One of our readers, Simon Speich sent me an interesting article that compares Canon and Nikon Telephoto lenses. He created a couple of fun charts that take into account lens weight, maximum aperture and focal length and he came up with a graph that shows which manufacturer offers the best focal length to weight ratio. Give it a read, I thought this was great to share with our readers!
When transporting your photo equipment, the weight of your lenses can play an important role, especially when travelling on foot or by airplane. To find out which telephoto lens gives you the best compromise between weight and reach, I created a few charts to compare all professional lenses of Nikon and Canon with focal lengths equal to or greater than 300mm (see the table further below). The following comparison should not be taken too seriously, but nonetheless might give you some valuable insight when deciding on a lens.
1) Lens Weight
The first three charts show lens weight, diameter and length against focal length. The first thing you will notice is that both lines of lenses have more or less the same dimensions, but the Canon• lenses are between 0.5 and 1 kg lighter than the Nikon■ counterparts, except for the new Nikon 800mm (see below).
The biggest discrepancy in weight is between the two 600mm lenses. This is unfortunate, because unless you are a bodybuilder, you can’t handhold the Nikon■, whereas it is still possible with the Canon• 600mm.
Why is that? My first idea was that it might be the number of glass elements, so I looked at the specifications of both 600mm lenses, but it’s even the opposite. The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM has 16 elements, while the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR is made up of 15 elements. Then after I read the description of the Canon lens, I realized that its parts are made of lighter magnesium and titanium material, which is probably why it is lighter.
2) Maximum Aperture
The 300mm and 400mm lenses are f/2.8, whereas the 500mm and 600mm are f/4.0. If you look at the gradient in the graphs for weight and diameter, twice there is an increase followed by a decrease. This is a consequence of increasing the lens diameter in order to keep the minimum aperture the same, when increasing the focal length. A larger diameter means more glass, and more glass means of course more weight.
3) Best Super-Telephoto Lens
So which is the best lens in terms of weight? In order to have a better measure than just weight itself, I decided to divide the focal length by weight for each lens. This ratio gives you a measure for how much reach you get per kilogram for the lens you want to carry. If you look at the last graph, the 400mm lenses are obviously the worst to carry around. In the case of the Canons, the Canon 500mm, 600mm and 800mm are more or less the same. In the case of the Nikons, the Nikon 800mm is by far the best and in par with the Canon. The second in place would be the Nikon 500mm with a slight edge over the 600mm.
Of course there are also other factors than weight to consider such as image quality, low-light capabilities and price. But image quality is superb for all of these premium lenses. Also low-light is not such a big issue anymore with modern camera sensors and post processing. So in the end, it comes all down to budget and weight in my opinion.