In my world of photography, the fast professional f/2.8 telephoto lenses do not exist. I can’t afford them. For years, the sharpest telephoto lens in my bag has been Nikon’s 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR Lens. I’ve been through two of the third party 400 and 500 mm offerings and none measured up at the 300 mm range, let alone 500. Nikon’s relatively new full frame 200-500 mm f/5.6 is the game changer. First the negatives. This lens is a Sherman Tank. The lens weighs in at almost 5 pounds. Suffice to say there’s a lot of metal and glass here. And it’s big. Fully extended, with the lens hood fitted, it’s nearly 18 inches long. And obviously, while the f/5.6 constant aperture gives consistent performance throughout the zoom range, it has its limitations in low light situations. If you must shoot in low light, prepare to shell out some very large money. The price for this lens, just under 14 hundred dollars, and its sharpness at 500mm is what sold me. These photos of a male Northern Cardinal provide ample evidence.
This is an honestly simple, jpeg shot with no tweaking, straight out of a Nikon D750. The shot below was converted to jpeg from a NEF image (NEF is Nikon’s version of a RAW File) in Photoshop where I applied haze reduction and a slight tweak in color curves.
I used a tripod on both. The 200-500 comes with a hefty metal tripod collar. When the lens with collar is fitted to the camera, it makes for a perfectly balanced package. Unlike other telephoto lenses with Vibration Reduction, I found that leaving it on when using a tripod actually added some benefit. The VR is snappy and provides compensation for the effects of camera shake by up to 4.5 stops. This means, yes, while this lens is a load, you can shoot it handheld with very good results.
Since I bought this lens primarily for bird shots here on the farm and on the coast, a couple of specs that directly relate to that use. First, the lens auto focus system is near silent and quite quick. A designated “sports mode” is well-suited to working in fast paced conditions where panning and other lateral camera movements are more common. Also, an electromagnetic aperture mechanism that is integrated into the lens design provides greater exposure control stability. This is especially beneficial when working with high speed shooting rates. This feature pretty much limits the lens to to Nikon’s “D” camera line. There is also a switch that locks the lens at 200mm. This makes the lens a bit more easy to haul around. A final note. This lens is way too big for an ordinary camera bag. I picked up a Lowe pro padded lens bag for under 40 bucks that fits this lens perfectly. Happy shooting everybody. See you next time.