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