200-500 Slow AF ?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by walker_angell, May 27, 2016.

  1. I've been shooting with a 200-500 (on a D5 & D800) for a couple of weeks. It is very noticeably slower focusing than my other lenses but these are all 2.8 or faster and shorter. The one lens I have that is slower focusing (and is much slower) is the older 80-400 AF VR that's on a D200 at our cabin.
    Is this slower focusing caused by the slower max aperture? E.G., every 5.6 max aperture will focus this slow? Slower AF motor? Any idea how focusing speed compares to the newer 80-400? Finally, will this likely work well in Serengeti or am I likely to be frustrated with missing shots because of focusing speed?
  2. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I have the old 80-400 VR -- I simply do what we did before autofocus. Go manual and set to hyper focal distance. Don't know of anything faster. Haven't given in to the 200-500 yet, can't comment there, and haven't been to Africa. Have a great time!
  3. Mine seems fast enough, and silent, on a D810. Friends who use it on D500s love it even more.
  4. Thanks all. Thom's article had the key. I'd actually read this a while back and forgotten what he'd said about focus performance so the ref sent me back to it and the solution. It sounds like the problem is not aperture but that the internal lens motor has a difficult time moving the heavy elements.
    However, the 400 / f2.8 focuses very noticeably faster and weighs almost twice as much. It must either have a more powerful motor or the elements that need to move are lighter than in the 200-500.
  5. The 400 f/2.8 is known to be for fast focus - partly because it's aimed at sports as much as wildlife. Even the AF-I version was pretty quick, allegedly, when the other AF-I lenses took forever. I strongly suspect it's moving only tiny lens elements - that seems to be true of the 200 f/2, and it's certainly why a TC-16A can focus my 500mm f/4 fast. The 200-500 is very much on a budget, and I'm sure this is where a compromise had to happen. I've yet to get one, but I'm expecting it not to track moving targets perfectly (or jump between them fast, at least).
  6. So you are expecting a low priced consumer zoom lens to focus as quickly as a much more expensive pro fast aperture prime?
  7. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    As pointed out above, the 200-500mm/f5.6 is a fairly slow consumer lens. Optically it is excellent and great value for the money ($1300), but its AF motor is definitely not as strong as those motors in the 200-400mm/f4, 400mm/f2.8, etc.
    And being f5.6 is a factor, as the AF module has less light to work with. Under decent outdoor sunlight, I think its AF is fine even for birds in flight. If it is heavily overcast, f5.6 is definitely a problem.
    I think the 200-500mm/f5.6 should do fine in an African safari, especially if you use a D5. Unless you get really lucky to see a big cat chasing a pray, most of your animal images will not be running animals. Of course a 500mm/f4 will be better in certain ways, but you also need to consider the weight. For birds in flight, personally I prefer the 80-400mm AF-S VR, perhaps with a DX body.
  8. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    See the sample image I just posted to this thread: http://www.photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00dwQK
    Image: http://static.photo.net/attachments/bboard/00d/00dy8p-563352184.jpg
    Yesterday I took the 200-500mm/f5.6 with a D500 out to capture various birds. Obviously the evening light was great (and bright). That combo is outstanding, although the 200-500mm is on the long side for hand holding and I had some difficulty keeping the fast-flying birds inside the DX frame. For birds in flight, I still prefer the 80-400mm AF-S VR, which is smaller and easier to manage although you lose some focal length on the long end.
  9. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Here is another bird in flight but in the shades. These cliff swallows move very rapidly and they tend to build their nests under the roof, in this case in the shadows. 200-500mm/f5.6 @ 500mm, f5.6, 1/1600 sec and ISO 1000. It is not going to be as fast as the 500mm/f4 AF-S VR FL, but the 200-500 does a fine job.

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