Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 vr is a new kid on the block. It is much more affordable than other supertelephoto lenses. How does this lens stand next to the best performing super telephoto: Nikon 400mm f2.8 vr ?
Some might think, why on earth would you compare a prime lens to a zoom ? To me it makes totaly sense. Because this will let us find out, how far the technoology reached in zoom lenses.
200-500 is a sharp lens, it has a pleasing bokeh, it is hand holdable, and versatile. But it has also its weaknesses. The very first one is the autofocus speed. When you shoot wildlife, autofocus speed plays a vital role to capture action. And since it is aperture is 4x less brighter then the 2.8, you will either have not enough shutter speed to freeze the action, or you will have much more noise in your pictures. I disagree with people who says, with today's camera technology, i am not afraid to crank the iso up. Well, think it like this: Wildlife action happens either early in the morning, or in the late afternoon. And the light at these hours will be much less stronger. So if you are at iso 2000 with a 2.8 lens , you will need to crank it the iso 8000 to get the same result with a 5.6. Today no matter which camera you use, iso 8000 will never look similar to iso 2000. The more iso, the lesser sharp the photo will be as well.
The built quality of the 400mm 2.8 vr is definitely superior, and it also has weather sealing as well, which is important in the long run too. Autofocus accuracy is something hard to measure, but in general brighter lenses tend to focus more correctly, but they are also harder to nail the sharpness, because the depth of field is extremely thin. When i shot both lenses while handholding them, i had more keepers with 200-500 5.6 vr. This has two reasons: one of them is the super shallow depth of filed, and the other one is the weight of the lens. If both lenses were on a tripod with a gimbal head, 400mm would definitely give you better results.
Would i recommend the 200-500 ? Absolutely yes! It is a phenomenal lens for the price you pay. If you are into wildlife photography, it is a great way to start. Start with this lens, and see how it goes. If you feel the need later and get more serious about wildlife photography, you can upgrade to the primes like 400 2.8 500 f4 or 600 f4.
You can download and check the images yourself. Just go on top of the image you like, right click, and save.
200-500 5.6 vr
I had diffculty to keep the autofocus on fast moving objects with 200-500, like this flying duck below.
You can see how sharp the 200-500 is with the photo of the rat below:
Lets compare the lenses:
Nikon 200-500 f5.6 vr
400mm f2.8 vr (Realize how much smoother the background is ? )
200-500 5.6 (keep your attention on the people at the right top corner of the image)
400mm f2.8 vr (Notice how the people melt away, due to superior depth of field? )
For those, who are interested, i also have a video on youtube, click on the video to watch it.