300/4 or 300/2.8VR for birds?

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by Gordon Large, Sep 7, 2005.

  1. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    Hi all -

    I've got two lenses I use for bird shots - the 200-400/2.8VR with a full Wimberley on a Gitzo, and the 300/4 for hand-held shooting. I often use the TC-14 with both, and the TC-17 with the 200-400.

    I'm delighted with the 200-400 for all the reasons I'm sure you are familiar with - very sharp, fast focus, flexible focal length, pretty good reach with the TCs. But while I'm improving fairly quickly on flight shots, there are some shots (high, quickly or erratically moving birds) for which I think hand-held will always be better.

    So my question - Is the 300/2.8VR better than the 300/4 for flight shots? Obviously it is much more expensive and heavier to hold. But do VR, faster focusing (especially in low light) and (based on what I've read) slightly sharper images make it the better flight lens?

    Actually I have the same question in a different context. There are situations where a big lens on a tripod just isn't feasible, so you have to go with a shorter lens. Again I've been using the 300/4, and my question is would the 300/2.8VR be better considering all the factors listed above?

    Thanks for your feedback!

    Gordon
     
  2. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    Missouri
    Gordon,

    Having currently a 300 f4 I am selling, and having a 300 AF-S from Sigma which I sold to get the 200-400 I have these thoughts,

    I tried out all of these lenses on my D70, and on a friends D2H. The biggest difference was the CAMERA! Period. both the 300f4 and 300 2.8 sigma were identicle in speed on the D2H and D70. The D2H was much faster than the D70 with all rigs. The larger aperture allowed greater speed later and earlier in the day only, and faster shutter speeds to help freeze action.

    The 300 2.8 sigma was the same speed as my buddy's 300 AF-S Nikon (non VR) but the Nikon wasn't as fast with adapters on it as the Sigma was with it's adapters. Interesting eh?

    So, with weight for the 300f4 is an advantage, a huge adavantage for panning for me. With birds and airplanes I prefered the 300 f4 to the 300 2.8.

    Just my thoughts.

    Wade
     
  3. Hi Gordon,

    The 300VR is more effort to work with for long periods of time due to the weight, but the focusing speed, contrast, sharpness, focusing accuracy, and esp. the quality at the wider three full stops makes it a better lens by far. While the sharpness of the 300/4 AFS is very good at f/8, the defocus character and contrast as well as the ability to resolve very fine detail are greater on the 300VR. Open the lens up more, and the differences start to become even more noticeable.

    The 300VR is a hell of a lot more expensive, but it really will increase your yield by an awful lot, esp. when the light drops. The VR will be very useful as long as you give it a little time to settle (keep the shutter half-pressed for a second or so before firing, and when tracking flight, keep it half-pressed at all times while working AF using the AF-On button). The only time I shut VR off is when the shutter speed is above 1/500 or so, or when I'm on the tripod with the head locked down in stable conditions (e.g. no wind).

    Ron
     
  4. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    Missouri
    Ron, a quick question, have you found the new 300VR superior to the older 300 2.8 AF-S in regards to focus? Others have stated they have seen a difference, and as you stated so well, VR helps the keeper ratio a huge amount.

    This is why I am selling my 300 f4 AFS to help get funds for the 200 VR.

    Gordon, Re-reading my post, I don't think I highlighted the speed difference and light gathering difference as I should have.

    Ron is the expert with the 300VR lenses. I know that my keeper shots on Eagles with the 200-400VR went up dramatically over my sigma 300 2.8. The VR is important as is the wide aperture.

    Cheers,

    Wade
     
  5. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    Thanks Wade and Ron. Good info.

    Wade - I find it interesting that we both have the 200-400VR and think highly of it, yet we are both considering VR primes in the same range. You know my rationale for the 300. What are you looking for in the 200?

    Gordon
     
  6. Wade, regarding focusing speed and accuracy, I'd say that the 300mm f/2.8 AFS-II and 300 VR are pretty close. The 300 VR has the advantage in contrast, defocused character at f/5.6 and f/8 (I haven't shot it at f/11 yet, and rarely shot the 300 AFS-II there), flare resistance, balance (C of G is closer to the body), and ability to achieve a high yield when handholding (VR).

    re: the 200 VR vs. 300 VR, it really comes down to what you shoot most often, and whether or not having the extra light-gathering ability is more important than having the extra reach. Overall, for wildlife I'd say the 300mm is the more flexible lens of the two, but when the light drops that 200mm is irreplaceable. I think what I'm going to do most of the time is carry the 200mm when I'm carrying the 500. When I go out with just one telephoto, most of the time the 300mm is the one I'd opt for unless I'm going into a situation where reach is crucial.

    Ron
     
  7. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    Missouri
    Ron, thanks for the additional info,

    Gordon,

    My desires for the 200VR while still having the 200-400 is three fold.

    First, I shoot a lot of indoor theatre, Dance, Recitals, Music performances and the 180mm 2.8 prime I have is just not fast enough, and I want the VR for handholding in this situation. I have some great shots with the 180 2.8 ED AF but I don't like shooting at ISO 1600 on my D70. I would rather shoot at 800. The 200VR will replace my 180mm prime for this use and leave me with a 50mm 1.4, and the 200 f2.0 for indoor shots with a 28mm or 85mm 1.4 in the future perhaps.

    2. I still like having the 200-400 on a tripod with a 1.4 or 1.7 for the long birding/wildlife setup, but I also like having a 300 on my second D70 body for quick flight shot grabs when birding from a set location. Many of my Eagle flight shots were taken with the 300 while the 200-400 is set up at a location or on the nest. Having the freedom to do a quick overhead or flight shot behind me when in the field is valuable to me. With the 1.4 or 1.7 I have a good smaller, slighlty more compact tele prime to use when I don't want to carry the big gun or to use when things happen behind me. The current 300 AFS is good at this but not good for above scenario #1

    3. I have gotten spoiled with the high quality images from the 200-400VR and also I am spoiled with the VR even when used on a tripod. On very windy days, the 200-400 with a 1.4 attached gives me a stable 550mm that gives superior sharp photos. The VR works great on a tripod on windy days even at higher shutter speeds, on calm days, I turn it off at around 1/1000 shutter. The 200 VR will be used on a monopod or handheld most of the time. The 200-400 will stay on a tripod with my sidekick. I have tried panning with the 200-400 but with the 1.4 I usually have on it, it is difficult to frame, pan and lift at the same time.

    Cheers,

    Wade
     
  8. Personally, I think it's hard to beat the Sigma 300 2.8 for value.

    If only it had Sigma's OS (similar to VR/IS)

    Sigma 300 2.8 can be had for $1200-1400 used, and that is in my price range...could be my next lens with a 1.4 or 1.7...
     
  9. Wade, this ought to interest you...

    This Ptarmigan was taken out the window of a bus -- you know those old school busses with the windows that slide halfway down from the top? I was in Denali being shuttled out into the park, and saw this guy. No way in hell I could have done this with a much longer lens as there was enough trouble just getting the 200mm out that window, plus having to squirm around on the seat with someone beside me, and to make it more interesting, the light was fairly low. This was taken at f/2.8:

    [​IMG]

    Ron
     
  10. MontyDog

    MontyDog

    Jan 30, 2005
    #1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax;
     
  11. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    Thanks for the additional feedback, Wade. Except for the fact that I don't shoot indoors (without a flash), our thought process is very similar.

    Gordon
     
  12. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    Thanks for the info, Brett. Even though it would significantly increase the cost, the lack of OS is a show-stopper for me.

    Gordon
     
  13. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    Ron - I know from this post and prior comments I've seen that you think the 300VR is a great lens. But you didn't tell me whether my logic in the post that started this thread to get the 300VR when I already own the 200-400VR is insane or makes sense. And would it make any sense to substitute the 200VR with the TC-17 (340mm) for the 300VR with TC-14 (420mm). My thought is that both would be great on a second body for quick grab shots, but the 200 combo would be too short for flight shots. Your thoughts on both questions?

    Someday, with the cooperation of Nikon and the stock of the company I retired from (or winning the lottery), I could even see adding a 500/4VR to the mix! There would be overlap for sure, but all would serve different purposes. I could never see taking the 200-400 and the 500 out together, but I would definitely take either with the 200 or 300 and a second body for grab or flight shots.

    Thanks,
    Gordon
     
  14. Gordon, the best way to analyze this would be to decide based on what your typical shooting situation is. How often do you find yourself in low light? Are your subjects generally larger or smaller, at fairly long range or in reasonably close? You have the zoom... do you often find yourself putting a TC on the 200-400 to get the shots? How often do you find yourself at the short end of the zoom?

    The 200mm is fairly short for many standard wildlife situations unless the subjects are large and in fairly close, but when the light drops (dawn, dusk, shooting into shadows) it really comes into it's own. Then, it gives you the option of giving up some subject size in the frame in exchange for at least two stops of light -- more like three stops considering the very high image quality you can get wide open. Another thing... the center of gravity is quite close to the camera with the 200mm. Along with the higher shutter speeds offered by the wider apertures, the increased focusing speed and very high focusing accuracy, this makes it possible to shoot the lens handheld very successfully. Of course, it's tricky shooting inside 20 feet even at 200mm -- DOF at f/2.8 is 4-5" at 20' and 2-2.5" at f/2 at 20'. You have to nail the focus, and you must lock on the head of your target if you're going to be satisfied with the shot.

    Much of this can be said for the 300mm as well. What you're getting there is the option of gaining similar reach to that of your 200-400, less the flexibility of dropping down to 200mm, but gaining an effective two stops of light with top-quality results (the 300mm is as clean at f/2.8 as the 200-400 is at f/5-f/5.6, with a higher degree of isolation -- of course the DOF is shallower at the wider apertures but when the light drops you can keep opening up the lens). The contrast, focusing speed, and other features have been discussed above in the thread.

    Now, to put my spin on your situation...

    You already have the focal length flexibility. You know what a 200-400mm range looks like, and have a feel for what you can do in the f/5.6-f/8 region with that lens as well as what it will do at various focal lengths at f/4. You know what it looks like with a TC14e at f/5.6-f/8.

    Consider your situation. If you're generally at the longer end of the zoom (300-400mm with occasional excursions to the 560mm range with the TC) and want easier use in the field along with the option of easy handholding, higher isolation and contrast, and aperture flexibility, the 300mm will offer you that as well as faster focusing and a higher degree of focusing accuracy in tricky situations (lower light, shooting into shadows, etc.). It works as well with the TC17e as the zoom does with the TC14e, so you'd be dealing with a 300, 420, 510 vs. a 200-400-560. You can shoot the 300/2.8VR at 510mm at f/5.6 and get very clean results. You can shoot f/5 with a slight loss in contrast and sharpness. It's a LOT easier to work with handheld, you can hike with it, you can react to rapidly-changing target locations with it more effectively due to the faster focusing (and of course the ability to handhold the lens with a high degree of success)... I'm sure you get the idea.

    The 200mm offers more of the above, but with more focal length restrictions. Basically, as you know it's a 200, 280, 340mm lens (some people are willing to put a TC20e on it and accept the results -- I hated using the TC20e on the 300mm and 500mm lenses due to the loss of sharpness and contrast, and have never used one on the 200mm since I sold mine when I ordered the TC17e).

    The 200mm makes a spectacular addition to the zoom to offer you the shorter range with blazingly fast focusing, unbelievably high contrast and isolation, and extreme low-light capabilities in a small, compact package (let's be honest... it's a short, stubby, very massy lens. This thing will shock you the first time you pick it up).

    The 300mm offers you a little less of the above in a package that offers the same effective focal length range as your zoom (less the short end), but it's a lot easier to carry around and use in the field and you do gain a significant amount of all of the features we've been discussing. It's essentially the same sort of lens as what you have, trading off the focal length flexibility for faster focusing, better low-light capabilities, more isolation and contrast, and the ability to handhold for extended periods.

    As I said, it comes down to the focal length range you work in. Do you find you have the right focal length range with the zoom, but want to gain the aperture flexibility, etc.? The answer is the 300mm. Can you live without the 400mm+ range to gain a tremendous amount of light-gathering ability along with everything else by simply removing the TC and opening the lens up (forever, it seems)? The 200mm will do that.

    If this was me making the decision, I'd look at it this way: since you already have the 200-400, I'd say that it's more likely that you'd want to add the 200mm + TC14e/TC17e combination. You gain the highest degree of low-light capability and are not exactly duplicating the range you already have. If you had the 300mm, you'd find yourself going out with one or the other, and eventually you'd be asking yourself why you have both. The 200mm and 200-400VR can be used as a team effectively. That's my take, anyway. Obviously, you need to decide for yourself what makes the most sense for you.

    Ron
     
  15. Gordon Large

    Gordon Large Guest

    Thanks Ron. Great summary - I appreciate the info and your time. Now for some serious soul-searching, although you have already tilted me toward the 200.

    Gordon
     
  16. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    Missouri
    Ron,

    your lens description for Gordon was well written, to the point and makes some great and valid points. thanks for your time on this matter.

    for me the 200 was a no brainer, indoor shots, no flash, handheld, able to get up over 300mm if needed. Easy decision based upon my low light use.
    A great Ptarmigan shot out the window! Bravo

    Gordon,

    here is a nudge.... my 200 is ordered and on it's way since my 300 f4 AFS sold.

    Wade
     
  17. Glad to help guys. These sorts of decisions can be tricky, and the cost is so high that you really don't want to make the wrong decision...

    Ron
     
  18. Just adding some info for maybe future searches by board members...

    Not trying to steal the topic away from you Gordon, but there are some things that should be touched on by people with more expertise than me...mostly regarding my statement about the Sigma 300 2.8 prime...brings up some questions on birding lenses...

    For those (and I fall into this category - maybe why I am typing this too hoping for more input from Ron) that can't afford or won't pay for a 300/2.8VR lens what are the best options for a birding lens?

    The economic choices for a great birding setup seem to be broken down to a Bigma 50-500, Nikon/Sigma 80-400, Nikkor 300 f/4 and Sigma 300 f/2.8...The Sigma used seems great, for $1200 or so the 1:2.8 speed is very attractive.
     
  19. Brett, I have no personal experience with the Sigma 300/2.8. Test it and see if it will do the job. For $1200, the price certainly is attractive (used 300/2.8 AFS lenses go for $2100-$2200, and AFS-II for $2500-$2700). The 300/4 AFS is a lightweight, easily handholdable lens that outperforms the 80-400 zooms pretty strongly for action. On static subjects, the situation is slightly different (it still outperforms the zooms, but the difference is less).

    Overall, what you do is evaluate the situation based on the options you have and your budget. Since I can't tell you what the performance of the Sigma prime is, you need to ask others who can, or test one and see if the performance is equal to the cost benefit. Remember that resale value will be reasonably high on a 300mm f/2.8, so if you buy one in clean condition at $1200 and keep it in similar condition, it's not likely that you'll lose too much if you sell it later. The loss is higher on a new lens (it's like driving a new car off the lot).

    Ron
     
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