Site Performance and Other Updates

Some of our readers are probably wondering what our team has been up to lately, so I wanted to give a quick update on our activities. I apologize for not being able to post articles lately – I have been extremely busy with a number of projects, so I asked Lola to fill in for me. I have been working hard on expanding the lens database (which has been enhanced with even more useful information) for the past few months and this past week I was able to migrate our previous comments system to “Disqus” – a robust commenting system used by some of the most popular websites on the Internet. If you have tried commenting on some of the reviews with over a few hundred comments lately, you probably noticed how slow those pages respond, sometimes taking up to several minutes to load. All those subscription options and other comment features we implemented in the past took their toll on load speeds, so I pretty much was forced to migrate to a better commenting system. I am sure most of you will appreciate this change, but I do want to let you know that there are some drawbacks to the new system. There was no way for me to migrate previous post subscriptions, so if you used to receive updates whenever someone posted a comment in a particular article, you will have to re-subscribe to those posts via Disqus (please note that your general subscription to receive email notifications when we post articles is unaffected, this is only for comment subscriptions). Aside from this, you will love the new commenting system. And for those that hate Facebook and other social media, there is no need to register for an account at any of those sites, so you can still post as a “guest”. In addition, many of our readers reported site performance issues, so I was also able to migrate most of our content to better and faster hosting. The pages and images should now load extremely quickly in comparison. On top of that, I have been evaluating options for more social interaction between our readers via forum and other means (no, we will not be integrating our site with Facebook or Twitter, this will be completely separate). But this is not something I want to roll out immediately – integration and testing will take some time to complete. I am hoping to do this sometime before the end of the year.

Burrowing Owl - Nikon 80-400mm + 1.4x TC

Aside from getting slammed with these projects, I have also been simultaneously working on testing a bunch of lenses. I have completed testing the second sample of the Nikon 80-400mm lens (turned out to be much better than the first one at 400mm, so the first one was surely a lemon), the new Nikon 18-35mm lens (which turned out to be a wonderful lens that even beats the 16-35mm lens in some ways), a bunch of 35mm lenses and some cameras. I am now back in full swing with writing content, so you will be seeing some reviews during the next few weeks. I know I have been pretty late with these, but as usual, I did not feel like publishing information without fully studying and testing the equipment. The Nikon 80-400mm, for example, was tested extensively for both wildlife and portraiture. The upcoming review will feature tests with all three Nikon teleconverters and comparisons against the older 80-400mm VR, Sigma 50-500mm, Nikon 70-300mm VR and the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR. Here is my “priority” list of gear that I am planning to review next:

  1. Nikon 80-400mm VR
  2. Sigma 35mm f/1.4
  3. Nikon 18-35mm
  4. Nikon D4
  5. Nikon D5200

I know that I am very late with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, the D5200 and especially the Nikon D4. Once again, I apologize for the wait. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and the Nikon D5200 were delayed because of my crazy schedule during the last couple of months, while the D4 was delayed because I wanted to study it in more detail and take it for another spin for shooting wildlife and sports this summer. I was not very impressed with it initially and thought it was not much better than my D3s in terms of image quality. Other things like the new XQD card type + new layout were not very convincing either at first. By now, I have all the info I need about it, so I will work on the review as soon as I am done with reviewing the lenses. On top of this, I will be receiving the new Nikon 800mm f/5.6 VR monster pretty soon, so I will have a lot more images to share from the D4!

Here is another shot of the owl, taken with the Nikon 80-400mm VR lens + TC-14E II, just like the top image:

Burrowing Owl - Nikon 80-400mm + 1.4x TC

Quick summary for the 80-400mm: a great lens overall, but needs a lot of light to work well with the TC-14E II (would not recommend to use it with other TCs) and its AF performance/accuracy degrades quickly in low light, even without a TC attached. Very usable for still subjects and action otherwise. On the negative side, it has the same AF “hesitation” lenses like 70-300mm VR have – if the subject is a little challenging, the lens goes back and forth, trying to adjust AF in small steps (so you hear that constant AF clicking sound in continuous AF mode). Unlike its predecessor, it rarely hunts and its AF is a world better in comparison, but make no mistake: this is no pro super telephoto lens! If you are chasing after birds and need reliable AF for those in-flight shots, I would still pick the Nikon 300mm f/4 over it (Nikon, please, we really need the 300mm f/4G VR now!). The 300mm f/4 rarely hesitates – it locks on and just sits there, similar to what expensive super telephotos do. For everyone else, the 80-400mm might make more sense due to its zoom versatility and VR. So aside from birders that shoot fast action all the time, the 80-400mm is a great and versatile choice. Certainly not even comparable to the old 80-400mm!


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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Richard

    Thanks Nasim. Another vote for the 300mm f4! Looking forward to the full 80-400mm review and already wish it was a little less expensive, it makes the 300mm f4 look a real bargain, I love mine.

    Richard

    • Richard, I could never complain about the 300mm f/4 – just hope that Nikon releases the VR version soon, as it desperately needs an update. Love mine, have been using it for 5+ years now!

      • 13
        ) Richard

        Your review nailed my reasoning to buy one. Only down point is of course very close wildlife is often a non starter as the lens is too long. For this I use my Sigma 50-500mm OS or Nikon 70-200mm + TC14 II. Am very interested in the AF-S 80-400mm, but I will wait at least a year because I need to know it’s worth more than twice the price of the Sigma!

        Richard

        • Richard, if you have the new Sigma 50-500mm and it is a good copy, keep it – in some ways it is better than the Nikon 80-400mm. But only if you have a good copy :)

          • 21
            ) Richard

            Mines about 18 months old and I have been very satisfied with it. It’s a heavy lens though and my shoulders ache after a few hours of handheld shooting! I am getting on in years mind :-)

  2. 2
    ) Amar

    Thanks Nasim. The site is wonderful and I am not sure how you manage the workload. Appreciate the update as to what is happening. Finally got my Nikon 80-400 VR a few days ago and been using it with the D7100. Definitely much superior to the Sigma 150-500 I was using. I saw your comments & concerns but so far I have no complaints for bird photography, given that I am almost exclusively doing handheld work. Been delighted with the quicker focus and sharper images, even in low light. I tend to be generally working at 300-400mm most times. Tried birds in rapid flight today (swifts and swllows) and was please with the ability to track them easily. Will post some images soon. I suspect this will become my default combination. The lighter weight and smaller size is a bonus for walking in the jungle, especially with my Cotton Carrier.
    Blessing
    Amar

    • Amar, thank you! You know, the latest Sigma 50-500mm that I am testing simultaneously is surprisingly good. It surely loses a lot of IQ above 300mm, but its AF is very quick and dead silent in comparison to the 80-400mm. Haven’t tested the 150-500mm yet, but I remember it was quite soft above 300mm as well. In fact, all these lenses suffer more at longer focal lengths. The 80-400mm is very sharp from 80mm all the way to 300mm (according to Imatest results) and its sharpness degrades quickly from 300mm towards 400mm.

      As for AF and tracking, it does quite well with large birds, but I found it to struggle with smaller and faster birds – the above owl was hard to track with the lens in flight. In comparison, Tom was shooting with the 500mm right next to me and he was getting killer images. I ended up trading lenses and I can tell you, there is a reason why those expensive super telephotos cost so much – they just nail focus!

      Still, the 80-400mm is a good lens overall if you learn how to use it well. Make sure to turn that VR off when shooting at fast shutter speeds!

  3. 3
    ) martin

    Great Nasim, indeed ithe new blog is working very well and thank you for the dedication of you and your group to the subjects of photography. You got a new logo: who did it? It’s good
    Had the chance to see pictures done with the new 80-400mm and they were really sharp (in sharp light conditions). I totally agree with your appreciation. It is a lens interesting for travelling, Good results in sharp rich contrast light (even excellent results) and the subject not too small. A not heavy lens for what it covers in reach. When one is limited in weight for air flight, it has really to be considered and offers a great shooring possibility, but for my feeling, simply too expensive.

    • Martin, thank you for your feedback! The new logo was done a while ago by a designer that also did our Mansurovs logo in the past. This one here needs to be updated – it is an early version that I never had to update with the most recent one (that one looks a little better).
      As for the 80-400mm, yes, it is definitely great for travel, but as you noted, the price is a little too steep for many. The 300mm f/4 is great value right now!

      • 7
        ) martin

        Hi Nasim, I am confounding the tulip type logo with the pl logo? The person do I remember it correctly who did your tulip like logo was somewhere from Easter Europe? I might like to contact him to put up my website for photography (I only have one for our horse business..) I am looking forward to your 800m review I have my ideas about it after seeing pictures that a colleague of mine has posted. Well it will be hard to compare the extraordinary 600 f/4 with the new 800 but one thing is already shure: both are to heavy to travel easily intercontinental. All the best to you and your family

        • Martin, our designer is from Uzbekistan (where Lola and I are from) and he did both of our logos. If you would like to contact him for work, I can send you his contact info.

          • 23
            ) martin

            Hello Nasim I would appreciate, what about his english?

            • Martin, it should be good enough for basic communication. Do you know approximately what you want in terms of logo design? If you know what you like, you can send him some ideas and he can put something together for you as far as a concept.

              His name is Rustam Babadjanov
              Here is his email address: rustikusfreeman@gmail.com

              Good luck!

              P.S. Rustam was born disabled – he works from a wheelchair. He won an award at the US Embassy in Uzbekistan for designing a logo and we really wanted to support him. He did a great job for us by designing our old Mansurovs logo, Lola’s logo and our new Photography Life logo.

            • 25
              ) martin

              I totally agree. I will get in touch with him
              I am more a” purist” in form and style

            • 26
              ) martin

              Nasim, how can I copy you in?

  4. 8
    ) Wild Bill, Polo Protog

    Nasim;
    Could you test the Sigma 120-400 against the Nikon 80-400 AF-S? My first copy of the 80-400 I also returned. Even in bright sunlight, the focus accuracy and hit rate was very poor. I noticed it was “noisy”, perhaps the issue you mentioned above. I was testing it while shooting horse polo, at long distances. Even in a childrens’ training session, where there was almost no “action”, the hit ratio was terrible. I get a better hit ratio with the 70-200 VR II then I got with the new 80-400, however the usable portion of the image is too small with the 70-200. Not certain if I want to try another copy of the 80–400 lens just yet, especially as the light levels for outdoor polo vary from bright sunlight to dusk (based on your comment of the performance of the lens when light drops).
    Another question: If you had to shoot a 70-200 with the TC-14 attached, all shots at f/5.6, shuttter speed 1/2,000th and Auto ISO, with bright sunlight to cloudy, almost dusk conditions, which would you suggest to use: The f/2.8 or the f/4 version of the 70-200?
    Thank you for your valuable insights and time.
    WEJ

    • Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain the 120-400mm for testing. Perhaps in the future.

      The 80-400mm seems to have some sample variation. The first one did horribly at 400mm and the second one was tack sharp! Also, did you make sure to calibrate the lens? The second unit I had was optically very good, but required -10 AF Fine Tune to focus precisely. And if you shoot at dusk, forget about the 80-400mm – it will fail miserably. It needs good light to autofocus accurately…

      As for the last condition, hands down the 70-200mm f/2.8! When shooting in less than ideal conditions, the f/2.8 lenses do much better in comparison to f/4 lenses.

  5. 9
    ) Kathleen

    Thank you, Nasim. I’m glad you’re back! But I very much appreciate the good reasons you were away. fyi: At your suggestion, or it might have been someone else who writes for this site, I bought the Nikon 85 f2.8 at a very good price at B&H. I love it! At the same time, and based on this site’s recommendation, I also bought the Nikon 24-120 f4 zoom. It’s very good, but a little heavy to keep on my D7000 as a walk-around lens. I find myself often just keeping my 50 f2.8 on the camera and putting the 85 in my bag. I recently made the decision to switch to these DX lenses and find that now I’m not so eager to upgrade to the D800. Of course, I’d like to, and probably will in the future, but my next purchase will be a better printer, most likely the Epson 3880.

    Thank you, thank you, for this excellent site.

    Kathleen

    • Kathleen, I think you meant to say 85mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.8, not f/2.8 :) Also, both of them are not DX lenses, they will work perfectly well on FX. So if you upgrade to the D800, you won’t have to worry about upgrading lenses.

  6. 10
    ) Abhijit

    Thanks Nasim for the upcoming reviews for Nikon 80-400mm AF-S and Sigma 50-500. I am travelling to Alaska end of July for a once in a lifetime trip (fly-in and then road trip along with some bear watching day trip, day cruises in Kenai peninsula, few days Denali, Wrangell St Elias, etc.) – current plan is to go with D800 + D800E bodies, 16-35 f/4, 70-200 f/2.8 VR II with TC-14E II mounted + 300 mm f/2.8 VR II with either TC-17E II or TC-20E III in a Think Tank Airport accelerator bag. So times I will be watching for wildlife I will use 1 body with a rough equivalent of 100-300mm f/4 (in my wife’s hands) and another body with a rough equivalent of 500mm f/4.8 or 600mm f/5.6. I was wondering how much image quality I will lose with a Sigma 50-500 or the Nikon 80-400mm AF-S – particularly the former. The bag at the moment is not too bad weight wise – but I will dare not take it on long hikes (instead toss one D800 with the lighter lens to my wife and carry the other myself).

    • Abhijit, you have a good lens selection. The Sigma 50-500mm is a lottery – if you get a good sample, it can be an excellent lens. But if you get a bad one (which many people do), you will be severely disappointed. Personally, I would still go for the 80-400mm if I were to choose between the two.

      Otherwise, if you are planning to take the 70-200mm + 300mm f/2.8, why do you need another zoom? I would just go with what you have!

      • 22
        ) Abhijit

        Thanks for the reply! Yes – that’s what I have decided to do – go with what I have (70-200mm + 300mm 2.8). The discarded thought was to go with 16-35 + 80-400mm/50-500mm instead of 16-35 f/4 + 70-200 f/2.8 VR II + 300 mm f/2.8 VR II + teleconverters. However after more thought I have decided that it would be a shame to go to Alaska with a super zoom like 50-500 (that I will need to buy) while keeping the excellent 300mm f/2.8 VR II (with the 3 Nikon teleconverters) at home.

  7. 11
    ) Art

    Looking forward to the upcoming reviews.Thanks for providing us with a great resource for all things photography.

    Regards
    Art

  8. 12
    ) Alex

    Thank you Nasim for these major improvements! The tons of resources you make available to us are now more accessible than ever.

    Looking forward to the 18-35 review: now that I own the more expensive 16-35 I hope I won’t be disappointed by the comparison!

    • Alex, don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed – the 16-35mm is wider and has VR :)

  9. 27
    ) Sivai

    Thanks Nasim for sharing the updates. Hope this new upgrade overcomes the performance issues. (however, I have never experienced a performance issue in this site). The font in the previous commenting system was good. Any plans bringing back the font to this new system too?

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