— Holmes, do you hear this terrible noise and crackling in the thicket? It must be the Hound of the Baskervilles running…
- No, Watson, this is a photographer with a meter high-aperture telefix running!
Joking aside, choosing the right telephoto lens is no easy task. We figure out which parameters of “glasses” are more important for shooting sports events, and which ones are more important for wildlife.
What to look for when choosing a telephoto lens
The task of any telephoto lens is to magnify distant objects and effectively separate them from the background. Therefore, when buying, you need to pay attention to such parameters as:
- focal length;
- is it zoom or “fix”;
- maximum aperture value;
- image stabilization level;
- lens size and weight;
- protection from adverse weather conditions.
In a suitable model, these factors should be balanced depending on your goals and budget. Even if two lenses have the same focal length, they can be very different from each other, and one of them may not be so well suited to your shooting genre. For example, the 70–200mm f/2.8 lens from Sony is an all-rounder that can be used for sports, wildlife, photojournalism, and many other purposes. At the same time, there is another version in the company’s lineup: 70–200mm f/4 — a lighter and more affordable lens, although less fast. However, it may be your preferred option.
For sports photography, it is better to use telephoto lenses with a larger maximum aperture. This way you will shoot at a faster shutter speed, freezing the movement of the athletes. In addition, many sporting events are held indoors, at night, or with imperfect lighting. Therefore, despite the high cost, it is worth choosing a faster lens with a large maximum aperture.
These lenses are usually larger and heavier, but that shouldn’t be intimidating if you don’t have to move around too much and are working with extra support/tripod. However, running with such a “monster” through the forests will be a real test of willpower, because you need not only to carry it on yourself, but also take pictures (and, most likely, with your hands). Therefore, for wildlife photography, you can sacrifice the maximum aperture — pay attention to zooms: such lenses are smaller and lighter (more on this in a bit).
Many sports photographers use special support to stabilize their cameras and shoot at very fast shutter speeds, which eliminates the need for additional image stabilization.
But for wildlife photography, this can be critical. Therefore, choosing a combination of lens and camera that provides the best stabilization system will be more important than buying more expensive fast lenses. Imagine a bird photographer taking pictures of an almost immobile owl perched on a branch at a considerable distance. Vibration and camera shake in this case will be easily compensated by the image stabilization system. At the same time, in normal daytime conditions, a lens with a maximum aperture of f / 4 or f / 5.6 will be quite enough.
Zoom lenses and “fixes”
You also need to take into account the difference between zooms and “fixes” (lenses with a fixed focal length). Telephoto primes are one of the most expensive categories of lenses on the market. Of course, the quality of these “glasses” is at the highest level from most manufacturers, but is it worth the extra money, especially for wildlife photographers?
During live broadcasts of matches, you can often see sports photographers behind the touchline with long “fixes” — this is ideal, especially if the person is at a constant distance from the subject (for example, when shooting tennis). Of course, those who shoot birds and wild animals also use long-focus “fixes”. But a more versatile telezoom with a range of about 100–400 mm may be more convenient for them, because the distance to the subject can change at any second (a bird fluttered from a branch, a bear suddenly began to reduce the distance).
While the size and weight of a lens matters to any photographer, for animal photographers, a less bulky lens is also important because their movements are much more unpredictable than those of athletes. For this reason, sometimes you have to abruptly change the direction and position of the lens, which is not so easy when your “glass” weighs several kilos.
Weather protection is another option that any photographer will benefit from (especially those who shoot outdoor sports like football matches). But for those who shoot birds and other wild animals, this feature is simply necessary.
In general, of course, there are telephoto lenses that are ideal for shooting both sports and wildlife. In particular, the 400mm “fix” can be used in both genres, and if you add a teleconverter, such a “glass” becomes almost universal. Let’s go back to our example with f/2.8 and f/4 lenses. In general, f/4 will be more suitable for wildlife photography. These “glasses” are more compact and lighter, and their aperture will not be a problem for anyone who usually shoots in natural light. A bonus to this is good stabilization and lower cost.
Results for telephoto lenses
So, for shooting sporting events First of all, aperture ratio (maximum aperture) will be important. Stabilization and size are less critical as you will be shooting from the same position more often and will be able to use tripods/supports without any problems. When shooting competitions in the open air, weather protection will not be superfluous. And “fixes” are perfect for “photo hunting” from a set distance.
For wildlife photographers the size and weight of the lens is much more critical, so you can easily sacrifice its aperture in order to throw off a couple of hundred grams. Other things being equal, the zoom will be a much more convenient option for your tasks than the “fix”. Quality stabilization and weather protection are also very important.
PS When you select a lens for special tasks, it is very important to study all the characteristics and features of each model. We also advise you to first read the reviews of experts and ordinary users.
Do you shoot sports or wildlife? We’d love to read about your experience in the comments, and we’re also happy to answer questions about telephoto lenses.
* In preparing the article, materials from the resource bhphotovideo.com (author — John Harris) were used