80-400mm, 300mm f4, or used 300mm f2.8

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by julie_t, Nov 17, 2006.

  1. I've done some bird photography with Nikon's 80-400mm lens, and I'm pretty happy with it for larger
    birds, but I could use a boost for the smaller guys.

    I'm wondering if I should sell my 80-400mm for a 300 f/4 (or potentially a used 300 f/2.8) and a
    teleconverter. If I've got it right, I lose autofocus with a 2x teleconverter on the 300 f/4?

    Any suggestions?
  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    If you are really serious about bird photography, save money for a 500mm/f4. That will be expensive and heavy. The 600mm/f4 may be even better for small bird photography, but that will be even more expensive and heavier. The 500mm/f4 is easier to handle and carry onto airplanes. I am not sure what your budget is, but Nikon had a manual-focus 500mm/f4 P lens that is more affordable in the used market.

    If you want to get a 300mm lens but plan to use teleconvertors, especially 2x TCs, I would start with an f2.8 version. The 300mm/f2.8 is extremely sharp and since you start from f2.8, it is still a respectible 600mm/f5.6 after you put a 2x TC on it. If you start from a 300mm/f4, the final 600mm/f8 has pretty much useless AF.

    This type of topics has been discussed to no end in the Nature Forum. You might want to check the archive there.
  3. Yeah, my budget is not that big. I mainly only have a budget if I sell the 80-400mm. I could
    maybe top it off a little bit from there. That is why I say used 300mm. I've seen them for
    about $1500-2000, and I think if I sell the other lens, I could afford that.

    600mm is way out of my price range. I imagine so is a used 500mm, but I haven't seen prices
    on that recently.
  4. Hi Julie,
    I went through the same thing several years back. I started with Nikon's 80-400 VR, moved to an older 300 f/4 IF-ED and TC-301 teleconverter and finally to a 300 f/2.8 AF-I with a Tc20E. The 300 f/2.8 AF-I was an excellent albeit very heavy 3Kg chunk of glass and subsequently it spent most of its time on a tripod. It's balance on a tripod was quite front heavy but this disappeared once the TC20E was stacked on. Hand-held I found it to be far the easiest lens to get reliable results out of probably due to its mass.
    If you can live with manual focus (and I recommend that you think about that carefully) the results from the 300 f/4 IF-ED and TC-301 in combination easily rivaled those from my 300 f/2.8 AF-I. In point of fact the results with the TC-301 were often better than I managed from the 300 f/4 alone. But, at the end of the day it was a very dark and small view on a Fuji S2 Pro.
    If you haven't had a chance to already I would recommend having a look at Bjorn Rorslett's lens reviews to get an idea about each of the different lenses characteristics at different apertures and with TC's etc.
  5. Hi Julie, I now use a Nikon 500mm F 4.0 P lens, a great manual focus lens that I use with my D 200 and that I used to use with my f100. 90% of the time I have a 1.4x tc on it. Yes, you need the 500mm. If mf is an option for you, you can get this lens used for about $2100-2200. An alternative is to keep the 300mm f 2.8 AF and get Nikon 1.4 and 1.7 or 2x tc. Many birders have both the 300mm f 2.8 AF-S and the 500mm AF-S f 4.0 or the 600mm AF-S. Both lenses have good uses for birders, with the longer lens being more versatile IMO. Joe Smith
  6. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Are you shooting digital? If so, it is very easy just to crop it in PhotoShop; something we couldn't do shooting slides. Your current 80-400 zoom is a good enough lens for now. Eventually, you'll need a 500mm/f4. With a limited budget, a used 500mm/f4 P is not that hard a reach.

    Once upon a time, I was much younger and thought those 600mm/f4 prices were crazy; they still are, but I managed to gradually upgrade from a mirror lens to a 300mm/f4 to a 500mm/f4.
  7. Good advice here. If you are strongly interested in bird photography, I recommend
    waiting until you can afford a 500/4 and a TC or two. A major consideration is if you want
    to get into flight photography or other kinds of action shooting. Here, AF is extremely
    helpful. For perched birds that don't move a lot, MF is perfectly acceptable if your eye
    (and viewfinder) are good enough.

    Don't forget that a 500/4 -- especially with TCs -- pretty much demands a hefty tripod
    and a good tripod head. For moving subjects with a lens that long, a gimbal head works
    wonders. For static subjects a solid ballhead is OK (although I was never happy with a
    500 on a ballhead along; a gimbal is far more comfortable for me).
  8. 500 on a ballhead along;
    *#(!@* should read "500 on a ballhead alone
  9. "If I've got it right, I lose autofocus with a 2x teleconverter on the 300 f/4?" - if you do it right, you will NOT loose autofocus.

    Just make sure teleconverter matches your lents, that is if 300/4 is AF-S then use AF-S teleconverter, and vice versa. In low light condition you could loose autofocus without any converter.
  10. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    My experience with Nikon AF-S lenses is that if your effective maximum aperture is f5.6, it is still fine. If it is f8, i.e. some f4 lens with a 2x TC, it is very iffy. It may be ok under bright sunlight. If it is in the shades, you can forget about AF.

    That is precisely why if you have any 2X TC in mind, IMO start with a 300mm/f2.8 instead of f4. If you start from f4, even with the TC-17e for an effective maximum f6.3, AF will be problematic.
  11. Julie, the posters are all correct. You need a good system--tripod, level base, gimbal head, 500 or 600mm lens, tcs, camera, off camera flash, and proper long lens shooting technique. If there is a failure or weakness in any part of the system, the images will suffer. Develop a plan and follow it. Joe Smith
  12. There's no doubt that you can get awesome bird photos with a 500 or 600mm lens, tripod, gimbal head, etc. However, Julie has said her budget is limited: if someone is telling you they are considering selling their Honda to buy a Toyota, why try to convince them to save up for a Bentley? A AF 300/4 ED IF lens will give her some great photos (and matrix metering) on a budget. If she adds a Kenko Teleplus Pro 300 1.4x or 2x teleconverter, she is still within budget (and retains auto focus). The following photos (OK, not exactly tiny birds) were all taken hand-held on a Nikkor 300/4. http://
  13. Julie, all of this discussion has been about Nikon lenses - have you considered a third party lens? A friend loaned me his Sigma 170-500 f5 about a year ago, and I used it to shoot some hard rock climbers in a canyon west of Las Vegas. I shoot everything using a tripod (arthritis makes it mandatory these days), and the images had very good sharpness. I don't know if Sigma glass has variations in quality in their production runs, and that is something to consider. But at half the cost of the 80-400 Nikkor, and with the additional focal length, it might be worth a look. The f5 aperture (f6.3 at 500 mm) worked satisfactorily with the autofocus of my D70 in open sunlight and in full shade. The cost might even let you get a 1.4X or 2X to get very long focal lengths. Autofocus wouldn't work, but the focal length might be worth it.

    If you can get to a camera shop that has one on the shelf, I recommend that you take your camera, mount their lens, take a few shots, and let the images help you make a decision. If they have the 300 Nikons, take a few shots with them, too. It might simplify your decsion.

    Bob in Las Vegas
  14. You might be able to find a 400 f/3.5 for that kind of money. Coupled with a 1.4x TC you'd
    have a manual focus 560 f/4.5 and you'll have the option of having a brighter, faster lens if
    you take the TC off.
  15. Julie, I also agree that the Nikon 400mm f 3.5 is an excellent choice for a mf lens. It works great with the Nikon 1.4x tc. Just remember that it will meter only with certain Nikon digital bodies. Joe Smith
  16. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Keep in mind that Julie already has a 80-400mm VR, which is on the slow side on the long end: 400mm/f5.6 and no AF-S. Otherwise, optically it is fine and had the advantage of VR. Any affordable xxx to 500 slow zoom is, IMO, a downgrade.

    If the objective is an upgrade to shoot smaller birds, IMO, a 500mm/f4 is the minimum starting point. The 400mm/f3.5 is very good optically but again too short. Back in 1992, I bought a new 500mm/f4 P manual focus for around $3200, used it for 6 years and sold it for $3000 in mint condition. Today, you can probably find a used one in the $2000+ range. Hopefully that is not completely out of reach.

    My point is that if it is at all possible, continue to use the 80-400 for now and save for a 500mm/f4 and tripod. I just bought my first gimbal head two weeks ago, 14 years since I bought my first 500mm/f4. Some of those accessories are great to have but not absolutely necessary from the beginning. If all of this is too expensive, there is always the digiscoping option if you only need web displays.

    Incidentally, a group of bird photographers shoot at the Palo Alto rookery in spring weekends. Julie can pay that location a visit and see how various lenses are like in actual field use:
  17. Coupled with a 1.4x TC you'd have a manual focus 560 f/4.5
    Well.... f4.9 to be pedantic. But that's supposed to be an excellent lens (and a lot smaller than a 500/4).
  18. Thanks! I'm new to the forum, and I appreciate all the thoughtful responses. I'm a little concerned about not having AF, so I have some thinking to do.
    Right now, I found a used 300/f2.8 which is beat up on the outside, but the glass is clean and mechanically works fine. It's priced $1200. I'm very tempted to get it. I haven't seen any used stuff at 400mm or 500mm, but I've just started looking.
    I've been to to Palo Alto rookery. It is the best SF bay area rookery I've seen. Can't get closer anywhere else that I know of. I rented a 600mm lens from Keeble and Shuchat for the weekend and went out there. Probably could have come out with some good photos with the 80-400mm too, but what a lens! The photo below of the snowy egrets was taken there with the 600mm. I attribute this one to pure luck :)
  19. Hi Julie, I have a 300mm f/4 AF and use a Kenko Pro 300 1.4x TC. This maintains AF, unlike Nikon's TC's for that lens. The 300mm cost me $360 and the TC was $120. A 2x version of that TC is avail, though I haven't used it... would probably cause serious lens hunting in all but very well lit situations. If you look at my Australian shots from 2 different trips, all the bird/wildlife photos were taken with the 300. For the last trip I only had a lightweight tripod. Good luck! -Greg-
  20. After reading everything in this post, I would suggest that upgrading from the 80-400 to a 300/4 is not worth the effort and expese. If you did not already have the 80-400, the answer MIGHT have been different, or if you were upgrading to the 500/4.

    I once "upgraded" from the 80-400 to a 400/3.5. I am very pleased with the results on film because (1) the 400/3.5 is much faster, and with the TC301 gives me a 800/7 lens, (2) the 400/3.5 with a TC301 cost me less than I got for the 80-400, and (3) I got better results manual focusing than I did autofocusing the 80-400 (but I am sure I missed some shots that I would have gotten with AF). I was not thrilled with the 400/3.5-TC301 combo on my D2H however.
  21. The main reason to change over to a prime is for sharper photos.
  22. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    As far as I know, the 80-400 VR is quite good as far as sharpness goes; I never bought one mainly because of its slow AF. A non-zoom (prime) might be a bit sharper, but that is using it on its own. Once you start adding teleconverters, especially any 1.7x or 2x ones, you'll lose a lot of sharpness again.
  23. Of course I want sharp photos, but I want to get more focal length too. I've been fairly happy
    with the 80-400 but I understand that a TC won't work well on it.

    That's the drive behind thinking of getting a 300 and a 2x TC. I would like to keep autofocus
    though. One option is to keep my 80-400 and buy a used AF 300 f4 for a couple hundred
    and a TC. And if I lose AF with the TC, I'll still have my other lens. I can't afford to get a 300
    f2.8 without selling my 80-400, at least at the used prices I've seen them (cheapest I've seen
    recently is $1200).
  24. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Julie, I sent you e-mail last week and provided some suggestions.

    Keep in mind that there are no fewer than 6 different version of the Nikon 300mm/f2.8 AF. The first 2 were from the early AF era and have no internal AF motors, followed by the AF-I (1992) and two AF-S versions. The latest is the AF-S VR G lens. I have the first AF-S version and it is one of the sharpest tele I own. Its used value has gone down quite a bit, probably because the VR version is available, but even so it is still around $2000.

    The bottomline is that serious bird photography demands some expensive lenses, especially if you want AF and shoot small birds. In the Nature Forum we have gone thru this discussion over and over. You already have a pretty decent lens in the 80-400 VR. It is very easy to make a mistake and downgrade from there, but if you would like to upgrade, there aren't very many options.
  25. What Shun says: once you get into serious bird photography, big telephotos are the name of the game, and they don't come cheap. Neither do the necessary big tripods and heads. You CAN take great photos with more moderate telephotos, but your options and opportunities are substantially reduced.
    FWIW, I do a fair bit of bird photography and if you look at my website you can see what focal lengths were used for the images. The two most common by far for bird shooting are 1000 mm (500/4 + 2X) and 700 mm (500/4 + 1.4X) on DSLRs.
  26. Julie, are you shooting film or digital? If you're shooting film, have you considered the 1.5X
    teleconverter that has no speed (aperture) penalty? You'd be shooting an 120-600 f/4.5-5.6
    VR lens, effectively. It costs $550 and Nikon calls it the D50.


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