Pro- versus consumer-grade telephoto?

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March 22, 2016 at 8:00 am  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  1 Comment

In a previous Q&A, you recommended renting an expensive lens such as the Nikon AF-S 200-400 mm f/4 ED VR II that sells for about $8000. But now, Nikon makes an AF-S 200-500 mm f/5.6 ED VR lens that costs only about $1600 and is smaller and lighter. I could justify buying that lens, but what are the drawbacks compared to the pricier telephoto?
—Bogdan R.

As indicated in this diagram—which is not to scale re: the size of each lens—both of the Nikon telephotos incorporate Extra Low Dispersion glass to minimize aberrations for excellent image quality. Of course the f/4 lens (top) benefits from four versus three such high-tech elements so it can produce even better results. Photos Courtesy of Nikon Canada

As indicated in this diagram—which is not to scale re: the size of each lens—both of the Nikon telephotos incorporate Extra Low Dispersion glass to minimize aberrations for excellent image quality. Of course the f/4 lens (top) benefits from four versus three such high-tech elements so it can produce even better results. Photos Courtesy of Nikon Canada

Well, Bogdan, the good news is that the more affordable and lighter (by over a kilogram) AF-S 200-500 mm lens is getting rave reviews. That’s not surprising considering the three extra-low dispersion glass elements and the Super Integrated Coating. Like its larger counterpart, the new lens is equipped with the very fast Silent Wave AF motor, a tripod mounting collar and the latest Vibration Reduction stabilizer. It also extends to a longer focal length, and that can be a huge benefit with distant subjects. While the $8000 lens will produce even better, superlative image quality, the difference won’t likely be an issue except for those who often need 24 x 36-inch prints or for professionals with demanding clients.

In sports or wildlife photography on a dark overcast day, there is an advantage to an f/4 over an f/5.6 lens. In this situation, for example, I was able to get a 1/1500 s shutter speed at ISO 800 at f/4, versus the ISO 1600 that would have been required at f/5.6. In darker locations, where much higher ISOs would be required, the benefit would be even more valuable. © 2015 Peter K. Burian

In sports or wildlife photography on a dark overcast day, there is an advantage to an f/4 over an f/5.6 lens. In this situation, for example, I was able to get a 1/1500 s shutter speed at ISO 800 at f/4, versus the ISO 1600 that would have been required at f/5.6. In darker locations, where much higher ISOs would be required, the benefit would be even more valuable. © 2015 Peter K. Burian

The AF-S 200-400 mm f/4 model does have some benefits, however, such as its even more rugged and weather-resistant construction. The most important advantage is the very wide maximum aperture of f/4 versus f/5.6. That allows for shooting at a fast shutter speed on overcast days or during indoor sports games with less need to set a higher ISO level where image quality may not be optimal. Also, with the f/4 lens, the effective maximum aperture is a still acceptably wide f/5.6 when using a 1.4x teleconverter versus f/8 when using the same accessory with the f/5.6 lens.

However, considering the price and size/weight, the AF-S 200-500 mm f/5.6 telephoto is an excellent value without too many compromises—a wise choice for numerous sports- and wildlife-photography enthusiasts.

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One Comment

  1. mikeschmeee / April 5, 2016 at 10:55 pm / Reply

    Nice little article. I love shooting with super telephoto primes.

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