80-400mm AF-S goes tiger shooting - heldheld. Quick review.

Started Jun 23, 2014 | Discussions thread
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nilanjanray Contributing Member • Posts: 661
80-400mm AF-S goes tiger shooting - heldheld. Quick review.

I borrowed the new 80-400mm for a recent wildlife shooting trip.

I have shot extensively with the 70-300mm VR, so my perspective is based on comparing with that lens. My take is based on shooting in the field, and on what works for me - no scientific assessment here. I was shooting with a D7100, 9 or single point dynamic area AF, AF-C, release priority.

Here is a handheld photo at 1/125s and 400mm with the D7100.

(Story behind the shot: Late afternoon, 6 pm, low light.The tigress came charging out from a bamboo thicket, but the ambush failed as all the monkeys managed to scamper up trees and escape. She sat down at a nearby waterhole, and kept looking up from time to time at the monkeys - who were strangely silent - not a single alarm call. Too shocked perhaps)

Next time I will catch you!

A few more photos here: http://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/3689149. Better versions of the photos here: http://500px.com/nilanjanray

Impressions/quick review:

* The first time I held the lens, it seemed rather bulky to me. Took me a day used to smoothly/automatically hold it, screw it in and change the focal length or use manual AF.
* The AF speed didn't seem to be much better than the 70-300VR. Perhaps equal, perhaps a little better.
* The VR seems to work very well. While experimenting (e.g. shooting a doorknob to see the limits of the VR), I was able to take sharp (at 100%) shots at 1/30s. But obviously you don't have any margin of errort when shooting wildlife - especially elusive tigers - to capture that special moment, so I didn't want to go below 1/150s - unless I had to - during the actual safaris.
* The extra 100mm reach makes quite a difference for subject isolation.
* The microcontrast seems to be a little better. And the lens seems to be quite sharper at 400mm than the 70-300VR is at 300mm.
* One gets used to the extra weight (almost 1kg over the 70-300) quickly. Though, keeping the lens steady for minutes at an end - handheld - for that elusive eye contact shot is a pain.
* The AF sometimes doesn't work all that well for close range (< 10 feet) shots of moving animals. But it works well enough - just make sure that you shoot a burst for those critical moments instead of relying on that one shot.

Would I buy this lens? In absolute terms, I definitely prefer this over the 70-300mm, but $ 2000 extra for 100mm of reach? Not sure. I am going to try out the Tamron 150-600mm in the field, and see if it works well enough for me. Then take a call. I am hoping that the Tamron suits me, because I feel that while the 80-400mm is a very nice lens, it is not value for money over a 70-300mm.

Main things to consider:
1. Autofocus capabilities - since I mainly shoot wildlife and nature. Especially for BIF at longer focal lengths and moving animals.
2. IQ at 400-600mm
3. Handholdability and flexibility. Also ergonomics.
4. How much I have to stop down to get a sharp photo. With the Nikon 80-400 I can shoot wide open and still get sharp shots.

5. Whether better subject isolation at 500-600mm is worth the wide angle compromise (since I have to start from 150mm).

6. Whether I should start thinking of moving to a full frame with the 150-600mm. Instead of a 80-400mm + DX kit.

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