Telephoto Lenses , Opinion,Thoughts, Tests,Data,Different Brands etc etc

Jan 26, 2013
Long post but here it goes

Besides owning different cameras and lenses , enjoying to take wildlife pictures, I also really like data/comparison, maybe just numbers in general!
Background information
Some lenses/cameras I owned
Cameras: Canon 650d, 7d, 1dmkiv, sx50 , Nikon : d7000 , d800, V1 ,Sony : Nex 7 , Rx10 , Olympus Em10 , Panasonic Gh4, , Panasonic fz100
Lenses : Canon 70-200 2.8 ISII, 70-200 F4IS, 300 f4 IS, 300 2.8 IS II , 500 F4 IS , Nikon 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VRII , Others : Sigma 50-500 OS / Zeiss 85 1.4 / Some MFT glass

Liked/disliked : All but the sigma 50-500 OS, I like sharpness and it lacked it to my eyes, It was versatile tho’! , Also I did not find the 300 f4 IS stellar…, the nikon 70-200 VRII was not great @ 200 2.8.
Preferred canon lenses (build quality) and body ergonomics.

Considering : 7dII/5d3 as a body, Lenses I am/was looking at (Combination of the following) : Canon 70-300L/100-400II , 300 2.8 IS II , 500f4 IS II, 200-400, Sigma 120-300S/150-600S
Something else to complement a prime/long lens with 5d3/7d : Olympus em1 + 40-150 2.8 ( that lens looks like the most perfect zoom ever built)

Reason for posting Background info?: To show I will try to be somewhat objective and not here trolling one brand or another.

Having spent (way to) much time looking at reviews and data, I thought i share some findings/thoughts here.
My apologies if things are not clear or look clumsy, I’m ok with numbers but writing is not something I consider myself decent at:p
Also my Opinion is mixed into this , please do not be offended.
Everyone likes to justify(or try to) their own equipment/choices, everyone has different needs/standards/cravings/goals/subjects etc etc , different budgets(even tho we can all spend that dollar only 1 time).

Please allow me to elaborate my thoughts, first some boring introduction data(I wrote down A lot of data from many different sites, I will just post a few lenses here ):

Perceptual Megapixels , this is what i consider detail lost due to the lens (With a perfect lens on a sensor giving the Perceptual Mpix of that sensor itself)
I think this is the most interesting data around online , because it makes for really easy comparisons if you are after detail,
It doesn’t take into account vignetting , chromatic aberrations , breathing at different distances etc, but for wildlife I am usually looking at how things resolve detail!

DXO mark perceptual Mpix and Measured Transmission
Canon 5dIII
Canon 600 F4 II [20]
Canon 500 F4 II [19]
Canon 400 F4 DO II [ 17 / 5TStop]
Canon 300 F4 IS [7.5]
Canon 400 F2.8 II [21]
Canon 300 F2.8 II [ 22/ 3.2 Tstop]
Sigma 120-300 Sport [ 20(3002.8 )/ 2.8Tstop]
Canon 200-400 [ 19(300f4)/ 4.7 Tstop]
+1.4 [14]
Canon 70-300L [ 15/ ~10@300mm]
Tamron 150-600 [14/~ 6@600 6.3 , 12-14 @ 600 f8]

Canon 7d
Canon 600 F4 II [12]
Canon 500 F4 II [11]
Canon 400 F4 DO II [10 / 5TStop]
Canon 300 F4 IS [5]
Canon 300 f2.8 II [14 /3.2 Tstop]
Canon 400 f2.8 II [12]
Sigma 120-300 Sport [11 /2.9Tstop]
Canon 200-400 [10(300mm)/ 4,7 Tstop]
+1.4 [5.5]
Canon 70-300L [ 8/ ~6@300mm]
Tamron 150-600 [6]
@600mm [3.5]

Now we can also look at Nikon mount , lets compare some lenses on a d810/d7100 respectively.(Results in Mpix again)
Primes :
300 VRII : [32] /[15]
400 VRII : [33] /[17]
500 VR :[22] / [9]
600 VR :[24] / [10]

200-400VRII :[22 ~ 15@400mm] / [9, ~8@400mm]
sigma 120-300S :[29]/ [16]
80-400 II :[18 , ~10@400mm] / [9,~6@400mm]

So what to make of this?, If we just look at pure ‘data’ , this is how i look at and compare the data/lenses with different combinations of cameras! (And their Perceptual Megapixels)
-I am thinking for wild life and not thinking for when one can fill the frame!, also when one can fill the frame it all becomes very easy what is the best lens/camera combo for detail
-These comparisons are based on the centre(circle) portion of the image!( r=1/3 )!
-This is based on cropping the image to match FOV!, even though you might be able to out resolve or match other combinations, it says nothing about noise levels)
-No ISO/SS/DOF consideration

A fun exercise:

-A 200-400VRII on a d810(despite having 36mpix) at 300mm will resolve similar detail to a 300 2.8 IS II on a 5d3 [22mpix vs 22mpix!]
-A 200-400VRII on a nikon d7100 will resolve less detail than a canon 200-400 on a 7d , despite having 24vs18mp sensors! [8 vs 10 mpix]

-A Canon 400 2.8 II on a 7d should resolve more detail than a 7d with tamron 150-600 @600 f6.3 [12mpix/(1.5^2)=5.333mpix, vs 3.5Mpix for the tamron]
-A Canon 300 2.8 II on a 5dIII vs Canon 70-300L on a 7d ==> [22/[1.6^2]=8,59 mix for the 5dIII, vs 8mpix[around 6 on max FL] for the 7d, keep in mind this is 2.8 vs 5.6 also!

-A sigma 120-300S on a 7d vs 5dIII with 400 2.8 III, ===> [ 11mpix vs 21/[1.6^2]=8.2 mpix], so we should be able to resolve more detail with the sigma(centre) combo
-A canon 200-400 on a 5dIII compared to a sigma 120-300 on a 7d ===> [19/[1.6^2]=7.4mpix compared to the 11 on 7d, ’
-Sigma 120-300S with d7100 vs Nikon d810 with 200-400 === 16 vs 15/[1.2656]=11.8

We need to give nikon a little credit as well, so lets compare
- A nikon 3002.8 VRII on a d810 to a 400 2.8II on a 5d3 ==== [ 32/[1.333333^2]=18mpix compared to 21mpix for the canon combo!
- A nikon 4002.8 VRII on a d810 to a 600 f4II on a 5d3 ==== [33/1.5^2]= 16.9 mix compared to 20mpix for the canon combo!, quite remarkable
-A nikon 600 f4 VR on a d810 compared to the 600f4II on 5d3===[24 vs 20 mpix , that says something about that canon lens!)
-A nikon 500 f4 VR on a d810 compared to the 500f4II on 5d3===[22 vs 19 mpix]
Now lets look at crop bodies
-A nikon 600 f4 VR on a d7100 compared to the 600f4II on 70d===[10 vs 14 mpix , despite 24vs20mpix, the canon combo wins by quite a margin!!!)
-A nikon 500 f4 VR on a d7100 compared to the 500f4II on 70d===[9 vs 13 mpix]

-Tamron 150-600 on 5d3 (600mm f6.3) vs sigma 120-300S on a d7100 ====[6mpix vs 16/[1.33333^2]=9mpix] , so despite having 600 vs 450(eq) fl, one should still out resolve the tamron by quite a margin!

Maybe some Interesting comparison!, Canon to Canon , Crop to FF!
-Canon 400 2.8 II with a 70d vs Canon 600II on a 5d3 , we have 15mpix vs 20/[1.0666 ] = 17.58 mix, A win for the FF and longest lens, but not by as much as some may expect!(Similar dof, 1 stop iso advantage for crop)
-Canon 300 2.8 II with a 70d vs Canon 400II on 5d3 , we have 17mpix vs 21/[1.3333^2]=11,8mpix , A win for the Crop and shorter lens! (But a DOF difference) (on a 7d it would have been 14 vs 11.8,)
-Sigma 120-300S with a 7d vs Canon 400II on 5d3, we have 11 vs 11.8 mpix , A win for FF and longer lens (Keep in mind this is a 7d and not 70d!)
-Canon 70-300L with a 70d vs Sigma 120-300 on a 5d3 , 7mpix vs 20/[1.6^2]=7.8Mpix , FF combo out resolves, and has 2 stops advantage

Some conclusions
- Absolutely nothing can touch the 300 2.8 IS II, it is closely followed by the 400II, 600II, 500II (in that order)
Despite Nikon offering more MP in their Crop and FF bodies(however canon will soon have even more MP, and when matching the 1.5vs1.6 crop factor it’s like 22.98 vs 24mpix)
Nikon super tele lenses are NOT as good in resolving detail , not even the 300 2.8! , the 400 2.8 might be the exception to this ‘rule’, the 500 and 600 are ‘’poor’’ compared to canon super tele
Some numbers to justify this harsh opinion?
-300mm 2.8 : d600[20mpix]/5d3[22mpix] , d7100[15mpix]/70d[17mpix] , despite sensor MP advantage, the canon combo resolves more detail
-600mm f4 : d600[16mpix]/5d3[20mpix], d7100 [10mpix]/70d[14mpix],
-400mm 2.8: d600[21mpix]/5d3[21mpix], d7100 [17mpix]/70d[15mpix], This might be one of the few where it equals or surpasses the canon(this is also the ‘’old’’ 400 2.8VR)

- The Nikon 200-400 seems overpriced considering it’s performance ( I owned this one and was happy with the IQ, but data suggests it is overpriced )
- The Canon 200-400 seems (way) overpriced considering it’s performance (When compared to Primes, or sigma/tamron zoom even…)

Some numbers to support my opinion:
Nikon 200-400 on a d810 [~15mpix, 22max] on a d7100[~8mpix , 9max]
Sigma 120-300 on a d810 [29 mpix ] on a d7100[16 mpix]
Canon 200-400 on a 5d3 [19mpix, 14 with 1.4TC] , 7d[10mpix, 5.5 with 1.4TC]
Sigma 120-300 on a 5d3 [20mpix] 7d[11mpix]

Keep in mind this is f2.8 vs f4 and that it’s a 3000 euro lens compared to a 5600 and 11000 euro lens.
Now the nikon 200-400 is actually comparable to the sigma 120-300 in the corners, sharpness wise(especially at f4), The canon 200-400 is a sharper in the full frame corners, even when both at f4, on a crop on f4 it’s negligible

Why am i stating the 200-400 is overpriced(In my opinion)?,
Because even a 1000$ tamron ( so 10k difference) can match it’s centre performance (with only 1 stop difference)

Canon 5dIII [Mid] [1/3] [2/3] [corner]
200-4001.4 [1835] [1750] [1765] [1775]
Tamron 150-600
f8 [1820] [1740] [1410] [1360]

Canon 7d [Mid] [ 1/3] [2/3] [corner]
200-4001.4 [1265] [1280] [1265] [1270]
Tamron 150-600
f8 [1250] [1215] [1200] [1010]

Furthermore , the 3002.8 and 500f4 are less expensive and perform 'considerably' better
So a 300 2.8+150-600(S), or 500f4+120-300(S), give more versatility with similar or better performance at all focus lengths
I was thinking about the 200-400 (canon), , but the numbers are against it(when factoring in price)
Honestly I rather have a big Canon or Nikon lens opposed to a Sigma lens…., but sigma as of lately looks compelling
— Fixed the reliability issues the old 120-300OS had, +good weather sealing and fast AF ( not up to canon speed obviously, but customisable and I doubt the difference in tracking will be huge , I need to do more research on this aspect, I found the 300 2.8 IS II with 2xIII extender really fast for initial focus and tracking , but I usually shoot in pretty bright light…..)
- -Allegedly the 150-600 S @6.3 is similar to the Tamron 150-600@ F8 ( I am still hoping we get the 150-600S data soon), but it has better build quality(i.e. weather sealing) , and faster AF.
—The sigma 150-600 compares favourable against the nikon 300 2.8 +2x ( -( ), just one example , but looks believable. It looks like it should be close or maybe slightly surpass the canon 300 2.8 IS II with 2xIII, this is just a guess)

For Wildlife
Sigma 120-300S(3000 euros) +Sigma 150-600S (1900 euros) seems a rational decision( when factoring in $$$)

Some possible Downsides: Focus speed?, Tracking speed?, Extreme Corner sharpness, Weight(x2 lenses), Need 2 camera bodies(not everyone likes that)

But what if I really want a white lens :(?:p, Being human, a big white lens is still attractive to own!
Possible combinations:

Canon 500 f4 IS/ISII(4500/8800 euros) + Sigma 120-300S(3000 euros) , Great option compared to a 200-400, but expensive(for 500 IS II)
Canon 300 2.8 IS II(6200 euros)+Sigma 150-600 (1900euros), good alternative
Canon 300 2.8 IS II(1.4/2.0TC 6500) + sigma 120-300 (3000euros), seems odd at first, and a shameful to always have a tc on the canon maybe

‘’budget’’ whites
Canon 300 2.8 L (2200 euros) + sigma 150-600(1900 euros)
Canon 500 4.5L (2500 euros) + sigma 120-300 (3000 euros)
Lack of IS can be quit an issue for stationary subjects.

Some other ‘’random’’ combinations that could be nice

Canon 6d+24-105/70-200F2.8II IS /F4 IS and 7dII with 120-300S/150-600s
Canon 6d+70-200 F4 IS and 7dII with 3002.8 L/IS/ISII or 120-300S, etc etc

It’s a lot of fun to play with numbers and look around at different options, trying to find a combination you can justify in your position(again this is different for almost everyone),
We should take it as it is and not be tempted by all the trolls(From either nikon or canon side), who claim stuff based on a feeling or some ‘real life’ images from impossible to duplicate situations, nor does it really matter ….
Unfortunately they tend to talk the most, so navigating through all the crap and finding some good reviews/opinions/comparisons is hard :(

DXO clearly shows canon lenses>nikon in most cases, yet some canon fanboys are in denial when it comes to DXO sensor testing, Nikon fanboys will claim their superior sensor will make up for their inferior lens(It’s been calculated above that that is not always the case).
It’s all case dependant and also what reviews/data you quote. Personally I do not have any brand affiliation , I like technology , I like advancements, I couldn’t care less who makes them,

In the end all the primes are great/good, some of the more expensive zooms are also good, there are some ‘less’ expensive options out there which perform above what they should do at the price point.
It’s hard for anyone to deny that canon makes the best glass(overall) for telephoto lenses, with the exception that nikon maybe has the 400 and 800 atm ,

It becomes a bit of a jungle once you really get into and look at all the different combinations that will give nice and sharp images !(and there are plenty),
In the end it comes down to taking the actual pictures :), With some luck involved when being there for the ‘’moment’’ , I have some great shots with the d7000 and 50-500 which are not so sharp when looking @ 100%, but I will most likely never encounter lionesses with cubs crossing a river again :( ,

Also something I would clearly distinguish is : Wanting vs Needing,
For me it’s a hobby, it’s all about wanting/liking , I do not need any of it as my living does not depend on it ,

Additional Data

***Note , Normally I look a lot at TDP, but in comparing different brand lenses I think it is NOT a good tool, For an indication between canon lenses it is quite nice(if they are also tested on crop bodies)
—(Only has full frame body crops for all but canon glass, samples different canon lenses (It seems he is putting a lot more effort to get results for canon glass, looking at different 70-200 2.8 samples for example), Different processing in nikon/canon samples)
—( I am not claiming he gets paid or is completely biased towards canon)

Also Other websites/data I looked at : Ephotozine, Camerastuffreviews , Petapixel , Photographylife, Lenstip, Cameralabs

All of them put in great effort , but some contradict each other, I do not know if this is do to lens variations , different testing methods, sometimes different camera bodies etc etc, They seem less reliable.
Also some produce some pretty hard to reach graphs , which weird qualifications which seem a bit random at times and not easily measurable or comparable. Still a lot of useful information on them!, used liked TDP as Indicators.

Dpreview MTF-50

Canon 7d [Mid] [1/3] [2/3] [corner]

300 2.8 II [1825] [1850] [1775] [1775]
120-300S [1720 ] [1660] [1500] [1380]
Now at f4 [1950] [1700] [1580] [1450]

70-200 II [1600] [1500] [1315] [1335]
200-400 [1580] [1590] [1520] [1520]

Tamron 150-600
f6.3 [940] [1000] [940] [790]
f8 [1250] [1215] [1200] [1010]

Now on a Canon 5dIII there is no data for the 70-200 and 300 2.8II

Canon 5dIII [Mid] [1/3] [2/3] [corner]

120-300S [2400 ] [2150] [1856] [1650]
Now at f4 [2550] [2350] [1900] [1700]
200-400 [2180] [2100] [2060] [2010]
200-4001.4 [1835] [1750] [1765] [1775]

Tamron 150-600
f6.3 [1500] [1560] [1400] [1180]
f8 [1820] [1740] [1410] [1360]



Canon 400 4.0 DO II (400 f4)

Sigma 120-300S (300 2.8)

Canon 300 2.8 II (300 2.8)

Canon 70-300 L (300 5.6)

Sigma 150-600 Contemporary (600 f8) (600 f6.3)


Canon 300 2.8 IS II (300mm 2.8 )

Sigma 120-300S (300mm 2.8 ) (300mm 4.0)

Canon 200-400 (300mm f4)
Canon 200-400 1.4x (560mm 5.6) (420mm 5.6)

Tamron 150-600 (600mm f8) 5.6)

Nikon 500 f4 VR (500mm f4) (500mm f8)
Sigma 120-300S(On nikon) 2.8 ) 5.6)

Just 4 fun

That olympus lens looks so nice :)
Mar 25, 2011
I'm not going to read thru the super long post, and the many links you provided, and I doubt if anyone will. Somewhere in there might be a question, I don't know what you want from us.

You seem to have lots of information about the lenses, and know which ones you like, I would not tell you to get something else, except for the Sigma 50-500, they are top notch, and if your Sigma 50-500 is as sharp as you say, and focuses quickly and accurately, then keep it, its one in a million.
Upvote 0
Apop said:
Long post but here it goes...

Wow, incredible amount of information and opinions in one post!

I got through most of it, not all, but personally I would avoid any Sigma super-tele lenses since their autofocus is not as good as Canon's. It doesn't matter how sharp a lens is if you can't nail focus. Most of us use super tele's for shooting wildlife, so autofocus speed and accuracy is of extreme importance.
Upvote 0