Telephoto and super telephoto glass is all about expanding your horizons. Long focal lengths bring a much bigger universe to your camera sensor. An old saying in photography is that the best long lens is your legs. Well, sometimes just getting closer works, sometimes it’s impossible, and sometimes it’s dangerous.We are living in the golden age of photography. Cameras are amazingly good. There are several camera manufacturers that produce equipment that’s as good as the very best professional equipment of 20 years ago, and they sell it for less that $1000. That makes supertelephoto glass available to the hobbyist and amateur photographer. There are multiple choices at both professional and budget conscious price points available from all the major camera vendors.
My contention is that long focal lengths will expand your horizons as a photographic artist. Macro glass allows you to get a close up portrait of an insect or a flower. There are wonderful mid range primes that allow precision control of depth of field for stunning portraits. Razor sharp where it’s needed, and beautifully soft in the background. And now telephoto and super telephoto lenses are available at a price a hobbyist can afford. That long focal length glass allows the photographer to get close when other options are impossible or impractical.
If wildlife photography is something you want to do, think about a 400mm lens. I use my Sigma 120-400mm a lot, much more that I would have ever guessed when I bought it. And I use it on an APS-C sensor camera which gives me an effective focal length of 600mm. There are similar products available from Canon, Nikon and Sony, it’s a matter of finding one that works for you.
What’s the advantage of such extreme focal length? It’s all about opening up a new world, getting close to the action. Whether your favorite subjects are small birds, wild animals or the family dog, that extra focal length gets you closer to their world. Even if you shoot Little League or other amateur sports, there is a sense of intimacy when you use long glass to get close. It’s a whole different ball game compared to just recording the event from afar.
And of course you can always use one of the high megapixel cameras and crop the shot. But what you wind up with is essentially a shot that could have been done with a phone. You always lose depth and detail. How much that matters is of course a personal choice. Better to have a shot than to have nothing. Better to have an average shot than nothing, but to have a high resolution shot of a world that would otherwise be inaccessible is the best.
These shots of Ring Tailed Lemurs were done at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia South Carolina. The single shot was done at an effective 600mm. The two-shot was done with a tele-converter added to the 120-400. That combination yields an effective 840mm focal length. That’s getting seriously extreme for an amateur setup. A tripod is mandatory, and I also used a mechanical cable release. Old school to be sure, but at that focal length the slightest vibration matters. You have to remember that the shot was taken in a public place with people moving about, wind and plenty of other distractions. The point is that shots like this are within the reach of any amateur willing to take the time to get it right. There’s nothing exotic or super expensive going on here.
For me, that’s what it’s all about. Getting into the world of these wonderful creatures and getting the best shot you can.
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