Choosing between zoom or prime lenses
Personally, I’ve always been a great fan of zoom lenses. They allow for flexibility, giving you a range of focal lengths you can use. This means you can achieve a variety of compositions for your photo, since you aren’t limited by the fixed focal length of a prime lens.
However, zoom lenses often come with a varying maximum aperture as you zoom in. The popular Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens is an example of this. When you’re shooting at 150mm, you’ll be able to achieve as wide as f/5 for your aperture, but when at the 600mm end you’re limited to f/6.3 and smaller. Not all zoom lenses have this limitation – the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 lens (read our review here) has a fixed maximum aperture throughout the range, for example.
Some people would argue that prime lenses are sharper than their zoom cousins. This is most likely true in general, but you’d have to look at comparisons between particular lenses in your budget to see the true differences. There are zooms on the market sharper than many primes – it just depends what you can afford.
Canon have their own expense counterpart too: the Canon 400mm f/2.8. But if you like the idea of a fast prime, but not the idea of the £10,000 price tag, I recommend looking at the Sigma 500mm f/4 lens. We reviewed it here, and it performed very well at a great discount to the big brands’ offerings.
Considering adding a teleconverter to your lens?
It seems like a no-brainer to take a shorter focal length and add a teleconverter to extend the reach of your lens. However, these will often reduce the sharpness of your lens by a noticeable amount.
From personal experience of the Nikon teleconverters, I would insist you avoid the 1.7x and 2.0x versions (the 1.7x is actually the worst of the bunch for Nikon). They soften your images too much in my opinion, and unless you’re using a very expensive high-end lens, it’ll degrade the quality of the image from any cheaper lenses more.
Having said that, the 1.4x teleconverter offered by Nikon is a good buy. I have one, and I’ve used it myself on my 200-400mm when I need that extra bit of reach. I’ve also used the Canon 1.4x teleconverter too, and that’s another great choice.
If you want more reach than what the 1.4x converter can offer you, think about buying a camera with a cropped sensor. This will introduce a crop factor into your photography, giving you more reach for your lens. Read our article on the difference between full frame and cropped sensors to understand about this.
Do you need the fastest lenses?
It might be great to have a lens that opens up to f/2.8, but you won’t necessarily always need to shoot at this level. Bigger is not always better when it comes to the aperture size of your lens, as the narrower depth of field can render important parts of the scene out of focus.
I’ll often shoot at f/8 in an effort to keep my subject sharp entirely – you can still get the soft bokeh effect, as it’s not only the aperture which affects this.