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.