300 AF-S VR or 200-400 AF-S VR?

Started Jul 7, 2007 | Discussions thread
WFAdams Senior Member • Posts: 1,618
200-400 AF-S VR is Ideal for Airshows (Img)

I have shot airshows with just a 300mm, but that is a poor substitute for the versatility of the 200-400mm VR. With the zoom, every shot can be a frame-filler at whatever focal length is best. It is easy to learn to zoom as you pan and frame the shot. Of course, get a Wimberley to help track the planes in the sky.

At most airshows, planes can be at a range of varying distances as they fly by. In other cases the crowds and the various barriers determine how close you can get. You may not know in advance where your vantage point will be. The zoom is made for just these kinds of uncertainty and variety of shooting distances.

It is not fun when you bring a 300mm to a show where you need 400mm to begin to fill the frame, or where some planes are close enough to require a zoom-back to 200mm.

Most who have tested the 300mm f2.8 with 1.4x TC versus the 200-400mm VR without a TC have found that with both wide open at f4 the lens with the TC --i.e., the 300mm -- suffers visible degradation and the sharpness is inferior to that of the 200-400mm VR. TCs are great, but they seldom, if ever, make a shorter lens with a TC better than a longer lens without a TC.

Don't let the fact that the 200-400mm VR is a zoom fool you. It is one of the finest zooms ever designed, and it is sharp throughout the entire zoom range. It is sharper than the 70-200mm VR at 200mm. The 300mm f2.8 prime may be marginally better at 300mm, but the IQ of the zoom is also excellent at that focal length. And, oif course, at 400mm, the 300mm with a TC does not compare at f4, although it improves by stopping down to f5.6 or f8. But, encumbered with a TC, the 300mm f2.8 never exceeds the IQ of the 200-400mm VR at any f-stop.

There is no magic here, the 200-400mm VR with a TC does not yield images of the quality of the 500mm f4 without a TC. If you need 500mm of reach, get a 500mm lens. In a pinch the zoom can be used to get usable images with a TC, but you need to stop down to f7.1 or more for that to happen.

For airshows, the 200-400mm VR is an excellent choice.

Nikon D2x ,Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G ED-IF AF-S VR
1/1250s f/7.1 at 650.0mm iso250 w/Nikkor 1.7x TC full exif

This image shows that in bright daylight, you can even put a 1.7x TC on the 200-400mm VR, and get a very decent image. This further enhances the versatility of the zoom. With most zooms, adding a TC is the kiss of death for IQ, but not this one. The reason: because it starts out very sharp before the TC is added, and the reduced IQ with a TC is still pretty darn sharp.

For the shot above, the 300mm f2.8, armed with a 1.7x TC would have reached out only to 510mm. Much too short for this shot without a major crop job.

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Bill Adams -- See my eclectic galleries of birds, landscapes, kids, parties, society events, celebrities and politicians at http://www.pbase.com/bill_adams

 WFAdams's gear list:WFAdams's gear list
Nikon D800 Sony RX100 Nikon D700 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED +7 more
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