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Old Wednesday 20th February 2008, 18:02   #1
Dave Williams
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200-400 AF-S VR vs 500 AF-S II

I have narrowed my choice of next lens down to these two. Both reasonably portable but need a tripod most of the time so less use for VR. However, on occasion the 200-400 might just be hand held for quick grab shots.
Reach is a definite major deciding factor, which leans towards the 500mm but there are a few occasions when a zoom back to a shorter length can be needed, particularly if a TC is attached.
Does anyone own both these lenses, and if so which one would you ditch if you had to.
Does anyone own just one of them and do you have a lens you wish you had instead ?
I am also interested in which TC's work well with either lens to give maximum reach without too much loss of image quality. Both are f4 but does the zoom suffer more than the prime ?
This may be my final purchase considering the cost so I need to get it right !
Incidentally, the new VR lenses are beyond what I want to pay, but the AF-S II models are now selling at reduced prices.
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Old Thursday 21st February 2008, 19:44   #2
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Very tough choice. Have seen superb examples with both lenses, with and without converters.
I did at one time consider the 200-400, but the fact that it was nearly as big and as heavy as the 500 put me off. The vr and the close focus was a point in its favour, but I eventually decided to get the 300 f2.8vr plus TC17 for general wildlife imaging and keep my old manual 500 f4P where I needed reach-hope to replace it eventually with a 600vr (just need a lottery win first).
Tests have shown that the 200-400 is without doubt one of the best zoom lenses ever, with results that are virtually indistinguishable from equivalent primes. It works extremely well with the TC14, and the TC17 is pretty good too, but with both converters there is a definite loss of image quality compared to a prime-not much and maybe not enough to bother you. If your interests include butterflies and general wildlife, then the versatility, hand hold ability and close focus of this lens are important considerations. Wont quite have the reach for smaller birds though, even with a converter.
If you are looking specifically at a birding lens, I think the majority will say that the longer the lens the better. If that is the case you should go for the 500 and if you need a converter go for the TC17-the TC20 may give a slightly larger image but there is a marked loss in quality.
I would go for the 500mm myself, but I would always want to have a shorter lens available for more general work-I sometimes carry a 70-300 f5.6. Very light, small enough for a (largish) pocket. You may want to consider that.
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Old Thursday 21st February 2008, 21:20   #3
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I've got a 200-400 and have been using it when I can for the past few months on a D200. I bought it solely as a lens for wildlife and can say that it's a remarkable piece of glass. Yes you always yearn for more length and all lenses will never be enough some of the time but for versatility and practicality it suits me down to the ground. I generally use mine with a 1.4 TC bolted on.

I'm still very much learning the art of photography and as such I mostly hand hold. I am only 5'8" and not a gym addict so I'm not super strong but I still get a good percentage of keepers from my sorties into the outside world. I sometimes use a monopod and will eventually get round to getting a decent tripod and head on which to use it properly. The VR is impressive and the close focus is awesome on a lens of this focal length. The feature to turn the close focus off is great too and makes "focus hunting" time for shots to infinity even more impressive.

I used to have a Sigma 120-300 f2.8 which was a great lens but the Nikkor glass is in a different league.

Ultimately, the lens decision is down to what you feel you will use it for the most. I do miss out a little on small birds at range but that's countered by if I see something at close range, I can quickly zoom back and get a nice picture which I might have missed with a bigger lens.

Whichever you chose, make it a Nikon lens and you won't be disappointed!

(BTW some pics with the Nikkor on my site, have a look at Nuthatch, Blue Tit, Sanderling & Grey Heron for a few recent examples)
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Old Thursday 21st February 2008, 22:25   #4
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Thanks for your contributions guys.
Anyone else ? this is an "ask the audience" situation !
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Old Friday 22nd February 2008, 09:58   #5
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Thanks for your contributions guys.
Anyone else ? this is an "ask the audience" situation !
Rioja,


Not easy, I think you have to decide what type of photography you are going to aim for.

1) Mainly static set up on tripod
2) On the move location the subject image.

I agree with Phil on the 300mm F2.8, whether you feel strong enough to carry the 500mm plus tripod around all day is only a question you can answer.

The 200-400mm is still a weight, but it does have the VR.

If it were me, I would wait until I could afford the VR 500mm and stay by this lens updating the camera when Nikon models are introduced.
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Old Friday 22nd February 2008, 15:02   #6
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Pe'regrin, thanks for your comments
I can't imagine wanting to go walkabout all day with the 500mm but I would want to think I could happily walk ,say a mile, to wherever I decided to set up my tripod. I also feel that most shots would be from the tripod too. Consequently do I need the VR ?
In retrospect the 200-400 is virtually the same weight so the same rules apply. in both cases I think I would be OK, not just now but at least for another 10 years. The 600mm on the other hand is just too much weight to carry far especially as extra weight will be needed in tripod and head.
I think I am starting to be swayed the 500 mm route as well. I think it would be a disaster to spend all that money and still feel there was so much more distance I could have had. Most of my photography is birding and that is the primary reason for wanting the lens. Nearly all my photo's are taken at full zoom on my 80-400mm so that has to tell me something. I have taken some soccer action too and was amazed that 400 was far too much for a lot of the time. It surprises me when I see all the big camera lenses at pro matches. They must be taking individual rather than player action.
So a 500mm is my decision I think !
The question now is where and when to buy !
Warehouse Express currently quote £4748 for the AF-S II, £5499 for the VR. When you see the figure in black and white it's mind numbing really. The figures are so big you immediately think the price is so close I might as well buy the VR. It's only when you think about it the difference is a big £750. This is the point when you think the 200-400 has VR and at £3700 is a massive £1800 cheaper.
Draw breath at the enormity of what your contemplating and think " There must be a cheaper way " !!!!!!!!!!!!
The 500mm VR is $7000 in NY. I'm not sure what the local tax is but it still can't be anywhere near the price it is here. You can have a holiday in the States and still walk away with a £1000. That would keep my other half happy too but not the Customs duty people if I forgot to tell them.
In Hong Kong they are advertising the AF-S model for just under £3500 on ebay and they "guarantee no tax " I'm not sure how they do this, they tell you to pass any enquiries or demands you might receive to them. Um, not sure about that. Having purchased from Hong Kong three times now, I must admit I trust them. The first two purchases tested the water and , with a value of less than £50, I had no problems. The next purchase was a small lens. It arrived very promptly and was £60 cheaper than buying in the UK. A few weeks later I received the tax demand issued by Fedex who are appointed tax collectors. They know the value of the packages because they know whats in them. The additional duty on £3500 is about £700 I believe. The lens is now £4200 and at that price is it worth risking warranty issues or anything else for that matter.
Then there's the second hand market. Cheaper but no guarantee whatsoever. Who knows what the reason for selling is. No chance of VR for some time to come and we are still talking mega bucks.
Decisions, decisions.
One seemingly obvious alternative is to buy another brand.I could have a Canon 500mm with IS and have enough change from the Nikon 500 to buy a Canon 40D to go with it. That would solve the zoom problem. Two cameras, two lenses. Unfortunately, I also want the D300 at some stage too.
Carry on mulling it over. I should have taken up another hobby.
No damn it, this one's brilliant !

Last edited by Dave Williams : Friday 22nd February 2008 at 15:05.
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Old Friday 22nd February 2008, 15:30   #7
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So a 500mm is my decision I think !
Are you sure about that?


This is the 200-400VR + TC14E taken 1/2 hour ago.. It's snowing and the light is awful. Now if a Blue Jay had landed on the perch I would have been able to zoom out to accommodate him in the frame! Cant do that with a fixed focal length.

Yuck! The original looks much better.
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Old Friday 22nd February 2008, 15:35   #8
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Have seen these ads on E Bay for Hong Kong dealers and thought they sounded a bit dodgy, but the fact that you have had some positive experiences with them suggests it may be worth going that route.
Have never tried importing from the States, but a friend purchased a rather large astronomical telescope a few years back and the price difference, even with vat and duty made it worth while-he got a free week for him and his wife, plus car rental (now thats a hobby to avoid, the choice of equipment available now is mind boggling and so are the some of the prices).
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Old Friday 22nd February 2008, 16:10   #9
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Are you sure about that?

No,........ and it's your fault !!!!!!!!!!!!


Very nice shot.


As they say , I used to be decisive but now I'm not sure.
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Old Sunday 24th February 2008, 10:16   #10
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Rioja,


I think the big problem is the fact that Nikon don’t have a new 400mm F4 with or without VR. The older versions are like gold dust and with the D3 coming out the second –hand prices of these lenses have gone up. The F2.8 400mm are just way over-priced for the average bloke.

If your investment in Nikon weren’t too deep, then changing to Canon would make sense to me. (And A BIG NO, before anybody writes back stating Canon are better, this is purely a financial decision).

I have the 600mm and 300mm and I enjoy these lenses, I’m a million miles away (and accelerating) from being a ‘Nigel Blake’, but I love being out and about in the countryside. I find it quite relaxing and therapeutic and if I don’t get any images then I don’t worry.

As everybody has written, the only choice that matters is yours.
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Old Sunday 24th February 2008, 11:05   #11
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Pe'rigrin, The switch to Canon certainly makes financial sense but I must admit, I feel very comfortable with my D200 and from the reviews, I really want a D300 next.
I have now started thinking down another route. Having read very positive comments in quite a few forums, what about a 300mm f2.8 VR ? It hadn't previously crossed my mind to look at lenses with less reach ! This lens is apparently razor sharp and can accommodate a 1.7 TC giving me 20% more reach than I have currently with my 80-400 but still at f4.8( or thereabouts). It weighs 2.8 kg so although fairly heavy it is hand holdable, and although I would need another tripod head for the extra weight, my newly acquired Manfrotto 055 would be fine.
Reading opinions, many lean towards this lens rather than the 200-400 zoom.
Looking through my "Best of " photo file, virtually every one is taken at full 400mm zoom on my current lens. Reach is definitely a problem but on the other hand so is light. Not only is our British weather a problem but there have been many occasions when I have seen my target bird but been unable to get a decent picture as they are in heavily shaded bushes and such like. It's certainly a thought.
The other consideration too is that this lens, at 300mm has probably more all round use than a 500mm although, in reality, it is the bird photography that is driving me.
Finally, the most important consideration of all is cost. At £1000 less than the 200-400, there is enough change to buy a TC and a trade in on my D200 to a D300.
Now that is food for thought !!!!!!

Last edited by Dave Williams : Sunday 24th February 2008 at 11:10.
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Old Sunday 24th February 2008, 17:59   #12
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Rioja, your last post on this thread reflects my thinking exactly.
On Friday, I came to the same conclusion regarding the 300 F2.8 Nikkor with TC, plus an upgrade to the D300. I am a small female and it was difficult accepting the fact that I could not treck very far with the Nikkor 500mm F/4. I have been saving up for the Nikkor 500mm and was just about ready to make the purchase when the reality of the weight of the lens + tripod really sunk in to my dense brain. I received a couple of responses to my Friday 2/22 post which you may want to look at. I have ordered the D300 and will first try it on my 300 F4 with my TC and report my results on your thread. If I don't have adequate focus speed and image quality, I plan to give my 300 F4 to my husband and purchase the 300 F2.8. Hopefully, the D300 will arrive this week.
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Old Monday 25th February 2008, 13:24   #13
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Finally, the most important consideration of all is cost.
Yep! that makes a lot of sense to me, you won’t be disappointed with the F2.8mm, 300mm, and a 1.7 converter.

If finances improve, I would keep the D200 and have a two-camera scenario, with maybe a macro on the D200 for insects and flowers.

You’re bound to get in a situation where you wished you had more reach from a 400 or 500mm, but, your right to fix a cut-off point for the budget and stick by it.

The F2.8mm is a classy lens, on a D300 that’s a very nice combination.
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Old Tuesday 26th February 2008, 19:35   #14
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Interesting thread but I lent a pro friend of mine my 1.7 to try on his new 300/2.8vr and a D3 for a soccer match he was attending for the agency AP. His comments after didn't want to make him rush out and buy a 1.7, for the soccer matches he regularly uses a 1.4 and gives it a big thumbs up, this wasn't the case with the 1.7, his response was gonna have to buy a 400/2.8 next and stick to my 1.4. Okay is a little different taking action shots under artificial lighting but he was convinced that the superb noise on higher isos on his D3 would allow him to maintain the shutter speed, this was achieved but he thinks his results are a little too soft for the agency to accept.
Don't shoot the messenger, I do not have a D3 or a 300/2.8 but it was nice to see them in action.
What a nice friend, he has offered me the use of his D3 on a day of my choosing as long as its not a weekend...... as Indiana Jones once did "I need to choose wisely"
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Old Wednesday 27th February 2008, 17:39   #15
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Well, all being well my 300mm will arrive in the morning. I need to decide on a TC, eventually I want all three because you can use them on other lenses too ! The first will be a 1.7 as quite a few people have assured me the performance should be very good, and having spent a considerable sum , I would like to see the benefit of a little bit of extra reach !
What I need now is a new tripod head as the 222 which I have had for only 6 weeks won't carry the required 4kg. It's a pity because it's a superb tool to work with. I shall post a query for suggestions in the tripod forum !
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Old Thursday 28th February 2008, 21:56   #16
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I have used the 200-400 and it is a fine lens. But I opted for the 500 F4 AFSII for the reach. It is amazing even with a 1.4TC. Either of the two are too heavy for me to hand hold.
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Old Sunday 2nd March 2008, 20:56   #17
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Dave, here's a thought...

my Sigma 300-800 which you have seen is far to big to hand hold, so I have bought a Sigma 120-300 F2.8 and a 1.4 convertor, and also a 2x convertor, all this fits in a reasonable sized bag but most importantly is hand holdable in any combination, combine this with a D300 and its a winner :-)

120 through to 600mm, and all pin sharp :-)

life is never that simple huh ?
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Old Sunday 2nd March 2008, 20:57   #18
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doh, should have read all the way to the bottom !
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Old Sunday 2nd March 2008, 21:34   #19
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Hi Steve,
Thanks for the suggestion. Have a look under NWBF photography for the results of my 300. One outing and I'm really pleased. I have a 1.7TC on order so that gives me a 500mm as well for the time being.
My next problem is the tripod head. I have now seen a Manfrotto 393 and it's an excellent piece of kit at 20% of the cost of a Wimberley. I think it's OTT for my 300 though.
let me know if you are heading this way,
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Old Saturday 8th March 2008, 00:06   #20
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"My next problem is the tripod head. I have now seen a Manfrotto 393 and it's an excellent piece of kit at 20% of the cost of a Wimberley. I think it's OTT for my 300 though."

Dave,
I'm using the Manfrotto 501 Video head on two of my tripods and it's great. Even with the D3 plus 300/2.8 and 1.4x tele it's rock solid. The best value for money head I've got.
http://www.manfrotto.com/Jahia/site/.../13166/lang/en

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Old Saturday 8th March 2008, 00:30   #21
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I'm looking to get a good tripod and head for my 200-400 used with a D200. I'm currently handholding or using a monopod.

Any other suggestions out there? Portability and a quick setup time are a major factor for me.
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Old Saturday 8th March 2008, 14:00   #22
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"My next problem is the tripod head. I have now seen a Manfrotto 393 and it's an excellent piece of kit at 20% of the cost of a Wimberley. I think it's OTT for my 300 though."

Dave,
I'm using the Manfrotto 501 Video head on two of my tripods and it's great. Even with the D3 plus 300/2.8 and 1.4x tele it's rock solid. The best value for money head I've got.
http://www.manfrotto.com/Jahia/site/.../13166/lang/en

Neil.

Thanks for the suggestion Neil. Do you feel comfortable walking around with the lens and body attached ? The single screw doesn't seem to offer too much security.
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Old Saturday 8th March 2008, 14:14   #23
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Thanks for the suggestion Neil. Do you feel comfortable walking around with the lens and body attached ? The single screw doesn't seem to offer too much security.
I don't walk around with it over my shoulder. I use the 300/2.8 when I'm going to a fixed location near transport as I don't like carrying it around all day. If I'm going to walk around then I take the 300/4 and carry it in my hand so I can get quick grab shots. I have the same plate on both lens, my scope and my video camera so I can switch them about quickly. Neil.
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Old Saturday 8th March 2008, 17:43   #24
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I have both the 200-400 and the 500/4 AFS II. I use them according to the nature of the session I'm going to shoot. The 200-400 is for short range shooting - as it doesn't like TCs too much. I use it sometimes with the TC-14E.
The 500mm is for long range work, when I know I will not be able to get close enough. It works fine with the TC-17E. Very rarely I use it with the TC-20E.
For extremely long range photography, I use the Nikon 1000/11 reflex lens or the Swaro 80HD with the DSLR adapter.
I use a Wimberley head and a Gitzo 1348 tripod in all cases.
With the D3 - telephoto shooting is a charm (though the crop factor is lost.) A couple of weeks ago I 've lifted the D3 with the 1000mm mounted on it, pushed up the ISO setting to 2000-3200 and took a few shots hand held. After a short while my arms told me to put it back down on the tripod...but the shots were crystal clear.
What high ISO enables to do...
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