200-400 f/4 vs 300 f/2.8

Started Dec 23, 2006 | Discussions thread
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Keith Diefendorff Regular Member • Posts: 320
200-400 f/4 vs 300 f/2.8

I currently have a 70-200 f/2.8 VR and a 1.4xTC.

I'm hankering for a longer lens.

I've decided not to go for a supertelephoto until Nikon puts VR on either the 500 or 600.

I was thinking about getting the 200-400 f/4 VR in the meantime. But I have a friend who owns one and he recommends against it. He says that while it is a technically great lens, he rarely uses it. He says it's a "tweener." Too short to be a great bird lens, too big and heavy to be a good all-around lens. The versatility of the zoom makes it tempting to carry when you're not sure what you will be shooting, but its size and weight makes changing lenses in the field too cumbersome and dangerous. He says he has lugged it on many occasions, but almost always regrets it.

Interesting view. I haven't heard this characterization of the 200-400 before. But I see his point. I can imagine myself wanting to leave it at home if I'm not absolutely sure I'll use it. In the cases I know I will need it, I can imagine wishing it were either longer (500 or 600mm) or less of a burden to carry. (NO, I do not want the 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 VR, so just forget that.)

I was thinking about the 300 f/2.8 VR instead. It has some advantages over the 200-400:

1) same diameter but 3.5" shorter (-25%),
2) faster f/2.8 (+100%),
3) 0.8lbs lighter (-11%),
4) $700 cheaper (-14%),
5) 11/8 elements/groups (vs 24/17),
6) new nano-crystal AR coating,
7) superior image quality (prime).

The plusses for the 200-400 are:
1) 100mm longer reach (+33%),
2) zoom versatility.

It is possible that the two advantages of the 200-400 outweight the seven advantages of the 300. But the 300's advantages look pretty compelling to me.

Neither lens will satisfy my desire for a bird lens, but I'm thinking the 300 may serve in the interim as well as, or even better than, the 200-400 for that. I'm thinking the bigger aperture (f/2.8) and higher image quality of the 300 (prime) might let me get away with a 1.7xTC, whereas with the 200-400 I'd be reluctant to go beyond the 1.4xTC.

300 x 1.7TC x 1.5crop = 765mm @ f/4.7.
400 x 1.4TC x 1.5crop = 840mm @ f/5.6.

Then when I finally get my 500VR or 600VR, with the 300 I would still have a useful, high-quality, low-light, shallow-DOF, manageable-size, medium-telephoto, rather than the 200-400 f/4 "tweener."

Any opinions on my friend's analysis of the 200-400, or the viability of the 300 as an alternative, would be appreciated.


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