The 500mm F4 was the right choice for me

Started Jun 6, 2014 | Discussions thread
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Dr Bob
Dr Bob Senior Member • Posts: 1,319
The 500mm F4 was the right choice for me

A few months back, I asked for advice on whether to get the 500mm or 600mm F4 for birding. In the end, I went for the 500mm on the basis of better portability at the expense of reach.

I've just got back from a 2 week trip to Shetland and Fair Isle and thought it worth sharing my experiences – in case others are pondering the same question. I took with me my D800E and D600 bodies plus the 500mm F4 and my 80-400AFS. For those of you not UK based, Shetland is a group of small islands at the far north of the UK (60 deg north) and seems to attract many bird migrants that loose their way on the passage from Africa to Scandinavia.

Bottom line, the 500mm F4 was brilliant. I bought it with a view to being able to hand hold (or more specifically not have to use a tripod). The combination of a black rapid strap and a monopod (with an arca type quick release) worked very well. I had spent a couple of months shooting ahead of the trip and slowly got used to handling it. I found I could manage 4 mile walks over rough terrain and get most of the shots I was after. The 80-400G was obviously easier for BIF shots but the 500mm was not too far behind. Unfortunately the 80-400G hardly got a look in!

We were on a guided tour (although the others were not birders or photographers) so I was either shooting from the minibus, on walks or a couple of boat trips. I think if I had gone for the 600mm F4, I would have been so much more restricted and although I would have had the extra reach, I would not have got the combo to as many places.

The light was very poor for the first part of the trip requiring the lens wide open and high iso's. For the most I used the bare lens but a few of the good shots were taken with the 1.4 TC. I was really pleased with the sharpness.

One thing that surprises me is how easy the lens is to hold now compared to how it felt when I bought it. I guess I have now taken around 10K shots with the lens and I don't see it as the big, heavy lens it was 3 months ago. By comparison, the 80-400G is a lightweight and so easy to hold. Practice, Practice and more Practice. It works. I am over 60 so no spring chicken. Maybe I would be up for a 600mm if when they finally get round to the new model.

There is a gallery of the best shots of the trip at

and another couple of galleries of the other shots (we managed 89 species on the trip including some quite rare birds).

Here is half a dozen of the better ones.

The first is a shot of 2 gannets, taken from a boat, hand held.

The next is an Arctic Skua. This one is the 'dark morph' variant. Arctic Skuas are declining rapidly as their food source is disappearing.

Next is an Arctic Tern with it's lunch.

Next, is a Twite. These only breed up north and I had never seen them before. A new tick for me.

The next is a very common bird in the UK in summer, a meadow pipit, but I have never been able to get so close to one before.

Lastly, not the best of photo's but I thought I would include it as it is rather rare in the UK. It's a Caspian Stonechat, taken on Fair Isle, only the 6th recorded in the UK. Great to not only see it, but to get a reasonable shot off.

 Dr Bob's gear list:Dr Bob's gear list
Nikon D800E Nikon D600 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G +1 more
Nikon D600 Nikon D800E
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