A few words about the Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR lens
Many of us were taken by surprise when Nikon, following the steps of Sigma and Tamron, introduced an affordable long telephoto lens this year. Well, what to say? First and foremost I say a big Thank You to Sigma and Tamron. By bringing their super telephoto zoom lenses to the market they enabled many photographers to get serious about wildlife photography. So Nikon had to have their answer ready on short notice.
I have no doubt that the Nikkor 200-500mm zoom had been developed some time ago, tooling ready for production, nicely tucked away in a warehouse. I doubt that it would have been introduced any time soon, or for the price tag it carries, if the third party makers hadn’t made their move. So, how much we actually benefit from this lens? Is it any serious for meaningful use? The answer is, absolutely yes.
I upgraded my 500mm prime this year to the new 500mm f4E FL. However, upon learning from the new long zoom I became very curious about it. I saw some complimentary use for it for myself, providing that it was meeting my expectations. I bought one within a week it became available. I put it through its paces and I am happy to report that it proved to be a winner.
The optical performance of the lens is very good. There is no need to worry about that one cannot take prize winning photographs with it. I took side by side photographs with the prime and the zoom of the same subject when I was out exploring the birds in a local marsh. The 200-500mm brought in excellent images, worthy of publication. So, what happens to my 500mm prime lens now? Well, it stays in service, no doubt. It will not be unseated by the zoom. The AF speed of the prime is much faster than that of the zoom and it is one stop faster. So, is the zoom slow to focus? For static or slow moving targets it is very good. For faster moving subjects it is still adequate in good light. I tested it on moving cars, snapping at their license plates as they turned the corner at an intersection. The images were sharp, however, since the cars were just turning around the corner their speed was slow and they moved predictably. The 500mm prime focuses in a snap, the zoom may need “three snaps” to focus. You may smile about this less than scientific measure but I believe you understand what I mean. 🙂
If you are a nature photographer who cannot justify the well over ten thousand dollars for the 500mm f4E lens then get this zoom. Image quality will be very good and with some practice you can get used to its AF speed. Furthermore, the zoom function is something to appreciate. I take the zoom instead of the prime lens when I may need shorter focal lengths in an instant. I photograph in bogs quite frequently where I often need 300mm or so for close action. The zoom lens proved to be the right tool on several occasions. One more thing about the optics of the zoom. Images taken with it exhibit some chromatic aberration. Nothing to worry about though, it is easily corrected during RAW conversion. Images taken with the zoom can stand up to serious scrutiny. I have printed a number of images ranging from 16″x20″ to 24″x30″ with great detail and good contrast.
I’d like to say a few words about the 70-200mm f4 zoom in conjunction with the 200-500mm lens. I purchased this lens in the spring to lighten my camera bag. After testing it for a couple of weeks I sold my AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR II. The f2.8 lens was excellent, however, I never needed the f2.8 in nature and it was much heavier than the f4 version. It means a lot to lighten the load when you are in the back woods for days in a row and carry all your gear and supplies on the trail. Also to mention that the 70-200mm f4 has good close up capability. I took a lot of butterfly images with it during summer trekking in Northern Ontario. If you want a light wildlife combo in your backpack then pair up the 70-200mm f4 with the 200-500mm f5.6 and your back will say thank you.