Nikon 80-400 vs Sigma 50-500 OS

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by tom_williams|12, Sep 22, 2012.

  1. I have a Nikon D300 and am looking for a tele-zoom with 400-500 at the long end. I have narrowed my choice to the Nikon 80-400 and the Sigma 50-500. I can afford either lense. I have 2 big concerns. For the Sigma, there seem to be a lot of user concerns over quality control especially with issues around Auto focus. The extra reach of the Sigma would be nice but not a deal breaker for me but I do need a lense that isn't going to be spending time in the repair shop even under warranty. Am I over-reacting to the posted concerns of users re the lenses reliability??The Nikon on the other hand is 'old' with screw drive AF but a proven performer. Any advice to help me make a decision would be greatly appreciated.
  2. i have heard mixed reviews regarding both lenses. the nikon was the first tele zoom to incorporate vr and also lacks af-s. this makes it a little slow. also, beyond 300mm its IQ drops a little.
    the sigma however, may, or may not, have a better, ( but noisier) optical stabiliser. IQ is known to drop beyond 320mm leaving centre sharpness at 500mm rather poor whatever the aperture..
    i have considered both of these lenses and decided to go for the nikon 300mm f4 plus a 1.4 tc. although it has no optical stabiliser image quality is far superior. i would rather this fixed focal length with a good reputation rather than take a chance with either of the other two.
  3. Can't comment on the Sigma - never used it. I do own and use the AF-Nikkor 80-400 on my D300. Whether or not you will be happy with it depends on what you are shooting and under what lighting conditions. AF on that lens is slow - but once you put a TC on the 300/4 AF-S, the AF speed there drops down to about the same level. There should be plenty of 80-400 lenses on the used market - I would not pay for a new one. My suggestion would be to get your hands on a copy of each and then decide.
  4. I have the Sigma 120-400 HSM OS lens on my D300s and find it to be very good. Here are a couple of quick shots. These were in a room with limited light and using a tripod.
  5. Hers is one at 400 mm.
  6. This is the Space Shuttle I shot Friday from the roof of The Grove Los Angeles parking lot. Used a polarizing filter that did not work too well. Cropped and color corrected.
  7. I have a photography friend who uses the Sigma 50 - 500mm. She's had many issues with it. Finally she found out from someone at Sigma that the lens is very sensitive to motion etc. She takes extreme care of it. Far beyond anything I'd consider normal for a lens. All because the elements are so susceptible to issues. I'm trying to remember her words.
    Anyhow, the 120-400 is supposed to be a lot better. It's a newer lens. If I was you, I'd either go with the Nikon or the newer 120-400 - - super zooms like the 50-500 are asked to do a lot which they can't always live up to.
  8. Correction, the shuttle shot was not cropped.
  9. The realities of mass production lead to an unavoidable fact - all of the finished copies of a lens coming off a production line are not equal. There are good copies and bad copies, all assembled from individual parts each of which meets its specifications. The more a manufacturer tries to reduce the price or to include more features for a given price, the more pressure there is to accept components at looser acceptance criteria, which leads to wider variation in finished products.
    So I see one person post that his new Sigma 50-500 gives him fabulous sharpness and contrast, while another posts his new 50-500 gives him nothing but junk. Both are probably right - that's the reality of good and bad copies.
    I said all of this to lead to a decision of mine. Because of the problem of "bad" copies of less expensive third party lenses, I decided I would only buy a longer lens (in the range you are considering) after I had put the lens on my camera body, taken a few shots with it, and found those shots to be acceptable. And I would only buy the one on my camera - I would not take another in a box.
    So I took my 80-400 I've had for 8 years and went to a local store. They had no 50-500, but they had a Sigma 150-500. I set up my tripod outside the camera store's front door and took a couple of 80-400 shots using my ML-L3 remote. Then I put on the Sigma 150-500, focused on the same subject and took a couple of shots in the same way. The Sigma images were obviously inferior to my 80-400, no doubt about it, and I didn't buy the Sigma. I've seen photos taken with a Sigma 150-500 and posted to various forums showing excellent sharpness, far better than I saw from the copy I tried. That's why I wanted to try the lens before buying.
    An alternative: Tamron makes a 200-500, but it has no VR or OS built in. I shoot everything on a tripod, so that wasn't important to me, and my direct comparison test found it to give me images equal to or better than my 80-400. I bought it.
    However, now I find I use it less than the 80-400. I'm very much used to the 80-400 zoom range, and I use all of it. I also keep a 16-85 on a second camera body, so I have a range of 16-400 covered with no gaps. When I have the 200-500 mounted, I find myself with a gap between 85 and 200 that has proven to be a problem at times. You didn't say what other lenses you have and only talked about the longer end of the ranges of the Nikon and Sigma lenses, but the zoom range is something to consider in choosing. Based on reputation, I think you'll get the best image quality from a Nikon 300/4 with Nikon 1.4x TC, but that only offers two focal lengths, 300 and 420, no zoom, and nothing shorter than 300. That would leave an undesirable gap for me. YMMV.
    I also agree with Dieter - the 80-400 has been around for a long time and there are lots of good used ones available. I would not pay $1600+ for a new one when I can get one graded as Excellent at KEH for $1000. And, if the 200-500 range meets your needs and VR isn't necessary, the Tamron can be had for under $1000 new.
    I haven't heard of reliability issues with Sigma, but i haven't owned one. However, based on the production variation issue, I strongly recommend that you accept the idea of paying a bit more for the lens in a brick-and-mortar store compared to purchasing online, go to local stores and try lenses on your camera, and only buy after you've verified yourself that the copy you are buying gives you the image quality you expect.
  10. If you are looking for a tele lens in the Nikon's line-up which is also affordable, then you should go with 300mm f/4 af-s + tc-14e as a first choice. Then, my suggestion would be sigma 50-500. Skip the 120-400 and the 150-500 as they are not EX series. Always look for the gold ring in front of the barrel, this means EX series in Sigma which means superior optics. I have seen many sharp and beatiful images taken by 50-500mm. You can also find the reviews of 120-400mm and 150-500mm in Thom Hogan's web site where he thinks that these lenses offer poor acuity.
    Nikon should launch a 400mm f/5.6 af-s vr that would turn many wildlife photographers into Nikon from Canon. Currently, many amatures and new starters buy Canon equipment just for the reason of this lens, 400mm f/5.6. Similarly, 800mm vr lens was also necessary in Nikon's line-up, they finally announced it. In my own wish list though, I would much rather seeing a 500mm f/5.6 af-s vr and/or a 600mm f/5.6 af-s vr which would be much more affordable than the current 500 and 600mm f/4 lenses, and offer beatiful focal lengths. However, I highly doubt that we will see such lenses.
    By the way, the images shown in this post taken by various lenses do not reflect any conclusion or show anythink about these lenses' performances. One should take pictures of distant objects and crop 100% at least and show the results without processing, and if possible the shots should be taken in clear weather consecutively with different lenses, then the results start to convey some meaning. Lens testing is a difficult and care taken procedure.
  11. There are reasons why the 80-400mm lens is still a popular lens in spite of its age, screw drive AF and perhaps high retail price given its age and AF system. Most who actually own and use the lens typically give it high marks, especially with regards to its image quality and focus accuracy.
  12. Thank you everyone. This is a wonderful site on which to get advice from experienced photographers.A couple of comments as the OP as I wasnt as clear as I might have been. At this point, I do not want a prime lense as I want a bit more flexibility-hence the zoom. I will use it to take photos of my grandkids soccer, some stationary wildlife and some birdlife but rarely bif. While the Sigma sounds great for IQ and OS, I am really worried about its QA. Its range and IQ sound quite adequate for my current needs but I dont know how to assess its reliability without breakdowns in normal use. Lil's post reflects my concern. Would I run into the same issue with the Sigma 120-400? I particularly like the suggestion that I could pick up a used Nikon 80-400.
    One big limitation I have is I do not live in a place where I can try these samples at a local photo shop. Unfortunately I am going to be limited by what I can get on line- a big limitation I agree.
    I currently have a Nikon 35mm and the Nikon18-200. My plan is to get the longer reach zoom with a 400 mm or 500 mm reach and then get a 16-85 so Im starting with a search for zoom that fills the bill. I do a lot of hiking and take care of my lenses but need one that isnt so fragile the Af may get broken and spend time in the repair shop
  13. Personally I wouldn't touch any 10x zoom like a 50-500mm. It's just technically impossible to make a lens of that zoom ratio with decent image quality and low distortion at both ends of the zoom range. So +1 to looking at a prime and teleconverter. Most times when you fit a tele-zoom, you're going to be using it at close to its maximum focal length, and the shorter focal lengths aren't used or missed. The number of times I've fitted an 80-400mm zoom and then used it at 80mm can probably be counted in the low tens, but YMMV.
    "...grandkids soccer, some stationary wildlife and some birdlife." -These all sound like jobs for a tele lens to me, where a 50mm focal length will be useless.
  14. Tom - I only know of this problem with the 50-500. Personally if it was me I'd go for the 80-400VR. I have the 70-300VR for travel but find it too short when I find birds on trips. I had the Tamron 200-500mm and I loved it. But I had the 300 AF-S f/4 & got the Sigmonster 300-800mm f/5.6 and saw no reason to keep the Tamron lens. In many ways I regret selling it to my best friend back home, but I now know she has a great light lens to use with her D80. Also, I guess I can always borrow it when I go back home to Sweden. At least as long as I stick around Stockholm. ;-)
  15. " It's just technically impossible to make a lens of that zoom ratio with decent image quality."
    Why ?
    The sharpness of a lens depend on many factors of which the most important is the lens quality itself. For example the ED elements used in Nikon lenses is highly responsible for the overall lens quality. The same is true for the Sigma lenses. As I have mentioned earlier, EX lenses in Sigma are the ones that are the best optics, so is the 50-500mm. For zoom lenses the sharpness varies with different focal lengths depending on the design of the lens, how many elements are used, and their positions in a way that the diffraction is suppressed, it may be soft at 100mm and gets sharper toward 400mm or it may be the opposite, usually gets softer towards the high end. I had taken pictures with Sigma 50-500 before and I can say that it is quite good and even at 500mm. How good ? I am not saying it is as good as 500mm f/4 prime lens but I saw it was very good.
    As far as the 80-400mm vr lens is concerned, I have not used this lens before, however, I would pass this lens off, as it is a very old lens with a slow af system which will be troublesome for sure, especially for fast action shots. Sharpnesswise, I can not tell you much, but I know that it is good, I would doubt it is any better than 50-500mm.
    I highly expect that Nikon will introduce 300mm af-s vr soon as they had gotten a patent for this lens early this year.
    All other options such as the Tamron lenses and son on, just skip them, please read my earlier comments on the affordable telefoto lens selection in Nikon's line-up.
    Good luck.
  16. Tom, it sounds like you've made your choice. Since you aren't near any store where you can test a lens before buying, I strongly recommend you drop the Tamron 200-500 and Sigma 120-400 from further consideration. That leaves with the option to buy from a manufacturer you trust to make a good lens, and Nikon meets that. Like I said, I'm unfamiliar with the Sigma reliability issue, but your own words make it clear to me that buying the 50-500 would keep you worried for the foreseeable future - not a good plan.
    No doubt the 300 f4 would give the best image quality - there really isn't any argument on that. But I've done what you do - shoot kids' soccer from the sidelines. When the play comes toward your side of the field, 300 will be too long and you'll miss shots a zoom would allow. That leaves the 80-400.
    Others have correctly described the 80-400 as optically good, but old technology. The VR is almost decrepit in technology terms, but it works. The autofocus is Revision 0, too, and its weakness will be for moving subjects. A subject moving toward you will be the toughest challenge, but movement perpendicular to your line of sight (panning) will be no problem.
    And, as I said earlier, I would recommend buying a good used one from a reliable seller like KEH - I wouldn't pay brand new prices for an old design.
  17. Tom, for a different alternative, take one of the 300mm f/4 primes from Nikon.
    I have the older one, 300mm f/4 ED-IF AF. It's fabulous for birds for example. The 300 f/4 AFS is even better. If you need longer, then crop. These days, we have plenty of pixels.
    I haven't done the side by side comparison, but I'll bet the image quality of the prime will beat any of the x-400 or x-500 zooms.
  18. Canon 400mm f5.6 $1400 (No IS or VR) whilst a Nikon tc-14e II + Nikon 300mm f4 af-s = $500+$1400 =$1900

    If Nikon could make a 400mm f4 AF-S VR for $2500, I think they'd sell thousands. However, I don't think they can!
    But a 300mm f4 AF-S VR for $2000....?
  19. If Nikon could make a 400mm f4 AF-S VR for $2500, I think they'd sell thousands.
    Thousands is a very small number of units sold for a Nikon lens in today's world. They have sold tens of thousands of 300/2.8's, for example. I think $2500 is realistic for a 300/4 VR with diffractive optics but given that the Canon 300/4 IS (not DO) sells for $1359 it's a hard sell even if the Nikkor is much more compact. For a 400/4 the price would most likely be around $6000. The price partly reflects the small number of lenses sold but the size of the elements for a 400/4 dictate that it would be expensive even if a large number of units is sold (which won't be the case since it's a highly specialized lens that sports and wildlife photographers would want, but few hobbyists). I think a 400/4.5 would be nice in that the slightly smaller maximum aperture means it can be lighter and as a result more attractive to a wider audience, which in turn can help decrease the price. If it's DO then it can be still smaller but then the price may go back up. Minolta used to make a 400/4.5 that used conventional optics and weighted 1.9kg, the same as the diffractive optics Canon 400/4.
    Canon seems to own the market for high quality moderate aperture teles, for the moment. It's curious as Nikon used to make quite many such products in the manual focus era: 300/4.5, 400/5.6, 400/3.5, 600/5.6 etc. They even made zooms like 50-300/4.5, 180-600/8 and 360-1200/11. Ok, these zooms were very expensive products, and Nikon does make the 200-400/4 today.
  20. True, I guess they only made 12,000 400mm f3.5s,
    Interestingly, that's about the same number as 600mm f4 AF-(I+S) and the same as the 500mm f4 AF-(I+S)
    EDIT. you gotta wonder how Canon make a 300mm f4 IS for $1400 all in, when the price factor of just the 100mm (rather than 76mm) front element for a 400mm f4 would result in $6000 if Nikon made it?
  21. Notice also that the 400/3.5 used to be Nikon's fastest 400mm; the 400/2.8 has since taken some of that market away. The EF 300/4 IS has been on the market for many years, so it's price is low after the R&D and tooling costs have been paid for. Any new Nikon 300/4 VR would cost more because new products always do. I don't think $2000 is too far off, but if it uses diffractive optics then it may be significantly more expensive.
    The increase focal length beyond 300mm tends to cost a lot of money. I think the 400/3.5 cost about 5000-6000€ when it was still made. Now that DX cameras allow a narrow field of view with 300mm already, many people (who are not specialist sports/wildlife photographers) dislike the increase in physical length, weight and cost of 400mm and longer lenses. In fact quite many think 70-200 is enough with DX. Also a "slow" 400mm f/5.6 that may need to be stopped down to f/8 for best quality may find limited use because of the less effective subject isolation at f/8, so it has to be really good already at f/5.6 to attract the picky customer market. ;-) A 300mm can be a reasonably fast f/4 while still being compact. I would not mind seeing a 400/5.6 VR AF-S but I fear it too would be expensive (2500€+). Given the very high quality of the Canon EF 400/5.6 (it is a striking difference from the 100-400 in printed images) I don't think there is any question that there is a market for it, but somehow Nikon is not attracted by it.
  22. If any prime such as the 400/5.6 was introduced, it would not had to be stopped down for best quality. Prime lenses are always designed to yield best quality wide open.
    As I mentioned before, 400/5.6 is necessary in Nikon's line-up, just as 800/5.6 was. Such a lens would turn many wildlife starters and Canon users into Nikon especially in bird photography. Nikon is already holding the edge for their cameras but missing many lenses and upgrades in their depository. I highly doubt that Nikon will launch any 400mm though, but they might give a 300/4 vr soon.
  23. Thanks everyone for your help. Its great to have such a supportive community. Given my conservative nature, Id rather not risk the Sigma because of quality issues so I'll follow the suggestion here and look for a good used 80-400. On y D300 it should meet my needs and I'm sure I'll get lots of use from it on my return. Lil, I'm in Lund and then Stockholm over the next couple of weeks. Hope to have some photos using my current equipment after that trip. Thanks everyone

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