I recently went to San Diego and spent an entire day at the zoo (see photos). Since it was for my birthday, I was entitled to take as many photos as I wanted, and I decided it was worthy of a lens rental. I decided to go big – really big! I used LensProToGo to rent the massive Sigma 150-500mm, which is effectively about 225-750mm on my DX-format Nikon D80. It zooms in real nice!
Read on to see what I did with it..
Did you know you can rent lenses? Both LensProToGo and LensRentals will send you all sorts of stuff by mail, or check with your local photo store. It’s pretty great.
LensProToGo was really easy to use and quite economical. My local stores (Bel Air and Samy’s) didn’t have anything quite like the Sigma’s range, and the Nikkor-branded lenses were far more expensive. The Sigma was $90 for a week, and that includes shipping both ways! The package arrived on time from UPS and simply included the lens in a case, a paper about its use, and a UPS return label – I used the same box to ship it back.
It’s a little early to declare myself a convert, but so far I’m impressed with renting lenses online. Even though I have world-class photo shops in my own backyard, it’s still pretty nice to have a package shipped directly to you and the price isn’t much different.
First and foremost – it’s freaking huge! It dwarfs my camera and all 3 of the lenses I own. My biggest lens – the Nikon 18-200mm – actually fits inside the lens hood for the Sigma.
It’s lighter than it looks. Paul (owner of LensProToGo) told me I didn’t need a tripod or monopod for it, which surprised me after seeing how big it was. After using it at the beach for about an hour I decided I should have a monopod, which was a good decision. Unfortunately, I was still dripping sweat for most of the day at the zoo. The D80 (668g) + Sigma (1910g) + monopod (800g) weigh about 3.4 kg (7.5 pounds) together, and that’s a lot of weight to carry around the entire day. I only put it away to eat lunch.
One of the reasons the lens is only $1000 is the slow aperture, which ranges from f/5-f/6.3. For those unfamiliar with quality lenses, that’s terrible. It means that it takes more light to get a good photo, and since I can’t really slow down my shutter speed when shooting animals, I had to raise my ISO to get good shots. It wasn’t as big of a deal with animals in the sun, but many of them were in shade or partial shade. The zoo is only open from 9am-5pm this time of year, so I didn’t take any dawn or dusk photos.
With a smaller aperture, you have greater depth of field which makes it harder to separate your subject from the background.
The Sigma includes vibration reduction which is noisy, lags and is overall inferior to the VR on my Nikon 18-200mm. That said, it is really nice to have! I don’t think I’d be able to get decent handheld shots at 500mm without it.
Super Zoom Tests
Here are some test shots showing the zoom range and just how close up you can get. I included a wide angle ‘context’ photo taken with my iPhone so you can get a better idea of where things were.
As you can see, the zoom level is pretty crazy.
However, note the not-so-great quality of the 100% crops. Part of the reason for the poor quality is simply the distance – there’s a lot of haze/smog/fog between the subject and the camera, but it’s also just not the greatest optical quality.
One downside I hadn’t considered? I felt totally self-conscious carrying this around at the beach. So many people/tourists have cameras in Santa Monica, but no one carries something like this around. I was worried people assumed it was a spy lens and I was a paparazzi.
Here are some fun shots that were only possible with the extremely long reach of the lens. Some of these are one/day runner ups – see the ‘winners’ at One/Day Project, Year 3, starting on 9/29/10. For lots of fun zoo shots, go to my San Diego Zoo gallery.
Next Time I Will…
- Rent a higher-quality lens, like the Nikon 200-400mm
- NOT carry it around all day long
- Take more non-animal photos (such as patterns, buildings, crowds of people…)
- Probably rent online again if I can’t get the lens I want at Bel Air