>Q-1. So I guess I was wrong in thinking that the Nikon >website said that the D60 could not handle a teleconverter?
If you check the D60 Users Manual AF-S / AF-I Teleconverters when used with AF-S lenses are supported. The restriction is that the combination should have a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster. This is Nikons standard for All DSLR AF systems with the exception of the new D4 and D800/D800E that are rated to f/8. In good light, f/5.6 can be exceeded though as the ambient light level goes down, AF performance drops until it doesn't work. The TC-14E II adds 1 stop and the TC-17E II adds 1.5 stops this makes the 300mm f/4 w/TC-14 a 420mm f/5.6 lens and with TC-17 a 510mm f/6.8 lens. Note that AF performance is reduced when using TC's and the higher the Magnification the more the AF performance drops off. The same holds true for the ambient light level.
>Q-2. Any idea what the 14E and the 17E cost? And, can I use >these with the Sigma lenses, or would I need a Sigma >teleconverter?
The TC-14E II is $489.95 and the TC-17E II is $499.95. No! The Nikkor TC's will not even mount on the Sigma lenses. The Sigma TC's won't mount to those Sigma lenses either. The Sigma 120-400mm and 150-500mm are slow lenses to begin with at f/5.6 and f/6.3 maximum apertures to begin with and will not AF with a TC and Manual focus will be almost impossible as the veiwfinder will be very dark with a TC mounted to either lens.
>Q-3. I run all of my images through Photoshop Elements. If I >were to compare the final photographs from my Nikkor F4 to my >Sigma 4.5 or 5.0, what would I see in terms of graininess? >Would the Sigma have significantly more, just a tiny bit more, >etc.?
The Nikkor is razor sharp without a TC and probably sharper than either Sigma with the TC-14E II. The Sigma 150-500mm will be very close to if not slightly better than the 300mm f/4 w/TC-17E II at 500mm. At 300mm the Nikkor wins by a good margin.
>Q-4. If I won the lottery, bought a Nikkor F2.8 300 for >nearly $5,000, then compared its results with the Nikkor F4 >(and the Sigmas as well), on a comparative scale of 1 to 10, >how would you rate the overall results from each lens?
The big Nikkor primes are about the sharpest lenses made and the 300mm F/2.8 is one of the best of the best. (10) The 300mm f/4 is optically superb but it is not in the same class as the 300mm f/2.8. (7) The Sigma 150-500 advantage is the versatility of a zoom and OS (Optical Stabilization). (5). The same holds true for the 120-400mm. It is a recent lens and I have never tried one but I suspect it will perform similar to the 150-500mm.
>Q-5. If a dozen photographers, who all considered each other >as semi-professional, got together to consider using the >Nikkor F4 300, and the two Sigmas mentioned in your reply, >along with appropriate teleconverters, would they as a group >SERIOUSLY consider making these lenses their >"lenses" of choice for bird photography?
You will more than likely get 12 different opinions on the choice of best lens for birding. The one thing that All will agree on is that for shooting birds and BIF there is never enough focal length. Longer is always better. Each will have their own budget which is a huge factor when one considers the price point of the Super Telephotos. Given an unlimited budget most would buy a 600mm f/4 ($10,300.00) plus a set of TC's and a D800, D7000, D300, and or a D400 when it is introduced to get more pixels on the subject or a D4 or D3s for shooting in low light. Others would get the Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 for its versatility and excellent optics (even though the primes are optically superior). Those on a budget would buy a used super telephoto or the 300mm f/4 ED IF AF-S new or used. As the budget gets tighter, the Sigma's start to look better as they have the focal length with OS at a low price point.
>The reason >I ask is that I don't know that much about comparative lens >results. When I hang out in person or on the web with true >semi-professionals later this year, will my work that came out >of these three lenses have the possibility of measuring up >favorably to theirs?
I have seen excellent images captured with the kit 55-300mm and very poor images captured with a 600mm f/4. The Photographer is the key part of the equation. A good Photographer can get better images with lesser equipment than an average Photographer can get with the best equipment. Again, mastering Long Lens technique takes practice and more often than not Excellent Support (tripod w/ gimbal head), patience, and being in the right place at the right time. The longer the lens, the more important a quality tripod and head are. The 300mm f/4 can be shot hand held in good light. That can't be said about the Big Boys. While I have taken a few shots with my 400mm f/2.8 hand held, even Arnold in his prime would have difficulty shooting without a monopod or tripod for any length of time. Another question is how far will you be carrying your gear accross what type of terrain and how much weight are you willing to carry? The 300 f/2.8 is more than double the weight of the 300mm f/4. Both Sigma Zooms are a little more than a pound heavier as well.
> I don't want to spend less than $2,000 >if all that I can produce are amateur results. I've been a >landscape and butterfly photographer for twenty years, and >have, like anyone, picked up some skills along the way. This >lens will probably be the last major photographic purchase >that I make in my lifetime, being already 64. I'm hoping, >with your help and that of other Nikonians, that it will be >the right purchase.
I would recommend renting the lens before you purchase it . That way you will know if it fits your particular requirements and shooting style.
>Q-6. Given my age and all of the above, do you recommend my >buying new or used, and from whom?
Only you can answer that question. I have purchased both new and used gear over the years. I would recommend buying New gear from a Nikon Authorized Dealer, and Used Gear from well known reputable Dealers or from someone that you know and trust. The more expensive the item, the more important it is to trust the seller. For used gear, check: www.keh.com , www.adorama.com?kbid=912610 , www.bhphotovideo.com . Good Luck and Enjoy your Nikons!