Recently, my wife and I headed to the Texas hill country near San Antonio for a brief getaway at the Block Creek Bed and Breakfast. This trip offered me a chance to spend some time using the new Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR zoom and it has changed my opinion of it. I’m now pleasantly surprised at how good this lens is for the money. On the trip we used both the 200-500mm f/5.6E VR and the 500mm f/4G VR lenses interchangeably with Nikon D750 and D4 bodies. In this brief post, I will share a few photos to show why I am impressed with this new lens.
In December of 2015, multiple photographers told me how pleased they were with the new Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 VR lens and so I purchased one. Much to my dismay, I just didn’t like mine. I tried to like it. I wanted to like it. I tried fine tuning the auto focus and tried it on multiple camera bodies, but try as I might, it just wasn’t sharp. I didn’t like it. I returned the first and purchased a second copy of the lens and immediately found that it was much better than the first. If the first copy was indicative of the capability of this lens, I would never recommend it. However, I had the opportunity to see images from other photographers and knew that it wasn’t as bad as my first copy. To be fair to Nikon, when my first copy arrived, the Nikon box itself was damaged, and I think that damage may have led to the copy not working as it should. Thankfully, the second copy is a different story.
Previously, I had a chance to shoot the Sigma 150-600mm Sport and loved its capability, but oh, that weight! If the two lenses were the same weight, I would buy the Sigma with its extra range and I feel (purely subjectively) that it might be a bit sharper – an opinion which is also supported in Nasim’s Nikon 200-500mm VR Review. Some might question that if I don’t mind the weight of the 500mm f/4 prime, then why would I mind the Sigma? Well, the Sigma or the Nikon 200-500mm zooms are good for flexibility, size and weight factors. When weight isn’t an issue, I’ll always grab the prime over the zoom, but weight and size can be an issue. I bought mine for travel where I am not traveling for photography purposes but still might find time to shoot.
My wife and I were able to shoot together and were able to compare photos taken at almost the same time under the same conditions and then compare the 500mm prime to the 200-500mm zoom. One lens was mounted on a D4 and the other on a D750 body. Sorry, but I didn’t have two copies of the same camera body to make the comparison more ideal. In fact, I didn’t set out to compare the two lenses as my wife isn’t usually photographing, but after seeing how the two lenses did, I wanted to share a couple of examples with our readers. As you look, see if you can tell which was the zoom and which was the $7000 more expensive prime. The answer is given below after all the images, try not to look at the back of the mathematics book for the answer to solve the problem, that’s no fun.
First, a male cardinal offers a food gift to the female as part of their courtship.
Here is the second series of a Golden-fronted woodpecker in late afternoon light.
Now that you have had a chance to see side by side comparisons with both lenses, here are a few shots below in which all were taken with the 200-500mm.
I included a couple of shots wide open at f/5.6, but I found like others, that stopping down to f/6.3 or 7.1 is better – not unsurprising.
To answer the question of which lens was used for the first two series of images, in both cases, the top or first image was shot with the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR zoom, while the lower or second image was with the Nikon 500mm f/4G VR prime.
The differences between the two lenses are subtle and for the money, I find the 200-500mm to be of incredible value. It doesn’t acquire initial focus as fast as the prime lenses do, but once it locks on, it does a capable job of tracking. Again, for the money, not bad at all! I’m anxious to use this zoom lens with the new Nikon D500 soon (see our detailed coverage of camera) and I hope to find it a very powerful, lightweight package. We shall see shortly.
While in Texas, we found a gem of a bed and breakfast located on a ranch between San Antonio and Fredericksburg. We just stumbled upon it on the internet and had no first hand knowledge of it. What a great find! The Block Creek Natural Area and the Block Creek Bed and Breakfast is owned by Sharron and Larry Jay. After purchasing the ranch, the couple restored the home and guest cottage which were originally built in 1890. Both buildings retain their original beauty but have been updated for comfort and convenience. Wifi is available but phone service is spotty and that’s a bonus! Their website gives you an idea, but I can’t stress enough the feeling that you get when you are there as the photos don’t do it justice. My wife has health issues which sometimes slow her down and in the cottage bedroom two of the walls are wall to wall windows with views of trees, a pond, and multiple bird feeders. As she was resting one day, she commented, “If you have to be sick, this is such a wonderful place to be because you can be in bed and still feel alive as you look outside these windows.”
Add to the natural beauty of this property, the kindness of Larry and Sharron and it really is a special place. Larry, himself a photographer and Sharron, a wonderful gardener have flowers of all kinds growing along with photography blinds to keep both the photographer and non- photographer happy. The property sports at least 5 blinds for photography and abundant wildlife such as deer, turkey, numerous species of birds including multiple species of hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are so plentiful it can sound like you are standing in a beehive with all the activity. Black chinned, ruby throated and some rufous hummingbirds can all be found literally, right outside your door, making for ample photographic opportunities.
Variety of wildlife is an understatement, we even had a male peacock wander into our blind area following some turkeys. When we told Larry about the peacock, he was surprised, he hadn’t ever seen one on the property and didn’t know of any neighboring ranches that had any. It was so nice to get out of bed and walk a few feet to photograph and to come and go from blind to blind or to take a break in the room. We were there just a bit early, as the spring migration is about to get serious and even though we missed the painted buntings, we saw plenty to keep us happy and entertained. If you find the desire and/or the need to slow down but still get in some photography, please consider a stay at the Block Creek Natural area and bed and breakfast. There is a 2 day minimum stay, but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend less and take along the 200-500mm lens if you can!
Nasim and I have discussed the possibility of holding a 3-day workshop at Block Creek. If you would be interested in such a photography workshop, please let us know in the comments section below.
Special thanks to April Redd for her assistance in providing some of the images in this post. All images are copyrighted property of Tom and April Redd. All rights retained and use is prohibited without permission.
I’m trying to fine-tune the AF on my old Nikon 300 f/4. The range of settings seems not to have any effect on the focus, whether set on M or AF. (But at least the focus seems little different from Live View). I have this question – where does the focal plane adjustment take place – in the lens or the body?
Now – considering the 300 is a prime lens, would the new 200-500 f/5.6 (or one of the 150-600) outperform it in angular resolution, even with the longer fl?
I am looking for a wildlife lens. My budget is within 2k US Dollar. I have Tamron 70-300mm lens and now looking for long range. Please suggest which one to buy between 80-400mm or 200-500mm. I have seen Canon 100-400mm performance and it is very sharp. I am looking for similar sharpness lens in Nikon.
For that budget I would recommend the 200-500mm Nikon.
I have this lens, plus the 300/2.8, and I did a comparison of the 2 lenses here:
Note that the 300/2.8 is 4 times the price … so you can decide if it is worth it.
Note that all shots were hand-held, and both lenses can use all 3 TCs.
Tom sir, Nasim sir,Dave sir & all other respected,
I am beginner & using tamron 150-600mm With Nikon D750 near about two years.Now I want to shift my lens to Nikkor 500mm FL ED prime & I already booked it & paid full amount to the distributor as advance though its a very very big investment for me like Mr. Kamal.For this prime I loan from bank & feel some guilty for this big deals. Some renowned wild life photographer friends suggest me that if you serious then you must go for the prime. After thinking few months I set my mind towards prime only for much superior image quality.But,now I am totally confused.
Please advice me what should I do.
Suvendu, if you have made the decision on the investment for the 500/4 prime lens, then keep it. The AF speed, the photo quality, etc of the prime is superior to the either the Tamron 150-600 or the Nikkor 200-500. This article is to illustrate that for the money, the 200-500 is a good lens, overall, but it is not as good as the 500 f/4. If you plan to print large photos, submit for contests, sell your images, etc., then the investment is worth it. If you are only going to display images on the web, then maybe you consider not spending the additional money. The weight of the prime lens is considerably heavier. Those are things for you to consider. When I went from a Sigma 150-500 lens to a Nikkor 300/2.8 prime (my first expensive prime), I never regretted it. How much these things mean to you, only you can say. Good luck.
Thank you sir for your valuable advice.I set my mind and eagerly waiting for my prime.
With best regards,
I love my 600mm f/4E FL ED VR and D4s!
Some photos can be seen ar flickr.com/mikeschmeee
This was a very informative article – I was not able to really differentiate the difference between the two lenses, and it is nice to see real-world examples side by side.
Did you and your wife hand-hold or use a monopod/tripod while shooting?
Do you (or anyone at PL) have an opinion on the 200-500 f5.6 vs the 200-400 f4 vs the 70-200 f2.8 + 2x TC-III ?
I hope your wife is feeling better.
Thank you, Stephen. My wife was using a tripod/gimbal and I was actually using tripod with a ball head – less than ideal but when we left on the trip, I wasn’t sure my wife would actually shoot at all and so I only took one gimbal due to room/weight in the bag.
I’ve never owned the 200-400 f/4, but it is a fine lens and I would think that it would outperform the 200-500. Again, there are differences in these less expensive lenses but if you are only displaying on the web and not making large prints, the differences can be less obvious. As for the 70-200/f2.8 + 2x TC-III, good question, I have that combo but I don’t use it (with a TC) often enough to have a feel for it. I would think that the 70-200 would edge it out in IQ.
Thank you for the sentiments for my wife’s health.
I have the 200-500 Nikon and was pleased to see your comments and some comparison images.
I could see straight away which images were from each lens even at the low resolution for the web article.
Having said that, I was also pleased that this inexpensive lens could even play in the same space as the reference level prime.
Sure a slight difference in image quality is there but the difference is not miles apart as the price would have us believe.
I purchased the 200-500 due to weight restrictions for travel and want to take it with me as much as possible as I am mostly an opportunist photographer (work takes so much of my time).
Somebody once said “The best lens (or camera) is the one you have with you”
I could have purchased the 500f4 if I really wanted it, but I suspect it would stay at home unless I actually had a planned outing.
I went to an event at a wildlife park where I could use all of the top level primes and for months I was dead set on getting the 300f2.8vr but after the initial excitement subdued I realised that although I would have been pleased to carry it everywhere, aircraft carry on restrictions would cause problems. I ended up getting the 300f4PF instead and I love that lens and it goes everywhere with me.
So now my travel kit has a D800E and a D7200 with 24f1.4, 70-200f4vr3, 300f4PF, 200-500f5.6 and a TC1.4eII and this all fits in a Tamrac backpack. It weighs 9kg so I still have an issue with aircraft carry on but at least I have a range of lighter weight lenses without compromising image quality. (Still can’t fit my infrared cameras in though.)
I am looking forward to the D500 to see if that will replace the D7200 so I will keep an on this site for reviews.
I read a lot of reviews from sites like this on equipment, the MTF charts of what is possible and the in the field reviews of how that comes together and my purchases are influenced by this.
So thank you all for taking the time to post.
I often read the comments after the articles and find some of the people basically ungrateful (and rude) for the information presented. Good job some of us are not easily offended.
This is a great site so keep up the excellent work.
Ken, it sounds like you have a very nice kit there. I’m looking forward to having the D500. I did play with it at a launch party and it seemed very nice but as you know, it was hard to fairly evaluate it in a store. Thanks for the kind words and for visiting.
It was really amazing to see the comparisons here done by other people. For people like me to get the 200-500 itself is a big investment, So the comparison article and the review helped me a lot. Thanks for the wonderful article.
Thank you Kamal.
I have a similar question to what is addressed in this article. I purchased a Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM Lens some years ago. It has no VR, but is is (still) $2,000+ cheaper than the Nikon 500mm. I think back then the price difference was even bigger. I have been reasonably happy with it, but last week got a new Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens. The Sports is of course a bit more expensive than the Nikon 200-500mm (but not by much where I live). The advantages of the new lens is flexibility, a bit more reach, a bit less weight and size. And of course VR (or OS). I haven’t tested them head-to-head, but am curious about how the compare in sharpness. Might just do that to decide if I really need both. I guess the 500mm wil have a bit more light at 500mm (f4.5 vs f5.6), but the zoom’s OS will compensate for that. I expect the prime to be a bit sharper, but the technology is also 10+ years older. Though it is still available. Opinions?
Chris, as you know, generally the prime is sharper and you mentioned the f/4.5 vs. 5.6 so those advantages go to the 500 prime. I am not familiar with that particular lens (the 500) by Sigma so I can’t comment directly to that. I can say that I was very impressed with the Sigma 150-600 Sport, at times I still wonder if I should have bought it instead of the Nikon 200-500. Aside from the weight, I really was impressed with the Sigma zoom. I wish I could be more helpful to you on this.
Thanks for your response, Tom. I picked the Sigma Sport knowing about the weight complaints. I guess the sharper reputation and weather proof design was more important for me. And with my new Nikon D500, I get a 900mm lens for 3.7kgs. Great for tiny birds. But hand held does not result in tack-sharp photos in my experience. Tripod defeats the purpose, but I am now experimenting with my little Gitzo Traveler 6x Monopod. I have replaced the Sigma lens foot with one from SunwayFoto which is Arca-Swiss ready. It seems to solve the weight problem, but still allows flexibility and stability. I’m just not sure yet if I should switch the OS (VR) to 1, 2, or Off for a monopod.
As for the Sigma 500mm, I use a Wimberley Sidekick on a proper tripod. Only 410g heavier, but forget hand holding that. No VR. But the extra light comes in handy ones mounted on the tripod with my Nikon D810 behind it. I have taken both cameras & lenses out together, but have not made IQ comparisons.
If I really want to travel light and hand hold with long reach, I will reach for my little Panasonic M43 with the new Panasonic 100-400 lens (that is 200-800 equivalent) at just over 1kg lens and camera (or 800mm at 2.6 lbs total with if you live in the USA).
Or I can half the lens weight by going with the Nikon 80-400mm, but I will probably sell that one day.
I WISH 500MM F5.6, OR EVEN 400MM F5.6 PRIMES, SOON FROM NIKON.
I WISH NIKON DEVELOP AND RELEASE LIGHT WEIGHT 400MM OR 500MM F5.6 PRIMES SOME DAY NEAR FUTURE.