Mini-review, Nikon 200-500 in tough conditions

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by Retief, Aug 7, 2017.

  1. I have been waffling on this lens since it was announced. As well as the Sigma and Tamron comparative lenses. Initially I settled on the 300mm f4 PF, using the 1.4/1.7/2.0 TC's to get to the "longer" end, knowing that I was sacrificing the zoom.

    This past weekend I rented a 200-500 for a boat trip out of Neah Bay Wa to photograph Pelagic Seabirds. Our weather was not optimal for photography, foggy in the early morning, clouds and smoke in the air the rest of the day, the smoke from the fires in British Columbia. This gave me the opportunity to use the lens in tough conditions, which are not unusual here, versus the "good light" shots that we normally see.

    I have not processed too many images yet, overall I was not unhappy with the performance of the lens. To give you an idea of conditions, here are the 2 images I have put online so far, these are 2 from a Black footed Albatross landing, about a 20-25% crop. Out of a series of 10-12 images, I probably had 7 that were in really good focus. To be fair to the lens, the boat was bouncing, the seas were about 2-3 feet, and the bird wasn't still either. I was kneeling on the deck trying to be as steady as possible.

    1.
    BD-20170805-12015355-NIKON%20D500.

    2.
    BD-20170805-12015365-NIKON%20D500.

    I did these 2 first simply because the bow wake cracks me up.

    One other thing I really wanted was to get a good sense of the difference between using this and the 300 PF, which I had a chance to do.

    The good news, if I could get a substantial area of the bird within the entire batch of focus points, I was shooting d25, focus acquisition was generally OK. I did have the focus limiter on so the lens would not "hunt" through the same range, but when it started to hunt it was far more difficult to get it back versus the 300 PF with a 1.4 TC. I also found that tracking with this lens was not as accurate as with the 300 PF with the 1.4 TC.

    One time, interestingly enough with this Albatross, the zoom did help, but as others have noted it is tough to go the full zoom in one motion. In my case, going from about 250-400 was not difficult.

    My conclusion is that this is a super "good light" lens, but once the light isn't so good, the lens doesn't shine. For grins I tried mounting a 1.4TC, the images I have seen with this combo have quite good, again in good light. In these conditions fuhgeddaboudit.

    My recommendation is that if you want a "good light lens" at a very good price, this is not at all a bad choice. However if you can afford the added cost for the 300 PF plus TC's, you will get faster, in my opinion, AF overall, especially in not-ideal conditions. Over the next few days I'll add a few more pictures to illustrate, including some from the 300PF that I took on this trip.
     
  2. Mike Irish

    Mike Irish

    Jun 14, 2008
    Ireland
    I for one would very much like to see a real world shoo toff between these two lenses Bill. I do believe that the 300Pf with the 1.4 Tc will win hands down on image detail and tracking in every situation.
    Mike
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Karen
    Appreciate this comparison very much. I have the 300 PF and love it. And the 80-400 has served me very well, not only in Florida's great light but also in South Africa.

    My 500/f4 is becoming awfully heavy to tote around....and with all the exuberant praise for the 200-500, I've wondered if it might be a reasonable replacement for the 500/f4. I certainly look forward to your further comments about the 200-500's performance overall.
     
  4. Mike, here you go:
    Steve Perry, Back Country Gallery.

    I have no affiliation with Steve other than as a satisfied customer. I certainly have no fault with his comparison, it was one I looked at prior to deciding to even test the 200-500. The biggest issue for me, as well as my friends here is Washington, is how it performs in other than really good light.

    Karen, I can tell you that after 8 hours on a bouncing boat, the 200-500 was not a burden. I had 1 D500 with the 200-500 hanging on one side of a Black Rapid Yeti strap, the other D500 with a 300 PF hanging off the other side. I shot mostly with the 200-500, no problems hand-holding for extended periods.
     
    • Useful Useful x 1
  5. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Karen
    Thanks, Bill. Unfortunately even the 80-400 will tire me out sometimes! Guess I should hit the gym! LOL! However, I don't want to sacrifice IQ.....at least not a lot. So I'll be very interested in your assessment of I! in less than ideal situations.
     
  6. rick_reno

    rick_reno

    Dec 3, 2012
    N Idaho
    Nice shots Bill. Would like to your 300mm PF shots, it's a lens on my wish list.
     
  7. Not a replacement but nice for walking
     
  8. Rick, while I can post some from the 300 here, they won't be much use in comparison as I did not take the time to do "equivalent" testing. For that I will refer to the excellent Steve Perry video above, he does a really thorough job in this area. If you look at my latest Burrowing Owl threads you will see a lot of them taken with the 300, using both the 1.4 and 1.7 TC's as well.
     
  9. Karen, here is the really short version. The beauty of the 300pf is that it works great with the 1.4 and 1.7 TC's, and pretty darned good with the 2.0, latest version, as well. My wife Nancy can handhold this lens with no problem. The two downsides are no zoom and the added cost. In good light I don't think you lose a lot with the 200-500, in bad conditions I think the 200-500 goes downhill faster than the 300pf.
     
  10. rick_reno

    rick_reno

    Dec 3, 2012
    N Idaho
    Thanks Bill, just looked at those. They're beautiful.
     
  11. OK, time for a few more photo's, the Black footed Albatross was such a good subject for this test I'll add a few with commentary. These I have more fully processed, any opinions on that I would like as well. One thing I have not done is any localized specific sharpening.

    The first image is at 500mm, this crop is about 60% of the original image. Gives you an idea of the size of the bird in relation to other more "normal" size seabirds as well as an idea of why they were at this location.

    1. Chow Time
    p2459848776-5.

    It soon became apparent that the bird was about to take off, and being closer this time I zoomed out to 240mm. As it turns out 300mm would have been fine as well or even longer, but with the long wings I wanted some room. The crop on the last two is about 40% of the entire image, I could have zoomed out less and been fine, but I was not sure how close the bird would come to the boat. As I noted elsewhere, one of the take off sequences was 35 frames long, they run quite far to get up to speed. I liked this one with both feet off the water.

    2. Takes a lot of steps to take off!
    p2459848782-5.

    This last shot was near the beginning of the landing, the Albatross had already stumbled once, here it comes ..

    3. Sliding in
    p2459848777-5.

    In doing a rough analysis of these sequences, the 200-500 seems to have kept focus for about 65-70% of the shots, the 300 in similar flight sequences about 80%. Where I noticed a larger difference was in initial acquisition. Of course this is incredibly subjective but I found the 300 to do much better, it was just "quicker" for me as well as more accurate, less focus hunting. To be fair, of course, the 200-500 is a zoom, I had the 200-500 on the focus distance limiter, but the 300 was not limited, and it was still quicker.

    In conclusion, if I was forced to put numbers to this, I would say the 200-500 performed pretty darned well, maybe 80-85% as well as the 300 overall. Some of this may be due to the size and weight difference, but those certainly matter to me in the real world, we don't always have the luxury of everything being stable. I forgot to note, I was using VR in the Sport mode, it did not seem to cause any issues at all. I did, at times, find myself being annoyed when I missed a shot that I had not grabbed the other camera with the 300. This was usually when a flying bird just "popped up" and the focus on the 200-500 was not quick enough to grab it.

    I'm still on the fence, may need to rent for one more weekend with better light and to see if my wife can handle it. Then decide if having the zoom is worth the loss of AF and speed, versus the added cost of the 300.

    Looks like I am still back to my waffling, but at least now I have some experience to add to the waffle mix.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  12. Mike Irish

    Mike Irish

    Jun 14, 2008
    Ireland
    Nice shooting Bill. The second shot is super.
    Mike
     
  13. rick_reno

    rick_reno

    Dec 3, 2012
    N Idaho
    Bill, those are really great. Love that 2nd shot.
     
  14. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Karen
    Bill, the above added shots look very nice....but seem to lack fine detail. Did similar shots with the 300mm at the same shutter speed have the same amount of detail, or more or less detail?
     
  15. A few things to consider, Karen. The first was the atmospheric conditions, as you can see from the first images posted. Cloudy, gray sky, very flat light. Not at all conducive to capturing "fine detail" to begin with. Then, I somehow rather screwed up, these Albatross shots are mainly at 1/320. Somehow I "fumble-thumbed" the command dial dropping the SS lower than it should be. Last but not least, moving boat and bouncing ocean.

    I will attempt to look through my images to find similar from both cameras at more reasonable shutter speeds, which were closer to the boat.

    If I were you I would watch the Steve Perry video that I linked to earlier in the thread. Steve goes through some quite extensive tests comparing focus between the two lenses. As he was methodically testing with the same subject under much better conditions, I think you would get a far better idea from that. I was more concerned, in this case, simply with AF performance.

    Hope that makes sense to you.
     
  16. Karen, I went an found some "similar" images to try to give you a better feel for the detail. Nothing done here to correct anything, no added sharpening in LR on any of them other than to crop a bit on the first ones to get the size of the bird to be about equal. The last image is the one from the 300mm pf plus 1.4TC. One other thing to note, the 300 with the 1.4 has been AF Fine Tuned, the 200-500 had no AF Fine Tune at all. Be sure to look at the detail all over, I won't guarantee that I had great focus on the eye for all of these.

    1.
    BD-20170805-11162921-NIKON D500.

    2. Yes, I did "clip" the very top of the head, the boat simply would not stay still
    BD-20170805-11163695-NIKON D500.

    3. 300pf plus 1.4 TC
    BD-20170805-11244746-NIKON D500.

    I really need to go back an re-visit the Processed images above. The more I look at them, the more I see bits I don't like.
     
  17. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Karen
    Thanks so much, Bill. I watched Steve Perry's video a couple of times....when it first came out. I'll definitely be watching it again should I decide I'm seriously considering buying the 200-500.

    I'm convinced that in good light and when one is able to fill the frame with the subject, the 200-500 is a surprisingly good lens. While I love a zoom, now that I have the 300 PF, a crop body, 1.4 tele and 80-400.....I'm not sure the 200-500 makes sense for me at this time. I doubt I'm strong enough to hand hold the 200-500 for any length of time given that the 80-400 tires me after a couple of hours. So for hand holding either the 80-400 or the 300 PF win hands down. And if on tripod,vhopefully I can wrestle the 500/f4 around for a few more years.
     
  18. Good light, bad light, no light, IMO it's AF that is affected and not IQ, in other words any lens will suffer loss of detail w/o light. If we can't see it then the camera probably won't either
     
  19. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Karen
    The question was about the resolving power of the two lenses in the same light and similar shutter speeds. In my experience, lens do vary in their ability to resolve fine detail.
     
  20. Randy and Karen, I think you both make very good points. For me, as Randy notes, the AF is the place I see the biggest difference. To Karen's point, we can always look at MTF charts and such for resolving power, the more difficult thing is to determine how much a difference it actually makes to a viewer of an image. Both of these points are incredibly subjective, so each of us has to decide which bits are most important for our particular usage.

    My intent in this thread is to chronicle my own rambling thoughts, hopefully providing a few things for others to consider along the way.

    One fact I feel very comfortable with regarding the 200-500 is that it is one heck of a good lens, especially considering the price.
     
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