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Best Hand-Holdable Reasonably Bright 400mm Prime?
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 12:53 am    Post subject: Best Hand-Holdable Reasonably Bright 400mm Prime? Reply with quote

I have a few telephotos I really like, but I lack a good sharp 400mm with good colors and handling. (Well, I have some 400mm mirror lenses, but that's a different topic. I'd like your advice on a non-mirror lens here.) My favorite telephoto is my Nikon 180mm f2.8 ED. The bokeh and image quality make me happy, and I love the focusing. I wish the focus direction weren't backwards but I can live with it :-) I particularly love that images are clear and attractive straight out of camera. I do not enjoy post-processing to fix bad colors and so on.

I'd like a reasonably fast-ish 400mm, with good-to-great image quality for things like insects and birds, but I'd like one that's got nice focus action and isn't too big and heavy if possible. I'm not really excited about the idea of a zoom, I'd rather get a good prime. Cost isn't my first consideration but I'm not spending $3000 on this either. Maybe this lens doesn't exist for that price, I don't know!

I have an old (cheap, I assume) screw-driven Sigma AF 400mm f/5.6 that technically works in MF mode but its handling makes me cringe and it needs to be stopped down quite a bit to avoid a lot of CA and clean up the colors and sharpness, which defeats the point. If I want an f/11 lens I'll buy one instead of lugging around a bigger one that's not reasonably usable wide open. (That said, it's a lot better lens than it has any right to be. I got it in a grab-bag of junk lenses.)

I'm open to a wide variety of mounts. At this point I can adapt just about anything without buying new adapters. Canon FD, Minolta SR, Nikon F, Olympus OM, Pentax PK are all in regular use for me, plus a bunch of others less frequently so I still own adapters for them.

I'm thinking maybe 400mm f/5.6... I assume anything faster will automatically be too big and heavy... I have shot quite a bit at 300mm and it's just not quite long enough for me a lot of the time.

Suggestions? Should I look at Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, Vivitar, Soligor? Canon, Nikon, Olympus, etc?


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 1:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This whole thing is very subjective.
One man's passable lens is another's piece of garbage. Another problem with long Tele specifically is that modern tech has vastly improved lenses and upgraded expectations as well. You get what you pay for.
The worst problem, IMHO, concerning MF long lens use in the field is technique, not quality. There are many ancient 400/6.3's that work just fine as far as I'm concerned, and are even better at f/8. They also have the advantage of being extremely cheap and light, if rather long. Nailing focus on little birds with these things, however, is quite a skill.


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 2:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can attest to the good quality of a Soligor 400/6.3 prime lens I own.
It does well at f/6.3, performs far better at f/8 and slower,
while retaining resolution and color. It's also a very lightweight lens,
being nothing more than an aluminum tube with glass elements.

Mine is a 1972-vintage Tokina-made lens, and it cost me
no more than $40 US. There is CA at high-light levels,
but it's an overall good lens.

Examples from a Canon EOS 50D, which were processed poorly:




[/url]


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 2:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

400mm lenses hand held are a real challenge - easier if your digital camera has built in IBIS or VR.
My son has a Nikkor 400mm f5.6 EDIF which is rather good.
His images are excellent
Tom


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 7:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

luisalegria wrote:
This whole thing is very subjective.
One man's passable lens is another's piece of garbage. Another problem with long Tele specifically is that modern tech has vastly improved lenses and upgraded expectations as well. You get what you pay for.
The worst problem, IMHO, concerning MF long lens use in the field is technique, not quality. There are many ancient 400/6.3's that work just fine as far as I'm concerned, and are even better at f/8. They also have the advantage of being extremely cheap and light, if rather long. Nailing focus on little birds with these things, however, is quite a skill.


Very true, there's also much debate about which lenses are hand holdable. I've known many photographers who claim I tripod is essential for all lenses over 300mm. I've had moderate results from my 400/6.3, but haven't tried it in good light & my skill at nailing focus needs improvement... It was fairly cheap but I wouldn't class it as light, it weighs more than my 600mm mirror.


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 7:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Right now, I'm using two older 400 mm lenses, Minolta MC Apo Rokkor and Sigma APO Tele Macro 400 mm f/5.6. While the former probably offers slightly better image quality, especially in terms of contrast and color rendering, the latter, which is a much more recent lens (20 years younger...) has decisive advantages for all non-stationary subjects (animals, sports, etc.) since it allows quick and smooth focusing up to 1 : 3 while the (slow) helicoid focusing of the Minolta lens only allows focusing down to 5 m. Since you already use a lens with very good correction of the secondary spectrum (CA), I wouldn't suggest any lens without low dispersion or fluorite elements - the Canon FD 400 mm f/4.5 or the different Soligor/Beroflex/Tokina 400 mm f/6.3 or f/5.6 variants would likely disappoint you. Among the still affordable lenses, I would choose the already mentioned Sigma, Nikkor 400 mm f/5.6 IF ED, or Canon EF 400 mm f/5.6 L USM.


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 8:43 am    Post subject: Re: Best Hand-Holdable Reasonably Bright 400mm Prime? Reply with quote

If you aren't exclusively using a tripod then internal/rear focusing is preferred. Maybe consider a fast 300mm with teleconverter.


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 9:00 am    Post subject: Re: Best Hand-Holdable Reasonably Bright 400mm Prime? Reply with quote

xaprb wrote:
I'd like a reasonably fast-ish 400mm, with good-to-great image quality for things like insects and birds, but I'd like one that's got nice focus action and isn't too big and heavy if possible. I'm not really excited about the idea of a zoom, I'd rather get a good prime. Cost isn't my first consideration but I'm not spending $3000 on this either. Maybe this lens doesn't exist for that price, I don't know!

........

I'm thinking maybe 400mm f/5.6... I assume anything faster will automatically be too big and heavy... I have shot quite a bit at 300mm and it's just not quite long enough for me a lot of the time.

Suggestions? Should I look at Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, Vivitar, Soligor? Canon, Nikon, Olympus, etc?


I had similar requirements and did some testing. However, for me the best compromise was to adapt my Minolta AF APO TELE 300/4 H.S. G in combination with the Minolta AF 1.4X TELE CONVERTER-II APO. This combination results in 420mm/F5.6 and delivers very good results, even wide open. The additional goodie is that I'm able to use it with my modified LA-EA4 ("Monster") adapter (mirrorless) on my A7R II with ALL AF-features of the camera.

Some examples (clickable for best quality) shot hand held:


#1


#2


#3


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 11:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

TBH the first question is how much do you want to spend? The main point of the vintage options is to get a good price/performance compromise. So the tokina (=vivitar, soligor etc) made 400-6.3's mentioned really can be considered to give excellent results for the cost, but the question still begs as to whether that's good enough for you, and whether you are ok with the practical limitations (slow, longish close focus distance, manual focus). If your mirrorless camera ( I guess you have a mirrorless since you are adapting the range of mounts) has a full function adapter to canon eos then a relatively more modern lens eg sigma x-500mm adapted is likely to be the best route to getting your desired good-iq-off-the-card results. IME vintage lenses are invariably prone to some fringing and need some PP work to pull out the best of them.
I would +1 the compact and much more modern compared to the tokinas etc sigma apo 400mm f5.6 (version 2) but for one thing: just about every example I have seen (several) has suffered from haze deterioration of a cemented doublet in the middle of the lens. This can be just a bit of speckling that barely affects iq, or in bad ones full on haze producing foggy images. And most of these lenses also have the Zen furry paint job that deteriorates over time to a sticky mush. However these faultsdo mean that you can take a chance on one and pick it up for very little. If the haze is minimal, and the Zen is cleaned off with a bit of meths on a rag, then you can be quids in. I would also add that with the short focus throw of the internal focus design it is very ticklish to nail critical focus.
Most of the OEM lenses (canon, minolta, pentax...) are a notch above eg the tokinas, but ?? enough to justify the price premium?? I am not sure.
One of the best 400mm vintage options is the tamron SP adaptall 400mm f4. This was a premium pro lens in its day, vying with the oem ones. However it is uncommon and pricey.
A more left field option is the novoflex 400mm f5.6, large, unwieldy with its idiosyncratic trigger focus system, but good iq, and lends to use on mirrorless cameras with quick and easy evf magnification to nail focus. See stevemark 's test pics here.

Addendum: one more option to consider - a 300mm f2.8 + teleconverter. The tamron adaptalls are the most readily available ones, one sold recently for £200, albeit with reported haze (item 284393014523). I have seen old worn nikons go cheap ($200-300). Nikon mount tokina recently sold on ebay (UK) for similar.


Last edited by marcusBMG on Sun Aug 15, 2021 1:47 pm; edited 3 times in total


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 12:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you all for your suggestions. To summarize so far, the older lenses can be a bargain but newer lenses will beat their image quality and almost any lens can benefit from post-processing. (The concerns about handling are noted: however I use a Fujifilm X-S10 with in-body image stabilization and have been able to handhold shots with up to 1000mm lenses if I have decent light, and regularly shoot with 400mm and 500mm mirror lenses handheld.)

I think I’ll do some research on the lenses you’ve suggested, and I might try a couple different combinations depending on what I find. I might try one of the older inferior ones if I find they’re cheap; why not? I might try a great 300mm with a teleconverter; the Nikon 300mm ED-IF is lovely and the one-finger focus action is magical for example. You didn’t specifically mention it but I have used it. Finally, I might look into a higher-quality more-modern 400mm.

Synopsis of lenses mentioned:


    * Novoflex 400/5.6
    * Tamron SP Adaptall 400/4
    * Sigma APO 400/5.6 v2
    * Minolta AF APO 300/4 plus APO TC-II
    * Minolta APO Rokkor 400
    * Canon EF 400/5.6 L USM
    * Nikon ED-IF 400/5.6
    * Tokina-made Soligor (et al) 400/6.3
    * Sigma x-500… can someone give more details about this? I see several possible matching lenses, not sure which is being referenced.


In addition to those, how do you feel about these which I’m bringing up for the first time?


    * Canon FD 300/4 L with TC?
    * Nikon 300/4.5 ED-IF with TC?


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 12:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

At the very least I would look for lenses which are a cut above the repackaged preset 'wundertutes' like the 500mm f8/400mm f6.3.

Now you've already used a Sigma 400mm 5.6 AF that you say you weren't happy with the CA, which means unless you got the non-APO model means you're probably going to have to get more modern than that to get decent wide open performance.

But- because it's an early AF lens it might not be the best for nailing manual focus, and therefore you might be getting more CA than you should be? Definitely worth considering.
My 'first gen' Vivitar 300mm f5.6, apart from the longitudinal CA, looks just fine when focus is nailed, some room for error but lateral CA will appear if misfocused.

Maybe worth experimenting with 'how close' to in-focus you can get with this AF lens? Might save you a buck or two if all you need is more accurate manual focus instead of whole other category of >=f4 lens.


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 2:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My Sigma 400 mm lens is not the APO version, and it has enough CA that images don’t look very clear even if there are no obviously contrasty edges with color fringing. I’m sure it is also a combination of other factors, not just CA, but when I inspect test shots, the CA is the most noticeable defect that I see.

The markings on the lens say “Sigma AF Tele 400mm 1:5.6 Multi-Coated”


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 3:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have had excellent results with the Canon nFD 400mm f/4.5 IF. Very sharp, compact, and relatively light, with a removable tripod mount. The following pic was shot wide open at f/4.5. Sometimes CAs are an issue with this lens, but I can usually remove them with the image editing software I use. I did not use the software to remove any CAs in this shot, however, and if you look real hard, you can see a bit of purple and green fringing. Negligible.



The Canon 400 IF can often be found on eBay for less than $300US.

Apart from a cheap 400mm f/6.3 preset (which actually produced decent pics), this is the only 400mm prime I've owned, and I have been very satisfied with its performance. I also feel that I must mention the Tamron 200-500mm f/5.6 zoom, which can certainly be used at its 400mm setting. It is a critically sharp zoom, rivalling primes in sharpness and contrast. Its biggest drawback, however, is weight. It is definitely what you'd call a heavyweight.


Last edited by cooltouch on Mon Aug 16, 2021 10:34 pm; edited 3 times in total


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 6:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

xaprb wrote:
Thank you all for your suggestions. To summarize so far, the older lenses can be a bargain but newer lenses will beat their image quality and almost any lens can benefit from post-processing.


I would suggest to answer the follwing questions:

1) Are lateral CA going to disturb me? (mainly on the outer parts of the image; easy to correct in PP)
2) Are longitudinal CAs going to disturb me ("purple fringing", visible also in the image center, not so easy to correct in PP)
3) Do I need excellent contrast and detail resolution in the image center when shooting wide open (f2.8, f4, f4.5, f5.6)
4) Do I need excellent contrast and detail resolution in the image corners when shooting wide open (f2.8, f4, f4.5, f5.6)
5) Do I need fast, easy focusing?
6) Which speed do I need? (2.8 ... f4 ... f5.6??)

Depending on your answers, I would suggest different lenses.



xaprb wrote:

I think I’ll do some research on the lenses you’ve suggested, and I might try a couple different combinations depending on what I find. I might try one of the older inferior ones if I find they’re cheap; why not? I might try a great 300mm with a teleconverter; the Nikon 300mm ED-IF is lovely and the one-finger focus action is magical for example.

Lots and lots of CAs, though ... !!


xaprb wrote:

Finally, I might look into a higher-quality more-modern 400mm.

That's something I certainly would recommend.

* Novoflex T-Noflexar 400/5.6: There are different versions, be aware!! I only know the latest version which has outstanding color correction (much less CAs than the Canon nFD 2.8/400mm L, let alone the "ordinary" 400mm lenses). Lots of field curvarture, though (not an issue for animals; for landscapes one must stop down to f11 for sharp corners) !!

* Canon nFD 2.8/400mm L: by far the sharpest vintage 400mm lens I know, especially in the green colors (landscapes!). Perfectly sharp corners at f2.8 using the 43 MP Sony A7RII. Strong lateral CAs (easy to correct due to the excellent correction of the monochromatic aberrations). Good contrast even at f2.8.
* Canon (n)FD 4.5/400mm: good resolution in the center, but lots of longitudinal CAs which are difficult to correct an can be quite disturbing when shooting animals (especially with fine hair or feathers - they are reddish in the foreground and greenish in the back!)
* Canon nFD 4.5/500mm L: No personal experience with this lens, but said to be more useful than the 2.8/400mm L which I own (lighter, less CAs)
* Canon EF 400/5.6 L USM: Excellent lens, perfect color correction, good contrast wide open. Highly recommended.

* Konica AR 4.5/400mm: Good center, rather good (but not excellent) corners. Heavy. CAs well controlled, but visible. Average contrast.

* Minolta APO Rokkor 400: All three copies of the MC/MD-II version I'm aware of have strange issues with astigmatism in the image center (!!). Stunning quality at f11, perfect color correction! I'm aware of a MD-III which is excellent. Be careful.
* Minolta AF APO 300/4 plus APO TC-II: OK but the MinAF 4.5/400mm APO would be the better solution!!
* Minolta AF 4.5/400mm APO G HS: very good lens; better color correction than Canon nFD 2.8/400mm L; reasonably fast and lightweight, better contrast than Tamron SP 4/400mm

* Nikon ED-IF 400/5.6: I don't know this lens. I know that my two "non-IF" ED Nikkors are excellent (2.8/180mm ED and 4.5/300mm ED), and that my IF-ED 4.5/300mm is vastly inferior to the "Non-IF" 4.5/300mm ED. In addition several IF-ED Nikkors such as the 3.5/400mm and the 2/200mm are so-so.

* Soligor (et al, Tokina made) 400/6.3: not recommended. good detail resolution in the center, rapidly dropping in the field and very bad in the corners. Low contrast. Very lightweight, though.

* Sigma APO 400/5.6 v2: I only have a "fogged" copy - quite sharp, but i can't really comment on that lens for obvious reasons
* Sigma APO AF 7.2/500mm: I have two copies, both are simply not sharp, even at f11 MUCH worse than the Canon nFD 2.8/400mm at f2.8!!

* Tamron SP Adaptall 400/4: good color correction, but low contrast at f4. Reasonably lightweight and reasonably fast


xaprb wrote:

In addition to those, how do you feel about these which I’m bringing up for the first time?


    * Canon FD 300/4 L with TC?
    * Nikon 300/4.5 ED-IF with TC?


Unlike my statements above which are based on personal experience, the following is just assumption. I know both the Canon nFD 4/300mm L as well as the Nikkor 300/4.5 ED-IF, but haven't used these lenses with the respective 1.4x tele converters. The Canon has a better color correction than the Nikkor - therefore it might be better when combining it with tele converters, too. But I'm not sure.

I hope this information is useful!

S


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 7:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I need to shoot the Nikon ED-IF 300mm f4.5 again. My memory is it had excellent sharpness, color, and control over CAs!


PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2021 8:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

EDIT: not a doublet, read below, comments on weight still apply though.



If the Novoflex Novoflexar 400mm f5.6 is something you're considering (iirc a fast achromat with some field curvature) then you might be better off with a modern, 400mm f5 telescope like an ST80.

Basically- the same type of lens, but in modern production, so modern glass and maybe better field curvature performance (with what little variables there are).

But it should be even lighter than that, as no need for a strong helicoid to move the glass + aperture mechanism is cap with hole on the front for f10. Rack and pinion moves camera on the back.


I think it's really worth considering if you're of the opinion "If I want an f/11 lens I'll buy one instead of lugging around a bigger one" - these are really just that light, and are going to be the same price as the Novoflex.


Last edited by eggplant on Mon Aug 16, 2021 7:40 pm; edited 3 times in total


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 1:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

xaprb wrote:
I need to shoot the Nikon ED-IF 300mm f4.5 again. My memory is it had excellent sharpness, color, and control over CAs!

Maybe it was the Nikon ED-"non-IF" 300mm f4.5?? That would fit!

http://forum.mflenses.com/tair-33-vs-nikkor-ed-if-4-5-300mm-vs-mamyia-sekor-5-6-300mm-t80908.html
http://forum.mflenses.com/pentax-m--4-300-ed-f--vs-45-300-if-ed-nikkor-45-300-if-ed-t81307.html



eggplant wrote:
If the Novoflex Novoflexar 400mm f5.6 is something you're considering (iirc a fast achromat with some field curvature) then you might be better off with a modern, 400mm f5 telescope like an ST80.

Basically- the same type of lens, but in modern production, so modern glass and maybe better field curvature performance (with what little variables there are).


I doubt it, even though I haven't used the telescope mentioned. The Novoflex is a triplet (not just an achromat [doublet]), and its color correction is pretty astonishing for an vintage lens:

http://forum.mflenses.com/canon-fd-4-5-400mm-vs-novoflex-5-6-400mm-t-t80838.html

Its lens head was designed and manufactured my Agfa at the former Staeble factory in Schongau, Germany. Mechanics were made by Novoflex. And its price was hefty back in the late 1990s ...


Last edited by stevemark on Mon Aug 16, 2021 11:44 pm; edited 1 time in total


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 7:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What about the Tokina AT-X 400mm f/5.6 AF SD lens? I assume that's perfectly usable with manual focus on an adapter; any opinions about it?


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 7:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[quote="stevemark"]
xaprb wrote:

eggplant wrote:
If the Novoflex Novoflexar 400mm f5.6 is something you're considering (iirc a fast achromat with some field curvature) then you might be better off with a modern, 400mm f5 telescope like an ST80.

Basically- the same type of lens, but in modern production, so modern glass and maybe better field curvature performance (with what little variables there are).


I doubt it, even though I haven't used the telescope mentioned. The Novoflex is a triplet (not just an achromat [doublet], and its color correction is pretty astonishing for an vintage lens:

http://forum.mflenses.com/canon-fd-4-5-400mm-vs-novoflex-5-6-400mm-t-t80838.html

Its lens head was designed and manufactured my Agfa at the former Staeble factory in Schongau, Germany. Mechanics were made by Novoflex. And its price was hefty back in the late 1990s ...


That's interesting- could've sworn it was a long focus doublet, a pure triplet seems uncommon but has appeared in some camera-brand lens manufacturers books.
Wonder if the other Novoflex lens heads are triplets, or doublets.


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 8:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Xaprb,

I don't think you will get a lot of insects above 200mm focal length, but how about a Canon 500mm FD lens for birds?

http://forum.mflenses.com/canon-lens-fd-500mm-14-5-l-t82228,highlight,%2Bcanon+%2B500mm.html


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 9:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Bigma might fit the bill. Of course it is a zoom and AF, but it has reach and still reasonably bright.


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 9:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The original Noflexar 40cm/400mm was a doublet. Later an improved version, T-Noflexar, that was a triplet, was introduced.


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 10:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maybe you have a look on the Leitz Telyt 400mm/F5 as well.

I've introduced it here: http://forum.mflenses.com/leitz-telyt-ii-400mm-f5-visoflex-m39-t79086.html

Sometimes it can be found for something like EUR 300,-. Most probably the best option for that price.

This posting includes also a comparison with the Minolta AF 300mm/F4 H.S. APO G plus TC 1.4X Minolta APO-II on my Sony A7R2.


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 11:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Something with a Photosniper-type mount.


PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 11:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

eggplant wrote:
stevemark wrote:

Its [i. e. Noflexar-T 5.6/400mm] lens head was designed and manufactured my Agfa at the former Staeble factory in Schongau, Germany. Mechanics were made by Novoflex. And its price was hefty back in the late 1990s ...


That's interesting- could've sworn it was a long focus doublet, a pure triplet seems uncommon but has appeared in some camera-brand lens manufacturers books.
Wonder if the other Novoflex lens heads are triplets, or doublets.


The Noflexars 5.6/400mm and 8/600mm are doublets (achromats), as are the Leitz 400mm and 560mm for the Novoflex "PiGriff". The T-Noflexar 5.6/400mm however is a triplet.

S