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birding / sport setup

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by JerseyJay, Sep 12, 2005.

  1. I know that one would adjust to either of those situations accordingly but I would like to "kill" two birds with one stone.

    I'm researching birding / sport setup which should be my last long-lens purchase .... at least for a very long while. I got some excellent feedback from Frank "Flew" which got me started.

    I'm looking into the following:

    1. 200-400
    2. 400 f/2.8 II
    3. 500 f/4 II

    Please share your opinions and suggestions. I know that some of those topics have been covered on other websites but I guess I need reassurance from more people.

    Some questions:

    1. Which lens would you prefer - money is an object
    2. Which tripod ?
    3. Which bulkhead ?
    4. Sidekick or Head ?
    5. US or IMPORTED lens ? The more expensive lens, the bigger difference in $ between where made. I really don't see any difference when I talk to people about this subject.

    Thanks in advance !
  2. Hi Jay, got your PM. I will give you my 2 cents worth since you asked. Normally dont get in these debates, so many different opinions :rolleyes:  LOL!!!!!.

    I have owned 2 of the 3..........

    I originally owned the 400mm afs- f2.8, wanting to get closer to wildlife than my 300mm af-s f4. I happened to come across one and the price was right! This lens is sharp and fast and works beautiful wide open! For sports I wouldnt consider any other lens and works like a dream with the 1.4tc. Im not a big fan of the 1.7 and didnt like the 2xtc. With the 1.4tc got me 560mm. It is a big chunk of glass let me say but well balanced. You wont be handholding it. :smile: I sold it to a fellow nikoncafe member for baseball and he luves it and wouldnt go back. The only reason I sold was because i found it short for wildlife pics more often than not. I do miss the f2.8 for low light conditions. Understand I owned this lens as well with the D2h, may have felt different with the D2x and HSC.

    I have since purchased the 500mm af-s, it is lighter, easier to pack and gives me 700mm with tc, I have pulled off shots I wouldnt have otherwise gotten without it. It is sharp, fast to focus and absolutely luv the bokeh! Your pretty well in the need of a solid tripod with either of these fine lenses. Pretty tough to go wrong with this baby.

    The challenge you might have with either depending on your shooting style is simply the flexibility if your subject is in closer range. Not easy at a moments notice to rip off the tc and connect back to camera, normally miss your opportunity.

    Your going to really have to reflect and really figure out what you will spend more time shooting and distances you will normally play with. As said I have had both and luv the 500mm but many times think the 200-400mm would have been a great option as at time I am too close. I would think the VR would help with the X as you have to have a solid technique to pull off great shots, the H was much more forgiving. But when you start having success, WOW....................

    As I said, you will hear allot of great stuff here, but your really going to have to dig deep and truly understand where most of your time is going to be spent shooting. You can still shoot 500mm at f4 where the 400mm is f4 at 560mm with 1.4tc. HSC will help further your distance.

    I have thought at times of selling my 500mm af-s and move to the 200-400mm just because the areas where I shoot are coming more acclimatized to me and Im getting better opportunities, but that can change :rolleyes:  See what I decide here................

    I use the B-1 monoball, its a rock. I use it with the wimberly sidekick. both of those lenses worked very well with the wimberly. I found my G1340 tripod a tad light for the 400mm but is more than fine with the 500mm. It is rated for 22 pounds (legs) if I was smart I would have just sucked it up and bought the G1548 or G1325 from the get go and call it a day. With the x, and weight of these lenses, you need a solid tripod period! I would recommend not getting the centre column for shooting long lenses. YOu want to stay lower rather than higher! I opted for the ballhead and the sidekick because I would use other lenses on the tripod and just gave me more flexibility. if I was only going to just shoot long lenses, I would have opted for the full wimberly. Key is strong ball head if using sidekick and if you do, no worries but always be careful if your walking around with sidekick over your shoulder with everything attached :rolleyes:  !!

    My last pennies worth, this is just me, dont get caught up in af-s or must be afsII if you find the right deal period. AF-S on either model is identical, both tack sharp, no difference in optics. The difference is in weight of the lens as the cast is made of different material and with the 500mm, you can focus approx 5 ft closer than with the first version. dont know about you but rarely will i use the 500mm and try to focus at 15ft? LOL If price is a concession, dont be concerned on either af-s version. You will find af and af-i too slow for focusing as a theme from others and their is a significant difference when you are needing to focus fast in sports or birds in flight.

    As far as US or imported............being I dont live in the US, doesnt matter to me ;-) Nikon Canada will repair imported here, but I guess in the US they wont. Guess dollars will dictate your final decision...............but what a nice problem to have :smile:

    hope this helps somewhat. Im sure Jim will jump in, I know he has had 2 of the 3, opting to sell the 200-400mm for more needed length of the 500mm afsII.............

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 12, 2005
  3. jfenton


    Jan 26, 2005
    Haverhill, MA
    Hi Jay

    It's totally a question of flexibility.

    If it was simply a bird shooting question, there would be an easy answer IMHO...the 500.

    Now that you've thrown "sports" into the mix, I honestly can't answer unless I know what type of sports we're talking about and where you'll be shooting it.

    The 400 2.8 is a huge lens.

    My guess is that for a real combo use, you'd want to go with the 200-400. I have owned one and the lens is a sweetheart....it just wasn't long enough for 90% of what I do.
  4. MontyDog


    Jan 30, 2005
    #1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax;
  5. Excellent feedback guys. Really helps to put things in perspective. Here are my further thoughts.

    #1. I always try to have something that will last me for a while. I hate seeing myself few weeks / months later complaining about f/2.8 vs. f/4. I know some people who are shooting sports in high school / college and they are often complain about f/4 200-400 or 500. They often talk about substituting w/ 70-200VR or 300 f/2.8 for that particular scenario. Since I can't afford 2 long lenses, I have to go with one which will make this hobby even more fun. I guess you can tell I'm leaning toward 400mm and I'm waiting for someone to come by and hit me with some amazing argument not to do so. I'm always open for suggestions.

    I can always fall back on 1.4/1.7/2.0 TC for more reach.

    #2. I'm 99.9% sure that I will go with Gitzo 1325 and full Wimberley head. I have cheaper Bogen tripod w/ 488RC2 which will allow me for 12-200mm shooting. In that case I don't need ballhead just yet.

    #3. And the last HUGE question that I have is US vs. IMPORTED. The difference is $1000 which I can invest in misc. accessories. Imported, although the same quality, will only give me 1 year warranty vs. 5 with US version. How are 300-600mm when it comes to breakage ?. Do they break a lot ? Any horror stories ?

    How about US Demo Version (great quality) vs. new IMPORTED ???

    Thanks in advance !
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 13, 2005
  6. Were it me I would go for the 500mm f4 lens. Course I already have the 300mm f2.8 and love that as well. You could always go with the 300mm and put a TC 1.7 with it.
  7. Well, that is the million dollar question!

    OK, 1st like Jim said how into sports and what type?

    I have this opinion;

    On birds - Nikon 500 AF-S!

    On wildlife - Nikon 200-400VR

    Sports- Nikon 400 2.8, you want the shallow DOF to blur the crowd but hope you are bult to carry a LOAD!

    Tripod - Gitzo 1325 or 1548 (I have both, just got the 1325...get the 1325 for 500 and under but the 1548 for the 400 f2.8 and 600f4)

    Ball Head - Really Rigt Stuff BH 55

    Gimbal Head - Wimberly FULL head but wait a month and get the new one or some great deals on used ones! :wink:

    US vs Imported - Whoa, tough question! An AF-S lens breaks and costs probably $600-700 to fix or more for the computer or whatever it is they have to replace. So it depends on how much of a gambler you are! They say you can't even fix it in the USA...bull! KEH in Atlanta will fix it and do it well or ship it to Nikon Canada. So up to you, I am a gambler and have a grey 500...but I also have a USA 200-400VR, too much risk for me with the AF-S, VR, Zoom, Memory functions, etc.

    Hope this helps a little.

    Just so you know my gear is;


    Happy Shopping! :eek:  :eek:  :eek: 
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 13, 2005
  8. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    Well, I based my choices on the VR feature. For me that is an important consideration.

    I had a 300 2.8 and used a 2x adapter on it, but while I liked the reach, I needed VR for those windy days. The hoods on the big nikons and other lenses are windcatchers!

    My keeper ratio went way way up on large birds with the 200-400VR with a 1.4 vs a 300 2.8 and 2xtele adapter at 600mm.

    For smaller birds get the 500 f4 or 400 2.8. For larger get the 400 2.8 or 300 VR with a 1.7 perhaps. Only you can decide....lol. I remember my own dilema well, and it only took two tries on big lenses to get it right. fortunately I only lost $250 on the 300 2.8 (non VR Sigma model) since I bought it new discontinued. I had it a month only so I considered it a long term rental for the slight loss.

    Cheers, and good luck. Wade

    Check out this thread.... lots of good info here ( i am sure you have read it.)

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  9. George,

    Can you please elaborate. I don't know anything about new head ....

    I'm bouncing back and forth between 400 vs. 500. I understand that 500 is lighter and a bit cheaper but when it comes to reach, I can easily get the same with 1.4 without any quality loss and still be at the same f/4.

    Sports: High School football / Soccer games. Hockey Indoor.
  10. There is a new lighter smaller full Wimberley Head due out any time now, maybe this month or next but now a 3rd rumor has it as Nov 1-15th.. The good news is lots of folks will upgrade as they always do and the current heads will be very good buys! If lighter and smaller is your cup of tea cool your jets for a bit!!! :wink:

    Not sure if the 400/2.8 is that big of an advantage for you. If you MUST have a shallow DOF for the backgrounds (much better to isolate the players from the crowd by blurring the crowd) then you need the 400 but as a hobbie lens geeze, depends how anal retentive you are! :rolleyes:  :biggrin:
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 13, 2005
  11. Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  12. Thanks for all your suggestions !

    Here is an update.

    After few days of constant research, reading, asking and calling, I decided on the following:

    - 500 f/4 vII (new IMPORTED)
    - Gitzo 1325
    - sidekick w/ bh-55 ballhead

    I went back and forth between sidekick and full head but after reading reviews from Ron, Moose and many others, who said that 400 / 600 would need full and sidekick is more then enough for 500, I decided to stick with it and some nice ballhead which could be also used on my tripod.
  13. Jay, I just got around to finally looking at this thread. I shoot a lot of Hight School sports as well as birds and I am actually in a "decision mode" regarding the 200-400 as I type. Here is my current setup:

    Sigma 500mm f4.5 HSM - got this vs. the Nikon for one simple reason, budget. At the time the lens was $2700 new, now they are $4200, go figure.

    Sigma 120-300 f2.8 HSM - my primary sports lens. Very nice compromise on the field, and still wide enough for most shots on the near sideline

    Nikon 70-200 f2.8 AFS VR - Sits on the 2nd body for sports, great when the plays are in close

    Ecoimage full gimbal - nice piece of work, a bit less expensive than others, but I personally would go with the Jobu Black Widow

    Much as I hate to say this, I think you are making the right choices. The reason I say that is that I REALLY liked the 200-400 the weekend I rented it, but in my case it would be a matter of selling the 120-300 and loosing the f2.8 at 300mm, which would be a big hindrance for sports. The only thing I would do differently would be to pop for a Gimbal vs. the Sidekick. Don't get me wrong, the Sidekick is a great piece of work, but after a year I found that it was an annoyance making sure that the multiple knobs were getting to be an annoyance. I had a Kirk BH-3 and sometimes I could get movement even with the ball locked down. Not when I was using it, but when carrying. This may not be a problem with the BH-55, although I am hearing they are having delivery issues. The Sidekick is plenty sturdy for the 500 by the way.

    As I say, if it weren't for the thousands of dollars difference in cost I'd have the Nikon vs. the Sigma 500 as well, they are both superb lenses.

  14. twig


    May 23, 2005
    How serious are you?

    IF you are serious about outdoor sports photography, the 400/2.8 is the first lens you should buy.

    There is no substitute for aperture as there is no substitute for reach. GAmes are rarely in good light, and that is what separates the pro from the amateur, pros have to pay for expensive stuff to handle shooting in the dark.

    Sports is more demanding than wildlife. While wildlife photographers are happy using smaller ap lenses that are easier to carry, and I often see shots posted at f/5.6 or f/8, sports photographers cannot be so lenient, and do not want those apertures.
    We needthe shallow DOF to blow out bad backgrounds, and most importantly we need the shutter speed for those night games, this stop can be the difference in your images. Also, as a sports photographer you dont have to move around as much (or hike as far), so a heavy lens is no big deal. Plus, you get used to it.

    The autofocus on the 400/2.8 is scary. Scary fast and accurate. Nothing you have ever used will feel that way, and nothing will make you so happy afterwards.

    Find a good used one for $4k. The lens is buily liek a tank, and a 5 year old model will have another 25 left of great service. Look for clean glass, dont worry if the body has cosmetic scratches, again this lens is near indestructable.

    I have a Bogen Neotech monopod. you can extend it without any twists or levers at any time, then it has a pistol grip to lower it. MAkes life easier. Put an arca clamp on top and you are done for sports, get the Wimberley foot for the lens, lower profile

    Ok now for wildlife, I just got a Bogen 3421 Gimbal. Works very well, about $350 cheaper than a Wimberley head.Put that on your monopod or tripod for wlidlife.

    And whatever big lens you get, the Lowepro Lenstrekker 600 AW is fantastic. IT looks liek a big hiking pack and VERY comfortably allows you to carry a ton of stuff (including a 400 with or without a body mounted). This pack is a real pleasure to use, and makes al lthe difference when lugging big glass
  15. A small nit here on the 400. The problem with the 400 is that you are limited as to the distance you can shoot. In my case, shooting for the kids and parents, I need shots of every kid that I can get doing something, not just the "killer" shot. And the 400 is great from about 35-40 yards away, the problem is all of the stuff that is closer than that. I shot next to a fellow on Friday night who had one of those "other" cameras with a 400 mounted and he was lamenting that he needed a second body with something shorter for 80% of what he needed to capture.

    But I most CERTAINLY agree with you on the f2.8 aspect of this.....
  16. Thank you guys again !

    At the moment its either 400mm Demo US vs. 500mm NEW IMPORTED.

    I know that some of you keep leaning toward 200-400 for 200mm reach. I still have my 70-200VR to fall back on. I will get 1.4 or 1.7 TC for my BIG lens so TC could be added to 70-200 for difference between 200 and 400/500.

    I'm still debating on sidekick vs. full head.
  17. jb007

    jb007 Guest


    A large ungainly lens like 400 needs full gimbal such as Wimberly a lighter lens such as 500 is fine on a sidekick just add saw your comment about 70-200 & 400 or 500 if you can hire what you think you'll buy because I'll bet it changes your mind cheaper to do that before you spend your money. Also read carefully the comments by the field sports photographers (eg retief) as his words are wise and likely to be useful to consider very carefully especially regarding 400 which is a big beast and long in reach often too long on a field unless you don't mind partial bodies such as head and shoulders only with no ball or the ball and some feet but no head etc. of course for birding you need either 500 or 600 no question both lenses even harder for many sports so you need to prioritize as no single lens will be ideal for all you want.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 16, 2005
  18. MontyDog


    Jan 30, 2005
    #1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax;
  19. twig


    May 23, 2005
    First, regarding gimbal heads,

    Boigen 3421 is a fully functional gimbal that requires no ball head. IT mounts directly to your monopod or tripod, holds the largest glass avialable and works wonderfully. IT costs $160 soup to nuts, including the quick release plate that attaches to your lens foot.

    You do NOT need a $500 Wimberley, or a $300 sidekick and $300 ball head.

    Second, if you intend to photograph sports for news coverage your shots are always tight, a 400 works in any situation. I use it for head shots from 20 feet and full body shots from 70 feet. I can isolate head and shoulder shots from 45 feet. It works for everything on the baseball infield except plays at the base closest to me. Liklewise on a football field it allows me to stand out of the players and coaches way.

    For football or soccer, forget it, the 400 often feels way to short. You will want a TC if light permits.

    The ONLY time I have wanted a shorter lens is when photgraphing tiny kids playing football, and then only because you could stand on the field in between the linebackers if you wanted because everything was so slow and the players so tiny you would not get hurt there.

    Unless you only participate in day time sports you are going to hate your f/4 lens. Further, if you think the 400 is too long for sports, wait till you try a 500/f4.

    If you are a serious pro you carry a 70-200 on another body for when the action is on top of you. An alternative is a single sigma 120-300 which is f/2.8 . I can count on one hand the times in the past three months where I said "gee I wish I had a wider angle to capture this game" and I can count on a closed fist the number of times I said 'gee I wish I could stop down to f/4 for this shot," while about a million times I wished for a longer lens, or one with a wider aperture.

    If you use a 400 you learn where to stand to use it properly. IF you are right up on the action and it seems to long, then you are standing in the wrong place. I LOVE the 400 for photo opps on field with notables. While the other photogs are cramming all over them trying to shoot with a 50mm from 15 feet away, I get better shots with more isolation shooting from 55 with the 400. Plus, I don;t have to pile on top of everybody and if anyone gets in my way I can clunk them with my bazooka to make room.

    Finally, on the issue of perception. No offense to 300 users, but everybody, their brother, and their dentist the hobbyist has a 300. Perhaps this is because it is such a perfect focal length or price point. But the perception when you walk on the field with a 400 in comparison is "this guy is a pro". If you plan to try for access to pro events, or want to leave an impression on potential buyers of images, bringin a 400 to the game shows you are serious and will get you more respect, if that matters. I have been offered freelance work on occaision simply because somebody can see that I have invested in the proper tool.

    So, in short, you should specifiy perhaps more what sports uses you intend. Whether it is news related coverage, following your kids, or selling shots to parents of players.

    I have a 400 and a 120-300, come borrow one or both. What I find with the 120-300 is that it is great in concept, but I end up sitting at 300 wishing for more reach all day long, or using it during the day when I can slp on a 2X and have a 240-600/5.6.

    The only sports that required 200mm or less in my opinion are indoor ones, and even then not too often (under the hoop in basketball being the primary example, where Iprefer a 50). Eve nfree throw shots I use 200mm for, and wouldn;t mind 300, despite the fact that I am less than 20 feet away.
  20. Once again guys .... EXCELLENT feedback. And thank you all for all those PMs.

    Let's discuss few more things:

    1. Professional Photography:
    I am not Professional Sport photographer and don't plan to be one. At least for now, I'm sticking with my day job. I really don't want to look at my equipment as potential for future annual income. I treat this as an "expensive" hobby. I did couple weddings, proms, shoot for local animal newspaper, animal magazine but at the same time I'm happy with my day job :) 

    2. Re: 300:
    300mm VR or normal version, both are excellent lenses. I see amazing images from Frank and Patrick using f/2.8 and f/4 respectively. Geno showed excellent samples as well. I actually had a pleasure to try Geno's 300VR w/ 1.4TC at the local park and although object wasn't that far, I wasn't satisfied with the length. Most of the pictures needed major cropping even with HSC. I know that we all say that particular lens will be our last one, that is what I said about D70 (*using D2X now), but I'm sure that If I get 500 f/4 that "big boy" will last me for a while. I just don't want to settle for 300mm, use 1.7/2.0, HSC, pay 4000$ and hope that I'm close enough. Thank for tip though.

    3. US vs. Imported
    I wasn't aware of Canon price difference between US vs. Imported but when I checked B&H today..... it almost made me switch the company .... joking !!! Well I'm joking about the switch but did you guys see the prices ?

    Canon Telephoto EF 500mm f/4.0L IS - US $5,499.95
    Canon Telephoto EF 500mm f/4.0L IS - IMPORTED $ 5,299.95

    Are you kidding me ???? $200 difference. What the hell is Nikon thinking ???

    Check this one out:

    Nikon Telephoto AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4D - US $7,099.95
    Nikon Telephoto AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4D - IMPORTED $ 5,799.95

    Now ... this is $1,300 difference. For that much I can get 1325Gitzo, Full Head, and sidekick.

    Even if I have problems (*knock on the wood) how much more will I pay to meet that 1300$ difference ?. I'm on my 3rd year with 70-200 and have yet to have any problems.

    Thanks All !!!
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