Field review: Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens

Home/Field review: Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens

This post is an abridged version of an article that I had written for Nikon Rumors, a leading source of information about Nikon related news, articles and rumours. Since then, I have found nothing to change my initial impression about this lens.

I like shooting predators, I am not a birder. I have shot with the new Nikon 80-400mm AF-S, the Tamron 150-600mm and the Nikon 300mm f/2.8. I wanted more reach than 400mm, and always felt that the new 80-400mm AF-S was a little overpriced. The Tamron seemed a little front heavy, and I was not that comfortable with the AF or shooting at low shutter speeds. The 300mm f/2.8 is a fantastic lens, but I prefer a long zoom for the flexibility it gives me. I have not shot seriously with the 200-400mm f/4, but have taken casual shots with it. I wouldn’t carry it on an Indian safari because it is too heavy and unwieldy for my style.

Before buying the Nikon, I had been considering the Sigma 150-600mm Sport. But I like shooting handheld, and after shooting with the 300mm f/2.8 + TC (that combination weighs close to the Sigma S, 3 kgs++), I decided that I didn’t want to carry such a lens when sharing a vehicle with others during safaris, hiking in the mountains or shooting from a canoe. Moreover, the Sigma was 40% more expensive than the Nikon in India.

Tigress moving through golden grass

Moving through golden grass

Roadblock

Early morning roadblock

She approaches

She approaches

Summary feedback after using the Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens extensively in the field:

The good:

  • This lens is sharp at f/5.6, and doesn’t need stopping down. Sharpness is slightly better in the centre than the 80-400mm AF-S, IMO.
  • Good enough AF (but see my comment about D610 below). At par with the AF of the 80-400mm AF-S, I would think. I used AF-C D1 and D9, lock on = 3, release priority throughout the trip. The lens also performed pretty well when shooting BIF in AF-C D9 and 3D mode (disclaimer: I am not a birder). AF is a little better when using the 6m – infinity setting.
  • Once AF locks on, it is consistent across shots in a burst. Nevertheless, I typically shoot bursts of 2 to make sure of nailing a shot.
    VR. I have taken sharp shots handheld at 1/40s @500mm, while standing on the wobbling seat of a safari vehicle. See the B&W tiger close-up (ISO 6400 shot).
  • Well balanced lens. One gets used to handholding. I never utilized the beanbag that I had carried.
  • I shot in very dusty conditions. The lens seems to do a good job in preventing dust from getting in. No idea yet about performance in moist conditions or in the rain. Note: I used a large, cotton laundry bag to protect the lens + body from dust when the vehicle was moving.
Pensive tiger, Ranthambore

Pensive tiger, Ranthambore

Wild dog

Wild dog aka Dhole

The not so good:

  • Quick zooming is an issue. The zoom ring requires too much of a twist. I tried to maintain AF lock and zoom in/out, but that didn’t work so well. So I had to go back to zooming and then reacquiring focus. Note: I was shooting handheld. If one uses a monopod or beanbag, zooming will be less of an issue, since one wouldn’t have to support the lens.
  • The lens hood comes off easily.
  • AF works better with the D7100 than with the D610 in bad light (D7100 focuses in -2 EV). Update: the AF works well enough for capturing flying birds, especially large ones.
  • I missed the 80-200mm range a couple of times. It would be good to have another camera body with a 70-200mm when using the 200-500mm.

Overall, the pros of the lens significantly outweigh the cons. The lens is a great buy. There are always compromises, especially at that price point, and one has to work around them.

May you have good light.

Chinkara

Chinkara

Tigress

Tigress

Tree pie

Tree pie

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2017-04-10T12:26:35+00:00 February 5th, 2016|Photography|