We’ve seen a lot of new gear aimed at those of us who love the high magnification and large telephoto lens side of photography — critter and bird photographers especially. this has had me mulling over how to update my recommendations on what gear to consider and what to avoid.
Also, given my go-to birding body, a Canon 7D, is aging and it’s replacement in the Canon product line is now available, I’ve also been thinking through whether to start planning upgrading my gear and if so, how?
I plan on upgrading my gear guide soon, but here are some working notes for those of you trying to understand what makes sense for those of us who spend our free time shooting pictures of very small, far away things that run or fly away if you try to get too close….
Canon has (finally) released the new 100-400 lens, replacing the stalwart (but aging) older design. the previous 100-400 was the primary lens many of us used for Bird Photography on the Canon platform. The new 100-400 is about $500 more but seems well worth it. At the time I write this, it’s not shipping, but my strong recommendation is that anyone considering buying a 100-400 wait for the new version to ship and pay the extra money for it. It should be more than work it. I plan on doing some testing and will update this recommendation once I do.
Tamron announced it’s 150-600 lens about a year ago and got critter photographers drooling. Then Tamron evidently had serious manufacturing problems and it was at least six months after the promised release date before units started hitting the market. The results have frankly been mixed; I’ve seen many reports complaining about slow autofocus, especially in poorer light. I’ve heard too many stories of people with problems with the lenses requiring warranty repair, sometimes repeated trips. Overall, this lens seems to be a disappointment, so I can’t recommend it, which is too bad. I was hoping it would live up to potential, but it clearly hasn’t.
Sigma responded with its own 150-600, which is almost double the price of the Tamron. it’s also not shipping yet, but it’s one I plan on testing when I can get my hands on, but at it’s price ($2000) it’s not a cheap option but might be a cheaper option than buying a Canon 500mm or 600mm lens if it lives up to its potential. Right now, it’s too early to tell, and it’s definitely not a lens beginners should be considering at that price.
Canon has released the 7D Mark II, the follow on to the 7D, which was a very good, prosumer-quality APS sensor camera. It had many features you’d require from a pro-quality body in a more affordable APS format. We could have the fun (not really) argument about APC vs. full frame, but what really mattered about the 7D was that it was an affordable body that turned out really good images at an affordable price.
The 7DmII has been trashed by some, especially the pixel peepers. the DXOmark review was brutal. On the other hand, the in-field reviews and the images I’ve seen have been pretty good. My belief is that the pixel-peepers are trashing it because the 7DmII is an evolutionary upgrade and not a revolutionary one. I think if you look at the 7DmII for what it is, as opposed to what your fantasy wish-list wanted it to be, it’s a pretty good camera and 7D users who want to upgrade or anyone who uses Canon gear who feels they need a more capable body can move to the 7DmII and will be really happy with it. That said, I haven’t tested it yet myself, but I’m looking forward to it.
Before you pull the trigger on a 7DmII, though, I think Canon users should look long and hard at the Canon 70D and perhaps rent one for a test drive before making a decision. It’s a good body with good capabilities, and it’s a lot less money and I believe most critter and bird photographers would rarely hit a situation where the 70D wouldn’t do the job for them — the one exception is how badly your field work could use the truly impressive weathersealing of the 7DmII.
If I were going to buy a replacement body for the 7D today, I’d have a hard time justifying the extra cost of the 7DmII, as much as I like the body. I’d buy the 70D, and I’d recommend it to most of you as well.
What I’m planning to do
What are my plans? For the time being, nothing. I love my current lens setup and the 7D is doing yeoman work and I don’t think I’m going to have an overriding need to upgrade it over the next year, barring theft or some catastrophic failure. It all works really well.
I’m also waiting to see how life over in the Fuji mirrorless universe matures. Fuji has announced a super telephoto for 2015 and the rumor is that it’s a 150-400 (and the Fuji has a 1.5x magnification factor, similar to a Canon APS sensor @ 1.6x). A 400mm lens with a 1.5x factor gives you the 35mm equivalent of 600mm, which would make it a perfect bird/critter lens, if it works well and the Fuji bodies can handle the field aspects of dealing with shooting these things. My feeling is that the XT-1 isn’t quite up to the task, but Dan Bailey has gotten really nice results with Fuji in his adventure photography work. The mirrors bodies are getting close to being able to handle anything we throw at them, and having already shifted my wide angle work to Fuji, I’d love to shift it all, if only to save weight and my back.
So my plan is to wait for the release of that Fuji lens, and see if fuji updates the XT-1. I think a Fuji body with similar capabilities to the 70D and a lens that rolls out to 600mm would be an incredibly nice combination, so I don’t want to invest further in Canon gear until I have the ability to evaluate whether I’m ready to make the jump to 100% Fuji gear. that will happen — sometime — in 2015.
But if I were going to upgrade the Canon gear, the only upgrade I’d consider would be upgrading the 7D to the 70D. If someone were to offer me a really nice discount on a 7DmII, I wouldn’t turn it down, though, but I just don’t think most non-working-pro photographers NEED a 7DmII when the 70D covers what we need so well.
Someone out there want to convince me the difference between a 70D and a 7DmII is worth the extra money?