80-400 AFS , other applications besides birds?

Joined
May 7, 2007
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I am going to rent it first, but I would appreciate feed back from readers who use this lens for subjects other than birds. It seems as though most reviewers peg this as a birders choice. I don't do birds, wildlife, professional sports.

My first need is the ability to produce wall hangers of grain farm machinery at work in the fields (iconic multi-combines in a row shots, seeding at dawn/dusk, workers on the go). I would like to keep the same lens on the body (D600) for staff portraits on the job around the yard-site. Outdoor social events would also fall into the genre of this type of shooting (think large open country spaces, not close quarter city environment).

Secondly, landscapes, wildflowers and environmental for personal enjoyment and occasional large prints. Some amateur sports.

Thirdly, outdoor portraits in the 80-120mm range.

Other than the farming environment, I realize this lens might be a compromise for my other purposes where the 70-200 f/2.8 or 4.0 would be better choices. And for critical portraits I already have the 85 f1.8 afs. I guess I'm asking if the IQ of the lens is going to cover the range (especially skin tone), and opinions on the focal range for these applications.

Thanks
 
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It doesn't sound like you need 400mm and I don't think it makes sense to spend that kind of money on this lens if you don't. It sounds like a 70-200, perhaps with a TC-14 or -17 would be a better choice.
 
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It doesn't sound like you need 400mm and I don't think it makes sense to spend that kind of money on this lens if you don't. It sounds like a 70-200, perhaps with a TC-14 or -17 would be a better choice.
That crossed my mind. The 400mm stretch would be needed out in the fields. Finding the best field position for photographing the activity isn't always right next to the action, and alot of the time I'm adjusting zoom and composition to keep up to 5 combines stacked together as they're moving closer. Compression at longer focal lengths adds alot of life to the image. Fields in the b/g slightly creamed and pulled in close behind the machinery really makes it pop and enhances the feeling of "being in the action". 200mm seems to be the miminum length where that effect is noticeable. The TC 1.7 could be the tool with the 2.8 lens.
 
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That crossed my mind. The 400mm stretch would be needed out in the fields...
That sounds like a bit of a conundrum then. I think the good news is both the 80-400 and 70-200 (with or without TC) are great lenses and you can't go too far wrong with either. I really like the 70-200 with the TC-17, and I think using the 70-200 for portraits would be better than the 80-400. But that isn't exactly a one lens solution. I guess you've got to decide how the trade-offs work for you.
 
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the new 80-400 works great for landscapes, so much so I ordered an RRS collar and I will be taking the RRS foot off my 70-200 and retiring the 70-200 as my long LS lens.

not sure what MFD distance and I prefer my sigma 150 for flowers,bugs, etc.....

sports def not for me but only because of f/5.6, I have to have 2.8 for sports for backgrounds. AF is plenty fast enough though
 
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Jan 3, 2009
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Austin, TX
I have the 70-200mm VR II + tc and also bought the new 80-400mm AFS. I took both in my bag to an event. It was a mixed shooting situation with both low light indoor work as well as outdoor distance work. I would never normally carry both of these lenses but wanted to test how they did in the different situations.

For the indoor work the 80-400mm was useless... actually completely useless. Sometimes you just need f2.8.

Outdoors the 80-400mm shined. It really did an impressive job. The problem is that it didn't do enough better than the 70-200mm + tc to be even close to worth the hastle of carrying around. At 100% crop the differences were minor even wide open. For what I was doing it was minor. Architecture shots are not as demanding of lens resolution as compared to bird feathers. This is on a D4... A D800 will be significantly more demanding and the differences will be much more pronounced with the greater sensor resolution.

In the end I returned the 80-400mm and decided to carry 400mm as a tc in my pocket rather than another heavy lens in my bag.
 
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Thanks so much Austined for the practical comparison. It is very helpful, and I will keep it in mind while renting the 80-400.

Randy, thanks for your perspective on lanscapes. BTW, following your link to Sports Shooter I found the equipment profile link. It's interesting to read professional shooters thoughts on equipment.
 
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I have the 70-200mm VR II + tc and also bought the new 80-400mm AFS. I took both in my bag to an event. It was a mixed shooting situation with both low light indoor work as well as outdoor distance work. I would never normally carry both of these lenses but wanted to test how they did in the different situations.

For the indoor work the 80-400mm was useless... actually completely useless. Sometimes you just need f2.8.

Outdoors the 80-400mm shined. It really did an impressive job. The problem is that it didn't do enough better than the 70-200mm + tc to be even close to worth the hastle of carrying around. At 100% crop the differences were minor even wide open. For what I was doing it was minor. Architecture shots are not as demanding of lens resolution as compared to bird feathers. This is on a D4... A D800 will be significantly more demanding and the differences will be much more pronounced with the greater sensor resolution.

In the end I returned the 80-400mm and decided to carry 400mm as a tc in my pocket rather than another heavy lens in my bag.
Which TC were you using? I like the TC14 on the 70-200, but wasn't impress with the TC20 (even the newest one).
 
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Which TC were you using? I like the TC14 on the 70-200, but wasn't impress with the TC20 (even the newest one).
It was the TC-20E III. I was surprised at the results on the D4. On the D800, the same TC and same lens is quite visibly soft at 100%. With some post processing it cleaned up pretty well, but the 80-400mm AFS was still sharper straight out of camera. I don't think the 70-200mm VR II + TC-20E III on a D800 would meet the needs of wildlife photography if heavy cropping is needed - things start falling apart when you get much past 50% crop.

I've posted some samples below that I am rather reluctant to share. Maybe this is not the right thread, but there are some things other than birds. These are not good tests or good photography or even a fair comparison. It's just what I was able to grab with the various combinations in casual use. Shooting conditions varied and everything was hand held. If anything they demonstrate that on the D800 technique and low ISO can sometimes outweigh lens differences. Here they are anyway (links to full files under each image).

D4, 70-200mm VR II at 400mm, f9, 1/400s, ISO 125, cropped to 100%, LR default sharpening
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521194632&k=ZkrRXbL&lb=1&s=O

D4, 80-400mm AFS, f9, 1/400s, ISO 100, cropped to 100%, LR default sharpening
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521194540&k=XcMJw2p&lb=1&s=O

D4, 70-200mm VR II at 400mm, f5.6, 1/400s, ISO 140, cropped to 100%, LR default sharpening
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521194506&k=wcKnXDx&lb=1&s=O

D4, 80-400mm AFS, f5.6, 1/400s, ISO 160, cropped to 100%, LR default sharpening
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521194596&k=NSLvxBn&lb=1&s=O

D800, 70-200mm VR II at 400mm, f8, 1/320s, ISO 400, LR default sharpening
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521220011&k=7Bq3zXz&lb=1&s=O

D800, 80-400mm AFS at 400mm, f5.6, 1/100s, ISO 2500 (not fair), LR default sharpening (different day)
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521227876&k=XSLfr64&lb=1&s=O

D800, 70-200mm VR II at 400mm, f5.6, 1/200s, ISO 1100, LR default sharpening
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521230670&k=VrNMbp3&lb=1&s=O

D800, 80-400mm AFS at 400mm, f5.6, 1/80s, ISO 720, LR default sharpening (different day)
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521227603&k=74bD44w&lb=1&s=O

D800, 70-200mm VR II at 400mm, f8, 1/640s, ISO 900, Heavily processed and yes I know the composition is unfortunate.
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521224887&k=n3pCSqz&lb=1&s=O


While we're at it here's the 80-400mm with the 1.4x TC (almost makes me regret returning it)

D4, 80-400mm AFS at 550mm, f9, 1/640s, ISO 200, hand held, Processed and cropped
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521326096&k=cFbXD84&lb=1&s=O

D4, 80-400mm AFS at 550mm, f9, 1/640s, ISO 560, hand held, SOOC+LR default sharpening (Don't ask me about the subject matter - I have no idea.)
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http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/7534108_k87cjQ#!i=2521336054&k=dT5LCTG&lb=1&s=O
 

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