I have been a photographer for over 25 years and I must confess that I prefer zoom lenses to fixed focal length lenses when it comes to wildlife photography. Heck, I only own one fixed focal length lens and it is my 180mm macro!!! The image above of the elk in Yellowstone represents why I fell in love with the zoom lenses in particular my zoom lens, Sigma 300-800mm F5.6 EX DG HSM. The year was 2006 and I had just purchased the lens and was anxious to try it out in Yellowstone National Park. A group of photographers and myself had just set up our gear at the edge of a field. All of the other photographers had fixed prime lenses in the 500-600mm range and some with teleconverters on so that we wouldn’t approach the elk too closely as we patiently waited for the light to come up. Suddenly, the bull elk ran towards us. I simply zoomed in to approximately 300mm and fired away. I could barely fit the elk into the frame at 300mm so I knew that the other photographers had to cut off body parts of the elk. After a bit of muttering by them, I told them that all I had to do was zoom out and I quickly got their attention! Many of them were quickly sold on the versatility that the zoom offered and I was forever hooked on it from that day forward. The image is an original slide scan so I have no other exif data available except that it was Kodak e-100VS film.
I am by no means saying fixed focal length lenses aren’t sharp, I just like the versatility and flexibility that the zoom lenses offer and they have proven themselves useful every year that I have owned them. A good example of that flexibility is when I am in Tanzania and the wildebeest start to cross the Mara River. The vehicle parks at a respectful distance to not spook the herds so I can zoom across the river out to 800mm and try to isolate the action. As the herd starts to cross, I can easily and rapidly zoom in or out to compose and recompose as the herd starts to spread out or I can also do tighter portraits. Given the difficulty of moving the vehicles in certain locations, the flexibility of the 300-800mm sure comes in handy!
I have now added the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sports zoom lens to my arsenal and I must admit is has been a very welcome addition!!! Some of the larger animals often do get close to the vehicles so I reach for the 120-300mm in those situations where I can also shoot out the safari vehicle to get a lower shooting angle. In the image above, the lion was so close that I could smell him!
I did want to try out the Sigma 120-300 with the 1.4 teleconverter on as well. This would give the lens a range of 168- 420mm @ f/4. The image of the wildebeest nursing above was photographed early one morning as we came upon a large herd of wildebeest. As most of the herd was quickly moving away, I reached for the lens to try and capture a sense of the environs while isolation the action.
When it comes to small critters, I am always grabbing the 300-800mm for the extra reach and the ability to get closer to my subject without intruding in their space. The image above of the Agama lizard is just one of countless times that this lens has come in handy for me and allowed me to photograph him without spooking him. Combine the Sigma 300-800mm with the 120-300mm and the combination is unmatched by any other manufacturer for versatility and flexibility with the sharpness and speed to match!!!