm f2.8 sigma? I always need the 300mm end so I am not sure whether 120-300 is value for money and zoom is sharp enough
Many users say the newer zoom (with OS) is plenty sharp enough.
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Old Monday 6th February 2012, 16:05   #7
Roy C
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Not tried the sigma but the Canon 300/2.8 IS with 1.4x tc is about equal in IQ to the bare 400/5.6 but you do gain a stop and IS of course. The 300/2.8 + 2x tc is certainly not as good as the bare 400/5.6 (at least not with a MkII 2x tc, never tried a MkIII converter) but the 600mm with AF comes in very handy.
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Old Tuesday 7th February 2012, 08:01   #8
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I moved to sigma 300 2.8 from canon 400mm 5.6, and honestly, have some regrets about this move. Canon`s 400mm have faster and, IMO, more reliable, more accurate AF. Sigma have more CA even bare, comparing to 400mm f5.6. Adding sigma`s TC1.4x will increase CA higher. With TC1.4, then using resulting combination 420mm f4, IQ at f4 is unacceptable because of low contrast and sharpness. IMO there is no difference in IQ then comparing images from 420mm at f4 setting to upscaled 1.4 times image from 300mm at f4 setting. 420mm at f8 will yield more sharper image, which is, IMO, quite acceptable. Only if AF was faster...
IMO, AF speed degrades significantly when using TC 1.4 - from ~0.8sec (in one direction) to about 1.2 sec, which i consider as quite slow - canon 400mm 5.6 have faster AF. I don`t remember it`s exact speed in seconds, but it was always more than enough for BIF for me.
Also, i noticed slight focus-shift effect in sigma lens, when closing aperture from f2.8 to f8 and focussing at close distances - the focal plane is moving about 1cm forward.
I will not say, that sigma 300mm 2.8 is a bad lens - only that canon 400 5.6 is pretty good. I will suggest to try sigma lens to yourself to make a final decision. Also, i will not count on using sigma lens with TC 2x, moving closer to bird will make more impact on IQ:)
I hope, it will help.

Last edited by kirillso : Tuesday 7th February 2012 at 09:42.
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Old Tuesday 7th February 2012, 20:00   #9
a.dancy
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Kirillso

Thanks for your input.

I wonder how you timed the focus speeds.

The MFD for the Canon prime is 3.50 meters, the MFD for the Sigma 300 f2.8 is 2.5 meters so when you can get near a bird the you can get 1 meter nearer with the Sigma and that can be lot. The benefit of near focus distance has the penalty that the lens has further to hunt to infinity.

I may agree that over the long haul the prime is a better and more accurate tracker in percentage terms and as I have stated before I think this has to do more with lens inertia due to weight than the HSM...what ever difference there is it will be slight...well that's my experience. I will comment on general focusing for flight shots later.

Chromatic aberration. I agree in some situations there may be more with the Sigma in harsh contrasting light which often does not lend itself to great images anyway. When attaching a teleconverter it can or will increase but sometimes when I expect to see some CA it turns out not to be an issue. So yes I think the Canon is better. Having said that you can get software that deals with CA although I have never been driven to get it. Don't think that you will never get noticable CA with the Canon, you will and near centre too...it just depends on light.


Focus drift. I have not tested this out but then I have never really had a problem where my mind felt this should be explored. A 1cm drift can be huge when near focusing so respectfully if it were my lens I would have it checked out.

Sharpness wide open. I have rarely used my 300 at f2.8-4. But I have used it wide open with a 2X converter, and as one might expect, depth of field has been the biggest issue. I went out today to check it following your comments and sadly I was not able to change the aperture...so either the contacts need cleaning or a repair is required (I have had the lens since 2004)

Getting near to birds. Often this is not possible. It is not always a question of fieldcraft or the lack of it. You cannot get nearer to a bird that is in flight , if you are shooting over private land, from a promenade, if you are not carrying a hide or suitable cover or if you are at 'twich where boundaries should be kept or where approaching a bird will unduly disturb it. In such situations I have no hestitation in sticking on a 2X converter.

Back to focusing. Photography is full of compromises. I wished my Sigma had a focus distance limiter switch for when I do peregrines in flight. If I have a bird in view and clear sky behind then the lens will hunt right through then the bird is over my head or gone. If I have nailed the bird in my sights then I just make sure I stay on it. When I see a bird in flight I may pre-focus on a near object then zap it. In such situations even with a 2X converter I have nailed peregrines and goldeneye and these birds are bloody fast! When I tested the actual focus speed right through with a 2x converter (this morning) the focus was so quick that I simply was not able to count...hence my asking you how you did it.


The upshot of all this is, given the choice between the Sigma (for all its faults) and the Canon which has very few or none, what lens would I choose if I were to have one lens only? For me it would be the Sigma since when combined with converters it is more versatile.

Now oddly for the past week or so I have been trying to nail a green sandpiper (and goldeneye) which have been resident on my local river. I have gone out daily with the 400 prime to nail it and failed , it was too fast when near. Today I went out with the Sigma with a 2X converter attached and nailed it. Unfortunately the light was up its behind but I still nailed it.

Attached are two images taken in extreme conditions. The Peregrine falcon at a distance, full frame on a warm day in harsh light (wobbly air in a concrete jungle) taken with the Sigma 300f2.8 lens bare at f6.3. Chromatic abarration is hardly noticeable or not an issue and the bird is (despite the conditions) acceptably sharp despite being near edge of frame. The short eared owl (full frame ) was under exposed by one stop...1/100sec using a non reprting 2X converter in very low light and a cold breeze.
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Name:	Peregrine nest-chicks 1st May 08 157 copy.jpg
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ID:	368495  Click image for larger version

Name:	Short-eared Owl A.Dancy cr 22nd February 2011 299 copy.jpg
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Old Wednesday 8th February 2012, 07:15   #10
kirillso
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Thank you for answer! Good point. And a very lovely image of short eared owl!
To measure AF speed, you could record the sound of AF mechanism, then measure the duration of sound. Once shooting white-tailed eagles in flight with sigma+TC1.4 i was frustrated with AF work, so i decided to measure speed decrease then using TC.
Also - may i ask a question? What factor will influence on sigma`s AF speed? I remember that in low-light conditions canon`s 400mm AF speed was slower, than in good light. There is no such effect on sigma. But sometimes it definitely work faster or slower. Sometimes slower in very good light. What a gizmo!:)

Considering CA, i think, i`ll agree that Canon is better, but this will not mean that it is impossible to take good pictures using sigma lens.

I think, that it is more correct to compare 100% crops to judge IQ, than resized images. For example, here is a good article about it:
http://www.juzaphoto.com/article.php?l=en&article=10

Here are crops from 400mm f5.6, at f5.6, default raw conversion settings, no sharpening, bird`s filling of frame is good, so, IMO, these photos will represent maybe not maximum resolution available, but somehow close. I tried to find photos taken in soft light, at overcast (more or less) weather. Yes, there are just test samples, nothing more.
Sorry - looks like this forum will not allow me to use HTML shortcuts, initially i wanted to post small preview images-links to original sized images, and already wrote and deleted appropriate img codes (quite simple actually).
At f5.6
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f.../40056_100.jpg
at f6.3
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f.../40063_100.jpg

From sigma 300mm, at f2.8
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f.../30028_100.jpg
at f8 things improves dramatically:
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f...o/3008_100.jpg
with TC, 420mm at f4
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f...o/4204_100.jpg
with TC, 420mm at f8 (sorry - i can`t find appropriate great tit`s shot, uragus`s feathers are softer than great tit`s - so it is bit unfair comparsion here, but, in general, it represents IQ)
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f...o/4208_100.jpg

Off cause samples above will not represent all light conditions available. My overall impression is that canon does have more contrast and resolution, comparing to sigma with TC 1.4. Without TC sigma 300mm is not so far behind canon in terms of resolution, but canon is tad contrastier.

I loved the ability of canon`s 400mm prime to refocus from background to bird very quickly, and blazingly quick AF itself. It really helps then shooting BIF, for example, these:
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f...terna_alb5.jpg
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f...irillso/e2.jpg
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f...wte_anniv1.jpg
And just demonstration of AF speed, not IQ:
http://i537.photobucket.com/albums/f.../ZWBF5_res.jpg
If sigma loses focus on bird (my hand`s fault, actually), it will take about 2-4 sec. to refocus again - a lot of time actually. Yes, i am using rear-focus technique (AF by pushing AF-on button, Arthur Morris described this method not so long ago). Also, IMO, sigma tends to hunt more. I also tried to take photos of goldeneyes in flight, using sigma with TC1.4. It is quite difficult then bird is filling entire frame.

So why i bothered with Sigma? Once i was laying in hide (don`t build narrow hides, it`s a true torture!:)), trying to take photos of sandpipers at the beginning of sunrise. I used 400 5.6 lens, and shutter speeds were low, about 1/6...1/20 sec at ISO 400-800 (at higher ISOs there is a lots of noise in my camera, canon 40D). It was a magic light, but i was unable to take photo i wanted due blur of moving birds, so i deleted all photos. I needed a faster aperture. Since i was using a hide, a distance was not a problem, and a less focal length will not bring major inconvenience. Most of birds i met, were quite shy, even 600mm will not help. So, using hide is required to achieve minimal distances and natural behavior of birds. I decided, that 300mm f2.8 will be appropriate lens for me.

Sigma lens is good, but have it`s own weaknesses, even comparing to "lower level" canon 400 mm f5.6. It definitely have some strong sides, such as light-gathering ability and amazing background blur (i mean not bare strong blur, but beautiful pattern of blur). I`ll say that sigma is more appropriate for low contrast light conditions (overcast, also on sunrise and sunset) - there CA is not problem.
Anyway, nowadays i have a very little time to build hide and use sigma as i planned. Also, i forced to use f2.8 in manual focus, and i need to make focus-adjustment...unfortunately, there are no service centers of Sigma in radius of several thousands kilometers :(

For occasion shooting at good light, i think that canon is better - in terms of IQ and AF. For hide using, i think, sigma is better due aperture and close focus ability.

Last edited by kirillso : Wednesday 8th February 2012 at 07:27.
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Old Wednesday 8th February 2012, 09:39   #11
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Kirrilso

Thanks for a good and informative response which I think is most helpfull to folk making decisions.

I have read the article and others similar articles before. I agree that 100% crops can give a better sense of image quality (provided they are the not then re-cropped which has occured in the past) but it comes with a caveat. They still do not give the whole story owing to degrees of compression and with different light etc etc, quite varied results can be achieved with respect to detail and contrast, even with the same lens. The real test is the print...but you can only use the tools you have for the web. The camera resolution also plays a part. See discussions on 7D softness at 100%.

I have previously shown 100% crops and will put some up later.

I find that the Sigma is slower in very low light but having said that Canon prime 400 hand held users tend to shoot in good light. However I think most if not all lenses slow down in poor light. I imagine the determining factor is contrast but I am not a technical expert. I have been able to focus on Black Grouse at night with the Sigma! I was with a friend in a hide (two hides really) who was using the Canon 500 prime. It was very dark such that all that could be seen was bird were faint white feathers from the bird's tail . The image is not a true representaion of the lighting situation since one has to add luminance to see the bird at all in an image. The shot was taken at f2.8. ISO 1600. Yes I know it's a bit noisy...but it's there!

http://www.birdforum.net/gallery/sho...p?photo=363444.

I think that we are to a large part in agreement regarding the lenses but for your goodself it is really unfortunate that you are having focus shift difficulties. I hope that you can get the problem resolved I think it would be worth it.

Just in case anyone might think that I knock the Canon 400 prime ...I don't...it is highly likely that if I carry on with my photography (I'm on the verge of giving up) I may well purchase one (the prime I have used has been borrowed since my 100-400 is in need of repair). I am reluctant to give up my Sigma prime 500f4.5, 300f2.8 and 100-400. as I get older I want less to cart around. I have taken some pretty decent images (amongst the rubbish) that have been put up on hotel walls, published in books and magazines and used a lot by the BBC and RSPB and others. I just don't think that the gulf between the Sigmas and Canons is that great when you reduce the images to image level and not pixel poke.

BTW I only shoot in jpeg which I am led to believe provides softer images than RAW. I generally have contrast turned down a notch and sharpening at 0. This means that according to Arthur Morris (who a year ago did not know what CA meant) I am not a serious photographer. I am therefore debarred from entering the Birds as Art competition. Don't get me wrong I like AM and his work but hell there is an awful lot of manipulation and sanitisation carried out by by 'top end guys' such that I wonder why it's needed when they have all the top end gear and often the best light...god I wished I didn't live in Manchester! (the rainy city)

Here is the Green Sandpiper flight shot I took yesterday. The light is up the birds bottom so not a great image but it does demonstrate that the Sigma with the 2X converter can still focus on even the most difficult subjects. ISO 1250, f5.6 1/1250 sec.
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Old Thursday 9th February 2012, 04:47   #12
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saw that sigma 120-300mm works much beter tha sigma 300mm 2.8.
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Old Thursday 9th February 2012, 07:08   #13
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Adrian, your photo of grouse is very good, i`m impressed! It is interesting that perfect IQ sometimes is not a key to good, "atmospherical" photo such as you posted. By myself, for a long time `mi wanting to take photo of grouse before sunrise. I hope to find enough time this year.

Yes, i`ll agree about crops - there are lot of factors, determining IQ. In one conditions lens can truly shine in IQ department, in others - definitely not. Later isn`t necessary means getting bad, not-interesting images.
Recently i saw comparsion of nikon 70-300VR zoom and fixed focal 300mm f4 lens. In sunlight the differences in IQ are quite minor! In "bad" light in overcast weather (actually, i like this soft light much more than direct sunlight) fix-focal lens is clearly better. In web-resizes there are practically no differences in IQ if these lenses.
I think we posted useful information for topic-starter:)


P.S. (sorry for off-topic) Frankly, i`m also not much appreciate AM`s massive graphical transformations of his images to make them look absolutely "pure". Indeed, he is very good and well-respected bird photographer, with his own style and large legion of followers.
I shoot RAW because of ease of WB and exposure corrections comparing to JPEG. I am also not a serious photographer, just one who like to observe birds:)
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Old Thursday 9th February 2012, 09:55   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by baofeng View Post
What is the next upgrade?

Sigma 300mm f2.8? This lens is cheaper and only cost US$2k second hand. With a 2x teleconverter, will it beat 400mm f5.6L?
The discussion so far suggests to me this is not a significant upgrade.

What is your ultimate dream birding lens ?

If you have decided, the quickest way to get it will be NOT to spend any more money on "upgrades" until you can afford your ultimate lens. Keep saving :)

Mike.
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