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Canon 400 f/5.6L or Nikon (!) 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR (1 Viewer)

Rapala

Well-known member
Hello all,
I am looking to upgrade my camera and lens from my current Canon 650D (T4i) and Sigma 100-300 f/4. I have been relatively happy with this combo but there are aspects of it that I would like to improve.
My issues with this combo include:
Sharpness is not great
AF tends to hunt and has difficulty tracking birds.
Buffer on T4i fills quickly when shooting RAW
Poor mid/high ISO performance

I have considered my options and have narrowed my search to two lenses, the Canon 400 f/5.6L and the Nikon 200-500 f/5.6. Not too often do people consider swapping systems entirely and I have found it difficult comparing these two lenses. Both of these lenses seem to be very popular and perform very well. Obviously, the Nikon lens would require jumping ship and switching over to a Nikon body. Here are some of my thoughts and feel free to add your own.

Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 ED VR
Pros:
More reach (500mm)
Image Stabilization (VR)
Close-focus of 7.2 feet
New technology (2015)
Flexibility of a zoom
Very good IQ and sharpness

Cons:
More expensive (~$1200 used)
Big and heavy (~5lb)- Perhaps requiring support?
Switching to Nikon body

Canon 400 f/5.6L
Pros:
Cheap (~$800 used)
Lightweight and certainly handholdable (~2.75lb)
Very good IQ and sharpness
Fast focussing

Cons:
Close-focus of 11ft
Less reach than Nikon
Older technology (1993)

I would almost certainly go for the Nikon if it did not weigh 5lbs. My Sigma 100-300 f/4 weighs 3.5lb and that is not lightweight after long periods of handheld shooting. My major concern is the handholdability of this lens, even with VR. Is it difficult to manage or is it easy to get used to? I do much of my shooting handheld while walking, and a tripod would not suit this shooting style. Is it even possible to handhold this lens while birding and walking? Just another concern, $1200 is near the limit of my lens upgrade budget and I know that a quality tripod/head can quickly get pricey and push that price higher.

My main concern with the Canon is the close-focus distance. It can be fairly easy for birds to approach closer than ten feet and it is frustrating when I simply cannot focus on a bird. Should the close-focus distance be of concern to me or do those of you with experience with this lens not find it a drawback? Is an additional 100m and 7ft MFD worth an extra $400?

Both of these lenses have a maximum aperture of 5.6, which is a drawback to me since bright and sunny days are somewhat uncommon where I live. This is where ISO performance comes into play, but I'll get to that with camera bodies once I decide on a lens.

In conclusion, feel free to share any photos and experience with these lenses as I would greatly appreciate your input. I have also included this thread in the Nikon forum to get opinions from both sides of the photography community. Thank you for your thoughts and for taking the time to read this thread. Or for skimming it at the least ;).
 
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HermitIbis

Well-known member
So you are unsure which path you should take:
- a 400mm prime which is best to insulate a bird against a pleasing background ("bokeh"), or a zoom (flexibility)
- Canon or Nikon
- short focusing distance, weight, price... and not to forget ISO!

Why do you not consider "mirrorless" cameras as another option and post your question in those threads, too? ;)
Many of those offer silent shooting, electronic shutter (as opposed to DSLR shutters that break after 130,000 photos or so).

At the end the key question is what is most important to you. Which kind of photos do you want to take that are totally different from your present practice? I have been where you stand now (Canon 650D, a 300mm zoom and a 1.5x teleconverter), bought a cheap 400mm prime (the Sigma APO macro) to see whether it made a huge difference (not really, it is great in some respects, frustrating in others). Finally I decided that in 2016 my priority would be "birds in flight". So I bought a Nikon V2 and the 70-300CX lens. I've posted about my experiences in the Nikon section.

Lens + V2 cost about Euro 800 (used), it's 810mm (equivalent), weight below 1kg. [There is an option to use the Nikon 200-500 lens (with the FT-1 adapter), an equivalent of 1350mm.] You'll get silence, reduced weight, fast autofocus at 15, 30 or 60 fps, a buffer of 40 photos (RAW) vs the 6 photos with the 650D. Occasionally I still use my Canon DSLR, because the results with the 400mm prime are ... different, and yes, they are pleasing. But on most days I use the Nikon V2.
 
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johnf3f

johnf3f
I do not have any field experience of the Nikon 200-500 but I read that it is a pretty/very good lens for the money. I did have a play with one at a show and thought it was quite small and light for it's specification.

The Canon 400 F5.6 L is smaller, lighter and (apparently) has faster AF. I wouldn't worry too much about the long MFD, my long lens has an MFD of 6 meters and it isn't a problem very often - when it might be I just use cheap extension tubes.

Another lens to consider (with either Canon or Nikon) is the Sigma 150-600 Sports. Yes it is big and heavy but I have tried a couple and have rather liked the results.

A lot depends on your budget and which cameras that you are looking to upgrade to.

Happy deciding!
 

Rapala

Well-known member
Thank you both;
HermitIbis, I'll consider mirrorless but I will most likely stay with a DSLR. I want to get a longer lens that produces sharper photos than my current setup. I would also like to invest in a camera with better noise performance, but again, I'll get to that once I decide on a system.

John, I am leaning towards the Canon 400 f/5.6L mainly for its portability and weight. In this regard, The Sigma 150-600 Sport is heavier yet than both of these lenses and out of my price range. I'm afraid these long zooms may just be too much to handle during long periods of shooting. For that reason I am leaning towards the 400 f/5.6L since I do much of my shooting while walking or on the go where I fear that 5lbs may quickly become an inconvenience.

To simplify, how is the handling of the Nikon 200-500 and is it possible to handhold over a long period of time?
Does anyone have problems with the MFD of the Canon?
Is the max aperture of 5.6 on the Canon too small without VR when shooting in poor light?
 

Rapala

Well-known member
Sorry for the confusion Dave, if I did go for the Nikon 200-500 I would likely exchange my T4i for a similar equivalent Nikon body, such as the D5200 or perhaps even the D7000. Both are a bit old but still good cameras and worth a similar amount as the T4i. However, I would have a bit more room if I went for the Canon 400 f/5.6L, with a price range for a body around $600, leaving the 7D (MkI) a likely option or waiting awhile and going for 7D MkII. Trying to keep the total price around $1500.
 

HermitIbis

Well-known member
Thank you both;
HermitIbis, I'll consider mirrorless but I will most likely stay with a DSLR. I want to get a longer lens that produces sharper photos than my current setup. I would also like to invest in a camera with better noise performance, but again, I'll get to that once I decide on a system.
I see where your priorities lie and wish you find the perfect solution. Having used the Tamron 70-300 zoom for a while, the Sigma APO macro 400mm prime gave me more fun - sharp pictures, birds nicely separated from the background, and a short minimum focus distance of 1.60 meter. However, the weight of 1.40 kg was a little much to handhold - I am 57 years old and don't get younger. So I mostly used a monopod, and yes, it was a hassle.

Better noise performance would be nice, here my present gear was a step back. I looked at the DxO website comparing many cameras. To improve significantly upon the Canon 650D's iso isn't cheap, unfortunately.

Good luck.
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
The market in the USA might be different to the UK's but here there is a greater selection of used Canon lenses than there is Nikon's. The reason is probably that Canon have stayed ahead of the game in the lens department.
Body wise though I always feel that Nikon have had the edge and Canon only play catch up, never seem to leap ahead. This might be a false impression though, Nikon users waited an age for the D400 which never arrived, I know I was a Nikon user with a D300s ( a great camera) before moving over to Canon but my move was motivated by lens availability not camera body.
In the mid price bracket right now there are two obvious choices to me , Canon's 7D2 and Nikon's D500.I think the D500 wins but as a more recent release it's not surprising. The 7D2 is a very useful bit of kit though and as it's been around for two years you should be able to pick up a well looked after used model for about half your budget. I doubt you'll find a D500 at a knockdown price for a while.
So, if you decide this is the route to travel then keep your eyes out for a used 400mm f5.6 which again you should find for roughly half your budget.
Most people agree though, a lens is a better investment than a camera body. A good lens will hold it's value much better than a body because the technology improvements to lenses are limited more to weight and electronics than image quality. A piece of glass is just that. The 400 5.6 might be ancient but the glass is up to date with all the others. Where you might find an issue is with the reach that you have although with a crop body 400mm should suffice. Some bodies will allow use of a 1.4TC with this lens. The aperture becomes f8 and this is where two factors come in to play. The lower light ability of the body and the speed of auto focus of the lens.For the latter I guess that's where the electronics come in to play and recent lenses are faster than their predecessor equivalents.
The Nikon D500 is better from what I gather than the 7D2 but it's discounted for cost so it's a 7D2 then. You should be able to comfortably shoot at ISO1600, produce noise free images at 3200 and even push to 6400 and beyond. It will be a major leap forward from the body you currently use with huge improvements in frame rate for action shots, auto focus ability with so many more focus points available ( but that depends on what lens and/or TC combination you use) whilst ISO performance shows decent improvements too.
All in all that would be my choice.
You have a Canon body so my first acquisition would be the lens. Be patient, they come on the market quite frequently. Wait for a good deal.
Then grab yourself a good deal on the 7D2.
Good luck.Dave.
 

HermitIbis

Well-known member
I forgot to mention it - I used the 400mm always in combination with a Kenko 1.5x teleconverter. It still works for BIF, more focal length may be problematic.

The DxO website ranks the Canon 7dmk2 at iso 1082, so it is better than the 650D (iso 722).
 

Winterdune

Well-known member
If you have the money why not get the Nikon 300mm f/4E PF ED VR and a 1.4 converter. New tech, even lighter than that Canon 400/5.6 I believe, and a stunning lens. I have a 7d Mk 1 and 400/5.6 and am considering the switch too, as I want to upgrade my body (- I'm in my 50s, don't we all!!).
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
The guy who wrote this used to have a Canon 1d4. Now he is using the Olympus OMD1-ii. From his text:
Is it up to Canon 1D standards? Maybe not, but it is close, and again there are years of firmware improvements to look forward to.
Conclusion
The E-M1 II is a camera that can reliably be used a sports/action camera, with immediate focus lock and a high keeper rate. Lenses such as the Olympus 40-150mm Pro, the Panasonic 100-400mm and in some cases the Olympus 300mm Pro are all viable lenses for sports use. Inertia and existing sports pro lens collections means it may not unseat established sports cameras such as the Canon 1DX, but it is illuminating to compare specs:

The Canon has 18 megapixels, the Olympus 20 megapixels. The Olympus wins for cropping ability.
The Canon is full frame, the Olympus M43. The Canon wins for IQ and low light.
The Canon does 12 fps RAW, the Olympus does 18fps. Big win for Olympus. (The Canon will do 14fps in JPEG using Live View on the rear screen; good luck with that…).
The Canon body is more than twice the price of the Olympus. Then there are the lens prices….
The Canon and a big lens needs a tripod for any extended use, I can carry the Olympus around all day with no problem.

Plus the new E-M1 does Pro Capture, high fps etc etc.

I know which camera I would rather own; which is fortunate, because I do!

Disadvantage: more expensive than the options discussed by the OP, but given that other people threw other mirrorless cameras into the discussion, I thought this should be there too.

Niels
 

gandytron

Well-known member
the OP needs to decide if the priority is image quality (requiring a fixed focal length prime such as canon 400mm f5.6), or focal length flexibility (favoring a zoom, perhaps Sigma contemporary 150-600mm as the price and weight are lower than the sport version, and it is cheaper than the Nikon 200-500 whilst maintaining many of that lenses assets).

If weight is a deal breaker then the canon 400mm wins out.

Personally I use the Nikon 300mm PF and D7100 which is a great combo but looks to be outside the OP's budget.
 

Rapala

Well-known member
Thank you all for the help so far. Gandytron, my highest priority is image quality and I would rather forgo a zoom if it meant getting better IQ from a prime. I shoot 99% of the time with my zoom at 300mm, so a zoom is not a huge deal to me, although it can be convenient at times. I have also considered the Sigma and Tamron 150-600 lenses and the drop in IQ, especially wide open at the long end, makes it a dealbreaker. The light I shoot in is not great and f/5.6 is probably the lowest I would go.

Seanofford, I am hesitant to buy a lens that I would always have a TC on, mainly because of drop in IQ and AF speed. Although the IS would be nice to have on a 300 f/4 + 1.4x, sharpness is my priority. I have been fairly content without IS on my Sigma, so IS would not be a necessity.

To those suggesting mirrorless, price would be a big concern. Fast long lenses such as the Panasonic 100-400 and Olympus 300 f/4 are just too expensive at this point.

I hope not stray from the original purpose of this thread, regarding the Nikon 200-500 and Canon 400 f/5.6L, so I may start a thread regarding mirrorless if I decide to go that way. For now I am staying with a DSLR, so could we please remain on the comparison of the Canon 400 f/5.6L and Nikon 200-500? I don't mean to be rude but I am still considering these two lenses. Thank you to all who have responded so far, your comments are very helpful.
 

Rapala

Well-known member
At this point I have decided to go with the Canon 400 f/5.6L, mainly because of price and weight. I've seen many fantastic images taken with it so I'm sure I will be happy with it.

A final question. I currently have a T4i and my biggest complaints are small buffer (resulting in slow continuous shooting combined with slow frame rate) and ISO performance. I am considering the Canon 7D (not MkII) as an upgrade. What do you think of this? Would the 7D be a worthy upgrade for birds over the T4i? Or would it be better to wait and go for a camera such as the 7D II/other? Thanks for your help!
 

johnf3f

johnf3f
At this point I have decided to go with the Canon 400 f/5.6L, mainly because of price and weight. I've seen many fantastic images taken with it so I'm sure I will be happy with it.

A final question. I currently have a T4i and my biggest complaints are small buffer (resulting in slow continuous shooting combined with slow frame rate) and ISO performance. I am considering the Canon 7D (not MkII) as an upgrade. What do you think of this? Would the 7D be a worthy upgrade for birds over the T4i? Or would it be better to wait and go for a camera such as the 7D II/other? Thanks for your help!

Just my 2p - but I would suggest waiting a while until you can get the camera that you really want.

I believe that your T4I has the same sensor as the 7D Mk1 (I could be wrong) - if so then there will be no sensor related advantages in moving to a 7D Mk1. Frame rate and AF will be better though.

The 7D2 is coming down in price, bit by bit, and I rather like mine. I find it is more dependant on decent light than my 1Dx but, for the price, it is a rather nice piece of kit! Nothing is perfect but I feel the 7D2 would be a worthwhile upgrade, I am not sure about the 7D1.

P.S. Forgot to say that the 400 F5.6 would have been my choice too - now find a good one going cheap!
 
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djohnston

Tangara
I would strongly recommend the Canon 7D2 to go with your 400mm f5.6.
The focus system is far better than the 7D mark 1 and the lens is still lightning fast AF despite its age.
It is also a great system for BiF and I get excellent results even in low light forests with the f5.6.
As for close focussing, I have never noticed any issues and that should not be a deal breaker. 10 feet is always close enough for me.
 

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