The fixed choice

Tue May 17

When non-commissioned bird/sports/aviation photographers have reached the top of the range in “affordable” telephoto lenses and the need to upgrade itches, they soon realize that the upgrade path ahead includes breaking the piggy bank and making a big investment on a tool that usually doesn’t produce any return on investment.

The main lens makers have an array of options that mostly fulfil the needs of demanding amateurs at a good range of prices, but are the top of the line which lacks of options, especially when you try to run away from zoom lenses. The lenses with f/4 and up on the 200mm to 400mm range is outdated or incomplete, plus the 200-400 zoom range is expensive enough to think about fast primes instead. It is easy to fill that gap or commercially viable? Probably not, but the problem is there, makers doesn’t have a clear market for advanced amateurs, their lines jump from the amateur to the professional without half steps.

So here is my case; I am one of those photographers with the problem I stated above, wanting the next step lens and finding that the only route is investing the savings on a fast fixed telephoto lens. Thus after spending many hours on the Internet writing notes and doing numbers I decided that the solution was to get a 300mm f/2.8. The reasoning behind was that the 300mm lenses are in middle of the all the choices price, size and specs wise.

Summarizing those notes and ideas I reached the following points:

- The 300mm can still be handhold for steady shooting and long sessions, while 400mm to 600mm lenses are not. Perhaps you can manage to shoot a few frames with those but not much more.
- Fast and sharp enough to work well with teleconverters without losing all the photographic features you expect from such a lens (with or without the converters).
- The least expensive of the 300mm and up range, also there is plenty of second hand market in order to find a deal.
- While you may think that 300mm is not enough, take into account that with 500-600mm you can easily “eat” your subject and when you pretend to cover certain distances with a lens, size is never enough anyway. At some point your subject will be small enough.
- Versatility, when going up the range the lenses become too specialized in telephoto shooting, while 300mm can still be used for closer subjects, even for portraits and again easily extended with teleconverters.

As with everything in photography, equipment is not the solution to all your problems neither everyone needs are the same, but this has been my reasoning for the biggest lens purchase I have ever made for personal work, hope it is of use.


Technologist, aviation aficionado and casual photographer.