Safari lens

Started Feb 24, 2013 | Questions thread
PHXAZCRAIG
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Re: Safari lens
In reply to dale c 1, Feb 24, 2013

The age-old question - how to get long glass that's worth buying on a budget.

Here are the options as I see them.

Best IQ: 300F4 AFS and a 1.4 TC.   1.7 is supposed to be the worst, relatively speaking, of the 1.4, 1.7 and 2.0 TC's.   But the increase in magnification alone worsens IQ, so the 1.7 may be better optically than the 2.0.   I have the 300F4 and a 1.4TC, and I can tell you that it's pretty good.    It also needs high shutter speeds (no VR).

Handiest travel package: Nikon 80-400vr.   This lens is, on paper, the ideal safari lens.   Has a good range, has VR, packs very small (smaller than my 80-200F2.8 or 300F4), and isn't very heavy.   It has two, maybe 3, significant issues.  1) soft IQ wide open at 400mm.   Need to stop down to at least F8.  F9 seems the best aperture at 400mm.  2) VR isn't very good.  It's literally the first VR lens Nikon introduced, and the VR hasn't been updated.  3) slowish screwdriver focusing.   There are few times this has ever been an issue for me, but it seems to bother some.

I have both the 300F4 with 1.4TC and the 80-400, and I've done back-to-back comparisons with them on a D300, and also a D700.   Result images are here:

http://www.cjcphoto.net/lenstests/new300f4and80-400/index.html

My bottom line is that I now always try to use the prime instead of the zoom.

Those are really the only affordable Nikon options.  I believe them to be better options than using a 2.0TC on a 70-200 for instance.

The 80-400 is, in my opinion, a better lens on my D700 than on my D300, because it is less stressed by pixel density.  And it tends to be used in situations where I crop the result, so I don't care much about the corners.

Other options are the Sigma 50-500 and the Tamron 200-500.    Of all the Sigmas over 300mm, the 50-500 seems the sharpest on the long end.   Sigma long zooms do have an unfortunate reliability history though.    The Sigma has been made in non-VR (Bigma) and VR (BigmOS) versions.   The Tamron I've shot back-to-back with my 300F4 and TC, and it didn't impress me at the time.  But I've seen very nice results later from the same lens, when used well by its owner.  No VR, and the chief positive of the lens (to me) seemed to be the significantly light weight, plus the range (a shortish 500mm).

I think if you compared all the zooms, they are all rather similar.   All somewhat disappointing on the long end, though you also have to take into account that shooting at 400mm and up requires good technique and practice.   The prime with TC is slightly, but noticeably, sharper, and it does better at wider apertures, allowing higher shutter speeds and/or lower ISO.

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Craig
www.cjcphoto.net

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