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  1. #1
    cmo
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    Alternatives to Canon's ultra-expensive telephoto lenses

    I know this is a difficult question, but I love telephoto lenses, the longer the better, but I can't afford the superb Canon super-telephoto lenses.

    My main nature photo cameras are EOS 3 bodies.
    I used Novoflex lenses in the past, including a 560mm Telyt head (not too bad).
    I used a Tamron SP 8/500 mirror lens (not bad for a mirror lens, and I love the size, weight and "bokeh", but these are prone to flare)
    At this time my longest lens is a 4/300 with a 1.4x Extender. The lens is very sharp, has a good IS and AF. With the converter image quality is half gone. With a 2x converter it would be pretty bad.

    I am looking for alternatives beyond 400mm. Canon tells me:

    - get a 4/400 and a converter -> $6,045.00 plus the converter
    - get a 2.8/400 and a converter -> $11,499 plus the converter
    - get a 4/500 -> $10,499
    - wait for the new 4/200-400 with built-in converter -> probably $9,000
    - get a 100-400 plus a converter -> $1,439 plus the converter, and it's not even really sharp and contrasty without using a converter
    - get a used 5.6/400 plus a converter -> $1,500, no IS, no AF at f8
    - get a 2.8/70-200 II plus a 1.4x and a 2x converter -> f8/560mm, $3,000, and say goodbye to sharpness

    These guys raised their prices enormously during the last years. Canon goes Leica, Canon goes nuts, and Nikon is no better.

    Sigma tells me:

    - get a 120-300mm and a 2x converter -> $3,199 plus the converter, and say goodbye to sharpness
    - get a 300mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM plus a converter -> $3,399 plus the converter
    - get a 120-400mm F4,5-5,6 DG OS HSM plus a converter -> $1,000 plus the converter, and say goodbye to sharpness and contrast and forget about AF at f8

    What I say about Sigma is that I had three lenses and all of them needed a repair

    Some old-school guys tell me:

    - get a $100 lens on ebay and get great results and bring canvas, brushes and oil ink to get a result
    - get a soviet Photosniper lens for $100 and bring watercolours
    - get an east german Pentacon 5.6/500mm, buy a golf caddy to carry 3.5 kilos and say goodbye to sharpness on 35mm film (these railguns are not bad for medium format)
    - get a 50mm lens and walk closer to the subject

    What are your recommendations for a poor guy with a limited budget? I know there will be compromises... I could live without AF and IS, but sharpness, contrast and reliabilty are important to me. I could even live with a fixed aperture (mirror lens) or using a golf caddy or pickup truck

    Things that came to my mind:

    - old ED Nikkors
    - Reflex Nikkors
    - long telephoto lenses for medium format systems
    - long telephoto lenses from Pentax, Minolta, Leitz
    - modifying Canon FD era lenses

    PS: I own a very good tripod.
    The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands smell like fixing bath.

  2. #2
    PDH
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    I would buy a T90 and FD lens, still not cheap but less that current AF lens.

  3. #3
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Canon FD teles. I have the 600/4.5 and no complaints. I also have an original Canon FD/EOS converter--rare but they're out there--so I can use it with my New F-1 or with my EOS bodies.

    Realistically, I don't see myself using AF much with a lens like that anyway (I use it mostly for birds, not usually for flight shots), and the rack-and-pinion focus is really fast and precise, particularly with the SK focusing screen on the New F-1, and lacking the whole AF apparatus, the lens is a few pounds lighter than the comparable EOS lens, which is something really worth considering, if you're schlepping it in the field.

    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  4. #4
    Jeff L's Avatar
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    Not AF, but there was the Tamron SP 400 f4 plus 1.4 converter. Good lens. They turn up on eBay.

  5. #5

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    I agree in full with Jeff. I had the Tamron 4/400 and it was tack sharp, until it was stolen with lots of other good stuff. In an old issue of a photo mag (I don't remember which one) Some 8/500 were compared. Results were 1. Canon FD; 2. Tamron (2nd version) 3. Nikkor. The Leitz was not part of the contest.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by David A. Goldfarb View Post
    Canon FD teles. I have the 600/4.5 and no complaints. I also have an original Canon FD/EOS converter--rare but they're out there--so I can use it with my New F-1 or with my EOS bodies.
    There's also a guy out there (Ed Mika) who's machining new glassless FD-EOS converters for the long telephoto lenses that allows them to maintain infinity focus (no extra optics required) with only a minor (and fully-reversible) modification to the focusing gear. It's mostly aimed at the Canon digital crowd, but there's no reason why they shouldn't work on an EF film body (but I haven't tried it yet).

    He had this table in his eBay listing:

    A sample of focusing distances using the EdMika 0.5mm FD-EOS (nFD, FD, FL)-(EF,EF-S) dual-orientation glassless brass adapter

    FD 85mm 1.2, 5 feet / 1.5 meters
    FD 85-300mm 4.5, infinity between 250-300mm when focus stop screw removed
    FD 200mm 2.8, 25 feet / 7.5 meters
    FD 200mm 1.8, unknown ( infinity with lens calibration)
    FD 300mm 2.8L, 95 feet / 29 meters ( infinity with lens calibration)
    FD 300mm 4L, unknown (infinity with lens calibration but there is an extra pretty hard step to do it)
    FD 400mm 2.8L, 164 feet / 50 meters (infinity with lens calibration)
    FD 400mm 4.5, 277 feet / 85 meters (near infinity with lens calibration but I do not have details on how)
    FD 500mm 4.5L, unknown (infinity with lens calibration)
    FD 500mm 8 mirror, infinity (with easy removal of a stop screw under rubber focus grip)
    FD 600mm 4.5, infinity (Removal of stop screw in nFD version gear housing helps maintain infinity in low temp shooting – reportedly not needed in SSC versions)
    FD 800mm 5.6L, infinity (Removal of stop screw in nFD version gear housing helps maintain infinity in low temp shooting – reportedly not needed in SSC versions)

    I own one of his adapters, but I haven't really used it much, other than to check for basic functionality, at this point.

    Just another option to consider.

    Also, considering how often you plan on using a long telephoto (and where you are located), you could always rent one for the times you need it.

    --Greg

  7. #7
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    Another thought would be getting a Contax 300 F4 and the Contax 2x Tele-Mutar if you don't mind manual focus. For another 70 Euro you can get a user-installable mount adapter from Leitax that will maintain infinity focus and even provide data connection between the lens and body. You'll still be shooting in stop-down mode with Aperture Priority, but it's one set of superior glass that won't break your bank, and the teleconverter won't seriously degrade your image quality.

  8. #8
    cmo
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phalbert View Post
    I agree in full with Jeff. I had the Tamron 4/400 and it was tack sharp, until it was stolen with lots of other good stuff. In an old issue of a photo mag (I don't remember which one) Some 8/500 were compared. Results were 1. Canon FD; 2. Tamron (2nd version) 3. Nikkor. The Leitz was not part of the contest.
    Interesting... do you remember how the praised Minolta 8/500 was judged? I know for sure the Leitz is identical.
    The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands smell like fixing bath.

  9. #9
    cmo
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    Quote Originally Posted by gmikol View Post
    There's also a guy out there (Ed Mika) who's machining new glassless FD-EOS converters for the long telephoto lenses that allows them to maintain infinity focus (no extra optics required) with only a minor (and fully-reversible) modification to the focusing gear.
    Greg, that is great news :-) Now I know what to do with my FD 2.8/200 and will also look out for the big artillery.

    Jeff and Phalbert, the Tamron seems to be pretty rare... or people just don't sell it.
    The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands smell like fixing bath.

  10. #10
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    Clemens, it needs a bit of patience, but they are out there. Whenever I look I find an offer every third or second time.

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