This is an in-depth review of the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport, a high-end super telephoto lens with a versatile zoom range and a wide constant aperture of f/2.8, designed for wildlife, sports and portrait photographers. This is the third iteration of the lens. Its predecessor, the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM was released back in 2005 with identical optical design. What has changed, is the exterior make and appearance of the lens (along with the tripod collar and tripod foot), the new rigorous quality control that Sigma has implemented on its new lines of high quality lenses, and the ability to attach a USB dock for fine tuning the autofocus operation of the lens. In this review, I will go over the technical specifications of the lens, talk about its optical features and performance with and without teleconverters, and compare it to other super telephoto lenses like Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR and Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II.
This is a detailed review of the Sigma 2.0x Teleconverter EX APO DG for the Nikon mount. I had a chance to test out this teleconverter, along with the 1.4x Sigma teleconverter when working with the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens, so I wanted to share some of my findings and compare the teleconverter to its Nikon counterpart, the Nikkor TC-20E III. In this review, I will go over the optical characteristics of the Sigma 2.0x teleconverter and talk about its performance when using both Sigma and Nikon super telephoto lenses.
This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR, an exotic super telephoto lens designed for wildlife and sports photographers. Nikon first teased us with its plans to release an 800mm lens in July of 2012, with an official announcement that followed in January of 2013 (along with the Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens). Nikon has not updated its manual focus 800mm f/5.6 ED-IF lens for over 25 years, so it was about time to introduce an autofocus version of the lens to the market. The Nikon 800mm f/5.6 VR is a significant milestone for the Nikkor line, because this is the first lens to have the letters “FL” on the lens name, which indicate that fluorite elements are used in its optical design. Although Canon has been using fluorite elements in its exotic super telephoto lenses for a while now, Nikon historically has only used fluorite elements in its medical / microscope lenses. So in a way, this is the first lens of its kind for Nikon.
This is a detailed review of the Sigma 1.4x Teleconverter EX APO DG for the Nikon mount. I had a chance to test out this teleconverter, along with the 2x Sigma teleconverter when working with the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens (review to be published within the next week), so I wanted to share some of my findings and compare the teleconverter to its Nikon counterpart, the Nikkor TC-14E II. In this review, I will go over the optical characteristics of the Sigma 1.4x teleconverter and talk about its performance when using both Sigma and Nikon super telephoto lenses.
The original review of the Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S lens was published back in 2009 and was very short. I decided to completely rewrite it, with all the latest information, MTF data, more feedback and sample images, so you are looking at an updated version. If you are a birder, you have only two budget choices for Nikon – either the Nikon 300mm f/4D IF-ED AF-S or the much more expensive Nikon 80-400mm VR that was introduced in 2013. All other semi-professional lenses by Nikon are not good enough/long enough for birding. The old 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR was too slow to focus and a lot of people including myself expressed their frustration with it for fast moving birds. I have been using the Nikon 300mm f/4D lens for over 6 years now and have been very pleased with the results. I take it with me everywhere I go and have used it more than any other telephoto lens so far. It is relatively light and I primarily use it handheld for shooting birds and other wildlife of Colorado.
In this review, I will go over my thoughts on the Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S lens, provide sample images and compare it to other telephoto lenses like the new Nikon 80-400mm VR, Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR and Nikon 70-300mm VR.
It seems like the debate of DX vs FX for wildlife and sports photography is a never ending one. DX shooters argue that they get more reach, stating that DX is like a “built-in 1.5x teleconverter”, or that DX setups are lighter due to smaller lenses and less expensive, or that DX chops off the corners of lenses, thus reducing vignetting and other optical issues. On the opposite side of the fence, FX shooters argue that they get better image quality at pixel level, better viewfinder, less diffraction issues, better AF performance in low-light, etc. Seems like we have two camps, each defending their own side for various reasons. Having spent a number of years shooting both DX and FX starting from the first generation Nikon FX cameras and every single DX camera manufactured by Nikon to date, and having talked to a number of other photographers that shoot for a living, I came to a conclusion that there are some myths surrounding the DX format that need to be debunked. In this article, I will provide my personal insight to this topic and explain why I believe that FX is always better for photographing sports and wildlife. This article evolved as a result of recent discussions of the subject with some of our readers.
1) The Myth of the DX Built-in 1.5x Teleconverter
A lot of people seem to be very confused about the effect of a crop sensor on the focal length of a lens. Stating that a crop sensor increases the focal length of the lens or acts as a teleconverter is completely wrong, since focal length is an optical attribute of a lens and has nothing to do with the camera. I talked about this in detail in my “Equivalent Focal Length” article that I published a while ago. Simply put, a DX sensor can never change the optical parameters of a lens, so if you are shooting with a 300mm lens, it stays as a 300mm lens no matter what camera you mount it on. The confusion of “equivalent focal length” comes from manufacturers that initially wanted to make people understand that the field of view on a cropped sensor camera is tighter than 35mm, because the image corners get chopped off. The word “equivalent” is only relative to 35mm film. So you cannot say that your 300mm lens becomes a 450mm lens on a DX body. It does not and never will. All you are doing, is you are taking an image from a 300mm lens, cropping it in the center area and magnifying that center with increased resolution.
2) DX Pixel Size and Resolution
The only reason why some people thought that DX provided longer reach, was because DX sensors historically had similar resolution as FX. For example, both Nikon D300 (DX) and D700 (FX) have about the same resolution – 12 MP. So despite having sensors of completely different sizes, the two cameras produce images of similar size / resolution. Ultimately, this means that the D300 can resolve more detail from the center of the lens (which is typically the sharpest on any lens) and thus magnifies the subject more, which led people to believe that DX was better than FX to get closer to subjects. One aspect that was rarely talked about, however, was the fact that the D300 has a lot more noise at low ISO levels than the D700 due to smaller pixel size. So despite having this magnification advantage, photographers had to constantly deal with cleaning up apparent noise even at low ISO levels. I personally had to constantly down-sample images and clean them up via noise-reduction software to get rid of the artifacts visible at anything above ISO 800 (and noise was visible even at base ISO!). So at the end of the day, taking a DX image and down-sampling it aggressively, versus simply cropping an FX image produced somewhat similar results, with a slight advantage on DX that resulted in more detailed shots, thanks to the down-sampling process.
A fellow photographer recently asked me how much image degradation one would see with each Nikon teleconverter. As a nature photographer, I have been wondering myself about this for a while, but never had a chance to actually quantify what the image degradation figures would look like when using the TC-14E II, TC-17E II and the TC-20E III with Nikon lenses. I have been relying on field use and my vision so far and here is what I have thought about each teleconverter.
The Nikon TC-14E II is excellent. I have not seen it degrade image quality on any Nikon lenses to the level where I could see obvious loss of contrast or sharpness. I have used it with the 105mm VR, 70-200mm f/2.8G VR (the old one, as well as VR II), 300mm f/4 and pretty much on every expensive super telephoto lens. I take it with me everywhere and mine stays pretty much glued to my favorite Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S the majority of the time – that’s what I use primarily for birding. When shooting with my Nikon 200-400mm, I don’t hesitate to use the TC-14E II, because it does a very good job sharpness and contrast-wise and AF stays accurate and fast. It is obviously the smallest and the lightest of the three.
The Nikon TC-17E II is a mixed bag. It works with many Nikon lenses, but it slows down AF and impacts AF accuracy. Not as good of a TC to be used with slower f/4 lenses, which includes the 300mm f/4, 200-400mm f/4 and 500mm f/4 lenses. I tried to use it with my 300mm f/4 and it makes the lens hunt a lot, especially in anything but good light environments. The same thing with the Nikon 200-400mm f/4, even with the latest camera bodies like Nikon D4. Because of this, I rarely use mine. On fast f/2-2.8 lenses, however, it does pretty well. It works great on the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and it does not disappoint with the 200mm f/2, 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8 lenses.
The Nikon TC-20E III is much better than its predecessor (which was very disappointing with many lenses). I was pretty shocked to see it perform very well with the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II (stop down to f/8 for best results), because the 2x TC was always known to be bad with zoom lenses. It works like a champ with the 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8 lenses. On slower f/4 lenses, however, it is still pretty disappointing. It is unusable on the Nikon 300mm f/4 and 200-400mm f/4 lenses and while it will work with the 500mm f/4 and 600mm f/4 lenses, you will have to stop down to f/11 to get anything reasonably good and you will need to use one of the latest Nikon DSLRs like D4 that can handle f/8 lenses. Not a great setup for fast action, but could work for large animals from a very long distance.
In a rather surprising announcement today, Nikon released a major update to the existing 12 year old Nikkor 80-400mm AF-D lens. The new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR has a completely redesigned internal focus optical formula with Nano Coating, Super Integrated Coating and extra-low dispersion glass elements. On top of that, the lens sports a second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR II) system for up to 4 stops of shutter speed compensation and a silent wave motor (SWM / AF-S), which means that autofocus will function on any modern Nikon DSLRs, including entry-level models like D3200. This is one of the few Nikkor lenses to have “Super ED Glass”, which has a lower refractive index and light dispersion than ED glass, making the new 80-400mm a premium lens for both enthusiasts and professionals. And with a versatile focal length of 80-400mm, the lens is well-suited for sports and nature photography.
This is an in-depth review of the Nikon 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens that was released in August of 2007, along with Nikon D3 and two other exotic super telephoto lenses. In this review, I will not only provide general information about the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR and its performance, but also how it works with all current Nikon teleconverters (TC-14E II, TC-17E II and TC-20E III) and how it compares to other telephoto lenses such as Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR, Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S, Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II and Nikon 500mm f/4G VR. The Nikon 500mm f/4G VR was kindly provided by Pro Photo Rental – a great lens rental company based out of Boulder, CO.
This is an in-depth review of the new Nikon TC-20E III teleconverter that was released in December of 2009, along with an updated version of the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II lens. The Nikon TC-20E III is a major update to the existing Nikon TC-20E II teleconverter, sporting a brand new optical design with an aspherical element, which delivers better performance with many specialty telephoto lenses. The purpose of teleconverters is to increase the focal length of lenses, in other words to get closer to subjects, and the TC-20E III is the biggest and the longest teleconverter manufactured by Nikon – it doubles the focal length of a lens. While this teleconverter works with any professional Nikon lens that can take teleconverters, it is specifically designed to work with fast prime lenses with an aperture of f/2.8 and larger. The Nikon TC-20E III is targeted at sports, wildlife and other types of telephoto photography where the photographer cannot physically approach subjects.
It was not easy to obtain the Nikon TC-20E III because of high demand/short supply and after waiting for a few weeks, I decided to just rent it for a couple of weeks instead. My objective was to try the Nikon TC-20E III specifically with the Nikon 300mm f/2.8G VR II and with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II to see how it truly performs in an outdoor environment when photographing nature. It is one thing to shoot test charts with a lens sitting on a tripod, and another to get out and do some real shooting. Some lenses look great on paper and on test charts, but cannot perform equally well when used in an outdoor environment, especially with fast-moving subjects like birds. The primary reason is autofocus, the performance of which depends on many different factors. Teleconverters generally negatively impact autofocus performance, due to a considerable loss of light and contrast and the 2x TC is the worst in this regard. Adding a teleconverter slows down lenses and the Nikon TC-20E III slows down by two full stops. What this means, is that when the teleconverter is mounted on an f/2.8 lens, it slows down to f/5.6 and as you may know, autofocus performance on small apertures beyond f/5.6 is unreliable even in broad daylight conditions. Nikon clearly points out that autofocus does not work beyond f/5.6, so if you have an f/4.0 lens, forget about autofocus – you will have to resort to manual focus.