What Leica R ens for bird photography

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I am thinking of getting into bird watching and bird photography What kind of Leica telephoto lens is most useful for bird photography ? Is 280 mm APO-TELYT R/F4 enough ? 400mm ? 560mm ?

-- martin tai (cg081@torfree.net), July 14, 2001


Well, bird photography starts at 600. I have a 400, and it ain't close to enough in almost all situations, so i resign myself to shooting mammals. Actually, i would probably recommend, that if you are serious about bird photography that you seriously consider getting a Canon 600/4 IS and a 1.4X TC and a Canon EOS 1V body. Leica glass although I'm sure it is good (I haven't used it), has one huge limitation with this type of focal lengths - it doesn't have image stabalization, which is VERY useful for stabalizing a 840/f4 lens even though it is on a tripod... Then again, that is a huge financial outlay, including the tripod you are looking at 11k-12k, so you would have to be very serious (likewise any telephoto leica lens will hurt). Auto focus is also extremely useful in shooting small moving subjects. If you are less serious, but willing to pay 4500 for a 280/4 i would seriously consider a EOS 3 with a 300/2.8 IS with teleconverters... this gives you a 300/2.8, 420/4 and 600/5.6 all with autofocus... (at a cost of about 600 with TC's and the body) I know it ain't a leica, but Canon does know how to make big telephoto lenses very well (look at the big white lenses at the next sporting event you see on TV). A "cheap" alternative (the one i have) is to use a Canon body (I use the EOS 1V), but the EOS 3 would do well as well, with a 100-400/4.5-5.6 IS L, its small for the focal length and publishably sharp and IS really works well, i get tack sharp hand held shots at 400 at as slow as 1/125sec (with good technique)... that will set you back 1500 for the lens (new, i got mine used for 1100), and either 800 or 1500 for the body (I got my 1V HS used for 1300).

-- Matthew Geddert (geddert@yahoo.com), July 14, 2001.


I think that the suggestions are good if you are a city person going into the wilds to photograph birds.

Now I am not. I live with them and they are everywhere. A 135 mm is the longest that I use. For most of the smaller birds it is a 50 mm or shorter. I use the longer focal length for things like Osprey and Bald Eagles who are shy. Most other birds don't mind me. You can spend big bucks for long lenses or can learn to be trusted by the birds. Your choice. By the way, these are all birds in my backyard.


-- Art (AKarr90975@aol.com), July 14, 2001.

Check out what Doug Herr does with Leica gear..


-- Bud (budcook@attglobal.net), July 14, 2001.


I had about 20 wild turkeys walk through the backyard while I was typing this. All were hens. I am used to them in the winter. In the summer, it is amazing how small their heads are. Oh well, you notice these things when they are part of your world. Final note, I have two peregrines fighting over something in the back yard. Scared the hell out of the turkey flock.


-- Art (AKarr90975@aol.com), July 14, 2001.

My most-used lens for bird photography is the 400mm f/6.8 Telyt, a bargain among Leica lenses. Get one on eBay for much less than $1,000. Excellent sharpness, color rendition, bokeh... whether it's long enough depends a lot on you.

For some people 800mm isn't enough, while others use much shorter lenses. I've seen some outstanding work by a guy who used a 50mm lens with a 2x converter, hiding under an old army blanket. It's mostly a matter of learning your subjects' body language and behaving so that they will learn to trust you.

My review of the 400mm Telyt is at:


-- Doug Herr (telyt@earthlink.net), July 14, 2001.

Birds come in all sizes and temperaments. My hat's off to anyone who can get close enough to any bird unaccustomed to being fed my humans, with a 135mm lens, but most of us need really long glass and/or blinds (a car with window mount qualifies where a car can go) to do the trick. My hat's also off to Doug who uses the 400/6.8. I've got one (a Visoflex version with an R adaptor) and due to a wrist injury I can't work the focusing trombone with enough precision, plus with the 1.4x it's too slow for me to focus well, or use fast enough shutter speeds except with E200 pushed a stop. I've used it at a local NWR mounted on a Hexar RF with a Visoflex IIa (instant-return mirror)with Viso III prism, in AE...never fails to attract a crowd (of photographers). I tried out a 280/2.8 APO-Telyt (the discontinued version, not the modular one which is much heavier and has a huge handle on top that snags tree branches)with the 1.4x and 2xAPO (and both, stacked)but there was one thing I disliked about it that I didn't buy it: My technique is to use an Arca B2 ballhead with the pan and fore-aft tilt un-locked but with some drag tension, adjusting my horizon with the rotating collar. The Leica 280/2.8's collar locks at pre-set positions with a click-stop, making my technique difficult. So what do I use for birds? Normally a 300/2.8 AF-S Nikkor with TC14E and/or TC20E (they require a modification to stack them together)with an F5, mounted on a Gitzo 320 with the Arca B2 head. I also carry the 80-400/4-5.6VR on an F100 often with a Kenko 1.4xAF-PRO teleconverter, mainly for flying birds. I'm intrigued (maybe envious is a better word)with the Canon 300/2.8IS but I'm going to wait for Nikon to straggle along because I've got too much invested in Nikon gear to switch...at least not without selling a good chunk of my Leica gear, which ain't gonna happen!

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), July 14, 2001.

Oh heck! That was supposed to be "...fed *by* humans" not "fed my humans". For man-eating birds I'd want at least 1200mm ;>)

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), July 14, 2001.

Thanks everyone for the replies, and I love Doug's excellent bird photography, it telephoto my eyes ! 400 telyt /6.8 seems a good starting point, for standing still birds, I don;t think my reflex is fast enough to catch flying birds.

Later, I shall try to talk my wife into bird watching as hobby then I may lobby for a bigger gun

Pele Island in southern Ontario is an excellent place for bird photography and bird watching.

What kind of film to use ? Is EI 400 fast enough ?

Bird photography is a new world to me

-- martin tai (martin.tai@capcanada.com), July 15, 2001.

>>> Pele Island in southern Ontario is an excellent place for bird photography and bird watching.

What kind of film to use ? Is EI 400 fast enough ? <<<

It depends on the time of year. The first week of May is best for photography since the plants near the lake don't leaf out as soon as the areas farther inland. I found K64 was fine for most birds. Later in the spring, and certainly now, the leaf cover makes the forested areas very dark and I doubt 400 will be fast enough.

-- Doug Herr (telyt@earthlink.net), July 15, 2001.

Bird lovers, do you know that Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh is a bird photographer and wrote a book about birds in southern waters.

Birds in Southern Waters by Prince Philip

Prince Philip included about fifty bird photographs taken with a Hassy + 250mm lens and a Minox A camera.

-- martin tai (martin.tai@capcanada.com), July 15, 2001.

Jay, we do have man-eating birds here in Bavaria. (No, I didn't go into testing after the whiskey thread.) The mute swans and certain geese in the parks aren't shy at all and bite, and I had a hard time getting my 50mm out of a few beaks' reach yesterday. Naturally, one should use a Canadian-made lens for Branta canadensis.

For "normal" bird photography, Leica doesn't offer the best equipment. The modular system of the long tele lenses appears great, but who is actually using (let alone owning) several components of it? IMHO currently Canon offers the best gear for that area.

Art, I'd love to visit your backyard!

-- Oliver Schrinner (piraya@hispavista.com), July 16, 2001.

Speaking of the modular telephoto system, it seems to offer some flexiblily, and looks impressive. Any one using these modular ? These modular Leica lenses must be awefully pricy

-- martin tai (martin.tai@capcanada.com), July 16, 2001.

Doug, Leica often has many version of the same lens, is there any 1 verion, 2 version etc of 400mm f/6.8 Telyt, and what is the distintion ?

-- martin tai (martin.tai@capcanada.com), July 19, 2001.

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