500mm f/4.0P ED-IF (AI-P) vs AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by fluppeteer, Jun 2, 2016.

  1. Hi all. Quick question this time.

    Background: Since I'm going on a trip with wildlife and stuff, I planned to trade in my 500mm f/4 AI-P for the new 200-500mm. Sadly, for a £1300 lens when I bought it (very) used a couple of years back, the trade-in value I'm being offered is only about £500 - sight unseen, to be fair.

    Question: Other than the ability to go to f/4 under duress, the brighter (but not stabilised) viewfinder, and its use as an offensive weapon, does the AI-P have anything to offer over the zoom? I wasn't blown away with the performance of the AI-P on a D8x0 wide open, and maybe not even at f/5.6, but my tests weren't exhaustive. If others also feel the prime is not keeping up with a 36MP body wide open, and if the 200-500 keeps it honest at f/5.6, I'll go with the trade-in. If it's still going to have uses (e.g. for astrophotography) and the quality is worth it, the relatively small dent it'll make in the 200-500 cost makes me more inclined to hold onto it, if only as a telescope. Has anyone tried them side-by-side? (I'm not expecting the 200-500 to quite hold up to the latest 500mm AF-S VR, but I don't expect the AI-P to, either.)


  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    The 200-500mm/f5.6 AF-S VR is a major bargain. It is an excellent lens but Nikon prices it low to compete against those $1000 150-600mm lenses from Sigma and Tamron. However, it is clear that the 200-500mm doesn't quite have the kind of construction quality those 500mm/f4 lenses have.
    The side effect of the 200-500mm is that it is now depressing the used value for the various old 500mm/f4 and perhaps even 600mm/f4 lenses. With modern high-ISO capabilities, you can frequently get away with f5.6.
    I had the 500mm/f4 AI-P from 1992 to 1998, when I sold it for $3000 to upgrade to the AF-S. For a super tele designed to photograph sports and wildlife action, having AF trumps manual focus 90+% of the time. It is that simple.
  3. the trade-in value I'm being offered is only about £500​
    seems a fair price for the manual focus 500mm these days; keh offers about as much for a lens in excellent condition (which most 500mm AI-P lenses that I have seen aren't).
  4. Yes - mine really isn't in excellent condition, although it was bought from the place I'm planning to trade it in. I'm expecting the trade-in to be slightly better than I'd get from purely selling it to the same place. I'm not really complaining about the dropped price - I'll admit that I was optimistically hoping around £800 (not based on anything), but since I want to replace it with a 200-500, I can't blame everyone else for doing the same. It was easier when the competition was the 150-500 Sigma (which I had and got rid of), which is awful at 500mm.

    Certainly the AI-P is solidly built, more than I expect from a zoom. I can't argue about the autofocus, which is why mine didn't get more use - I do have a modified TC-16A, but the autofocus merits are countered by the negative effect on image quality; again, on a D700 it was okay, but...

    These days, unless the subject is very still (for long enough for me to set up a tripod, too), I guess the 500mm is mostly an astronomy lens - that's a reason I upgraded my tripod for it. But there I'm fighting the earth's rotation in exposure time - I should probably just get a driven mount, use a longer exposure and stop down a bit with a lens small enough to actually fit on a driven mount. Also, I have a mount adaptor for my 10" Dobsonian if I'm after stars rather than deep sky objects and really want aperture. The fact that I can't really take the 500mm out of the country and the amount of wildlife I can reasonably use it with near me is also kind of against it - I have a nice duck pond near me (okay, it's just about a lake), but so far a 300mm + f/4 has seemed a lot more practical.

    Summary: I think you've persuaded me to part with it, which will have a significantly beneficial effect on the space on my lens shelves. I'll have to bring it into the office to intimidate all the people who think my 70-200 is big before I visit the camera store.

    Thank you! That's a rare moment of decisiveness from me. :)
    John Di Leo likes this.
  5. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    I would like to sell the 500mm/f4 AF-S that I bought back in 1998 too, in order to upgrade to the latest FL AF-S VR version that is both lighter and focuses closer. However, I am well aware that its value in the used market is also affected by the 200-500mm/f5.6 AF-S VR.
    Incidentally, the 200-500mm focuses down to 7, 8 feet. To me, that is a major plus for something like hummingbird photography where you can get fairly close to the bird. Hummingbirds are highly maneuverable such that they don't have much fear that you are getting close.
  6. I just checked at the resolution test site, that must go unmentioned here, and found the new zoom to be extremely soft at 500mm compared to the AFS VR. No shock there really. I highly suspect that your 500/4 will be closer to the AFS VR than the 200-500. I highly recommend doing test shots with your current lens and the 200-500 at a store to see if you can live with the reduced resolution. If you can manage with manual focus maybe your 500/4 may still be useful.
    As poor as the 200-500 looks it seems superior to many alternatives that I compared it too, like 300/4 AF-S with converters and the 80-400 latest version, and the 70-200/2.8 VR2 with converters. The only similar lens that I could find that blew it out of the water was the 200-400/4, of course at 4 times the price! Also seems on par with or better than the Bigmas.
  7. Thanks, John. It's been a while since I tested my 500mm; I'll give it another go, and see whether the softness I saw was user error - I may yet revert to indecision. I'll admit that the test shots I've seen of the 200-500 at 500mm aren't exactly perfect (and f/8 helps), but they're a long way from the mush that my 150-500 Sigma produced. It's not stopping my lust for a 400mm f/2.8 (which, unlike the 500mm prime, I can hand-hold at least in short doses), but that's going to be a long time coming.

    Shun: Useful to know! I've been bitten by the (lack of) close focus on my 200mm f/2 before; it seems to be the curse of aperture that getting close is tricky. Although you've reminded me that maybe trading in my 300mm f/4 (which gets down to 4.7' and teleconverts well) would have disadvantages.
  8. My copy of the 500/4 AI-P I found to be quite good on my D800 (right from wide open and only minor improvements stopped down) and the only issue I have is that it does not do that well with TCs (well, at least the TC14EII). I've never tried the newer 500/4 AF versions - too expensive.
    My 500/4P is actually for sale right now - prices are incredibly low - not due to unhappiness with it optically, but I have a 400mm and 600mm and 500mm is not really needed for what I do since I have the other two teles.
    I have seen samples from some copies that I considered not that great - not sure if it was poor user technique or the optics - so I think this lens can sometimes get a not so great reputation.
  9. It had a pretty good reputation back when I got it, but that was the D700 era. Also mine is a bit foxed, or possibly badgered, which may not help. But it could just be my dodgy tests. I'll give it another go over the weekend, especially if I can get rid of my back ache (not conducive to that lens...)
  10. I just checked at the resolution test site, that must go unmentioned here, and found the new zoom to be extremely soft​
    I'm curious what site that might be (maybe John Crowe can email me, please). Calling the 200-500 "extremely soft" is indeed shocking - I have seen some direct comparison shots between the 200-500 and 500 - granted only web-sized - and was hard pressed to tell the difference.
  11. I've yet to get my hands on a 200-500, but I've finally got around to testing my 500 f/4 again.

    Good news: it's sharper than I remember, at least at distances where atmospheric disturbance doesn't get in the way. A little lateral CA in the corners, and it probably does gain contrast a little on stopping down, but it's respectable wide open. Maybe I was shooting through a window last time and forgot.

    Bad news: I'd forgotten what a massive pain that lens is to use. I stuck it on my 055CXPro3 with a 393 gimbal, and it was incredibly wobbly, to the extent that it was hard to focus on anything in a cropped live view. (I did have the legs fully extended in order to see over the rim of the carpark I was in, but the column was obviously down.) I may have a bit less trouble with my TVC34L (which is why I bought it) - the light breeze was catching the 500mm like a sail (I did have the hood on), and the Manfrotto was twisting. The foot doesn't seem to be up to much either, even with an asthma inhaler jammed under the focus ring. I'm sure it's better with just the upper leg segments, but unless I sit in a hide, that doesn't help much. At least the AF confirmation seemed accurate.

    Meanwhile, my 28-80 f/3.3-5.6 appears to be an okay 50mm f/5.6 lens, an okay 80mm f/7 lens, and an awful 28mm lens, so I think that's for disposal too. But at least it's a bit easier to hold. (It also has the trick instant autofocus, because it weighs half an ounce and there's nothing to move.)

    I'll ensure the 200-500 behaves, but currently I'm still inclined to ditch the prime, even if doing so makes me feel less like a proper photography enthusiast. I'll have to get that 400 f/2.8 to clear my conscience in the future! (When I've paid off my holiday.)
  12. Like Dieter, I'm a little puzzled about the test results from the "resolution test site". I have been using the 200-500mm for several months on a D300S, D7200 and now D500 with excellent results. I am not getting "extremely soft" results and I shoot at 500mm about 90% of the time. I am getting very good feather detail on bird shots with it. And one other great thing about it is you will not feel it is a massive pain to use. It is mounted to the D500 and when I see something outside that might be worthy of a photograph I grab it and shoot handheld. Before I purchased the 200-500mm lens I would have had the D500 mounted to a 600mm lens on a gimbal. By the time I grabbed the tripod, folded the legs, threw it over my shoulder and got it set up outside, the bird/animal would sometimes be in the next county. Don't get me wrong. I still use and prefer the 600mm when time permits. Can I tell the difference at 100% between the 200-500mm and 600mm? Absolutely. Is the difference worth $11,000? That is up to the individual photographer.
    I think sometimes we get caught up in minutiae from websites that prevents us from enjoying our photography. If these sites had been around to critique Ansel Adams, I wonder if his work would have been deemed "too soft" at 50mm, 100mm, or any mm? I'm not saying the information isn't useful sometimes, but will someone looking at a print on your wall from three feet away be able to tell whether you used a 200-500mm zoom lens or 500mm prime? My personal opinion is if you decide on the 200-500mm you will be very happy. I certainly have not been disappointed.
    John Di Leo likes this.
  13. puzzled about the test results from the "resolution test site"​
    John Crowe emailed me the link (thank you) to that site and I had a look - indeed a very clear difference between the AF-S 500/4 and the 200-500/5.6 (and an as clear one between the 200-500 and the AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR). Can't really make any statements as to the relevance of those results: 100% crops of an ISO 12233 Chart is not what I shoot in everyday life - and neither do I generally look at images at 100% magnification (or large prints with my nose close to them). There's no information provided as to the distance the target was placed and one has to assume that only a single lens copy was tested.
    My personal opinion is if you decide on the 200-500mm you will be very happy. I certainly have not been disappointed.​
    I certainly am not - not with the 200-500 or the 80-400. Unless someone is giving one to me, I can't compare to the AF-S 500/4...
    erik_christensen|3 likes this.
  14. Without knowing the site, I wonder whether the 200-500's field curvature may have come into the picture. Still, the 200-500 does seem to be at its weakest at 500mm; I'll try to remember to keep it down to 400mm if I can, and I'm not really expecting it to keep up with especially the latest prime. (I saw a 500mm f/4 EF reviewed against the Sigma 150-500 at one point, and it wasn't pretty.) I'll save my lust for perfection for a 400mm f/2.8 in the future (or something longer if I take up birding) and try to be practical for now. I do have a 200mm f/2 VR anyway, and there probably aren't that many times a manual 500mm is more appropriate for me.

    Barry - I'm a believer in "the lens you have with you", and it's coming to my attention that this is never my 500mm prime (and there's never anything interesting in my garden). Plus, as I've argued before, there's something to be said for the ability to zoom out just to find where your subject went. I'm probably losing as much sharpness to a shaky tripod on the prime as I would to the optics on the zoom, and I'm not sure the rest of the support system will hold up even if I use my RRS tripod. Plus there's the small matter of having to use lock-up to dampen the vibrations. It may help that DxO knows about the 200-500 but not about the old 500mm prime, so it can fix some softness for me...

    I think most things are arguing in favour of the trade-in, even if it doesn't gain me that much. Unless it made a big different to the quoted price, I may hold onto the TC16A for curio value (it still works on my 135 f/2.8 AI). But I'll test the 200-500 before I do the trade, just in case I'm massively disappointed! Thanks again, everyone. (Now I need to decide whether to get rid of my 300mm f/4 AF-S as well...)

    Ansel... well, he was famously at f/64 part of the time, which somewhat reduced the requirements on the optics. That said, I've been to an exhibition of official prints, and Clearing Winter Storm was a bit soft (The Tetons and the Snake River was tack sharp, however). This doesn't stop it being one of my most favourite images of all time - and also makes me wonder whether I dare get my camera out when I'm in Yosemite in August. Technically I could argue that a digital age offers higher demands than a print - while the display resolution is usually lower, not many people zoom in on a print (with, perhaps, a loupe) compared with a web view, but I'd rather have slightly soft wildlife than a tack-sharp view of my garden.
  15. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Still, the 200-500 does seem to be at its weakest at 500mm; I'll try to remember to keep it down to 400mm if I can, and I'm not really expecting it to keep up with especially the latest prime.​
    Nobody should expect a $1300 200-500mm/f5.6 zoom to perform as well as a $10000 500mm/f4 FL AF-S VR @ 500mm. However, I have used the 200-500mm extensively by now as well as the 80-400mm AF-S VR. I still own the 500mm/f4 AF-S I bought way back in 1998 plus other newer f4 super teles. When I went to the Galapagos Islands (for the 3rd time) in October 2015, those two were the long teles I brought, plus the 300mm/f4 PF, which I didn't use much on that trip. All other f4 super teles stayed home. At this point, the 200-500 and 80-400 are the two teles I would bring on international trips.
    I just checked my LightRoom database. At least on this particular computer, I have 7716 images captured with the 200-500, and 4973 of those are @ 500mm. (Recall that Nikon started shipping that lens in September, 2015, less than a year ago.) IMO, the notion that you need to avoid 500mm on the 200-500mm is incorrect. I use it @ 500mm about 65% of the time and have been very happy.
    The weak point for the 200-500mm is somewhat slower AF, especially when it is overcast. Part of the problem is the f5.6 maximum aperture that doesn't send as much light as an f4 lens would to the AF module. I also feel that the AF-S motor is not as strong. Additionally, while its construction quality is fine, it is not built for abuse. The advantage is that it is much lighter and is smaller.
    I understand that Barry Clemmons above has had the last two versions of the 600mm/f4 AF-S VR. Some of us have indeed compared these 200-500 and 80-400 zooms to the latest f4 super teles, and IMO those zooms hold up quite well.
    I captured the image below from a boat, hand holding the 200-500mm + D750 combo.
  16. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Here is another sample I captured yesterday, with the 200-500mm @ 500mm/f5.6, 1/1600, ISO 400 on the D500.
    A bit of the down side for max f5.6 is that you still need to bump up the ISO a bit to get a faster shutter speed, even under good light.
  17. Thanks, Shun - perfectly respectable, and DxO may well be able to pull more out. I'll keep my expectations realistic, but hopeful! I do like the low-ISO dynamic range on Nikon bodies, so I'm not immune to the call of aperture, but it can wait - if it couldn't I'd probably be looking harder at a 120-300mm Sigma. (You now have me trying not to think of carrying the 300 f/4 on holiday just in case, but I'd hope a 70-200 f/2.8 and a hired D7200 will fill in when the 200-500's reach/aperture combination aren't sufficient.)
  18. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Here is another sequence from just a few days ago. (I am including a very low-quality JPEG on purpose.) I had a long f4 tele on my tripod with a gimbal head. Initially my subject was a small bird flying around, such that my set up was great for it.
    Suddenly a large white pelican enter the scene from my left, landing on the water. The reflection was perfect. However, all of a sudden my lens was way too long and I was struggling to keep the entire pelican inside the boundary. You can see I clipped the pelican's wing in a few frames, and I had no choice but miss the reflection altogether. In this case, I could only wish I had the 200-500 or 80-400 on the camera such that I could zoom back a bit.
    All of that action took place in a few seconds. At least AF worked quite well and every frame was perfectly in focus. If I had the manual-focus 500mm/f4 P, I wouldn't have gotten one good frame. That was why I sold that lens back in 1998.
  19. Here is a shot of a heron in flight I made today using the 200-500mm on a D500 handheld. Of course the fast AF of the D500 helped tremendously, but it gives you an idea of what you can get with the 200-500mm handheld.
  20. Thanks, both. I'm not sure that large waterbirds will necessarily be my focus, but it's good to know it can cope! I've now taken the QR plate off my 500mm, if that gives any indication of commitment. :)
  21. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    In that case, this subject is closer to what you may encounter in Yellowstone.
  22. :) Thank you, Shun. I'll report back!

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