Telephoto lens for photographing show horses

edited April 2012 Posted in » Nikon Lens Talk
Ok, I just put on my big boy pants and purchased my first DSLR Camera, the Nikon D3100 and so far it's been a blast. I do have a real stupid question when it comes to lenses...

Can you explain to me what the numbers mean and what I should look for in a nice telephoto zoom lens? For example, the 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6G and 55-200mm 1:4-5.6G.

My wife, son and I breed, train and show Paint and Quarter Horses and I finally have a great camera to take pictures of them. Sometimes in the show arenas, I can be pretty far away from the action and I think I need a much better telephoto zoom lens than the one that came with my camera kit, 55-200mm.

I know sky is the limit on pricing for telephoto zoom lenses, but I don't want to settle for something that might work, I would rather save up and buy a nice telephoto zoom lens once, even if it means I will need to save up for several months before I can get one. Any help and direction would be greatly appreciated.


  • Howdy @AZDESERTDOG - Well, welcome to the wonderful world of DSLR's. Let's dive right in...

    To answer your first question, the "numbers" are as follows...the number in front of the "mm" represents the focal length or zoom range. A lower "mm" will give you a wider field of view, while a larger "mm" will get you closer to distant subjects.

    As for the 1:3.5-5.6 and the 1:4-5.6 (also labeled f/3.5-5.6 and f/4-5.6), represents the maximum aperture range. This is the lowest "f-number" you can use at the lowest and highest "mm."

    For example, with your 18-55mm lens you can go down to f/3.5 when shooting towards the wide end of the lens (18mm) and f/5.6 when shooting towards the long end of the lens (55mm).

    Lower f-numbers, increase your low light ability by allowing more light into the camera. This gives you faster shutter speeds and a shallower depth of field. Faster shutter speeds freeze subject movement, while a shallower depth of field helps isolate subjects against blurry backgrounds.

    In regards to recommended zoom lenses for the types of subjects/scenes, you're interested in shooting, I would start with the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 (see here) or the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 (see here). The key ingredient with these lenses is the f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. While they won't get you closer to the action, they will produce much sharper shots with better color and clarity when shooting fast action indoors (arena).

    If you need something with longer reach, then take a look at the Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 (see here). You won't have the advantage of a brighter maximum aperture, but you will be able to zoom in much closer for better framing.

    Hope that all makes sense. Happy shooting! :)

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