5 Simple Considerations Before Buying A Third-party Lens for Bird Photography

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In previous articles, we looked at the best camera bodies and the best lenses for bird photography. You loved them both.

I am not sure if you would love this. Most likely you might be disappointed. Because I can guess what you want me to say. You want me to tell you that Tamron 150-600mm lens is a bang for the buck and the best third-party lens around. Right? Wrong.

I typically don’t recommend any third-party lenses. And I wouldn’t either recommend Tamron 150-600mm lens. I know I would put off many of you. But, before you hurl a few abuse, let me give you 5 simple considerations why I don’t recommend any third-party lenses.

Disclaimer: I am not a brand ambassador of any company. These are my personal opinions purely based on what I have read, heard and seen. All my opinions are unbiased and true to my knowledge.

You may or may not agree with all these points. I don’t expect you to. But, it’s definitely worth reading as it might save you several dollars and frustration.

1. THIRD-PARTY LENSES ARE CHEAP FOR A REASON

Why do you think a third-party lens is almost 1/3rd the price of a manufacturer lens? There should be a good reason for that, isn’t it?

The quality of the lens is not top notch. At least that’s true for many lenses with extremely few exceptions, I think. I haven’t checked the few exceptions, though. But I have heard people saying that.

The third party lenses are typically slower lenses. These lenses normally produce softer images and lack good color and contrast.

Remember…you get what you paid for. The only exception is that you pay less and learn several times more with my eBooks or Photography workshops. What a shameless fellow I am 🙂

BTW, there’s The LAST SPOT available for the Masai Mara – The Great Migration Photography Trip this September. Don’t you want to grab this incredible offer before it’s too late?

Photography Trip or Workshop in Masai Mara, Kenya, to witness the Great Migration. African Safari in Masai Mara by Prathap. Nature PHotography Simplified.

2. SLOWER AUTO-FOCUS SYSTEM

This is probably the biggest caveat of a third-party lens. They are slow on auto focus. Many photographers don’t seem to understand the lack of autofocus speed on these lenses. Probably because they haven’t seen what a slick autofocus system feels like.

Having a slow autofocus system is a deal-breaker concerning bird photography. Time is critical, my friend. What’s the use of a lens if it cannot grab focus on a bird instantly? Birds are not going to wait for anyone.

3. SOFT IMAGES

One of the major complaints of the third-party lenses is that they are soft. Some lenses might be notoriously soft.

You can get sharper results with these 2 methods:

  1. By stopping down the aperture by 1 or 2 stops depending on the lens. Usually, most lenses give the best sharpness when stopped down by a stop or two or in-between.
  2. By sharpening it in the post-processing stage.

If you follow the first method, then the loss of light can ruin your chances of getting good shutter speeds. This means you might bump up the ISO. Most often you would end up with noisier results, which is especially true with cropper-sensors. Read my article Choosing the Camera Body for Bird Photography to better understand the role of ISO.

The second method has a limitation. You can only sharpen an image up to some extent. Beyond some point, sharpness wouldn’t help. Instead, it might show up as few sharpness artifacts.

4. RAPID PRODUCTION

You might have noticed that a third-party lens will go out of the market in less than a year or two. But, a manufacturer lens is made for several years. If you buy once, you might not have a need to replace it.  This is especially true with the extraordinary lenses with top notch quality. That’s an extremely important factor.

We have all saved a lot of money, probably denying ourselves of the pleasure of traveling, eating out, buying new clothes, etc. to buy a lens. It’s the hard-earned money. Any purchase should be a long-lasting one. We couldn’t afford to change to a new lens quite often. Some may not change for decades.

Third-party lenses, in my opinion, follow a concept of cheap & fast to market formula. The faster they come to the market and cheaper they price their products, the better is their chances of getting market share. Can you imagine how much time they would be spending in testing these lenses for their quality and robustness?  I might be wrong. But, we cannot deny it completely.

5. THERE’S NO SECOND-HAND MARKET FOR THE THIRD-PARTY LENSES

This is crucial. You might not realize how soon you would like to upgrade. This means you want to sell the current lens you have.

But, where’s the second-hand market for a third-party lens? It’s already a cheap lens. By the time you decide to sell, there might be a newer model. Or, there would be a price cut.

How cheaper can you sell a cheap lens? Think about it.

My intention is not to disappoint or hurt you in any way. Nor am I against the third-party manufacturers. In fact, I haven’t used any other lens than the manufacturer lenses. All that I say is based on the experiences I have had with other photographers and students. Also, based on the research I conducted for my own good.

I truly feel I should help you understand few facts so that you have better knowledge. You are the best judge about whether to buy third-party lenses or not.

As I said, I have heard that some lenses are exceptionally good for the value. Especially the f/2.8 lenses. I have seen few professionals using it too. But, it might be because it’s sponsored, they endorse these lenses or they truly like the lens. Sometimes, there’s no equivalent lens or focal length range from the manufacturer.

Whatever might be the reason, you have to do thorough research and make a decision. Don’t just fall into a trap that because someone famous is using it, it should be better. It’s not quite true.

BUT MY FRIEND SHOW INCREDIBLE RESULTS WITH THESE LENSES

There’s a possibility that your friends or other photographers have incredible results with these lenses.

It depends very much on the photographer. Depending on the experience they have, they might get fantastic results. But the question is: Given a choice (and money), will they pick up a Canon/Nikon/Sony 150-600 mm, if they are released or will they stay with these third-party lenses? Most likely they might switch.

If you want to buy a third-party lens because you like the results and performance, then go ahead and buy it. But if your decision is purely based on the cost, then think 10 times. Read my 5 points again.

Sadly enough, I can’t recommend any third-party lens for the above said reasons. I hope you understand.

WHAT IF…I HAVE ALREADY BOUGHT A THIRD-PARTY LENS?

If you have already bought a third-party lens, then here’s what you should do.

Don’t sell it. Or, don’t be disappointed by what I said. Instead, listen to my story and then do exactly as I did.

I have had the slow lens and slower autofocus system coupled with an inferior camera body for the majority of my early photography years. To be precise, I had a Nikon 18-200mm VR lens with Nikon D60, an entry-level camera body for straight 5 years.

I couldn’t afford a better lens or a longer reach. Not even a Nikon 70-300mm so that I could do more bird photography. It’s no exaggeration. I did my best to learn everything I could with what I had. I put my complete time and energy into becoming the best photographer I can. The result is clearly seen by all of you today. Anything that I teach today is a result of immense practice with an inferior camera equipment.

But…there was one thing which was superior all the times – my mind. There was no bound to it. I used to teach the techniques to my friends who owned much superior equipment than I.

So, my suggestion to you is to sharpen your mind than your photograph. Improve the quality of your thinking than the quality of the photograph. Improve your reflexes than your autofocus system.

Read the above statement twice. That’s the secret of achieving great success in photography. Work harder to make yourself a better photographer with the current equipment.

If one day, you get lucky, and you are handed with superior equipment, you must know how to get the best of it. And there’s nothing which could stop you to be a successful bird photographer.

Mark these words:

It’s better to have a superior mind and an inferior camera equipment, than an inferior mind and a superior camera equipment.

One day you may hit a lottery and can afford the best possible equipment. What about your mind, your skills, and your capabilities? Have they changed?

Think about it.


I know you’d want to share your thoughts on this interesting topic. I invite you to post your views in the comments. But, please be considerate of other readers and publish your opinions with caution. Arguments wouldn’t take us anywhere, but a healthy debate would be useful.

Also, I would recommend you to post the links to articles that might discuss some of your favorite third-party lenses. It may be helpful to our readers to make a better judgment.

Disclaimer: I am not a brand ambassador of any company. These are my personal opinions purely based on what I have read, heard and seen. All my opinions are unbiased and true to my knowledge.

ANNOUNCEMENT

There’s The LAST SPOT available for the Masai Mara – The Great Migration Photography Trip this September. Don’t you want to grab this incredible offer before it’s too late?

Photography Trip or Workshop in Masai Mara, Kenya, to witness the Great Migration. African Safari in Masai Mara by Prathap. Nature PHotography Simplified.

Let’s keep the discussion of Teleconverters to the next article.

Till then, have a great time!

Prathap


 

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3 Responses to 5 Simple Considerations Before Buying A Third-party Lens for Bird Photography

  1. richard warren June 30, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

    Wisdom based in experience, Prathap. And for those who want to learn to take bird (or other wild life) photos, there’s no better place to start than by listening to someone like yourself, who has that wisdom & experience.

    My first problem with “third party” lenses is much the same as yours.

    With focus, I have several issues with them. One – they generally bring with them their own focus points, often inconsistent with the AF system on the camera body, and less satisfactory than the camera’s. Two, although it is “possible” to have “back focus” problems with the manufacturer’s lenses, it is far more likely with third party lenses, and most people have no idea how to deal with back focus.

    Manufacturers of course also produce “cheap” lenses sometimes, with soft focus and other issues.

    However, with bird and general wildlife photography, a zoom is pretty much essential. And that is a game changer. Cheap zooms are OK for shots of the family & holiday snaps, but scarcely up to dealing with a bird at a distance. I’d be shopping for a quality zoom for that – and one with a constant aperture, so that I don’t have to worry quite so much about all the settings while I’m trying to “get the shot”. And the “soft focus” would disappear in the process. Along with the AF issues.

    Quality assurance is a big issue for me. This gear is expensive, no matter how you cut it. And I’m not in the habit of playing Russian roulette with the cash involved in acquiring the gear. I work out what I need – whether (and how) I can afford it – and stick to that.

    Second-hand market? If you want to believe in imaginary creatures like the Easter Bunny, check out the second hand prices on eBay. I recently cleared out ALL my remaining analogue equipment – even though some of it was 60 years or so old, and one cam was over a hundred years old, I got cash for the good stuff. One crappy Panasonic camera that I bought for fun at one stage was greeted with a wailing noise, and I was told to just chuck it in the waste bin that goes to land fill.

  2. dotun55 July 14, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    Thanks for sharing the experience of your early years as a photographer. It helps!!!

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