Nikon 300 f/4 AFS or Nikon 80-400 VR for birds in flight?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by brian_small, Nov 18, 2000.

  1. O.K., so Nikon just now has these two new lenses out.........the
    300mm f/4 AFS and the 80-400mm VR f/4.5-5.6. I have yet to see either
    lens but am wondering if anyone has seen them and/or tested them?
    Also, I've read some intitial user reports that the autofocus on the
    80-400 is a bit slow because the lens lacks the AFS. I'd like some
    opinions on the pros and cons of each lens as it pertains to it's
    potential use as a hand-held bird-in-flight lens. When comparing the
    two lenses, keep in mind that you can use the TC14E with the 300mm
    f/4 and thereby have an effective 420mm f/5.6 AFS lens.
  2. Brian --

    Although I have not used the new 300f4 AF-S, I have used other AFS lenses (500, 80-200) and have been testing the new 80-400. Assuming the 300f4 focuses as fast as other AFS lenses (pretty safe assumption), there is really no comparison for birds in flight -- get the 300. On the 80-400, the performance of the VR feature is outstanding, as is the image quality and flexibility of the zoom, but the autofocus is way too slow if the primary use is birds in flight (by my simple tests, AF-S lenses focus twice as fast as the new 80-400). If you want a lens for more than just birds in flight, than the answer may be different.

    Matt Cox
    Parker, CO
  3. I'm a Canon user so I can't comment on the AF issue. But I have both the 100-400 IS and the 300/4 IS (plus the 1.4x TC). I find the 100-400 to be far superior for shooting birds in flight - the ability to zoom out is a tremendous advantage. IS (= VR) is a huge advantage too, in fact I'd rate it as more important than autofocus.
    So if there's a big difference in AF speed you've got a difficult choice to make. You really should try both lenses yourself if at all possible.
    For more comments on shooting birds in flight with the (equivalent Canon) zoom, check out Arthur Morris's site "Birds as Art".
    Karl Lehmann Lost World Arts
  4. My local camera shop has the 300f4 AFS.(they were expecting the 80-400Vr to come in but the 300 came instead) While playing in and around the store isn't a real evaluation, it does seem very quick. The close focus to about 5 feet is superb. At this range you would have perfect magnification for shooting small birds such as Chickadees.
  5. I’m a canon user since a few months (before nikon), I changed because at that moment I would go to a 500 mm F4 and I preferred to go to Canon because it has IS and USM for the other lenses.
    I’m also glad to have the 100-400 IS and it is very fast in AF mode
    I used the 100-400 IS on the Farnes Islands for gannets and puffins ( the last one arrive very fast, even against the wind) and I was happy to have 70% (puffins) sharp images. But the 300 mm F4 Canon would even react faster that I’m sure ( maybe closer to 80-90%ore more?).
    By the way for all other options the 80-400 would be a better choice. the 100-400 nikon seems to have a very good quality and images with stabiliser are faster to make than without ( sharper even at 1/250 or 1/500 at 400mm without tripod --> which is not always possible)
    I’m sure: the 400F5.6 or 300 f4 will be faster in AF mode ( with F100 )
    What I’ve read about the new Nikon 80-400 is that it is a little bit slow in AF ( Compared to the 100-400 Canon, Chasseur d’Image, France)
    So the best choice will be a 300 mm for births in flight
  6. You may want to check out this site for his review on the Nikon 300 F4 AFS.

  7. Brian,
    Check out what Ron Reznick thinks about 300 F4 AFS -
    He tested it on birds in flight and was very happy with the results.
    80-400 VR is bacically useless. AF is way too slow.
  8. pat


    I have not used the 300 f/4 but if it is as fast as my 400 f/2.8, this is it! I made an extensive test of the 80-400 VR. Great travel lens, but sloooow. The real use of it, as I could see it, is that you don't need to carry a tripod. Unless the subject is moving, you can shoot at incredible slow speed. And the range from 80-400 is just great. So is the image quality. Shot on F5 and D1 and the pics are as good as with the 80-200 AFS.
  9. What kind of fool makes a 'pro' lens that is not up to professional demands? Not only are Nikon years behind Canon in much of their lens technology but the fools come up with their "latest and greatest" that is not able to do the job.
    Better Nikon should buy a bunch of Canon stuff, spray paint it black & write NIKON on it with white out. That makes as much sense as what they are doing now. It is no wonder we see more and more shooters who need performance going to Canon. They have what is needed and they have it now, not in another five years.
  10. "Fools" may be just a little harsh. Brian wants to photograph birds in flight where IS/VR is almost a non-issue. Auto-focus speed will overwhelmingy be the more important consideration. Clearly it is no great trick to get sharp images with a 300mm lens on a tripod, so the ability to hand hold on static subjects or from a moble position becomes the only real difference. Yes, this can be a critical difference to some users but Brian has not made these stipulations.

    I recently engauged in a civil and intelligent debate on Nikon vs Canon lenses with a pro photographer friend who uses Canon. To boil it down, there are no glaring differences in the lens selections until you get to super telephotos. Image Stabilization is the one area where Canon have a real lead on Nikon, but to quote my friend, "who can afford an IS Canon lens?". Nikon may well be able to sell a non-VR 300 f4 to many more customers due to lower cost. Many photographers have no need for IS/VR so why suffer the expense? I don't have any hard data, but I would venture a guess that sales of IS super telephotos are pretty small compared to shorter focal lengths. I applaud Canon for taking market risk with new technology as development cost are high and not everything proves out in the market place. Nikon were the undisputed leader in the pro camera field for many years. Canon seems to have acheaved an advantage over Nikon in some areas, but without a Nikon standard for Canon to strive for it is arguable that we would have fewer great products to choose from. People have incredably high expectations of Nikon and are often brutal in their criticism when they don't get everything they want when they want it.

    I think the 300 f4S will best serve Brian's need for a moderate cost lens to photograph birds in flight using teleconverters.

  11. Scott

    One of the best answers to a question I have read here for a long time.

    I am in the same boat thinking 80-400VR or 300AFS. I think I'll go the 300AFS lens. Why cause I've never had VR on alens before and never needed it so why would all of a sudden I need it. I don't so I'll save some money and get a 300AFS
  12. but to quote my friend, "who can afford an IS Canon lens?". Nikon may well be able to sell a non-VR 300 f4 to many more customers due to lower cost. Many photographers have no need for IS/VR so why suffer the expense?
    Has your friend compared prices recently? A quick glance at B&H's web site tells a different story:
    • Canon 300/4 IS USM, ~$1200; Nikon 300/4 AF-S, $1349
    • Canon 600/4 IS USM, $8699 grey/$8899 USA; Nikon 600/4 AF-S, $8499/$8899
    • Canon 100-400 IS USM, $1519/$1559; Nikon 80-400 VR $1659/$1699 (and is unavailable)
    • Nikon is slower to market, offers less features with each lens and in most cases costs more. How can you afford not to shoot Canon?
      To the original question, VR is not critical for birds in flight, but autofocus speed is. Get the 300/4 AF-S.
  13. I believe focus speed for moving subjects are mostly determined by the software ability to do predictive AF. It may be that Nikons are optimised for AF-S lenses. I've yet to meet any bird that outperformed the AF systems predictive abilities in terms of speed, and my AF system is ten years old. I cannot believe that modern Nikon bodies are unable to focus on any bird with the VR zoom lens; if so they must be ten years behind Minolta and Pentax (hard to believe). Advertising emphasize focus speed from close focusing to infinity with lens caps on (see Minolta and Canon), but my experience is that other factors are decisive in the field. Try out the lenses for yourself.
  14. If one has not found any birds that are faster than the AF systems then they haven't tried too hard. Find a bunch of cliff swallows at 30 feet and closer & watch the camera lenses go hunting while the birds wheel & dart. Almost none will be in focus with the best of the F5 or EOS1v and any of the big lenses available.
    Small, fast darting birds that rapidly change direction in flight will give all AF systems fits. From Arthur Morris to Don Baccus, these little speed demons present problems when trying to use AF cameras and lenses. Then you can try AF with dragonflies and close macro work and drive yourself crazy.
    AF is very nice for a lot of stuff. It can follow a race car or cheetah. But get it on something that is unpredictable and you will waste a lot of film, just as we who shoot with manual focus lenses do.
  15. I'm not suggesting AF can cope with everything. For moving subjects the AF systems ability to do predictive AF counts.
    I have shot sucessfully insects with auto focus both 35mm and medium format. The most difficult focusing situations for birds I have experienced has been flying gannets from 5 metres (less than 20 feet). The difficult part is to manage to put AF sensor in the right spot. I do not even try AF on birds moving to fast for me to frame them. No AF camera can shoot erratic moving subjects, but then I suspect no photographer can manually focus on them either.
    I feel many are trying to find excuse for buying new equipment when their pictures don't turn out as expected. Recently I saw a question from an EOS3 owner who considered a EOS1v because his EOS3 was unable to focus on birds in flight. I find these kinds of opinions ridiculous and believe its just an excuse for buying a new camera.
    You'll find lots of contradicting views of what camera/lens combination than can be used for what. And even if there is some small differences between this or that lens, you'll most likely find that the difference is valid in the last 1% of your images. Hence, other features like zoom or image stabilization may be more important. I suggest try for oneselves.
  16. For people here at photonet who don't know who Brian Small is, he's one of only a very few American bird photographers in that highest upper-elite class. He probably has more published bird photos than anyone ever has. In addition to being the photo editor of "Birding" magazine, you can see his articles and photos in "Wild Bird" and just about everywhere that bird photographs are used. I just find it surprising that Nikon wouldn't lend him these lenses to test for himself.
  17. I own the AF-S 80-200 and the VR 80-400 (+ tested the AF-S 300). For Birds in flight I would only use the AF-S lenses. But I currently like even more slow or not moving birds and here the VR pays off. Here is my birds gallery: Uwe (
  18. I think many Nikon shooters are over fixated on the silent wave motor. Yes, it is nice and having it on the 80-400 Vr would be nicer. However, from what I have seen as a Canon owner the F5 and F100 have sufficently quick, powerful and smart autofocus system to allow good photography of birds in flight. I have found that even with USM motors, prefocusing at the expected distance is still very important as it reduce the amount of time the camera must hunt to find focus. Arthur Morris makes this plain in his great book on photograhing birds.

    For what it is worth, Canon folks gripe also. The current howling and protesting over the lack of a Canon body similar to the D1 and newly announced D1h and D1x is deafening!

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