Opteka 650-1300mm Telephoto Zoom Lens:
(April 23, 2011) The first thing I will say is that since the look and specifications appear exactly the same for the Opteka, Rokinon, and Phoenix lenses I am taking this to mean they are all the same lens under different brand names. This assumption may or may not be correct. The specific lens I have used and will be reporting on here is the Opteka version. I have been told by 47StPhoto.com that although the lenses have the same appearance, the Opteka has somewhat different optics and is made and calibrated in Opteka's own factory.
I just happened upon this lens while going through photo stuff on eBay - specifically high end telephoto lenses. When I saw the Rokinon there and the price, I just knew it had to be a piece of junk... but decided to check it out anyway. I did a lot of searching and reading of reviews for the Rokinon (the one I saw on eBay - didn't yet know Opteka and Phoenix had the lens) - mostly mixed and all from subjective sources (though all reviews are necessarily at least somewhat subjective). Given the 0. price range, I just had to try it out for myself. I will attempt to give a more objective review than any I have yet seen.
Quick conclusion and summary: The Opteka (and, presumably, the Rokinon and Phoenix), used properly, is a really good lens and if someone is on a budget, it will allow that shooter to get shots that were previously impossible and is a truly excellent value for the money. It's a little too light in weight, but, given the f-stop-range, it is very fast and, in bright light and set up properly, will get great shots that couldn't be surpassed unless you're willing to spend thousands of $$$ more. The two biggest improvements that could be made to this lens while keeping it at the same price point would be to have a longer tube for zooming so the 1300mm would be feasible rather than really having to stop at 1200mm, and some additional weight for stability - even some lead dead weight added - a pound or two - would make the lens much more useable. Read on to see why I came to my conclusion...
Weight: Most reviewers I found mentioned how heavy the lens was. That made it obvious these people had never used a piece of big glass. The Opteka weighs 4 pounds 4 ounces. Actually, a couple of more pounds would do it a world of good... more on that later. Compare this to a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 zoom lens at 3 pounds 4 ounces - 1 pound lighter and a max of 200mm - but f2.8. Then compare to a Sigma 120-300 f2.8 at about 7 pounds - add a 2X tele-converter to make it 600mm and you're pushing 8 pounds. So, no, the Opteka / Phoenix / Rokinon lens is NOT heavy; if anything, quite a bit too light for good stability.
First Impression: It is a nice looking lens, but looking a little closer and just picking it up conveys the feeling of CHEAP. But, then again, it is cheap at around 0. It comes with a carrying case that fits it EXACTLY. Even adding the necessary adapter to go from the T-Mount to a specific camera adapter (Canon, in my case) and putting an end cap on means it is way, way too big for the case. This is a major design flaw in the case because the case is absolutely useless; who will take the lens out and put the adapter on it every time they want to use it? And forget about it if you're going to have a quick-release plate on it for mounting/dismounting from the tripod. There would probably be no additional cost beyond design and setup to have a more viable case; or they could just leave the case out since it is useless and just pisses you off when you find that out!
About The Lens: The zoom is handled by sliding the lens apart - about like if you put two paper towel rollers one inside the other and slid them in and out to make the combined roller shorter or longer. There are incremental markings on the "tube" for the closed 650mm f8 position; 800mm f9.5; 900mm f11; 1000mm f12.3; 1100mm f13.5; 1200mm f14.7 and 1300mm f16 positions. In reality 1200mm is as far as it should be extended as the one tube is no longer inside the other by the time you hit 1300mm and there is a noticeable"sag" of the back part of the lens with the camera (see photos). There is also a locking knob to hold the lens at a given opening; it sort of works; it is difficult to loosen, but when tightened does hold the tubes in position to a degree.
The barrel also has an adjustable foot for mounting to a tripod - or, as in my case, a quick release shoe. A set screw on the side controls the position of the foot. Given the ease with which the rear part of the lens turns, though, it is easier to just turn it than to mess with the adjustment screw. Actually, if you're not very careful it will tend to turn every time any pressure is put on the camera. The front has a very nice, good quality lens hood and cap.Best NOT to extend the zoom to 1300mm (above) but to stay at a max of 1200mm (below)
Focus is strictly manual and easily accomplished with the focus ring on the barrel. It is nicely knurled and has a good feel to it; not too loose and not too tight; not too sensitive, but sensitive enough. That pretty well covers the lens. But, is it any good? That, of course, is pretty subjective. Even with rigorous laboratory testing, such as Popular Photography and Shutterbug do on lenses, there is still the subjective question of whether a lens is good enough for your purposes at a given price point. The price point on this lens is so low, that expectations must be, as well. I have neither the time nor equipment to give a "laboratory test" to the lens. However, I do want this to be more objective than I have seen elsewhere and the only way for me to do that is to shoot some pictures and compare with some other equipment.
Testing The Lens: For my tests I am using the Opteka 650-1300 f8 - f16 and comparing it against a Sigma 120-300 f2.8 with a sigma 2X tele-converter and a Kenko TelePlus Pro 3X tele-converter; that is to say, about 0. worth of lens against a roughly K lens and a Sigma tele-converter that, by itself, costs about the same as the Opteka lens!
Let's begin by saying that at these magnifications, it is next to impossible to shoot without a tripod. Yes, I can and frequently do use the Sigma @ 300mm with a 2X tele-converter (now 600mm) handheld to shoot birds when they are flying. I would make the argument that the lens may be more stable handheld and panning while shooting than trying to hold it still in one position. But testing these lenses means 600mm is only the starting point!
I will clarify that my Canon EOS 7D that I'm using for testing has an APS-C sensor meaning the lens magnification factor is 1.6 - and the numbers I've used so far are the actual focal lengths of the lenses. To put it in perspective temporarily, though, I'll be testing a 300mm Sigma with 2X tele-converter to make it a 600mm lens and also with a 3X tele-converter to make it a 900mm lens - translate that to 960 and 1440mm equivalent. For the Opteka I'll be shooting at 650, 900, and 1200mm - translate to 1040, 1440, and 1920mm equivalent.
To steady the lenses all tests are from a sturdy tripod and the target of the photos is the same. A quick glance through the view finder confirms how little it takes to shake the image all over the place! I was shooting on a windy day and had to change locations and get the best shelter I could. I used mirror lock up and a remote release. When I pushed the release to take the mirror up, I delayed so the camera could steady again before pushing the remote again for the photo capture. Another mention about lens weight: The Opteka at 4 pounds is just a bit too light; the Sigma with tele-converter at nearly 8 pounds really stays a lot more stable in the wind - so anyone who thinks the lens is "heavy" won't think so if they get in a little wind with it!
First Test: Long Range - 3 Miles:
The Opteka was shot at 650mm f8, 900mm f11, and 1200mm f14.7; the aperture is fixed so there is no choice here. The Sigma was shot at 600mm (300 lens + 2X tele-converter) f8 and 900mm (300 lens + 3X tele-converter) f11 and f16. There was no reasonable way to get to 1200mm with the Sigma. I was shooting from one side, across Toledo Bend Lake to the other side - a distance measured at 3+ miles. Photos were shot at ISO 200. Shots were taken at what my light meter in the camera said was -1Ev, 0, +1Ev and the best shot selected. Photos had noise reduction performed, levels set, and contrast punched just a bit. Some are a bit darker or lighter than others as I chose the best photo from the various groups regardless whether it was a bit lighter or darker. You will note some distortion, probably from heat convection, in all photos as it was about 90 degrees and a bright, sunny, beautiful April day on Toledo Bend Lake! For each shot there is a full size picture (reduced in size) and an out-take that is actual size at 100% in order to see the detail.
My Conclusion: Slight edge Sigma with tele-converters for better color and slightly better resolution. At 900mm the Sigma did better at f16 than f11 - noticeably so. On the other hand, surprisingly, the Opteka was significantly faster than the Sigma (at 900mm) - meaning a shot where anything is moving will work a lot better with the Opteka. And, of course, the Opteka will go to 1200mm (technically 1300, but it might fall apart then) and the Sigma with a 3X tele-converter is past its comfortable limits - though it still works well enough if used judiciously. I'll keep the cheapie Opteka for when I need a long range shot - at that price for 900-1200mm you can't go wrong! A little more post processing and the color will get fixed with the Opteka, too.
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