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

Started Jul 7, 2007 | Discussions
Jabs767 Contributing Member • Posts: 913
300 AF-S VR or 200-400 AF-S VR?

I have previously asked about this question and would appreciate any ideas particularly considering now you guys in the northern half have air shows going on.

I am considering investing in a new longer lens for airshows. Currently I use a D2x with a 70-200 VR and either none, 1.4 or 1.7 TC. I now also have a new D2Hs body to use as a backup or with another lens for closer subjects.

As titled above, the alternatives I am considering are the Nikkor 300mm f2.8 G AF-S VR or the 200-400 f4 AF-S.

I regularly use HSC mode on the D2x to gain extra reach as well as frame rate from my 70-200 combo.

I could always use the 300 coupled with a 1.4 TC and still get the same max focal length and f stop as the 200-400.

It seems that the 300mm f2.8 is slightly more available (let alone cheaper) than the 200-400.

I would appreciate any feedback and experiences.

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Brisbane, Land Down Under

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g_l_t Regular Member • Posts: 133
Re: 300 AF-S VR or 200-400 AF-S VR?

If you search enough on this forum you may find many conversations, advantages, and disadvantages of using both. I was in the same situation wondering which one is best. I don't have a sample but from my testing - using the 1.4tc with the 300vr will still result in very good images.

I decided to keep 200-400vr because the 300vr was a "tweener" - where it didnt have enough reach in certain situations, and too long when I was closer. I also like the versatility of the 200-400vr. Since I justified using the 300vr+tc to get closer - I gave up a stop too..... which I may as well use the 200-400vr in that scenario anyways.

They are both awesome lenses..... you can't miss by getting one or the other. It just depends on the situation and why you're getting the lens.... In my line of shooting I needed the faster lens in dark situations - so I ended up saving up for the 200vr f2. Using it with the 1.4tc will get me close enough to 300mm in certain situations and still give me the faster aperature. In dark situations - I use the f2.....
Here's some - unscientific - samples of the 300vr and 200-400vr.

300vr lens f2.8 100% crop:

300vr lens f4.0 at 100% crop

200-400mm f4.0 at 300mm 100% crop

002DnokiN Regular Member • Posts: 471
Re: 300 AF-S VR or 200-400 AF-S VR?

I too was looking for a longer telephoto for airshows...for sure 300 to 400mm plus. I decided to go with a 300 f/4 AF-S, probably will use it with a 1.4 TC. I've seen some very sharp airshow shots with this combo on pbase, etc. The 300mm f/2.8 AF-S would be super too...my only drawback was the higher cost and weight, considering I don't want something too heavy when I'm panning the skies (6 vs 3 lbs). Good luck, though, sounds like either lens would be stellar.
18-55 f/3.5-5.6 AF-S II ED
70-200 f/2.8 AF-S VR ED (light grey)
300 f/4 AF-S ED (light grey)

Anthony Medici Veteran Member • Posts: 5,725
Re: 300 AF-S VR or 200-400 AF-S VR?

Jabs767 wrote:

As titled above, the alternatives I am considering are the Nikkor
300mm f2.8 G AF-S VR or the 200-400 f4 AF-S.

I regularly use HSC mode on the D2x to gain extra reach as well as
frame rate from my 70-200 combo.

I could always use the 300 coupled with a 1.4 TC and still get the
same max focal length and f stop as the 200-400.

It seems that the 300mm f2.8 is slightly more available (let alone
cheaper) than the 200-400.

I've choosen the 300 F2.8 VR over the 200-400 VR. It's significantly smaller and lighter than the zoom and I believe it to be sharper as well. Though I admit I also have the 400 F2.8 when I really want to go long. My experience with the 200-400 VR was that I could rarely use converters with it when the subject was at a distance and still be happy with the image. That's not the case with the two F2.8 lenses where all the converters can get me images I'm happy with.

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robertofabbri Regular Member • Posts: 366
Down under ...

John, I had the 300 f/2.8, I sold it because it was not enough for my doing. I bought the 500 f/4, excellent mostly on a tripod with Wimberley head (people saying they use it hand held ???), than I bought the 200-400 excellent, I only used it hand held and VR really powerful, I feel its weight and size at the limit, but I never use it with TC. The advantage is the zoom factor which allows you to use the lens at its best. I do believe I would use the 200-400 for your air show purpose.
But this is my opinion only, we are all different!

Don't you get a lot of headaches living all the time with your head upside down ???

Roberto Fabbri

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OP Jabs767 Contributing Member • Posts: 913
Re: Down under ...


I tried out a 200-400 some time back, admitedly just quick shot outside a photo store with my D2x with the lens and also with my 1.4 TC. I found the quality at wide open to almost equal on a subject about a block away.

It was certainly better than my 70-200 with a 1.4/1.7 TC attached.

I might try and hire a 300 f2.8 to try it out as I have an warbird airshow coming up at Bundaberg next month.

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Garen Senior Member • Posts: 1,133
Re: 300 AF-S VR or 200-400 AF-S VR?

Greetings John,

I had both and kept the 300 2.8VR and exchange the 200-400VR with the 500 4.0 IS(Canon). IMHO the IQ is slightly better with 300 2.8 plus 1.4 EX than 200-400 VR at 400mm wide open. I had posted some photos last week with the 300 2.8VR plus 1.4 Ex

I hope this help you with your decesion. In all honestly you can't go wrong with either one.

Best regards,
Who says it can't be done?

cleanmaxx brian Senior Member • Posts: 1,086
Re: 300 AF-S VR or 200-400 AF-S VR?

Air shows = zoom! When they fly real close, you will be glad you have that 200mm end! (Cutting off wings looks funny sometimes!) Then with a quick twist you are at 400mm and doing a cockpit shot!

Plus I am not sure how close a subject can be with the 300 f2.8 but I can get like 5 or 6 feet away from a cool part of a plane like landing gear and still focus.

Nikon D200, 200-400 f4 VR, 70-200 2.8 VR, 105 VR macro, SB800, Tamron 17-50 2.8 Sigma 10-20. Panasonic DMC-fx01
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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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surfworx Regular Member • Posts: 167
I've used both

Amazing lenses both - The range of the 200-400 is great in good lighting, and on a Nikon in low light the 300 stands out.

It will depend entirely on your use, but both in the right conditions are stellar optics.

Andreas Berglund
Andreas Berglund Contributing Member • Posts: 856
both are sharp lenses but

and they are quite sharp with and without tc's if stopped down.

One thing that has not been mentioned yet on this discussion is focus acuisition and lock on. I shoot birds not planes, much smaller then planes most of the time and I have found the 200-400 for my shooting not being as good as the 300VR in aquiring and locking on focus.

And you add a TC14 to the 200-400 and it starts to focus hunt quite a bit, and when you add a TC17 to it focus hunts a lot. I guess it is that F4 vs F2.8 difference. From a Focusing perspective the 300 is much batter and faster especially with TC's on. But of course the zoom is the killer feature and it is a very nice lens.

I'm not sure how that translates to planes. maybe someone with more experience into plans can let us know...

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Andréas Berglund
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