Between 300mm f4, 70-200mm f2.8 and 80-400mm which one would you choose and why?

Started 5 months ago | Discussions thread
PHXAZCRAIG Forum Pro • Posts: 16,851
Re: Between 300mm f4, 70-200mm f2.8 and 80-400mm which one would you choose and why?

I wanted the longest possible focal length without it being too big a lens. Because I know I would never take it with me if its too big. Ideally a modern 400 f5.6.

Price is a constraint too. All three I mention are within the budget so to speak.

As for type of photography - not wildlife or sports - but general photography.

Obviously zoom is preferable. Initially I was planning on the 80-400mm but I am undecided now because of reviews saying its performance at 400mm is weakest.

I'm one who says it is the weakest area - however, overall it's pretty strong throughout the focal range, and 400 isn't bad, just not as good as at 300mm. Nor is it as good at 400mm as the 200-500.

That said, here are a bunch of test images I made with the 80-400g at various apertures and ranges. Also some comparisons between the 200-500 and 80-400g back-to-back on my 200-500 lens test page.

Have a look for yourself to see how 'weak' the 80-400g is, at 400mm.

I can tell you this.  For quite a few years, Nikon shooters have wanted a good consumer zoom to replace the old manual-focus 400F5.6.   We eventually got Nikon's first VR lens, the 80-400AF-D.   I bought one and was immediately confused by the soft shots I was getting.   That lens was indeed SOFT wide open at 400mm, but by F8, it started to sharpen up quite a lot.  (At 300mm the lens was much sharper.  There was a dramatic falloff in sharpness after aroudn 330mm or so, but stopping down brought a lot of that back.)

That lens taught me a lot about long lens technique because I was using it for birding and trying to extract all the feather detail I could.

Eventually I added a 300F4 plus a Nikon TC1.4-EII.  I tested a friend's 300f4 + Kenko TC and found it about as good as the Nikon.  THe prime+TC combo was not only better at f8, it was a little better at F5.6 than the F8-F9 performance of the zoom.

So I shot the prime+TC combo a lot.   Wished for VR.  Wished for shorter physical length.  (Wished for a 500F5.6, which I still can't find available).

Then the 80-400g came along and vastly improved on the 80-400AF-D in every way except one - the old zoom is physically quite a bit smaller for packing.

Compared to the past, and then-current lenses (like the Sigma 50-500), the 80-400g was quite a hit- except the price.   It had a good zoom rate (unlike the 200-500, which is horrible), fast autofocus and VR that actually worked.   It was sharper wide open at 400mm than the old zoom was at any aperture.   It took 77mm filters too (and lens caps).   Compared to the competition, it was not as sharp at 400mm as the Canon 100-400, but then the Canon didn't have 80mm width.

There were a lot of complaints about the cost of the 80-400g, and even more so once the new crop of 150-600 and the 200-500 lenses came out.    Suddenly you had a better 400mm alternative at about half the cost.   Since most people assume an 80-400mm is just a 400mm lens that occasionally sees some other use, the 80-400g started getting panned for 400mm performance.

And there you have it.  It's a good overall lens with competition that outperforms it at one focal length (perhaps some others).   But it still has a lot of advantages, *especially* for general purpose use.

Look, I have a 300F4 prime, and the 70-200F2.8, and the 80-400g (and the 200-500, and planning on a 500pf when I can find one).   I have some primes too (50, 85, 105mm).

Which lens do I use most for general photography?   The 80-400g.   70-200?  Like I said earlier, it's one of my least-used lenses.  I have so many lenses now that all are somewhat specialized.  The 80-400g is a travel lens for me, and a general purpose lens.

I travel with a 3-lens set that fits in a (largish) waist bag.  I only need three lenses to travel the world - 16-35, 24-70vr and 80-400g.   It's quite a flexible combo that I've kept up over the years.  It started in DX with 12-24dx, 24-70 and 80-400AF-D.

Why not 'better' lenses for travel?  Like my 14-24?  Because for me they are not better for travel.  The 14-24 just doesn't fit in the bag.   My 24-120 stays home because the 24-70 is significantly better.  The 70-200 stays home because I find 201-400mm more useful than F2.8-F3.9.    This is my general purpose combo. It used to be better with a 24-70g, because that lens had 77mm size like the other two.   Travel is more about framing than ultimate feather detail.

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Phoenix Arizona Craig
"In theory, practice and theory are the same. In practice, they're not."

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