picking one wildlife lens

Joined
May 8, 2011
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Mobile, Alabama
Considering the sizeable investment of wildlife lens. Lot's to consider re the options. I have a D300 and a D800 for reference. Have grown up hunting, well I've spent a lot of time in woods, so I have ground blinds, camo, and know a lot about the critters, watching scent, etc and am ready to "shoot" with camera.
I'm guessing that 300mm for most situations prob not enough reach with wildlife. Is f2.8 in 400mm worth the money and weight? Is the reach of 500mm worth the loss of going from f2.8 to f4? And then there is the 200-400 which allows more composition options, but if 300 usually not "long" enough then why buy the zoom? Appreciate any advice from those with experience in this arena?
 
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Miami, Florida
You need to consider how much weight you're willing to carry, and how far you're going to carry it. The 500/4 and 200-400/4 have something of an edge in that category, and both are small enough that you can fit them into moderately-sized backpack (like Gura Gear's Kiboko 22L+). Between the two, I'd go with the 500 if I was only shooting wildlife. I'd also take a 1.4x extender with me. I wouldn't go with the 200-400, in part because others have reported that it doesn't perform well with the extender, and because for anything in that in-between range (e.g., 200, 300, etc.), I can get by with a 70-200/4 or 300/4. The combination of the 70-200/4 and 500/4 gives you a healthy range of coverage.

Given the difference in reach, I'm not sure the 600/4 makes sense for the additional weight (yes, I know there are some who will carry it, and there are backpacks designed to carry the lens; if my criteria were hiking extended distances, I would personally opt for something lighter). Likewise, I'm not sure the 400/2.8 make any sense, either in terms of the weight or the times when you're likely to need to shoot it wide open. If you were using D3s or D4 bodies, there would be no need to even think about the f/2.8 lenses unless you knew you were going to be shooting under very low light conditions; still, I'd probably lean in favor of the f/4 lenses based on the comparative weights.
 
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I will want as much low light capability as I can afford/carry because most animals feed and move more predictably early and late. That's why i mention the heavy and expensive 2.8 lenses. Reach is important, not just for filling the frame and preserving pixels, but re shutter noise. Often, the photographer gets one or two clicks if a mammal or turkey is close at all on a still day and then they are all out of there.
 
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Don't discount the 300/2.8 VR so quickly! It has some nice advantages:

- shorter, lighter, and cheaper than the 200-400/400/500/600 options
- extremely versatile, works great with all 3 TCs

Cheers

Mike
 
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Thanks for your input and I agree with what you say about the 300/2.8. The only reason I leaned longer from the outset was from comments I've read here or other blogs in past, before I was in position to even consider such a purchase, that said basically " you will always want more reach than you think....300 may seem long, but out there with birds or wildlife its not that long".
You are right also about TC's and with my D300 I will have adequate reach, but then there is the light gathering thing esp. early or late.
 
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I have never fully understood the argument that the main reason to get the 2.8 version is so that you can shoot in poorer light. While it is true that the faster lens will allow one to handle poor light with less boosting of ISO, the main reason I prefer the 400/2.8 is for the ability to pop out the subject easier (as in less depth of field). I shoot primarily sports (as well as critters in the wild when the opportunity presents itself) and it is the shallower dof that is the main sell on the 2.8.

I understand that in wildlife photography, the background tends to be farther away from the subject, but I adore the creamy backgrounds that occur when the 400/2.8 is shot wide open. There is nothing quite like the 2.8 long glass when that is the effect one wants to achieve.

If size, weight and money are in the way of the 2.8, that is certainly understandable. But if you are wavering between the 500/4 and the 400/2.8 and the criteria is low light capabilty, raise the ISO. The newer Nikon bodies can handle the increased ISO far better than the older bodies. I shoot with a couple of D3 (not the S) and a D700 and don't hesitate to crank up the ISO to 1600 or higher. Hell, with one of the noise reduction plug ins (I use Nik Define), I will use 6400 and still get very good results.

To me, the determining factor is what you can carry on your back. In fact, while the 400/2.8 is my go to lens, I just picked up the new 80-400 for times that I just cannot carry the big gun. Great lens, but the DOF is often too deep with the 5.6 maximum aperture. Photography is a constant series of tradeoffs, isn't it?
 
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If you can only have one, 400 f2.8, any AFS version you can find. The 400 f2.8 is one of the lenses in the line up that performs well will all the TC's. Yes, you pay for it a bit in weight, but consider:

400mm f2.8
400mm + TC-14E - 560mm f4
400mm + TC-17E - 680mm f4.8 ( my 400mm AFS-1 reports as 950mm, go figure)
400mm + TC-20E - 800mm f5.6

Great versatility. I have shot this combination on both the D800 and the D300, focus is spot on and very fast.
 
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To me, the determining factor is what you can carry on your back. In fact, while the 400/2.8 is my go to lens, I just picked up the new 80-400 for times that I just cannot carry the big gun. Great lens, but the DOF is often too deep with the 5.6 maximum aperture. Photography is a constant series of tradeoffs, isn't it?
Gee, Rick, I could not have said it better, I just think I said it a bit differently, as our replies crossed :biggrin:

Funny that you mention the 80-400. I have been using the 200-400 as my "hand-held" lens, which make a lot of weight when I carry both. Just sold it and bought the 80-400. As to the DOF being a touch off, it is amazing what you can to the background with a bit of judicious NR, try Dfine with the brush, or with something like onOne FocalPoint. Many ways to get where you need to go. Tradeoffs is a great way to look at things.
 
Joined
Mar 23, 2008
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Santa Barbara, California, U.S.A.
Thanks for your input and I agree with what you say about the 300/2.8. The only reason I leaned longer from the outset was from comments I've read here or other blogs in past, before I was in position to even consider such a purchase, that said basically " you will always want more reach than you think....300 may seem long, but out there with birds or wildlife its not that long".
You are right also about TC's and with my D300 I will have adequate reach, but then there is the light gathering thing esp. early or late.
You will have more reach with your D800 in DX crop mode than your D300 :smile:

Another consideration - for even more reach, trade your D300 for a D7100! It's like adding a 1.4 TC, and you gain better high ISO performance, too...

Cheers

Mike
 
Joined
Jan 26, 2005
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You will have more reach with your D800 in DX crop mode than your D300 :smile:

Another consideration - for even more reach, trade your D300 for a D7100! It's like adding a 1.4 TC, and you gain better high ISO performance, too...

Cheers

Mike
OK, Mike, "now for the REST of the story!"

DX mode on D800, just a touch under 16mp. Hmmm, that was more MP at the same FOV as on my D300. Now, is that one reason I did not mind selling one D300 when I bought my D800 last year? Hmmmmmmm ....

More reach with the D7100. OK, let's see, in DX mode 24mp vs 12mp, can I perhaps crop more? Have to think about that one, and then don't forget the 1.3 crop mode, smaller files and even MORE "simulated" reach. Hmmmm, do I like my new D7100, having sold my second D300?

I think you are spot on, Mike.
 
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Mar 29, 2005
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Central, FL USA
Peter,
I often go deep into the everglades and use a blind to photograph wildlife early in the a.m. (I'm out there setting up even before the sun is up)
I have managed to photograph the Florida Panther as well as many bobcats, even a bobcat with her young kittens. I,ve owned all of Nikon's Superteles from the 300vr to the 600vr and the the is my favorite
And only one I kept is the 400 2.8. Tomorrow I'll post some images taken with it from a blind.
Only drawback.... it's a wee bit heavy....but the IQ more than makes up for any inconvenience.
If you go to my website towards the bottom there is a section titled Wyoming and in that gallery all the wolf and wildlife images were taken with the 400 2.8...
 
Joined
Sep 6, 2006
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Lompoc, CA
If you can only have one, 400 f2.8, any AFS version you can find. The 400 f2.8 is one of the lenses in the line up that performs well will all the TC's. Yes, you pay for it a bit in weight, but consider:

400mm f2.8
400mm + TC-14E - 560mm f4
400mm + TC-17E - 680mm f4.8 ( my 400mm AFS-1 reports as 950mm, go figure)
400mm + TC-20E - 800mm f5.6

Great versatility. I have shot this combination on both the D800 and the D300, focus is spot on and very fast.
I agree with all that... up to a point. If you need longer that 400 mm for birds or whatever and, just as importantly, don't need any shorter then it is a great way to go. I had the 400 AF-I and it was a fantastic lens, but it was a load to carry around. Long story short I sold it to get a 200-400 VR and I don't regret it. There are trade-offs no matter what you choose, but for me the flexibility of the zoom was a better choice. I miss the reach because it isn't very good with TCs but its a joy to carry, I can shoot it hand held, and going shorter than 400 can be really useful too.

Of course its up to you to figure out what matches your style. With the kind of money you're looking at spending on a lens like this I'd try to rent one first just to be sure.
 
Joined
May 8, 2011
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Mobile, Alabama
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  • #14
Thank you all for your input. Honestly, I think I would go with 400/2.8 as first choice but the cost and weight make me very open to listen to those of you who have experience in the field with all of these lenses; its very insightful to hear what you say. I often shoot kids sporting events with D300/grip so I will be keeping it ( primarily for fps). It's true though that I need to spend some time with these big lenses in my hands before deciding....
 
Joined
Jan 26, 2005
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Thank you all for your input. Honestly, I think I would go with 400/2.8 as first choice but the cost and weight make me very open to listen to those of you who have experience in the field with all of these lenses; its very insightful to hear what you say. I often shoot kids sporting events with D300/grip so I will be keeping it ( primarily for fps). It's true though that I need to spend some time with these big lenses in my hands before deciding....
I don't know what the rental market is like in your area, we have a good rental place here in Seattle, but renting for a few days is a good way to test. I have rented from Borrow Lenses-Super Tele Nikon Page, they are great to work with and if you tell them I sent you I am sure they will have no clue who the heck I am :biggrin: The folks at Lens Rentals-Nikon Super Teles Page also get very good reviews. Prior to buying my first Super Tele, I rented for several weekends from our local rental outlet, it really helped me in making my decision.
 
Joined
Jan 13, 2011
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Australia
I own both the 300 f2.8 VRII and the 500 f4. I sometimes carry both in the one backpack, the Lowepro Flipside 500 along with my TC's.

A few observations on my use.

For me, the 300 is my favourite lens. The IQ is the best of any lens I own - see signature for list that I have. If I could only have one telephoto it would be the 300 as I can take it on trips easily and works superbly with the TC's. However, I wouldn't really want to be without my 500 either!

The 300 and using TC's is easy to take on holidays and trips, the 500 needs a bigger bag. I can take my 300 + D800E, + 24-70, 16-35 f4 VR and 70-200 no problem on trips. I would have to make special arrangements to take my 500 f4.

The 300 is superb and with the 1.4x TC there is basically no loss in IQ. Sample:

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crop:

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With the 2x TCIII there is a small drop in IQ, especially at longer distances over say 30mts. The 1.7x TCII is about the same as the 2x TCIII. You need to stop down 1 stop from wide open to get decent IQ, so with the 2xTCIII on the 300, you need to be at f8.

The beauty of the 300 and using TC's is that you get the same minimum focus distance of 2.2mts. The above shot was about 2.7mts, the bird has a body of about 2" long, so quite tiny. I couldn't use my 500 as it has a minimum focus distance of 3.85mts! At this distance I'd say you'd be hard pressed picking any difference in IQ the 500 and 300 + 1.4x TCII.

So, if you need the use of close focus ability or are shooting smaller animals close up, or large animals at distance then get the 300 and use TC's.

If you are always shooting at distance, then get the 500 f4.

Both are exceptional lenses. Sample shots from both:

D800E + 300 f2.8

@f5

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@ f4

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@ f5

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D800 + 300mm f2.8 + 2x TCIII

Cropped about 40% linearly. @ f8

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D7000 + 300mm f2.8 + 2x TCIII

Cropped about 20% Linearly. @ f8.

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Here are some 500 shots:

D800 + 500 f4 + 1.4x TCII

@ f8

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D800E + 500 f4 VR handheld @ f5.6 cropped maybe 25% linearly

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Nikon D800E ,Nikkor AF-S 500mm f/4G ED VR
1/2000s f/8.0 at 500.0mm iso1800

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Nikon D800 ,Nikkor AF-S 500mm f/4G ED VR
1/1600s f/7.1 at 500.0mm iso800

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Joined
Feb 2, 2005
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Maple Bay, Duncan, BC, Canada
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Andreas Berglund
OK so now I know as well what you want to shoot, now here is the deal the way I see it. I have owned and tried all of the big lenses (minus the new 800mm of course). I currently own the 300 VRII, The 400 F2.8 AF-S II and the 600 VR. I sold the 500mm VR for the 600 because I got a great deal.

  • The 300 VR is handholdable and goes to 550mm with TC17EII (Personally I dont like the IQ from the TC20EIII on any of these lenses), superfast AF, finest detail and Bokeh.
  • The 400 is basically a larger 300, same superfast AF and finest detail. Goes to 680mm with the TC17EIIm a large difference. It is not handholdable, heavy as h-l, get a Wimberley style gimbal head for it and you will be ok. Did I mention how heavy it is? Fantastic lens, it will be the last lens I will sell.
  • The 500 is the compromise lens, better reach then a straight 400, handles the TC14EII superbly (700mm), much lighter, great for travel. Not as fast AF (by far) as the 300 and 400, not as great IQ with the TC17EII. IMHO the 500 with a TC14EII at 700mm has ever so slightly better IQ then the 400 with a TC17EII for 680mm, at normal magnifications one can't see the difference. But it is an F4 lens and the AF is not even close to the speed of the 300 and 400. Very nice lens though... If you have alot of light, like in Florida and dont want to haul a 600 this is a great lens.
  • The 600mm VR is a longer 500, Works superbly with the TC14EII for 840mm, the king of reach (before the 800mm VR came along), needs very good light for the TC17EII to work really well. Does it have to much reach? Not for me this is my go to lens for birds, 400 for animals.
  • 800 F5.6 VR? Besides the lower weight I dont get this lens, a 600 VR with a TC14EII gets you to 840mm at F5.6, maybe slightly less IQ but same F-stop
  • 200-400mm? Great idea but mine was always at 400mm and the handling of the TC14EII was ok but not great, much slower AF, great Africa lens I have heard...

So my recommendation to you is to get the 400mm VR, unless you want to be able to handhold the lens if so then the 300mm VR.
 

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