400mm+ lens for wildlife

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by jon_teague, Dec 6, 2010.

  1. Hello all!
    Im looking for a larger telephoto lens (either 400-500mm) for nikon D200. I dont have the largest budget, however quality is my main priority. I will most probably be manual focusing and on a tripod, or beanbag etc so image stabalisation is not 100% necessity. I have also been looking at smaller lenses with TC's if anyone can suggest good combos. I will also consider older (mabye anual focus) lenses if they are of high enough quality.
    The main lenses i have been looking at are:
    200-500mm f5-6.3 tamron (has some good reviews on image quality)
    80-400mm f4.5-5.6 sigma
    50-500mm f4-6.3 sigma
    Any advice or suggestions on this topic would be of great help :)
    Thanks in advance
  2. Since quality is important to you, I suggest you only consider Nikon's 80-400mm VR lens. I had the Sigma 50-500mm and was very disappointed with it. Aside from its huge size (often referred to as Bigma) and weight, it has no VR (older version) and IQ is only good. Getting 'the real thing' is not much more expensive than third party choices. The Nikon lens, like virtually all Nikon lenses, is well built and gives excellent IQ and will be fully compatible with your body. You won't be disappointed with it. Unfortunately the jump to 500mm and beyond is quite costly and you end up with a large, heavy lens.
  3. DO NOT add a teleconverter to an f/4.5-5.6 lens. It'll make the lens so slow it'll drive you crazy and autofocus won't be an option under most circumstances. I have used the Nikon 80-400mm VR and am quite happy with it. It was relatively pricey at about $1600 if I recall, but the next steps up in the Nikon line up were 5-10 times that much. On a crop sensor, the 80-400 gives a lot of reach for wildlife shooting. The VR is more important than you think at 400mm and can be very valuable.
    Here's the rub. If you want the Nikon 80-400mm, there has been much talk that it is a lens Nikon is about to update with a new version. So you have to decide how quickly you need it and weigh if it is worth waiting a while to see if a new version is released.
  4. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    If image quality is important to you, I would try to find a used 500mm/f4 P lens that can meet your budget. I sold mine back in 1998 for like $3200. Today, you should be able to find ones in the $2000 range.
  5. The old Bigma 50-500 was known for being a bit dodgy on image quality, I believe. The Sigma 150-500 OS got relatively favourable reviews, but there seems to be a lot of sample variation - there are a few not-very-happy customers on these forums (I'm planning to sell mine and get a manual focus prime), but it's "okay" stopped down a bit, and it's definitely lighter than the big glass. It's fine at the short end, but then there are easier ways to get a 150mm f/5 lens. I've heard that the new OS 50-500 might be better than the 150-500 at the 500mm end, but I'm not sure how reliable they are. I doubt any would hold up to a 500mm f/4.5 SIgma prime, and certainly not the on-brand glass, but I suspect they're beyond your budget. On a crop sensor, be wary that pointing a 500mm lens accurately can be tricky - I went with an image stabilised option as much because I couldn't see to frame as because of longer shutter speed (I'm less worried about a 500 on an FX body with a big tripod).

    I've heard good things about the 80-400 Nikkor, if 400mm is long enough for you. If you really want a shorter lens to teleconvert then the 300mm f/4 gets mentioned a fair bit; that's probably the cheapest prime I'd think about teleconverting. However, I can't vouch for these from personal experience - I'm just collating "stuff I read on the internet". I hope that helps anyway!
  6. Many years ago a 400mm f/8 or f/5.6 with four elements in four groups was capable of fine results if well made. They can be quite inexpensive on the used market. I tried several before finding two that were really good. Conveniences like VR and zoom ad much to the cost, but not necessarily so much to the image. Some older teles had poor tripod mounts. These should be avoided.
  7. What about the 300 f/4 AFS? Those are around $1000 and you can add a TC to get out to 420 and even a 1.7 to get out to 500. It will perform better than any of the above lenses.
    If you need to go slightly less expensive the older version of that lens is also wonderful. That is around $400 and you can add a Kenko TC to it with very nice results. It will not focus as smoothly as the AFS, but if all you are using it for is landscapes or slower animals. ie not small birds. :) It will work very well.
  8. I realized when reading the posts here that none of us has asked you what you plan to use the lens for, and this should inform our responses--at least to some degree.
    If for relatively still subjects, then yes, take the above advice and comments for what they are worth.
    But if for moving wildlife, consider this if you haven't used a lens like this before: you will need to shoot at 1/250 for any hope of sharpness with a tripod or using VR. Much better is 1/320 or 1/400 or faster. Shooting at speeds this fast will be nearly impossible in many common lighting situations if you have anything slower than an f/5.6 lens. And by the time you get to f/8, it is quite likely you will rarely have enough light to shoot at the requisite speeds.
    Shooting wildlife is a lot of fun, but quite tricky because there just never seems to be an ideal amount of light. Short of buying a $10,000 lens where the compromises exist but are fewer, you have to balance budget against lens speed with an eye on how useful will the lens you buy actually be in reality. Putting a 1.7 teleconverter on a lens with an f/5.6 aperture at 400mm is going to render that lens so impossibly slow that any moving wildlife will be blurry in all but the very very brightest situations.
  9. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Kyle, the OP has specified that he is photographing wildlife and is going to focus manually. He seems to be well aware of some of the limitations he will face.
    The lenses listed in the opening post are in the $1000 range. For that kind of budget, you are not going to get any 400mm or longer lens with great optical quality and AF. IMO the best choice with those constraints is the 500mm/f4 P, but that is probably going to cost over $2000 used.
    The 300mm/f4 AF-S plus TC is also a possibility.
  10. For quality on a budget at that focal length look for a Nikkor 500mm f4 P or if a shorter lens will work then a The 300mm/f4 AF-S plus TC. I have also used a Nikkor 400mm ED-IF f5.6 when I had a D200 with good results. I currently use the Nikkor 500mm f4 P with a modified 1.4TC E II.
  11. I don't know whether this is handy for you as I've not used any other primes or lenses in your list, but I do own a Sigma 150-500 OS so I thought it might be worth sharing my experience with it.
    It's a pretty slow lens, and my particular copy is slightly compounded that when used wide open, subjects have a slight, light halo around them - the upshot of this means that I don't tend to shoot wider than f/8 no matter what I'm doing with it.
    Other than that, my sample of the lens behaves pretty similar to what other say - it's a "good" performer from 150-400, but anything past about 350 starts to get soft. The actual drop in sharpness and contrast by 500mm isn't actually that bad if you can afford to stop down to f/9-f/10 or so. If you're on a tripod with manual focus, I'd guess that you're taking static or low-movement photographs so you may be able to stop down a bit at least.
    For what it's worth, the stabilisation (on my copy at least) is actually surprisingly good, but I don't know how much it affects the image quality.
  12. Ah, yes, Shun: I re-read the post--not the thread title. My error. The poster did, however, say "most probably" manually focusing, so if there is a possibility the OP wants to occasionally use auto-focus, my points regarding the teleconverters on slow lenses stand. I guess only the OP knows what kind of wildlife is meant to be shot, as well, and what the distances will be that need to be covered. Shooting a barely moving grazing herd of giant muskox is one thing and lends itself to slower shutter speeds that can still yield very good results without super reach of a lens. Capturing a small darting arctic fox is quite another thing. "Wildlife" is pretty broad.
  13. While I'll back up the various suggestions of big manual-focus lenses, warnings about the long end on Sigma superzooms (FWIW, Tamron seem to do better in comparison reviews against the Sigma than they did with the Sigma 150-500 came out...) and the suggestions of a Nikkor 80-400 or 300 f/4 + TC, it occurred to me to make another suggestion: For 500mm on a real budget, don't rule out the mirror (reflex) lenses. The bokeh is horrible because of the mirror in the way, you can't change the aperture, and the contrast is a bit dicky - but they are a cheap and light way to get to 500mm. Check reviews carefully - they have optical issues, but shouldn't have the chromatic aberrations you have to worry about in refractive optics. I wouldn't get one myself, but I'm too much of a fan of nice backgrounds; the OP may be prepared to compromise. Just a thought.
  14. Another vote for the Nikkor 80-400 VR. It's quite sharp, and light enough to use handheld, especially with the VR. Its worst fault is that the AF is a bit slow. They're getting cheap in the used market as folks anticipate an upgraded AF-S version. If you look, you can find a good deal on a clean used one.
  15. If you are a serious wildlife photographer, you just can't skimp when it comes to long telephotos, in my opinion. Save up for the best glass, or at least take Shun's advice. I wouldn't settle for anything less than 500mm.
    Below is a shot taken with a Nikon 70-300mm f4.5 VR. I bought it just to see what all the fuss was about. The big geese were only a few yards away and still I had to crop this picture considerably. I shot it with my D90 at around 270mm. So, I would purchase a 500mm lens at the least for any serious wildlife. Get a prime lens.
    BTW, the Nikon 70-300mm f4.5 VR is pretty good for an amateur optic. 270mm is about the maximum focal lenth you can expect acceptable sharpness, in my opinion, with my sample.
  16. I love my 400 mm 3.5 EDIF manual focus lens. I use it on a D3 and I would think it would be even better on a D200 with the crop factor.
  17. As the OP is looking at lenses at around $1000 or less, I would guess that lenses costing significantly more are probably out of reach. Perhaps Jon could elaborate.
    Robert, my 70-300mm VR is sharp throughout its zoom range, especially at 300mm.
  18. http://www.keh.com/camera/Nikon-Manual-Focus-Fixed-Focal-Length-Lenses/1/sku-NK06009033666N?r=FE
    Even with the TC-300/301 works great with this lens.
  19. Robert, my 70-300mm VR is sharp throughout its zoom range, especially at 300mm.​
    I'm happy for you Elliot. Looks like you got a good sample, or I got a bad one. Maybe I'll send it in to Nikon for evaluation, or just get rid of it. I doubt I'll use it much, anyway.
  20. Hello all many thanks for all the helpful advice and suggestions.
    I would be willing to go higher in price than those lenses, i just posted as suggestions. does anyone know what the 200-500mm Tamron is like as ive heard good things about it in terms of image quality (for its price and in comparison to similar models).
    I want to vary my photography and not be stuck down into one subject, so i would be shooting a range of subjects (thats probably not helping narrow the search :))
  21. Another vote for the Nikon 400mm f3.5 EDIF manual focus lens. They can be had for under $1,000 with a little hunting. I use it all the time for wildlife, often with a TC14b or TC301 teleconverter on my D300. If my math is correct, that makes it a 840mm or 1200mm option. I also own a Nikon 80-400mm zoom that I use for hand-holding situations. I really enjoy both lenses but the 400mm on a tripod with the converters becomes much more versatile for long distances. Don't forget to save some money for a really good tripod and head. The 80-400mm zoom doesn't have the reach or the speed I need for most situations. Here's a shot I took in New Mexico with the 400mm and a TC14.
  22. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Robert, my 70-300mm VR is sharp throughout its zoom range, especially at 300mm.
    I'm happy for you Elliot. Looks like you got a good sample, or I got a bad one. Maybe I'll send it in to Nikon for evaluation, or just get rid of it. I doubt I'll use it much, anyway.​
    Or some people are more demanding on the performance from their lenses than some others. It is just like some people are happy using the 20mm/f2.8 AF-D on the D700 and some are not. I can show people exactly the same image; some will find it unsharp and some are happy enough with its sharpness.
  23. Jon -
    A suggestion - go to http://www.naturephotographers.net/rf.html and check out the Avian and Fauna forums. Most folks include the hardware used for the photo, so you can see a lot of examples of various lenses and combinations. Then decide for yourself what you like. You'll be able to see what people get from the 150-500, 80-400, 300/4 + 1.4X and +1.7 X, etc.
  24. Since all glass seems to be in the running, and if all you want is a big image, maybe this thread will be useful to you and others. You may even find a 2x tele-extender for the Spiratone on eBay.
  25. There are several reviews out there on the Tamron 200-500 from competent reviewers. A Google search will turn them up. The author is basically a Canon user so his reviews/tests tend to incorporate comparisons with Canon products.:
  26. The Nikon 400mm f/3.5 is the way to go. However, in my case, I do not shoot enough wildlife to justify the cost. Therefore, I settled on a 400mm f/5.6 Nikon.
  27. I have just purchased a Sigma 120-400 mm OS and very happy with it. Only 600 Euros compared with the equivalent Nikon price (5995 Euros).
    The photo uploaed was taken almost 290 feet, 400 mm, f8 and 400 ISO, Monopod and Nikon D300
    Hope it helps
  28. I have a NIKON 300mm 2.8 and add a 2x teleconverter to it and have been very happy with it, but it definitely cost a bit of money. It is my hobby lens so it killed me to spend as much as I did for it but couldn't be happier. Here is an example of a coyote I shot with it in yellowstone this last winter. Best of luck!
  29. Ups, the attachment file is a crop from the original. Here is the original file. Reduced to 700 pix wide, unsharp masl 120, 0, 2
  30. I own an old Nikkor AI 400 5.6 ED (not the ED-IF) and I'm very happy using it on a D200. Most of the time I use a sturdy monopod instead of a tripod. This makes a very portable kit and allows fast pointing at moving subjects. The lens is very good at f/5.6 but I need 1/320 to get steady shots and sometimes I'm forced to use higher ISO values wich are a bit noisy with the D200. In the future I could substitute the D200, but won't sell the lens.
  31. "For the best quality with the least outlay go for the old 500mm f/4P Nikkor. Next would be the 80-400mm VR zoom and last choice would be the AFS 300mm f/4 together with a 1.4x TC.
    I have bad experiences with sigma tele-zooms and would only ever consider a 300mm tokina f/2.8 or tamron."
    Sure, Peter, the Nikon 300 mm F4 lens is an awesome piece of glass, and the Nikkor 80- 400 has a slow AF, but in my case I had the oportunity to test the lens outside the store with my camera and a couple of days after, and little tests and comparisons, I finally decided to pick the Sigma 120-400. My lens is a sharp, fast AF and it is a nice copy, but I can not tell the same story about the other Sigma telezoom lens. For example I didn´t buy the Sigma 50-500, not only for weight but a good friend of mine has one of them and it is softer than mine.
    And money is an issue, at least for me. The "equivalent" lens in Nikon is a 200-400 f4 VR II, costing about ten times the Sigma. Still we are in crisis in Europe, :)
  32. Get on eBay. There is some nice Nikon glass there for a fraction of what you would pay retail. In particular, a well used 200-400. I was looking there yesterday as I have the same requirement as you.
    Going over 400 is going to be expensive. The Bigmas look impressive on paper, but at these focal lengths you really do get what you pay for. Read the respected reviews and choose carefully. Tele's are ok on a 2.8 lens, but slower than that will cripple your focus performance.
    You really need to budget $2k and get a used Nikon lens.
  33. Jon, what did you decide? I am looking for a lens in the range you are considering. I had forsaken the idea of the Sigma Bigma long ago, but I didn't realize that Sigma had introduced a new version with OS just recently. I read a review last night that says the 50-500mm OS is as good as the 150-500mm OS. It costs more, but I will avoid having to buy a second lens to fill the 50-150mm range (though the new 50-150mm f2..8 OS looks very enticing). Weight is a factor for me too, and having one lens instead of two would make my kit lighter and more convenient (covering the range from 8mm to 500mm with 3 zooms instead of 4). If I get the new Bigma, I will eventually replace it with two lenses - the 120-300mm f2.8 OS and the 300-800 Sigmonster. This will give me a longer reach, but at a much much higher price. It seems to me that the 50-500 might be the way to go for a couple of years, until I can afford the other lenses, but I am not sure. I may want the two lens kit, because it will give me an f2.8 aperture all the way up to 150mm (which would be nice). Then, when I get the 120-300mm f2.8, I will have f2.8 from 17mm to 300mm in a three lens combo. It's a dilemma.
    I will be getting a Sigma SD1, so I am limited to Sigma lenses. If you decided on the Sigma, I would love to hear why and which one. If not, I would love to hear why not.

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