Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

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Dr Bob
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Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
10 months ago

I'm looking to buy my first super telephoto for shooting birds and mostly small birds to go with my D800E/D600. At the moment I am struggling to decide between the 500mm F4 VR and the 600mm F4 VR. I've searched all the relevant threads on DPR but still deciding which to go for.

My current birding lens is the new 80-400G which is truly superb, but I want that extra reach. I handhold the 80-400 most of the time and it is a great walkabout lens. It's been permanently on my D600 since new. Any extra reach is expensive so the extra 100mm for the 500mm over my current set up is going to cost £5.8K. The 600mm gives me an extra 200mm for circa £7.1K. If however I factor in using a 1.4 TC then I will be getting 350mm more on the 500 and 500mm+ on the 600. As I seem to crop heavily on almost all my images, the extra reach is important so paying the extra for the 600 seems sensible.

First question then, do those of you out there with the 500 and 600s use a TC most of the time or are you only putting them on for certain shots?

The main deciding factor for most of the people posting in previous threads (back to 2007) seems to be the size and weight of the 600mm although a lot of people also say they can't handhold the 500mm. I've got a manfroto 055pro tripod which I think I will need to upgrade but my benro gimball head should be ok if I get the 600mm. Size and weight is one thing that only I can call and it does put me off the 600mm a bit but the reach is important. (I am not planning on taking this on a plane).

From you guys who have the 500mm F4, are you wishing you had the extra reach of the 600 and for those of you with the 600mm F4 are you wishing it was more portable? Which is more important to you?

I will keep the 80-400 for the times I am hiking to see birds, and use the 500/600 on a tripod – not far from the car! Any input would be great.

Andy

http://andyburnsphotography.zenfolio.com/birds

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JP Scherrer
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

I don't have the 500 nor 600mm, but I tried them both, and I found the 600mm. Much heavier snd bulkier than the 500mm. !

Also, the gain of the 600 over the 500 is only 1.2x !!! With your D800 set to 1.2x, you will get an equal viewing size and as in most cases you will crop and/or resize the image, so you won't lose anything !

Just my 2 cents....

J-P.

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Vern
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

I have a 300f4 and the faboulous 400f2.8. Sounds to me like you should go for the 600 since you will use it on a tripod near your vehicle. For small birds get all the reach you can. I often put TCs on the 400 for shooting eagles and osprey.
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sgtsalamander
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Vern, 10 months ago

I agree with Vern. I have used the 500 f4 for birds, with a 1.7 TC (rented as combo) and I still wished I had the 600 mm. You ALWAYS want more reach with bird photography If you're using an appropriate tripod and head, the weight difference between the 500 an 600 shouldn't be an issue. Hand-holding with either is possible, but is definitely tough, and an acquired skill. If you're using a TC, I'd recommend only using a 1.4 TC though, as the loss in autofocus speed and image quality is noticeable with the 1.7, but very noticeable with the 1.4. I have recently bought a d800 and I own a 300 f4, which I don't use the TC on very much as I'd prefer to simply crop, since the 800 has such high resolution. I'd rather not lose the autofocus speed with the TC, however small the loss may be.

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PHXAZCRAIG
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The V1 killed my lust for a 500F4
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

While trying to improve birding shots, I went through various lenses, including 80-400af-d, 300F4+1.4tc, and 80-400g.  I was working up to a 500f4, but could never justify the price. (I'm not even a birder).   The 500F4 would still not be long enough for small birds, but looked like it was the maximum lens size that was still vaguely portable in a reasonable manner.

And then I bought a V1 and FT-1 adapter.   Note that at the time I had two 12mp cameras (D300 and D700).

The V1 suddenly made my 300F4 an 810F4.   Adding the 1.4TC made it 1134mm equivalent.   Suddenly I had *REACH*!

Plus it was extremely affordable and easy to carry.

On the other hand.... 1134mm still wasn't enough reach for all the small birds, and frequently when it was enough reach, by the time I actually found them in the viewfinder, a difficult process with such a small field of view, the bird often took off.   Putting the combo on a tripod (Gitzo 3550) helped, but any bit of wind on the legs instantly caused massive blurring, obvious in the LCD.

Consequently I tend not to use the 1.4tc as it's just so much more difficult to shoot at that focal length.  If 810mm isn't enough, then I need to get closer, or give up on that shot.

I'd still like to put a 500vr on the end of my D800e, and also my V1 and V2.   I just don't feel like spending $8000 for one.   The V1 and V2 are quirky, limited cameras in the field, but at least I can get certain type of shots at long ranges with them, without the effort of carrying a monster lens around.

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JimPearce
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500mm for DX, 600mm for FX...
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

And yes, you'll find yourself using a TC-14E a lot.

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Sonyshine
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Re: The V1 killed my lust for a 500F4
In reply to PHXAZCRAIG, 10 months ago

+1 for the V1 and FT1. A killer long reach for birding .

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Dr Bob
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to sgtsalamander, 10 months ago

sgtsalamander wrote:

I agree with Vern. I have used the 500 f4 for birds, with a 1.7 TC (rented as combo) and I still wished I had the 600 mm. You ALWAYS want more reach with bird photography If you're using an appropriate tripod and head, the weight difference between the 500 an 600 shouldn't be an issue. Hand-holding with either is possible, but is definitely tough, and an acquired skill. If you're using a TC, I'd recommend only using a 1.4 TC though, as the loss in autofocus speed and image quality is noticeable with the 1.7, but very noticeable with the 1.4. I have recently bought a d800 and I own a 300 f4, which I don't use the TC on very much as I'd prefer to simply crop, since the 800 has such high resolution. I'd rather not lose the autofocus speed with the TC, however small the loss may be.

Thanks to both you and Vern for the vote on 'reach'. I do find the ability to crop significantly on the D800e/D600 amazing but it becomes more difficult at higher iso hence the need for more reach from the lens.

JP Sherrer - I take your point on the 600 only being 20% more reach over the 500 but the cost of that is "only" £1.5K. If you compare the 500mm with the 80-400 zoom I will have to pay £5.8K for 25% improvement. At these prices it sounds like 20% more for £1.5K may be worth it.

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Dr Bob
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Re: The V1 killed my lust for a 500F4
In reply to PHXAZCRAIG, 10 months ago

PHXAZCRAIG wrote:

I'd still like to put a 500vr on the end of my D800e, and also my V1 and V2. I just don't feel like spending $8000 for one. The V1 and V2 are quirky, limited cameras in the field, but at least I can get certain type of shots at long ranges with them, without the effort of carrying a monster lens around.

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Craig
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Craig,

I have reviewed your pics on many occasions and some of your owl shots were the reason I got into shooting birds! (that means I can blame you for spending all this money!). The V1/V2 shots look interesting but the limited ability to crop on those bodies means the quality compared to the super tele's isnt there. Also I find the bigger field of view in the viewfinder from a FF body is really important to find some of the birds I am trying to shoot, especially when they are in flight. I think the V2 +80-400 would be great for record shots of distant birds where ultimate IQ is not needed.

Looking forward to your new owl shots - when they return. Take care.

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Dr Bob
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Re: 500mm for DX, 600mm for FX...
In reply to JimPearce, 10 months ago

JimPearce wrote:

And yes, you'll find yourself using a TC-14E a lot.

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Jim

Jim, your bird shots have always impressed me and that is one of the reasons to try and get more reach. I notice a lot of your shots are with more than just the bare 500 or 600mm. Are you shooting with the 1.4TC? If you had to choose between either the 500 or 600mm, which would you go for?

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JimPearce
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Definitely the 600 f4...
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

As long as you don't mind the weight and will put it on a 5 series Gitzo (or equivalent). It is slightly sharper than the 500 f4 VR and is a pretty good deal at the price. I'm waiting for Nikon to do an FL VR update which should be lighter and sharper - but more money. In the interim my 17 year old 500 f4 AF-S is a pretty good match for my D7100 and D300s.

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Reilly Diefenbach
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

If on a tripod or other rest, the 600 for sure on the D800.

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longroad
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

Cost aside, I think the decision is simple. Want to hand hold most of the time? Get the 500. If you're happy to be tripod bound, get the 600.

I'm a ≤ 55kg female and I handhold a 500/4 for birds, and carry it on long bush walks on my back. I only use a tripod for video. Where there's a will there's a way.

Perhaps you are happy to use a tripod most of the time for birds which is fine, but it's far too restrictive and cumbersome for me.

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Lance B
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

As others have suggested, if you are going to handhold, the 500 f4 is probably a better bet. I have never used my 500 f4 VR on a tripod and rarely on a monopd preferring the freedom of handholding for birding and other animals. A tripod only really works if you are staking out a spot where you know the bird or animal will go, like a nest or whatever. Birds are just too flitty and they really require no tripod mostly.

However, I have a friend who has the 600 f4 VR and I have handheld it but not really for any length of time as it is quite a chore. I am reasonably fit and strong, but it can become a bit heavy after a while.

The fact that you have the 80-400 f4.5-5.6G, as I do, may sway you towards the 600 f4 as there isn't much difference between 400mm and 500mm. However, putting the 1.4x TC on the 500 does make a very usable 700 f5.6. The 500 f4 takes the 1.4x TC very well but not so well the 1.7x or the 2x as you run out of light.

The biggest benefit of using TC's is that you get the extra 1.4x magnification (if you use a 1.4x TC - 2x the magnification if using a 2x TC etc), but the same minimum  focus distance. So, essentially, so, if you use a 1.4x TC on the 500 you get a 700 f5.6 with the minimum focus distance of the 500! This really is a benefit for small birds etc, where you run into minimum focus issues and can't fill the frame. I find the minimum focus distance of the bare lenses an issue quite often.

I also have the 300 f2.8 VRII and for me, with the 500, this is the perfect combo. I use the 80-400 at the zoo (for convenience) or when travelling.

When birding, you are pretty much always wanting reach and why you may want to go the 600 route. It takes the TC's very well, but again, over 1.4x TC and you are runnning out of light and AF speed.

It's a difficult decision to make, but if you are trekking any distance or doing much handholding, then get the 500 and use a TC when required. I can fit the 500 f4 VR and the 300 f2.8 VRII (or the 80-400 f4.5-5.6G) into my Flipside 500 backpack. You can't do that with the 600!

D800E + 500 f4 VR cropped about 25%

This peregrine falson was handheld, no way could it have been taking on a tripod

D800E + 500 f4 VR

D800E + 500 f4 VR + 1.4x TC handheld, cropped about 25%

D800E + 500 f4 VR + 1.4x TC handheld, cropped about 20% WIDE OPEN @ f5.6!

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JP Scherrer
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Just for fun: 300 f:2.8 VR II + TC-20E III on Nikon V1 !
In reply to PHXAZCRAIG, 10 months ago

...which gives a nice 1620 mm of reach ! Have a look at http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/53027589 !

...and BTW, the TC-1.7 is not known to be very good ! The 1.4 x or the 2.0x are much better !

J-P.

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JimPearce
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Uh huh...
In reply to JP Scherrer, 10 months ago

Except when you actually measure - then the TC-17E is better than the TC-20EIII. http://photographylife.com/image-degradation-with-nikon-teleconverters

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calson
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

I went with the 500m as it is much easier to manage and it works great with all three Nikon teleconverters so I have a 500mm f4, 700mm f5.6, 850mm f6.3, and 1000mm f8 lens options and even the f8 is usable with the current cameras with the f8 AF sensors including the D600/610 cameras.

With the 600m which I have used it is a struggle to be mobile and it requires a heavier tripod and ball head to support the extra weight. For small birds it is worth the extra expense and effort or going with more expensive 800mm f5.6 lens.

I shoot with the 500mm f4 and the teleconverters as well as the 80-400mm VR II or 70-200mm VR II lenses for bigger critters. Good combination.

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Catallaxy
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Dr Bob, 10 months ago

I have the 600 VR and use it with both my D7100 and D700. I find that I use the 1.4x TC rarely with the D7100, but a fair amount with the D700. I use the 2x TC very rarely and only in great light.

It really depends on the wildlife/bird you are shooting. Some are smaller and more skittish than others. For eagles, For BIF, I find that the bare lens is best, just because it is hard to find the bird in the viewinder with the 1.4x TC and keep tracking it, especially with the D7100.

It is very helpful to learn stalking techniques and the use of a blind helps tremendously to get and stay closer to birds and wildlife.

The 600 VR is very big and heavy and you must use a very large and sturdy tripod. I use a gimbal as well. My 600 VR rig runs about 17-18 lbs in weight for the whole thing, and is awkward to move around quickly.

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Dr Bob
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to longroad, 10 months ago

longroad wrote:

Cost aside, I think the decision is simple. Want to hand hold most of the time? Get the 500. If you're happy to be tripod bound, get the 600.

I'm a ≤ 55kg female and I handhold a 500/4 for birds, and carry it on long bush walks on my back. I only use a tripod for video. Where there's a will there's a way.

Perhaps you are happy to use a tripod most of the time for birds which is fine, but it's far too restrictive and cumbersome for me.

I think this hits the nail on the head. It's all about if I am looking to handhold or not. At the moment most of my shooting is handheld - walking around woods or coastline taking shots, and I do like BIF. This would change considerably with the 600mm.

Thanks for the input.

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Dr Bob
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Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
In reply to Lance B, 10 months ago

Lance B wrote:

The fact that you have the 80-400 f4.5-5.6G, as I do, may sway you towards the 600 f4 as there isn't much difference between 400mm and 500mm. However, putting the 1.4x TC on the 500 does make a very usable 700 f5.6. The 500 f4 takes the 1.4x TC very well but not so well the 1.7x or the 2x as you run out of light.

The biggest benefit of using TC's is that you get the extra 1.4x magnification (if you use a 1.4x TC - 2x the magnification if using a 2x TC etc), but the same minimum focus distance. So, essentially, so, if you use a 1.4x TC on the 500 you get a 700 f5.6 with the minimum focus distance of the 500! This really is a benefit for small birds etc, where you run into minimum focus issues and can't fill the frame. I find the minimum focus distance of the bare lenses an issue quite often.

Lance, thanks for the input. You are spot on! I am swayed towards the 600 f4 because the 500 doesnt seem enough difference to blow £5K+. Yes, when the 1.4 TC is used I am then getting a big difference in reach but is it enough? Point well taken on the minimum focus distance.

I know you used the 80-400 extensively on your trip to the UK last July - how did you find it compared to the 500mm you were used to using back home (I assume you didnt take the 500 with you)? Did you feel it was 'almost' as good, or did you think it was significantly restricting.

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Andy

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