300mm f4 compared to 80-400mm zoom.

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by mark_chantell, Jul 22, 2013.

  1. Hi All.
    I have been using the older Nikon 300mm f4 ED-AF a lot over the last year. I really like this lens for its sharpness. The lack of VR has not bothered me, it just forces me to concentrate on my technique which is a good thing. I use it a lot for birding and other wildlife work. I have also found that it works surprisingly well as a pseudo-macro lens for subjects which are out of reach of my 105mm micro.
    With the introduction of Nikon's new 80-400mm zoom I'm considering possibly picking up one of the older versions of this lens assuming that the used prices will drop. I'd like some insight on a couple of performance points from anyone familiar with these two lenses.
    First question is how do these two lenses compare at 300mm. I like the sharpness of the 300mm f4. But I have never been impressed with the quality of the bokeh, and it exhibits quite a bit of CA wide open. I don't want to give up sharpness, but it would be nice not to have to fight the CA. BTW, when it comes to sharpness I am not a pixel peeper. I shoot with a D7000 and will not likely ever need to print beyond 16" x 10", but I do frequently crop in by a factor of 2ish on small subjects.
    Second question is how the image quality compares at approximately 400mm. By approximately I mean I currently use the Nikon 1.4x TC with the 300mm to get to 420mm.
    Third question is how the AF compares. I know that on the older 80-400mm the AF is considered a weak point. But I am used to the screw driven AF of the 300mm and I don't find it to be a problem, even for capturing birds in flight. I know that the slower aperture will affect the performance of the AF on the 80-400mm. But otherwise how do the two lenses compare.
    Any information will be much appreciated.
    Mark
     
  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    You have a fairly modern and demanding D7000. IMO, you are better off getting a more modern, AF-S version of long tele. Clearly the new 80-400 AF-S VR is super expensive @ $2700 and not for everybody, but is the older 300mm/f4 AF-S within reach? I really like the optics in that lens although its AF is on the slower side, especially for an AF-S.
    The older version of the 80-400 is not known to be a particularly good lens, especially on modern high-pixel DSLRs such as your D7000. People have been asking for an upgrade from Nikon for years. Nikon finally released the upgrade this year, and it is a much better lens in just about every aspect, but unfortunately it comes with a high cost.
     
  3. Hi Shun. I could probably swing the cost of the 300mm af-s, but I was under the impression that the optics were essentially the same as the non af-s lens with the exception being a closer minimum focus distance. That, the updated AF system and less sturdy tripod collar are the only differences I was aware of. But In your opinion the optical performance of the af-s version is significantly better?
    Thanks for the reply.
    Mark
     
  4. 300mm af-s, but I was under the impression that the optics were essentially the same as the non af-s lens with the exception being a closer minimum focus distance​
    Optics definitely not the same in the newer 300 AF-S as in the older AF-IF ED lens. I did own the IF-ED and now own the AF-S; I also own the 80-400 and am biding my time before I trade up to the new 80-400 AF-S.
    Bokeh on the old 300 wasn't much too write home about - the newer delivers better. CA is pretty well controlled on the AF-S lens; the AF 80-400 is doing worse.
    The AF-S 300 is sharper than the AF 80-400 is at 300 in the center and also in the borders. With a TC-14E/EII, the border performance wide open drops somewhat but not to the same level as on the 80-400 at 400. Stopping down one stop brings the borders back up, but the 80-400 still is behind the 300 with TC-14E/EII at all apertures.
    Despite all that, I find myself using the 80-400 more - due to the versatility of the zoom and the VR. As Shun mentioned, the AF speed of the 300 AF-S isn't all that impressive - and with a TC added drops to not noticeable faster than the 80-400 (which is slow at about the same level of the 300/4 AF IF-ED but without its excellent focus limiter).
    For pseudo-macro, the 300 AF-S is well suited with a close focus distance of 1.45m; the 80-400 only focuses to 2.3m.
     
  5. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I upgraded from the 300mm/f4 AF, pre-AF-S, to the current 300mm/f4 AF-S about 10 years ago. I only had both lenses simultaneously very briefly and that was a decade back still during the film era. In my recent comparison, the 300mm/f4 AF-S with the TC-14E (420mm equivalent) compares very well against the new 80-400mm AF-S VR at 400mm, on a D800E.
    The two version of the 300mm/f4 AF have totally different optical designs. The old version you have uses 82mm front filters and has an additional drop-in filter slot. The AF-S uses 77mm filters and has no drop-in filter. I never tested the old version on modern DSLRs, but the new version checks out very well. Its AF is slow for an AF-S lens and no doubt it'll get worse with a TC, but the old 80-400 AF-D has, IMO, unusable AF.
     
  6. I had the older 80-400 for a long time. At the end of the day it was a pretty good "do everything" lens that did not do anything exceptionally well. Sold it and have not really missed it, though the do everything lens concept is appealing. Focus action on the one I had was fast enough on a D1h to track my then 10 year old son playing soccer with a reasonable percentage of keepers. He would probably "outrun" that combo now.
    Now that the used price should be lower, it would be interesting to compare the older 80-400 to the 70-300 AFS VR. Think I did a quick comparison back when I had the 80-400, and came away thinking that the 80-400 was notably better optically. Not sure if my friend has a lemon 70-300, it did not impress at the more open apetures when I tried it again a couple of months ago.
     
  7. Thank you all for your responses. I'll rethink my options while keeping an eye on the used market for good prices on the 300mm AF-S.
    Mark
     
  8. Used AF-S 300/4 and TC-14E in like new condition will save you a lot of money compared to the AF-S 80-400. If your aim is the long end you shouldn't miss the zoom attributes.
    If however you are looking for a do everything long lens the AF-S 80-400 is tough to beat.
     
  9. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Recall this thread from a couple of weeks ago when I checked out the 80-400mm AF-S VR: http://www.photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00bnh5
    And I captured some comparison images of this sign: http://static.photo.net/attachments/bboard/00b/00bo3T-541209684.jpg
    Attached is the 300mm/f4 AF-S + TC-14E version of that sign, @ 420mm, lens wide open at f5.6.
    Since this is 420mm and the 80-400 has some focus breathing, the 300 + TC14E combo has a considerably longer effective focal length. I think center sharpness is very good, but there is noticeable drop off towards the corner. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled.
    Again, I think the main issue with this combo is AF speed. And you have no VR; but as long as you use a fast shutter speed as we often do with sports and wildlife photography, the lack of VR is a non issue.
    However, you also get an excellent 300mm @ f4. One down side for the 80-400mm AF-S VR is that it drops to maximum f5.3 @ 200mm. In other words, from 200mm and up, you pretty much have a slow, f5.6 long telephoto lens. The 300mm/f4 is one full stop faster @ 300mm.
    00bqq8-541520184.jpg
     
  10. Shun, I know it's considerably more cash but how would the 300mm 2.8 AF-S VR do in this role? Does it play nicely with a TC?
     
  11. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I have no experience with any one of the VR versions of the 300mm/f2.8. Mine is the first-generation AF-S, introduced back in 1996. I have had that lens since 1998. That is still among the very best Nikon lenses I have ever owned and my reference lens for sharpness.
    The big advantage of f2.8 is that it gives you one more stop to play around with. Snap a TC-14E on and you get a 420mm/f4, and you can stop down to f5.6 such that it becomes really excellent.
    Optionally, you can use a TC-20E III and get a useable 600mm/f5.6. Rick Dohme has posted quite a few images captured with that combination to our Wednesday image threads.
    But a 300mm/f2.8 lens is quite heavy, and expensive.
     
  12. The 80-400mm (original version) has better IQ than most people give it credit for (usually non-users of the lens) IMHO. And considering its current cost (very affordable currently available for under $700 used), it is also a tremendous bargain if you need the reach of 400mm and are shooting outdoors in good light and are on a tight budget.
     
  13. My interest is in the 300mm to 400mm focal range. Well I'm also interested in maintaining fiscal responsibility and marital harmony as well. Capabilities below 300mm are not much of a consideration.
    I use the 300mm f4 + TC-14 combo. But so far I have been much less happy with the results of that combo as compared to what I get without the TC. I know that part of my problem is that I primarily shoot handheld or using a Gorillapod for a little additional support, so stability is an issue. Part of my interest in the 80-400mm was driven by the hope that the VR would be a significant help.
    I had not given too much thought to the idea of using the newer 300mm f4 with the newer TC-14. But that upgrade would cost about the same as moving to the older 80-400mm. So much to ponder.... If only I had infinite time and resources.
    Mark
     
  14. Mark, if your interest is in the 300-400 range go with the AF-S 300 + TC-14E combo. Forget about the old 80-400.
    1) Image quality will be way better than with the zoom and better than the old 300/4 and TC.
    2) It is mentioned than the new 300/4 is a slow focuser. It's true compared to newer AF-S lenses but it's a Ferrari compared to the old 80-400 and old 300/4.
    I have owned old these lenses at some point. I loved the old 300/4, got rid of it to afford a longer lens but regretted it. I hated the old 80-400 which I kept only a month or so. I now own the AF-S 300/4 since about a year, although a bit heavier and fatter than the old version it is still a great lens for handheld bird/insect photography.
     
  15. Here is a photo I took last week with the AF-S 300/4 + TC-14E + Kenko 12mm AF extension tube + Nikon Polarizer mounted on a D800.
    It was shot handheld from about 4' at 400 ISO, 1/400th at f/8.
    First image is original (note vignetting due to extension tube).
    Second image is edited version with some cropping and unsharp mask.
    Third image is a major crop on the head.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  16. Very impressive Georges. I like the way you got the whole body in the focus plane. 1/800th of a second handheld eh... I think I need to work on my technique some more.
    Mark
     
  17. I suppose the older 300/4.0 is still fine on most camera's - although I haven't used it much on D800 yet. It has an aperture ring (the AFS as well??), which allows the use of the older Nikon extension rings. No newer Nikon extension rings? No.. But we've only been waiting 25 years for them to materialise, so that's still alright. :-((
    Recently I tried my 24-70 on extension rings (at f/22..) and the results were absolutely horribly bad. The question is now how the 80-400 will behave!

    On D300 with extension (Namibia 2012, all rights reserved):
    [​IMG]
     
  18. Albin, the AF-S 300/4 has an aperture ring so it can be used with Nikon old rings. I just got a couple Kenko Uniplus AF rings though, they work great with the D800.
     
  19. I thought so Georges Pelpel, it also being an older design by now.
    But I suppose I will have to let go of my grumpiness and buy a set of Kenko's..
    In another thread (http://www.photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00bq7K) I was also wondering about the ' do it all ' qualities of the new 80-400 and got some reality-checking responses..
    I have the older 300/4.0 AF and the 400/3.5, and the 80-400 looks like the obvious candidate to replace them. The price suggests it is. But I haven't yet seen this kind of 'allround' application of the lens (macro) yet to convince me. And my 24-70 was a disappointment in that respect..
     
  20. "But I suppose I will have to let go of my grumpiness and buy a set of Kenko's.."

    They are definitely not built like the Nikons, plastic body. I am not sure about the difference between the Uniplus models compared to the regular DG, they are more expensive so I figured they must be stronger. Anyway the work great.

    I used to owned both of your lenses (300 and 400). From what I read both are showing their limits on the higher resolution cameras, the 400 more than the other. I sold it long ago when I switched to the 500 so I cannot tell. The AF-S 300/4 is great (so is the old AF model), I bought for 2 reasons (birds and insect inflight and close-ups of skittish subjects). Its closest focus distance is shorter than the old version but extension rings are still very valuable.
     

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