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Lens advice wanted, 400 f2.8 or 600 f4?

Discussion in 'Photography & Video' started by Bluelion, 8 Mar 2010.

  1. Bluelion

    Hitman

    Joined: 4 Jan 2008

    Posts: 717

    Location: Southampton

    Hi guys,

    I'm after a bit of advice please, as I'm in a quandary about what long lens to buy. Having got the photo-bug about 3 years ago now, i've been getting more and more serious with wildlife photography. 12 months ago I realised that the 200-400 which I currently have (which I thought was crazy money 2 years ago, how things change...) wasn't really long enough. I've had limited success with the 1.4x converter taking it out to 560mm, so started saving for a proper prime.

    Wind the clock on 12 months of eating baked beans on toast, pedaling to work, no visits to the local drinking emporium, I've almost saved enough for the big boy, the Nikon 600mm F4 VR prime.

    The problem is - I'm now not sure would be the optimum lens for me at this time. I currently shoot with a cropped frame, the D300, and would like to move to full frame as soon as funds permit, ideally to the Nikon D4 which I had kind of expected to be announced by now. My dilemma is between the following three lenses:

    Nikon 400mm f2.8 VR
    ==============
    + F2.8 aperture
    + More flexible than the longer lenses, takes the new 2x extender to give 800 f5.6
    - Not hand holdable?
    - Overlap of range with existing 200-400mm lens.
    ? Unknown image quality at 800mm compared to [email protected]

    Nikon 500mm f4 VR
    =============
    + hand holdable
    + cheaper than the other two
    - Compromised, *only* 500mm @ F4

    Nikon 600mm f4 VR
    =============
    + The big daddy. Should be sharpest of the three @ 600mm range
    + Offers the greatest range, 840mm with ease with 1.4x.
    - Not hand holdable
    - Not very flexible

    Before the new 2x extender hadn't come out, the choice was easy - the 600mm. However, while you still loose the stops of light as with the old one, the early reports of the image quality is that it remains extremely good.

    http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1021&message=31322765&changemode=1 discusses this topic at some length without a satisfactory conclusion, although there are some outstanding example images of the 400mm+1.4x of the eagles. I recall SilverPenguin saying that 400mm didn't seem very far with a full frame camera, which again is pushing me towards the 600mm. But the 400 would be awesome on a full frame for air shows. Oh the decision is too tough! :confused:

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. robmiller

    Capodecina

    Joined: 26 Dec 2003

    Posts: 16,522

    Location: London

    Why would you expect this, when Nikon has always had a 4 year cycle for its pro bodies (summer 1999 D1, summer 2003 D2, summer 2007 D3)? It will be here in 2011.

    Go for the 500mm f/4 IMO. It's a lot, lot smaller and lighter than the 400 f/2.8 or 600 f/4 and it works well with the 1.4 TC to give you a 700 f/5.6. It's also the cheapest of the three. Sure, it's not quite as good optically but what good are great optics if you have to break your back lugging them to where the action is—or just plain can't get them there?

     
    Last edited: 8 Mar 2010
  3. Mud

    Mobster

    Joined: 13 Dec 2004

    Posts: 3,186

    Location: Bristol

    I get the impression there aren't too many wildlife photographers on this forum, so consider also posting somewhere else. If you're going to go FX and you're keeping the 200-400 then it's easy to eliminate the 400/2.8, leaving the portable 500/4 vs. the longer, heavier, more expensive 600/4. The only argument for the 400/2.8 I can see is if you're going to keep a crop body or go for a high MP camera like the D3x. I've had my D700 all of a few days and my lenses are suddenly much shorter than I'm used to ;)

    Of course, don't listen to me, I'm not a wildlife photographer...
     
  4. robmiller

    Capodecina

    Joined: 26 Dec 2003

    Posts: 16,522

    Location: London

    Also, what is compelling you to go full frame? Are the benefits really worth the trade-off in effective reach?
     
  5. D.P.

    Caporegime

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 31,691

    Many people prefer the 500 VR because it is much more portable, even though it has the worst IQ out of the big 3. (the IQ is still absolutely outstanding though).

    Even if the 600 has more reach and marginally better IQ, this doesn't automatically get reflected in the photos. Not least you can't hand hold the 600 and it just takes more time to sort out and organize due to it heft. Being quick and snappy with a lighter setup can mean te difference between getting a shot and missing it entirely. And at large distances things like haze and atmospheric distortions, heat effects steal IQ quite noticeable, even if it is -20 if the sun is shining the thermal difference between the ground and +2m will have a strong effect on sharpness. You will need to have faster shutter times as well.

    In situations where extra reach is needed many Pros resort to the D300 (if there is enough light). Lots of rpos and cons between using a D3 + 1.4X TC or D300 bare.



    Anyway, you should rent a couple of lenses before buying to see how you get on. maybe you deside to go for the big boy, buy the 600 and then after a few weeks realise you really can't carry it around.
     
  6. Messiah Khan

    Capodecina

    Joined: 1 Sep 2005

    Posts: 9,998

    Location: Scottish Highlands

    I was close to being in the same situation (before deciding to use the funds for emigrating instead) and decided on the 500mm. As other have said it is much light and usable than the 400 or 600mm. The 400 and 600 are both amazing lenses, but are beasts to use. One problem I also came across which I hadn't considered before trying them is that the lens hoods are so wide that you may have problems using them in some fixed hides. In my local hide, the lens went through the window, but didn't leave any space for me to look over. So I had to look out of the hide window, next to the lens/camera which restricts your field of view.

    Having said that, if you go full frame you may miss the reach and therefore wish you had the 600mm. My conclusion in the end was to keep the D300+grip for wildlife and eventually go full frame for shots where I don't need the reach. Also the 500mm is £1k cheaper, which is a decent way towards a full frame body.
     
  7. bigredshark

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 30 Jun 2005

    Posts: 9,515

    Location: London Town!

    It's a difficult one, what exactly are you shooting that's making you look for the extra reach would be helpful to know (sometimes you're going to want the hand held option more than the extra reach).

    End of the day I think only you know what will work best for you, I'd reject all three in favour of the 200-400 myself as it better suits my style but obviously that's not working for you. I think the 500 f4 is the best value of the three by some distance and the hand held potential is attractive compared to the other two (but it's still 3.8KG though).

    Given you have the 200-400 I'm not convinced the 500 is enough of a step up to justify the money, so in your shoes I'd go for the 600 f4 semi reluctantly. As said (and I'm sure you already have) get one on hire for a weekend or something first though to make sure you like it.
     
  8. Bluelion

    Hitman

    Joined: 4 Jan 2008

    Posts: 717

    Location: Southampton

    Thanks for the replies gentlemen.

    First up, I'm actually not too concerned about carting either the 400 or 600 about. Fortunately I've got a fairly big build and currently carry everything including the kitchen sink in the bag. Sure it gets tiring after a day's trecking around a reserve, but I'm carrying quite a lot (I'm estimating > 20kg), some of which I can tip out if the needs be.

    Robmiller, there are several full frame benefits which I see:

    (1) Significantly better noise.
    I'm happy with the D300 up to and including ISO800. After which noise reduction software becomes necessary in my opinion, especially if the image has been heavily cropped. I've found myself regular wanting higher shutter speeds, especially considering I often require a smallish aperture to get a bird fully in focus.
    eg. if I'm fortunate enough to get to a distance of 5m of a bird, at 400mm F8 this has a depth of field of 4cm around this point if my maths is correct. F8 in the often enclosed woodlands sometimes struggles to achieve a satisfactory shutter speed at ISO800.

    (2) Nikon pro-body weather proofing.
    The D300 isn't too bad, but I understand the pro-bodies to be a step up again. Having been caught out in a number of rain storms and been concerned about water on the camera, I'm all for improved sealing. Nikon's current direction is to produce pro-bodies which are all full frame, and I've seen no indication that this might change with the next generation.

    Obviously the downside is the wider field of view, but given it isn't a reduction in magnification just a lowering of pixel density, and Nikon has already announced it is now focusing more on pixel density rather than just low noise (http://www.dpreview.com/news/1002/10022304nikonbalance.asp) I believe that this problem will be lessoned with the next range of full frame models. Of course I could be complete wrong :)

    This is part of the reason why I believe the D4 is close to being launched. Looking at the Canon competition, both the 1DmkIV and the 1DsmkIII off things which the D3(s) can't at the moment - high resolution with high frame rate. The D3x can only manage 1.6fps at 14bit which is a bit low for a wildlife photographer. Moose Peterson has discussed this in several of his recent videos, he wrestles with the need to produce a poster sized print and therefore need the higher resolution of the D3x, vs the low frame rate and the ability just to blat the shutter button when something interesting is happening.
    Therefore, I expect to see the D4 this year rather than on the more regular 4-year cycle.
     
  9. Bluelion

    Hitman

    Joined: 4 Jan 2008

    Posts: 717

    Location: Southampton

    Heh you're posting faster then I'm replying!

    I haven't hired a 600, although I've been chatting with several folks at slower points in hides over the past week who have been using both the 400 and 600's. The lens hood going through the hole is an interesting one - I already ran into that at Slimbridge the other week with the 200-400!

    Don't misunderstand me, the 200-400 is an outstanding lens, and the flexibilty of the zoom is something not to be underestimated. But I've found that over 95% of my pictures have been heavily cropped at the 400 end. Maybe I need to work more on my camouflage skills and just get closer.

    I'm reluctant to get the 500, because at the back of my mind I'll always be thinking its a compromise for ease of carriage, even if my head is saying its the sensible option.
     
  10. Bluelion

    Hitman

    Joined: 4 Jan 2008

    Posts: 717

    Location: Southampton

    Sorry didn't answer your question bigredshark. During the winter/spring/autumn, anything with feathers! Eg. from last week down at Arundel, I saw mis-focused ****,
    [​IMG]

    ducks,
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    and an (miserable) attempt to catch some birds in flight:
    [​IMG]

    For these, the 200-400 was ok with a bit of cropping on the D300. But then I spent the weekend down at Blashford Lakes and came away with practically nothing. Everything was just too far away, probably too far even for a 600mm if I'm honest.

    I was aiming for Kingfishers, but the little blighters refused to play ball other than fleeting glimpses over the reeds.
     
  11. bigredshark

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 30 Jun 2005

    Posts: 9,515

    Location: London Town!

    I would caution it sounds like your reasons for thinking of full frame are more related to the failings of the D300 than anything else (which is fair, the D300s being the top of the line DX format body now is uncomfortable really, particularly given the resolution if you want to crop in regularly).

    I'd still back the 600 myself, it give you substantial extra reach and would be the best choice paired with a full frame body in future. It has the best IQ and could be paired with the 1.4TC if you really wanted, the only downsides are the cost and size of the beast which you've seemingly addressed...
     
  12. Bluelion

    Hitman

    Joined: 4 Jan 2008

    Posts: 717

    Location: Southampton

    Thanks bigred. You possibly have a point on the body, I am expecting it to magically fix some of my issues (mainly the user). I think it will go someway with the high ISO capability which will at least eliminate some of the usershake with faster shutter speeds. Its just that I'm yet to meet a full frame user who wants to switch back to cropped frame - they all seem very happy with the image quality which they obtain with the FF.

    On reflection I think the 600 is still marginally in first place on my shopping list, thanks for everyones input.
     
  13. bigredshark

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 30 Jun 2005

    Posts: 9,515

    Location: London Town!

    Very nice too! I was down at Arundel a few weeks back (mainly for a wonder rather than any serious photography though...)

    I personally prefer critters with fur myself but I can understand your desire for greater reach.
     
  14. Troop

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 14 Aug 2006

    Posts: 1,221

    Location: Land of Dragons

    OK, I use the 400 2.8 vr on the D3 and d300, this lens IS hand holdable but for short times only , 3 of us shooting today all with 400mm 2.8's climbed 600 feet up to the shooting position all with 2 bodies and 2 lenses, you get used to the weight really quickly.

    If your Keeping the 200-400, I'd say go with the 600

    My advice on full frame, only go for it if you need the extra ISO performance.

    Couple of pics first is wide open at 2.8 second pic is with the 1.4 tc attached all hand held using the 400 2.8VR

    Exif is intact

    PhotoBucket do the images no favours!!!!

    [​IMG]

    Shutter speed of 160 for the Hurc
    [​IMG]
     
  15. xaldub

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 18 Feb 2007

    Posts: 1,054

    In my opinion -

    a. Don't go full frame if you are really serious about wildlife photography - and especially birding. You need all the range and pixel density you can get.

    b. In my experience most photographers who have pondered whether their 200-400 or 400 F2.8 is long enough have ultimately gone with a 600 F4. You can never have enough focal length when it comes to bird/wildlife photography.

    c. That 200-400 is a great lens. Many people have regretted selling it - the zoom range is really handy for various photography styles.

    Best of luck on your decision :)