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Lens dilemma for Kenya-Masai Mara

kenya photograpy masai mara lenses Nikon

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#1 janzin

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Posted 23 June 2016 - 03:26 PM

I'm not one to usually ask for lens advice but I'm really stymied! I'll be traveling to the Masai Mara in September for the migration and of course birds and everything else. We will have a private guide and vehicle for most of the trip, just sharing for three days in one camp.

My problem is that I have too many lenses to choose from! (I know, a sad story.) :rolleyes:

I'll have two bodies, a Nikon D810 (full frame) and Nikon D500 (1.5 crop.)

My current thoughts:

I'll take the 24-70 2.8 and the 70-200 2.8 for use on the D810. For scenery, larger and closer beasts, beasts in habitat, etc. This is pretty set.

But I have several options for the crop frame D500, which will be my primary for birds and also, I'd imagine, any kind of action as it is built for speed.

1) The 200-400 F4 VR has been my staple safari lens for years. I have had good success with this lens, and used it mostly with the 1.4 tc. But have not been 100% happy with the IQ, especially with the TC. It is well known that this lens does well at short distances but does not resolve well at long distances.

So the con of this lens is less than excellent IQ, especially with the TC.
But the pros of this lens is versatility of range, and also hand-holdability. I can hand-hold this pretty well for short distances walking and for longer periods in a vehicle. It focuses quickly even with the TC. It also close focuses a bit closer than the 500 F4.

2) 500 F4 VR  The IQ of this lens is superb and does well even at long distances. Adding a 1.4 tc barely effects quality, in my opinion.

PROS of this are: Better IQ with the TC than the 200-400, and longer reach. This would be especially useful for birds.
CONS: Too heavy for hand-holding. Would need to always have support in the vehicle, whether bean bag or maybe monopod (walking isn't really an issue for this trip as I doubt there will be much, even in the camps which are small.)
Less versatile than the 200-400 in range (but I could cover that range with the 70-200 + TC)

3) Nikon 200-500 F5.6 VR  This lens has surprisingly good IQ and I think its actually sharper than the 200-400VR.
PROS: Very versatile range. Totally hand-holdable, I can walk with this lens all day on a sling strap, so would be very easy to maneuver in a vehicle.
CONS: Slow to focus at times, especially in low light. Slow lens (F 5.6) In theory it can be used with a 1.4 TC but I haven't tried it. I'd also be concerned about the build...its a well-built lens but it does extend when zooming which can introduce a lot of dust and makes it less rugged than the other two which are weather sealed, pro lenses.

SO...if you have read this far...thoughts??? I guess one question I'd have is how often in the Mara are you really distant from the action?

I've got lots of time to fret over this....


Edited by janzin, 23 June 2016 - 03:27 PM.


#2 offshorebirder

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Posted 23 June 2016 - 05:27 PM

@janzin - tricky scenario you pose there.   Sounds like your choice is between reduced performance either at long range or medium range, which is a tough choice to make.

 

If the 200-500 F5.6 is a bit slow to focus and not as good in low light, I would shy away from it personally.

 

And it sounds like the 200-400 has IQ problems at the upper end and is not great at long range.

 

If it were me, I would take the 500 f/4 for the crop camera.   That, combined with the 24-70 2.8 and the 70-200 2.8 on the full-frame camera would mean you are very well covered at short and long range.   Medium range would be the weak point.   But perhaps that could be addressed by using a 1.4 extender on the 70-200 2.8?     Or by switching the 500 f/4 to the full-frame camera or the 70-200 2.8 on the crop camera (perhaps also with the 1.4 extender)?


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#3 pault

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Posted 24 June 2016 - 07:21 AM

Here is what I'd say to myself in yout shoes (mine are a 70-200,  120-300 and a 400 and it is actually  a different dilemma, but similar enough to imagine yours)

 

If you want to get the brids properly then you are going to be much better off with the 500.

If you are staying in the reserve and so on road, you may appreciate the extra reach of the 500 more often. You frankly don;t need it in the conservancies although it's nice to have.

 

However, personally I shoot over 50% between 200 and 400 in the Mara. My 70-200 is effectively a 200  or a 280 half of the time. You can often see so far that a lot of my landscapes are telephoto ones and when I've tried mounting a wider lens I have returned to a 70-200 (or before that 70-400) very quickly because I am not using it much. I use the wide angle a lot more on foot when I have more flexibility about where I can place myself. As you said, you're unlikely to be on foot much except around camp.

 

At the same time if I have a 70-200 with 1.4 TC then its not wide enough to be the widest thing I have mounted. Sometimes doesn't even suffice for giraffes or elephants.

.

And a crossing with 70-200 and effective 750.... at some crossing points that is going to be less than ideal although you'll get something anyway.

 

So I agree you have a problem. I'd be pretty stressed about it and wondering if I should take a third body or a pocket camera for the wide angles.

 

I wouldn't worry about support for the lens in the vehicle though. You should be able to work that out, but make sure you have the right support for the vehicles you are likely to use. There is great variety in the Mara, with no prevalent set up. Some open ones now too.

 

You'll take your best lens though won't you? So I'll tell you that is what I would do....... and I probably would but I'd be nervous.

 

It's important  to have good focus  because of the amount of shooting you do in low light, so I wouldn't be in favour of the 200-500, although it must be tempting if its IQ is better than the 200-400.

 

 

Hioe that fence-sitting is helpful in some way.


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#4 xelas

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Posted 24 June 2016 - 08:52 AM

@janzin

 

Based mostly on experiences using 200-500 on D7200, with and without TC14II, for birds mainly, I can say it is a great lens for hand holding, with exceptional VR (but that you already know).

 

What I am less enthusiastic about is its results at longer distances (like 50 meters and beyond). My copy of the lens is definitively loosing its contrast quickly when I am pushing it to such distances (and cropping, of course).

 

Thus, if in your shoes, and with my limited experiences shooting in Etosha and Kgalagadi (self driving and on the roads only) I would opt for 500 f/4.

 

Very interesting in post-thoughts if you decide for 200-500. 



#5 Soukous

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Posted 24 June 2016 - 12:31 PM

My thoughts would be as follows.

 

For all the reasons you've given I would leave behind the 200-400.

 

I would put the 70-200 on the D500 - thereby making it a 105-300. - this will cover the vast majority of what you see in the Mara

Use the 24-70 on the D810

and then have the 500mm lens available for birds and more distant subjects, to use on either the D810 or the D500.

 

The lens I use more than any other is a 300mm prime lens. at least as much as the other 2 combined.

2nd most used would be my 70-200mm

3rd the 18-140mm


Edited by Soukous, 24 June 2016 - 12:32 PM.

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#6 janzin

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Posted 24 June 2016 - 01:24 PM

Thanks for all the thoughts. Of course, there is no clear consensus but I figured that would be the case! Its given me plenty to think about.

 

@Soukous that's an interesting idea to keep the 70-200 on the D500. That is definitely the preferred camera for action and I was already fretting about the low frame rate on the D810, and thinking that I'll likely have to switch lenses between the two as occasions arise. (No matter what, that is likely to happen.)

 

@xelas I don't have any issues with the 200-500 in terms of contrast, at least I've not seen that. My bigger concern is the slow 5.6 and the slow AF, and I'm worried about its durability bouncing around in the vehicle. I sure wish I could take BOTH that and one of the bigger lenses but I fear that's out of the question due to the weight restrictions. (Hubby will be using the 80-400 5.6 VR, on a D300s; I though about letting him use the 200-500 but then he'd have no wider coverage, so the 80-400 is a better choice for him--he'll only have one body.) Anyway, for these reasons I think I've eliminated the 200-500 for this trip. I think! :wacko:

 

@pault I should have mentioned that we will be in the conservancies. So we can go off-road although still, sometimes things happen at a distance! Also we will have an open vehicle for our private guiding part (and I am pretty sure at the other camp too) which I find actually more difficult for shooting (I prefer the pop-top type where it is much easier to use a beanbag.)  I'll have beanbags of course but never like the restriction of using a clamping system. But with the 500mm I think I'd probably need to figure out some support options.

 

I do really like to shoot birds, although I doubt we'll find many new ones here (having been to the Serengeti previously.) Still, when there is no other activity birds always make a good "focus." It sure would be nice to have the 500mm for that. I'm just really concerned about the weight. Birds are an instance when hand-holding is really preferable, at least if they are overhead...impossible to use a beanbag or clamping system for that.

 

@offshorebirder I'm sort of leaning towards your suggestion of the 500 on the crop (=750), 24-70 and 70-200. It leaves a big gap between 200 and 750 but I could cover some of that with the 1.4 TC.

 

So I'm still wavering. I need to take the 200-400 out with the D500...in fact I haven't yet used it on that camera, maybe it will show some improvement over its use on the D800/D810 which is what its been used on recently. In some ways its still the best option for the widest coverage....

 

Or maybe I should just rent a 300mm 2.8....!

 

:unsure: :unsure: :unsure:



#7 xelas

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Posted 24 June 2016 - 09:30 PM

Eh, too many lenses too many choices .... but I am sure whichever lens you will have, you will produce stunning photos! 


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#8 pault

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Posted 25 June 2016 - 05:07 AM

@janzin Do the vehicles belong to particular camps. Pretty sure that for most camps we can suggest someone with a big lens who you can PM for specific solutions. But maybe you already know? Maybe you can get a bean bag table to clamp on to the rail for example? Frankly there often isn't a lot of "downtime"in September unless you are looking for it or you specifically ask your guide not to stay in contact with colleagues or count the time spent waiting for crossings.

 

And @Soukous' idea is very good, although I'd vary things and start off some days with the 500 and some days with the 24-70... most with 500 for me but it's a real drag not to have anything wider than 105mm.


Edited by pault, 25 June 2016 - 05:21 AM.

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#9 janzin

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Posted 25 June 2016 - 02:06 PM

@pault the one camp that will be a shared vehicle is Porini Lion and I know @cheetah80 has been there multiple times, but with a private vehicle. However I may consult with her :)

 

For the rest of the trip we will have our own vehicle supplied by The Wild Source. This is the vehicle. I can see there are places to put bean bags but as usual in this type of vehicle they are awkwardly low. I guess at a minimum I will need a monopod if I bring the 500 vr. 
 

Untitled.jpg



#10 xelas

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Posted 26 June 2016 - 03:32 PM

What about a Molar type beanbag, with gimbal head?

#11 janzin

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Posted 26 June 2016 - 04:22 PM

I do have a Molar bean bag and plan to bring it. But I'm not sure how you'd use it with a gimbal head?

 

I looked into the clamping system idea. Looks like that might be worth bringing along. I found out from Wild Source that they can attach a bar for the clamp. So then I'd have to decide, clamp + ball head or clamp + small gimbal. I have both (Markins Q10 head which is very light, but sturdy; and also a Jobo Jr gimbal.) I'd have to buy a clamp but I see most use the Manfrotto 35RL which is only around $30. It may come down to weight in the end!

 

But it still is a toss-up between the 200-400 and the 500 (I've at lease eliminated one option...!) Even with the clamp etc, the 500 is too problematic for hand-holding for, say, a bird in flight. But perhaps there really won't be many opportunities for those type of shots anyway.


Edited by janzin, 26 June 2016 - 04:22 PM.

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#12 Geoff

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Posted 27 June 2016 - 12:25 AM

@janzin  If you get a manfrotto clamp make sure you get the correct stud. I have 2 of these and will be taking both with me. 

 

I have similar lens/weight considerations to you but have decided to leave my big lens (a 600mm) at home and take the 300mm f/2.8 with TCs, plus smaller lenses.


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#13 pault

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Posted 27 June 2016 - 05:11 AM

@janzin  With this set-up with a bean bag table, due to my misbehaving neck I use a Jobu Jr screwed on to a base (I use a manufactured Jobu table top pod, with rubber feet to prevent slipping, but anything will do - a frisbee with a bolt through the center works, although it ican be a bit bendy and therefore dangerous if you pick it up). Then it just sits on the bean bag table and is a good height for shooting - can be raised higher with a bean bag if needed. If lightweight, the base and gimbal can just be picked up allowing instant hand-held shooting without any unclamping.

 

Clamp is probably more stable, but less flexible.


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#14 Soukous

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Posted 27 June 2016 - 09:27 AM

Clamps are OK in a private vehicle but in any vehicle, because they are screwed on tight, they will amplify any vibration or vehicle movement. There is also almost always a blind spot, as you turn and encounter a support or pillar.

 

I have found that the most flexible support is a monopod. I use them either with the foot on the floor or even with the leg shortened and the foot on my seat between my legs. The seat cushion also helps eliminate vibration.


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#15 Ben mosquito

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Posted 27 June 2016 - 02:51 PM

clamps on monopod

http://www.reallyrig...com/Safari-Rigs



#16 cheetah80

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Posted 28 June 2016 - 02:31 PM

Hello,

 

Difficult choice indeed - I would be inclined to go with the fastest to focus and IQ.  IQ is pretty obvious but fastest to focus because many times action happens at dawn and dusk with little light.  I have been on quite a few vehicles and my choice for support is always a beanbag.  Sometimes a beanbag with skimmer and gimbal - depending on how stable the surface is for the gimbal.  

 

Having said that my favourite lens after trying a few is the 200-400, but Canon's version.  This gives me a lot of versatility for composition - but then I am spoiled because the IQ and AF speed are virtually same as a prime and I get the inbuilt extender so no fiddling about with that :)

 

When in conservancies distance from subject is not a problem as you can offroad and choose your distance - but in the mara itself you are confined to the roads and reach becomes important at times.

 

If sharing a vehicle in Porini I wouldn't worry about space - there are only 2 people per row so you can manoeuvre quite easily, though of course then you can't spread out your stuff too much.  But then I guess its enough to have a bag with the equipment inside and the big lens resting on top (covered with a pillowcase). 


Edited by cheetah80, 28 June 2016 - 02:33 PM.

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#17 janzin

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Posted 28 June 2016 - 04:51 PM

Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I'm out of the country right now (on a non-wildlife focused trip) so will need to get back to this issue on my return. But it's given me much to think about!

#18 KaingU Lodge

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Posted 29 June 2016 - 08:57 AM

Nice dilemma to have! 

 

I was thinking about this post two evenings ago when I was following two male cheetah around the dambo 200m from out house (for the GMA here this is a very, very special sighting!).  They had just killed but were still very much on the prowl and I wanted to keep a respectful distance.  They were fairly relaxed with the vehicle but certainly not the animals that are used to being followed by several vehicles day in day out.  But I was of course able to off road to my heart's content. 

 

I would far rather have had 500mm than 400mm.  I know it's a bit different in E Africa, but I can really count on one hand the number of times I have thought "damn, too much reach".  As you really like your bird photography and are a bit unhappy with the 200-400 at distance, to me it is a no-brainer.  500mm (and a monopod) all the way! 

 

And if anything is that close then you have the 70-200 anyway. 


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#19 africaaddict

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Posted 30 June 2016 - 01:45 PM

Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I'm out of the country right now (on a non-wildlife focused trip) so will need to get back to this issue on my return. But it's given me much to think about!

 

Also don't forget the best option is to sit in the front, especially when you have a PV and always with a bean bag, it's far more flixible, than clamps, monopods, etc IMO.

When the action happens, you need to be ready and throwing a bean bag around is just so much faster and easier.

I have been down this road many, many times and have tried ALL these options down the years and always come back to the tried & trusty bean bag, I use a Kinesis.

 

I take with me my D5 & 400 f/2.8E (new lighter weight model), the D500 & 80-400AF-S and the D810 & 24-70, 3 bodies, 3 lenses and apart from throwing on a 1.4tc for the 400,

you limit changing in dusty conditions. (actually I also bring my 24 f/1.4 for night/star scapes)

 

Do you actually have the 500/4? If not, I'd stick with the 200-400 and pair it with the D500 for an awesome 300-600 f/4 and when you're after birds/BIF you have 

the option of the 1.3 crop (really a 1.25 crop) on the D500 still giving you 375 to 750 and 12MP, which is ample IMO.

 

I still own the 500/4 and used to have the 200-400, still a fine lens as you know, it has it's limitations, but I think it's sharper, faster AF, f/4 compared to the 200-500, which I have used for a week of testing, my opinion of course.

 

Cheers

Marc


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#20 xelas

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Posted 30 June 2016 - 02:19 PM

@africaadict

May I ask you which Kinesis bag, and what do you use to fill it (in country)?

 

 

A 200-400f/4 @ US$7000 should be sharper, faster and better in every aspect to 200-500f/5.6 @ US$1500 !!







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