Focal length of 500mm, is like a sweet spot for most wildlife, more specifically, bird photographers. With APS-C sensor cameras ( DX in Nikon, EF-S in Canon ), considering the cropping/magnification factor ( 1.5 in Nikon and 1.6 in Canon ), one has a few options. The 300f/4, coupled with a 1.4 teleconverter, the telephoto zoom lenses like the 100-400 from Canon and the 80-400 from Nikon, the awesome 400 f/5.6 from Canon , are a few. However, looking at the current pricing of these lenses, apart from the slightly older lenses, like the Canon 400 f/5.6 and the Nikon 300 f/4 ( older version without the VR ), none, among the rest, is really a cost effective way of reaching that 500mm mark. For FF ( Full Frame ) sensor cameras, though, the options are fewer still.
This is where, the lenses from other brands like Sigma and Tamron play a big role. Their latest, updated, offerings like the Tamron 150-600 and the Sigma 150-600 are awesome pieces of glass, getting rave reviews from its users. But, Nikon’s own lineup, was surely lacking in this regard. Thus, the announcement and the further release of the Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 was a very welcome news. It’s pricing is great and so are its specs. This probably has been one of the much awaited lenses in the Nikon world.
Image Copyright: Nikon USA : http://www.nikonusa.com
Ever since the release of this lens, I have been wanting to try it out!, basically was waiting for it to be available in the rental circles. First opportunity arose, when we at Birdwing, went on a tour to Thattekad/Munnar. This is my first review of sorts, of any kind of camera gear, So, it might not go by a template per se. This will be more like a field test report about my experiences of using this lens for a few days. Might turn out to be a longish post, please bear with me.
Thattekad, if you know the place, is great for birding, however, not very conducive for bird photography. With the birds moving about, either in the thick bushes lower down, or high up in the canopies of the tall trees, photographing them in a decent enough setting, is a challenge. The Nikon 200-500 was put to a tough enough test, I believe :-)
Technical specs of the lens, you can read them here.
This lens is not light, by any standards. It weighs around 2.3 kg and sits in between the Tamron, which is 1.95 kg and Sigma at 2.86 kg ( all these are with tripod collar ). A tripod or a monopod is a better bet, if one is going to be hauling this along for a long time. During this field test, I used it, on and off, with a Manfrotto 681B monopod and the Manfrotto 486RC2 ball head. The thing I felt was that, since this lens extends while zooming, at its full zoom, it becomes a bit front heavy. So, a monopod may not work very well. If proper stability is needed, better to go with a tripod. The tripod collar is sturdy and I didn’t notice any kind of a play, when hoisted on the monopod. It is definitely hand-holdable, but not for long.
Focusing is very silent and pretty quick across the entire zoom range. Being a constant aperture through the zoom, helps here, as it doesn’t lose any stop of light going from 200mm to 500mm. This is really awesome. Wouldn’t say that it is very fast, as I am used to a 300 f/4 , which is a very fast lens, even with a 1.4 TC. Yes, not a fair comparison, with this being a long zoom. But, still had to say. With light being low, this lens does slow down a bit in grabbing the focus of something like these fast moving birds, but nothing really bad enough to start complaining about. I didn’t try the focus limiter option though, might have made some difference, don’t know.
It was misty, with a light drizzle at Munnar. This Nilgiri Tahr, came into view, moving across the cliff, quite a distance away and the lens was able to hold focus quite effectively all through, the mist and the rain drops, not withstanding. It did a good job with respect to focus tracking, but at times felt that it could have been better. I felt a bit of a lag, ( especially in AF-S, Continuous focus ) in recapturing the focus as the subject keeps moving. Not quick enough. So, not sure if this will be an ideal lens for birds in flight and such fast action photography in wildlife. Though, I need to do more tests in better lighting conditions to come to a conclusion on this.
There are no focus breathing issues though, or I didn’t come across any. The 80-400 that I have used, is replete with this issue, hunting badly at times for attaining focus. One thing is certain that, to get the best out of this lens, one needs perfect support and stability. Not a lens to be taken very lightly :)
A lens that is a dud in this department is of no use, even with the other things being in perfect order. This lens is no dud, whatsoever. Great sharpness and contrast all through the zoom range, with wonderful colour rendition. It’s all there to see.
Lovely contrast and colour. A big plus here ! ( Very basic PP done on these images, with some noise reduction applied )
With a minimum focussing distance of around 7 ft, this probably is not a great close up lens, when compared to the likes of 300 f/4 ( 4 ft ) and the 80-400 ( 5.74 ft ). However, it can still hold its own, for those occasional butterflies, large spiders, flowers and some cooperative bugs.
This is very, very effective. The latest generation VR in this lens claims to provide around 4 stops of image stabilisation. It indeed works. I was able to manage sharp images, handheld, at some unbelievable shutter speeds of 1/15 s and 1/20 s with the focal lengths at 200mm and 450 mm respectively. That is almost like 4-5 stops. VR works very well across the zoom range. Truly awesome..!
Not really cons, but just to be nitpicking, will mention a few points. This lens is not a low-light monster. It is not meant to be that, anyway. A bit on the heavier side, needing to be coupled with a monopod or a tripod, most often. Slight bit of lag that I noticed, while focus tracking. This in all probability, could be attributed to the low light situation I was in, most of the time. Should be far more effective in better light conditions.
More than being a cost effective way to reach the 500mm mark, this lens provides a fantastic focal length range, creating great compositional opportunities. With a constant aperture of f/5.6 across the range, one can be assured of getting good shutter speeds, be it at 200mm or at 500mm. Fast, silent focusing, great contrast, colour rendition and bokeh, along with a very, very effective VR, and above all, a great price, make this lens a fantastic buy!!