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Long Lens Dilemma: 300/2.8 VR versus 200-400/4

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by sandeepsebastin, May 18, 2007.

  1. Hi everybody,
    I am planning to buy a long lens for photographing birds and large mammals and am unable to decide between the above two lenses. I have read most of the online reviews and did a search for similar posts, but still am not able to make up my mind. The major issue is of course the cost and I dont want to regret after buying one of them. This would represent the most I have spent on anything and so am very very confused.

    I have a D2Hs and my longest lens is the 70-200. I also have a 1.7TC. I made the following table to help me decide ( and hopefully help others trying to make this difficult and expensive decision).

    I have rated the image quaity from 1 till 3; 1 for acceptable; 2 for good and 3 for excellent. I have no practical experience with either of the lenses, therefore the image quality rankings are based on the aperture and online user reports. (I have coloured the focal length boxes in yellow to indicate better performance at that focal length).


    1. 200-250mm: The 200-400 is obviously better as the 300mm does not cover that range

    2. 300mm.: The 300 mm is better

    3. 350mm: 200-400 is better

    4. 400mm: I have rated the 200-400 mm better as the 300 needs a TC to get to this range and so there is bound to be some image deterioration.

    5. 450mm: 200-400 is better.

    6. 500mm: The 300 with the 1.7 TC will be faster than the 200-400 with the 1.4 TC

    7. 550mm: 200 - 400 is better

    8. 600mm: The 300 is faster with the 2X TC. I have ranked both of the image qualities at 2 points as I thought that the 2X would result in quite some image deterioration.

    9. >600mm: All to the 200-400mm

    The 200-400mm therefore beats the 300/2.8 VR at all focal lengths except 300/ 500 & 600mm respectively.

    Pros of the 300/2.8 VR
    1. Cheaper
    2. Easier to handhold
    3. Shorter
    4. Larger aperture ensures better AF & brighter viewfinder

    Pros of the 200-400/4
    1. Zoom

    I dont have the opportunity to check out both lenses and so have to make a decision based on considered opinions of real users. I can buy the 1.4X & 2.0XTC with the money I save buying the 300/2.8 VR. I can afford the 200-400/4, but get tempted by the prime.

    Please help....


    Never say Die!
  2. jfriend


    Nov 11, 2005
    SF Bay Area
    I'm in the same boat

    Check out this comparison of the two lenses. Perhaps this info will be useful for your situation.

    I've been having this same debate with myself for the last six months. My primary use of the longer lens is for shooting soccer. I've rented both the 300 f/2.8 and the 400 f/2.8, but can't find a place to rent the 200-400. Today, I use the 70-200 + 1.4TC to end up with a 98-340 f/4 lens. I shoot it exclusively at f/4 for soccer to get max shutter speed and best background blur for subject isolation.

    I've tentatively decided I want to get the 200-400 because I really need the flexibility of a zoom for the type of soccer shooting I do. While the 300 takes great soccer images, it's really hard not to have any framing control with a zoom when you don't control the distance to the subject. The only thing keeping me interested in the 300 is f/2.8 which definitely adds to the nice background blur and can be really helpful in sports shooting when the light is low. There's no way I'm switching lenses during a game so I can't count both a 300 and a 420 (300 + 1.4TC). I'd have to decide ahead of the game which I was going to shoot with and change only at halftime.

    If I hit the lottery, I'd love to have both lenses. I'd use the 200-400 for general purpose soccer shooting and then use the 300 f/2.8 when the light was low or when I wanted to shoot something different that day after I already had good keepers for all the team members from my prior shoots that season. The prime does force you to frame some shots in ways you wouldn't generally do with the zoom which can lead to some new creativity. The 300 f/2.8 I rented was really sharp too. I've looked through and held a 200-400 at a camera store, but never shot with it.
  3. general


    Apr 30, 2005

    Everyone has to decide for themselves but I own both lenses and since I bought the 200-400, the 300/f/2.8 sits in the closet. The 200-400 with the 1.7 TC is a fabulous lens.
  4. Donzo98


    Nov 10, 2005
    Merrick, NY
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  5. Macusque


    May 18, 2007
    Verona, Italy
    I've no experience with the 200-400 but I just bought a used 300/2.8 VR, great deal... only about 40% more than what I paid for the 70-200 VR new... :cool: 

    To get an idea of the performance of the lens, compared to your 70-200 + 1.7x which I also use (D200):

    70-200/2.8 VR with TC-17EII never matches the bare 300 VR wide open.
    While the 300 VR at f/2.8 is a bit softer than at other apertures, even at f/11 the 70-200+1.7x is slightly inferior in the center and more so in the corners.
    Stopping down to f/3.2 the 300 improves a bit, especially in contrast.

    From my preliminar tests the TC-17EII works wonderfully on the 300, with minor softening wide open, less indeed than what it's shown in the comparison linked above from the 1.4x (although that comparison was with the 300/2.8 AF-S II which is known to be slightly inferior to the new VR version and AF-S I version).
    As you know 70-200/2.8 VR + 1.7x is quite soft wide open until f/8, with the best performance at f/11.
    But the 300/2.8 VR + 1.7x wide open is very nice, on par with the 70-200 + 1.7x at f/11 and stopping down half stop to f/5.6 results are practically indistinguishible from the bare 300, giving an impressive 500/5.6 VR.

    300 VR is just an amazing glass, with and without TC.
    Its VR is IMO more effective than that on the 70-200 and despite the longer focal lenght I can get steadier shots at about 1/60 - 1/125sec.
    Maybe the mass also helps here.

    The pro who sold me the lens switched to Canon because they provide him with a complete set of lenses almost for free (Canon marketing move in fashion photography) and while he's rather happy with their new gear he said he misses the 300 VR, which he considers even slightly better than the 300/2.8L IS.
    I had the 300/2.8L IS when I used Canon (1Ds) but frankly I haven't used the 300 VR enough to compare the two, even if it seems to me that the 300 VR is better when stopped down.

    Anyway, regarding your dilemma I guess it depends on what you shoot.
    I always saw nothing but great images from the 200-400 VR and its zoom ability is sometimes invaluable, but it will never be a f/2.8 lens (just as the 200/2 VR + TCs is more flexible than the 300/2.8 VR for indoor).

    But giving you're gonna shoot birds and mammal, I'd say the 200-400 would be the perfect choice.
    The only drawback is the price... :eek: 
  6. Looks like it is going to be the 200-400

    Thanks a lot John/ Don/ Don Krief & Macusque for your inputs. I have a similar post on Nikonians & DP review.....just wanted to be sure and reassured I presume.

    The general opinion is that the 200-400 is better for wildlife and birding as the subject to lens distance is usually not under control. The 200-400 allows better framing. The 300/2.8 VR seems to be best for indoor sports where the faster aperture will help immensely.

    I also found that I was shooting most of my images using the 70-200 at the long end and with the TC. I presume even with the 300/2.8 VR it would be with the TC and then the faster aperture no longer counts.

    The biggest problem is of course to try and find the money to buy it...my better half has agreed, so that is out of the way. I am planning to buy the accessories first and buy the lens a few months down the line. The repalcement foot and the gimbal are on the list.

    Which replacement foot do you suggest- Kirk/ RRS or Wimberly?
    Which Gimbal head- Jobu or Wimberly sidekick?

    Thank you once again.

  7. InitialD


    Mar 12, 2007
    Don't know what to say as I have neither. :biggrin: But if you're talking birding, you'll never have enough reach. Even if you're on 500mm f/4 or the 600mm f/4. Especially not if you're planning to shoot birds that are releatively small and skittish. You'll find you'll be mounting TCs.

    So what I'm going to say is neither the 200-400 or the 300mm f/2.8 will be enough for birding.

    I believe only Wimberley and RRS foot replacement / plates are double dove tail type. Which means you can mount your flash bracket (which you need to consider also when doing birding under heavy canopies) on the top as well as on the bottom side of the Arca Swiss foot replacement / plate. For a more detailed understanding of this, head to Wimberley's website.

    Sandeep, it's a toss. But quite a number of people prefer the more expensive Wimberley Sidekick. However that said, you need a good ballhead ($$$) like the Markins M10/M20 or similar ones from Kirk or RRS to be able to mount the 200-400 nicely on the Sidekick. The Jobu version of the sidekick however DOES NOT require a ballhead as it mounts directly on the tripod like the Wimberley full version gimbal.

    Yes, you need a sturdy tripod also. Consider a 3 section legged CF one by Gitzo (another $$$). Hope that helps.
  8. Pete


    Jun 10, 2006
    Denver, CO
    Both the 300 2.8 VR and the 200-400 F4 are awesome lenses. I just went through this situation myself. It seems that the people who buy either lens are extremely pleased with their choice. I agree with Jason that neither one is long enough for birding but you have to start somewhere and the TCs work well with these lenses. My dealer let me try both lenses and I chose the 300 2.8 VR mainly because I am often shooting in less than optimal light. Another thing that helped me decide: The RRS foot fits equally well on either lens... My point is that whichever one you choose, you will have an awesome piece of glass that you will enjoy for a long time.
  9. Sandeep I do birding and I have tested both these lenses extsensively.

    Both are sharp with TC's, on static objects, not counting the TC20 which is soft on all my long lenses.

    The I think things you are missing in the analysis are:

    • The 200-400mm focushunts with TC's on smaller birds, I found mine useless for small birds just becasue of it with the TC17, it is a bit better with the TC14 but it still hunts with it.
    • The 200-400 with a TC17 is a F7 lens (6.8 to be exact but that will be rounded off by the camera), that means it will be very slow at dusk and you would have to go to D8 to get sharp shots and your shutter speed would go down a lot.
    • The 300mm is a F2.8 lens. That makes for WAY faster focusing and higher shutter speeds with TC's. Tc14 = F4 and TC17 is F4.8, a whole stop better then the 200-400mm, and you need that with birds...... especially flying. And when i6t starts getitng dark you take off the TC's and you have a F2.8 lens that is sharp at F2.8, makes it posssible to shoot later then the 200-400mm.

    My rig is the 400mm F2.8 AF-S II (but oh so heavy) and the other body has the 300mm F4 AF-S, probably Nikons most underrated lens.
  10. imageswest

    imageswest Guest

    I've owned both of these lenses. I didn't keep the 300 f2.8 VR very long, because I found it to be a little soft at f2.8; it needs to be stopped down to f4, or f3.5 at the very least, to be acceptably (to me) sharp. The 200-400 VR is sharp wide open, so the 300 f2.8 doesn't have as much of a speed advantage as one might think.
  11. gadgetguy11


    Nov 16, 2005
    A couple weeks ago I switched from using a Sidekick + BH55LR to the full Wimberley gimbal. The heaviest lens I support is the 200-400VR on D2X. I really like the RRS replacement foot. To answer your question for a recommendation, I am blown away by the difference between the full Wimberley and the Sidekick / BH-55LR. The full Wimberley operates much easier, smoother, gives me much more confidence, much simpler and faster to set up, less chance of dropping the lens. I can't say enough good about it. I kept my BH-55, but sold the Sidekick.
  12. twig


    May 23, 2005
    not to jump on you here, but you had a problem with your lens or camera.
    The Nikon 300VR is one of the three sharpest lenses in the world wide open, it;s quality is to die for, period.

    The 200-400/f4 is a very fine compromise lens, and a joy when you have great light, however as others have mentioned, it does not love TC'c, f/4 is slow and will cost you shots at dawn, dusk, and under heavy brush.

    Honestly in my personal opinion, while a zoom offers more compositionsal possibilities, once you start using a 2.8 prime and see the shots you get, there just is no comparison. Yes, you may blow 10X as many shots to get the one properly framed one, but that one keeper will ROCK. The AF speed, the bokeh, it just rips.

    While a zoom is a nice crutch to have, practice makes perfect with primes, and you will be rewarded for the effort.

    As others have also stated, for birdees you need LONG glass, neither option here will cut the mustard, the 200-400 would be awesome for larger mammals in good light, like a safari.
  13. I agree that the 200-400 is sharp wide open, but so is the 300 VR and that at F2.8, That makes for quite a difference believe it or not when it comes to fast AF and lowlight. I guess the front element is so much larger on a 2.8 lens and that collects much more light and makes the AF work better (?)

    VR is nice but doesn help you with these issues. I always have it turned off on a tripod. I alwasy use a full wimberly and a big gitzo CF tripod (5540LS)with these lenses so VR doesn't help me much....
  14. Macusque


    May 18, 2007
    Verona, Italy
    A little soft or unacceptably soft ?
    While I agree that the 300 VR improves a bit when stopped down (like all lenses I used, Leica included), at f/2.8 it's amazingly sharp.
    Most lenses even at f/8 aren't sharp like the 300 VR wide open.

    These are 100% crops to show the difference between f/2.8 and f/5.6:

    f/2.8 center
    NIKON D200    ---    300mm    f/2.8    1/350s    ISO 100

    f/5.6 center
    NIKON D200    ---    300mm    f/5.6    1/200s    ISO 200

    f/2.8 edge
    NIKON D200    ---    300mm    f/2.8    1/350s    ISO 100

    f/5.6 edge
    NIKON D200    ---    300mm    f/5.6    1/200s    ISO 200

    Obviously there's more dof at f/5.6 and slight vignetting wide open, otherwise I can't see much of a difference between the apertures.

    Ciao :smile:
  15. Wow Ciao, I see a very big difference in your 2.8 - 5.6 center shot! (Even at these small screen sizes)

    As for the 200-400, I think the lens is "tuned" to be shot wide open. The only reason to stop down this lens is to get more depth of field.
  16. Macusque


    May 18, 2007
    Verona, Italy
    Really ?
    Consider that they are actual 100% crops, not the whole images reduced in size.

    Btw "ciao" stands for "cheers" :smile:

  17. adrianaitken

    adrianaitken Guest

    Macusque, those red crosses all look the same to me :smile:
  18. Macusque


    May 18, 2007
    Verona, Italy
    Do you see them now ?

    All 100% crops

    f/2.8 center

    NIKON D200    ---    300mm    f/2.8    1/350s    ISO 100

    f/5.6 center

    NIKON D200    ---    300mm    f/5.6    1/200s    ISO 200

    f/2.8 corner

    NIKON D200    ---    300mm    f/2.8    1/350s    ISO 100

    f/5.6 corner

    NIKON D200    ---    300mm    f/5.6    1/200s    ISO 200

    Cheers :smile:
  19. fishlips


    Apr 20, 2007
    Puyallup, WA
    I own the 200-400 and now find myself wanting something with a bit more reach w/o having to use a TC on my zoom. I am looking at the 400 knowing that I cna and will use the TC1.7 for the extra reach. having held and shot with the later last weekend, I can tell you that the 400 will be my next choice simply becuase of all that you can do with it. I doubt that I will retire my 200-400.
  20. Firelarz


    Feb 26, 2006
    Chandler, AZ
    I had the same thoughts, which one to get. I have a 500mm AFS-I I am selling because I don't use it much and was looking for a 300 2.8 or the 200-400 like you. I left it to fate and found a great deal here from Dave on the 300 2.8 AFS-II for $2500, so that is the one I got. If you are birding, like has been said, you need REACH! I also have a Gitzo with the full Wimberley head and Wimberley foot with the 500 and it is solid! I would recommend that set up.

    Good luck!
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