Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

Started Feb 1, 2014 | Discussions
Dr Bob
OP Dr Bob Senior Member • Posts: 1,319
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

Catallaxy wrote:

I have the 600 VR and use it with both my D7100 and D700. I find that I use the 1.4x TC rarely with the D7100, but a fair amount with the D700. I use the 2x TC very rarely and only in great light.

It really depends on the wildlife/bird you are shooting. Some are smaller and more skittish than others. For eagles, For BIF, I find that the bare lens is best, just because it is hard to find the bird in the viewinder with the 1.4x TC and keep tracking it, especially with the D7100.

It is very helpful to learn stalking techniques and the use of a blind helps tremendously to get and stay closer to birds and wildlife.

The 600 VR is very big and heavy and you must use a very large and sturdy tripod. I use a gimbal as well. My 600 VR rig runs about 17-18 lbs in weight for the whole thing, and is awkward to move around quickly.

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Catallaxy

Catallaxy / Calson, thanks for your experiences. It's good to hear your first hand information. All the inputs received in this thread have helped greatly. To summarise where I am now, (if I ignore cost!!)

- the 600mm is the best choice if I am happy to restrict myself to a tripod (hence a big change to the way I usually shot birds - but that is not necessarily a bad thing!)

- the weight and 'bulkiness' of the 600mm plus support will however be restrictive (as above - Catallaxy) hence not as good for say BIF

- Is the 500mm (and with the 1.4 TC) a big enough improvement in reach and IQ over my current 80-400?

Cost could be an issue - if I bought a used 500mm VR (maybe £4K) then that is half the price of a new 600mm + new tripod - but I am more inclined to buy new at these prices.

Thanks again to all for responding. Keen to get a few more responses on the differences between the 80-400 and the 500mm.

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Lance B Forum Pro • Posts: 30,730
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

Dr Bob wrote:

Lance B wrote:

The fact that you have the 80-400 f4.5-5.6G, as I do, may sway you towards the 600 f4 as there isn't much difference between 400mm and 500mm. However, putting the 1.4x TC on the 500 does make a very usable 700 f5.6. The 500 f4 takes the 1.4x TC very well but not so well the 1.7x or the 2x as you run out of light.

The biggest benefit of using TC's is that you get the extra 1.4x magnification (if you use a 1.4x TC - 2x the magnification if using a 2x TC etc), but the same minimum focus distance. So, essentially, so, if you use a 1.4x TC on the 500 you get a 700 f5.6 with the minimum focus distance of the 500! This really is a benefit for small birds etc, where you run into minimum focus issues and can't fill the frame. I find the minimum focus distance of the bare lenses an issue quite often.

Lance, thanks for the input. You are spot on! I am swayed towards the 600 f4 because the 500 doesnt seem enough difference to blow £5K+. Yes, when the 1.4 TC is used I am then getting a big difference in reach but is it enough? Point well taken on the minimum focus distance.

I know you used the 80-400 extensively on your trip to the UK last July - how did you find it compared to the 500mm you were used to using back home (I assume you didnt take the 500 with you)? Did you feel it was 'almost' as good, or did you think it was significantly restricting.

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Andy

Hi Andy,
I now remember our private conversation a number of months ago. I hope your sailing trip went well

I didn't take the 500 with me on my trip, too much weight to take on the plane. However, it might have been nice to get those Puffins in flight with a little more reach but it didn't really worry me too much. Don't get me wrong, I would always opt for the 500 over the 80-400 where possible as you have one stop up your sleeve and an extra 100mm of reach and I could always add the 1.4x TC for 300mm of extra reach at the same max aperture.

I find the 500 very easy to handhold and chase flying birds, whereas when I tried the 600 it was a more cumbersome and harder to track birds with it. However, this may just be lack of practice with that lens.

I would really stress that you rent both the 500 and 600 and see what you think as the 600 may be too much of a chore to handhold and lug around. However, you may be pleasantly surprised and find it lighter than you think. Just bare in mind that you can put the 500 and the 80-400 in one back pack, but maybe not the 600 (it is such a big lens!) + 80-400 and that combo may be too heavy to get around with! These are things you also have to consider.

Good luck with your decision. I don't think you can go wrong with either.

 Lance B's gear list:Lance B's gear list
Nikon D500 Nikon D850 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm F4G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED Nikon AF-S Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR +13 more
Randy Stephens Regular Member • Posts: 103
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

I have had and used both and just recently sold the 600VR.   I loved the 600 and the photos it made but found myself going to the 500VR much more.  At 64 years old, but in pretty good shape, I still found I could only use the 600 on a tripod or resting on a sandbag across my truck bed which limited it's use to me.  With the 500 I can easily use it out the truck window, handhold for several minutes, or use it like I did the 600.  As stated above, you will never have enough mm's to you desire for certain situations but after using both 500 and 600 daily, many times during the same bird session, I never really thought myself crippled with the 500.  In fact the options available with the 500 outweighs the extra 100mm advantage the 600 has.  In many comparisons between the 500 and 600 there are conflicting opinions as to which is sharper.  In my experience there is no visible difference between the 500 and 600 and may come down to the individual lens copy and the users long lens technique.   Yes, the 1.4 was/is on both much of the time and both seem to handle the 1.4 very well although if you print 16 x 20 sized prints you can see the prints take a small hit in sharpness.  I currently use the 300VR II + 1.4 for birds in flight but have come to use the 500 handheld with a full frame body, mainly a 800E, much of the time.  If money was no object, I would think a 300VR II, a 500VR, and the new 800VR would be my ideal setup although the new 80-400VR is looking very good with many of my bird photography friends swearing by it and may be on my "want" list soon.

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Randy

abcdefghijklmnop Senior Member • Posts: 1,098
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

Randy Stephens wrote:

In many comparisons between the 500 and 600 there are conflicting opinions as to which is sharper. In my experience there is no visible difference between the 500 and 600 and may come down to the individual lens copy and the users long lens technique.

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Randy

I agree, in most reliable detailed reviews it is the IQ in the corners that separates the various super telephotos and for birding, most I believe do not care about the slight drop off in edge IQ.

 abcdefghijklmnop's gear list:abcdefghijklmnop's gear list
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kayaker353 Contributing Member • Posts: 960
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

I have had the 500 f4 for about 3 years.  I have tried it with all three TC's, but only get acceptable results with the 1.7.  The 1.4 will not tune within the -20 to 20 range (looks like it needs 22).  Seeing and focusing with the 2.0 is difficult and requires a lot of light.  In looking for images from last year, I found that the vast majority were taken with the bare lens.  I am including one image from the bare lens and one with the 1.7TC.  I have carried the lens on a 9 mile hike looking for a snowy owl who wasn't in that day.  Have gotten a better backpack, so it should be easier in the future.  I cannot handhold the lens without a rest or prop of some kind.

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Brandon birder Veteran Member • Posts: 4,118
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

Andy,

I emailed you with my response earlier. Much as many have summarised for you. The only addition I would add is that there are many hides in which the 500mm just fits (often without a hood) and a 600 wouldn't. Again for the forum, now I have got my 500mm fine tuned for TC's, I do use the 1.4 and the 2EIII when needed without worry now. I still prefer the 500 without TC's though.

PHXAZCRAIG
PHXAZCRAIG Forum Pro • Posts: 14,037
Re: The V1 killed my lust for a 500F4

Dr Bob wrote:

I have reviewed your pics on many occasions and some of your owl shots were the reason I got into shooting birds! (that means I can blame you for spending all this money!). The V1/V2 shots look interesting but the limited ability to crop on those bodies means the quality compared to the super tele's isnt there. Also I find the bigger field of view in the viewfinder from a FF body is really important to find some of the birds I am trying to shoot, especially when they are in flight. I think the V2 +80-400 would be great for record shots of distant birds where ultimate IQ is not needed.

Absolutely it's a lot more convenient to find a bird by being able to zoom in, though it's really, really tough to do handheld.

As for 'record shots', yep, could do that just fine.   Of course with the crop factor reach involved, you still get more pixels on the subject with a long lens on a V2 than the same long lens on a D800e.   Not so sure about a D7100.

Looking forward to your new owl shots - when they return. Take care

I went out about 2-3 weeks ago and hiked around the (3) nests.  At the time, only one (the usual one) was occupied by a sitting bird.   However, I flushed another owl out of a tree near nest #2, so it could well be that it will have a nesting pair as well.  Nothing near nest #3 though.

I've had a bad leg injury since the beginning of January (kicked in taekwondo) that has kept me out of the field, but it's starting to heal up enough now to get out to the nests again.   Hopefully I'll be able to get some shots of owl chicks soon.  Here's a V2+300f4+1.4 TC shot from Jan 8:

http://www.cjcphoto.net/arizona1/images/140108-172716-33-97-1%20v2.jpg

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Craig
www.cjcphoto.net

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bitcoin New Member • Posts: 16
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
1

JP Scherrer wrote:

I don't have the 500 nor 600mm, but I tried them both, and I found the 600mm. Much heavier snd bulkier than the 500mm. !

Also, the gain of the 600 over the 500 is only 1.2x !!! With your D800 set to 1.2x, you will get an equal viewing size and as in most cases you will crop and/or resize the image, so you won't lose anything !

Just my 2 cents....

J-P.

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Actually the gain in not 20%, but 44%. Source from Arthur Morris

http://www.birdsasart-blog.com/2013/03/02/comparing-the-canon-500mm-f4l-is-ii-and-the-canon-600mm-f4l-is-ii/

The size of the subject in the frame is a function of the square of the focal length. A subject that fills 25% (5X5) of the frame in an image created with a 500mm lens will fill 36% (6X6) of the frame if photographed with a 600mm lens from the same distance. The huge advantage here goes to the 600 II which will render the subject 44% larger in the frame than the 500 II.

Dr Bob
OP Dr Bob Senior Member • Posts: 1,319
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4
1

Guys, Thanks for some great responses. This forum is so useful when the inputs are so positive.
Lance - thanks for the comparison of the two lenses. Good point on how they fit in the camera bag.
Randy - thans also for the experience on the two, this is exactly the feedback I was after - and its good to hear first hand. I think the 800mm is out of my league (and price range!).
ABCDE.... - Good point on the iq of the corners. I am cropping so heavily at the moment that I think I will alway crop - hence less sharpness in the corners should not be an issue, and usually the edges of the shot are background (which is often blurred anyway).
Kayaker - thanks for the images. The second certainly looks pretty sharp for 840mm. Interesting that only the 1.7TC AF tunes. I will bear that in mind and make sure I test before I buy.
BB - I hadn't thought about the 600mm not fitting through the hide windows! Good to hear you've got your TC's AF tuning sorted out.
Lots to think about now........

 Dr Bob's gear list:Dr Bob's gear list
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Pygmi Regular Member • Posts: 263
Re: Just for fun: 300 f:2.8 VR II + TC-20E III on Nikon V1 !

JP Scherrer wrote:

...and BTW, the TC-1.7 is not known to be very good ! The 1.4 x or the 2.0x are much better !

Based on what experience do you say that TC20EIII is much better than TC17? I do have them both and I must say that I don't agree. At least my TC17 performs just fine and does not shame a bit when compared to TC20EIII.

What I have read, the TC20EIII is a lot better than the TC20EII...but it does not mean that it would out perform other "EII" converters.

RJPeter Regular Member • Posts: 362
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

I think it depends on your ability to carry either lens. The 600mm will restrict you far more than the 500mm. The 500mm is practical on a monopod.

How far from your car are you going to move with either lens ? If you have specific subjects in mind maybe the 600mm would be ok.

I think the 500mm with a 1.4x TC is more versatile. Too many people say longer is better; I don't agree when more weight and size means you will not be as quick. The extra money spent will cause some shots to be missed.

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kk123 Regular Member • Posts: 388
Have 500mm F4 sold 600mm F4 bought 800mm 5,6
1

The difference in focal lenght between the 500 and 600mm is too small to justify the weight of the 600mm. The 800mm is also lighter than the 600m. The 1,25 x dedicated converter for the 800mm is superb. Of course the price tag is the minus...

So far the 800mm reveals itself to be an extremely efficient lense for bird photography and makes it more possible to take special pictures, especially compressed motives. The 500mm is very handy and can normally be used handheld.

http://www.ketilknudsen.com

maljo@inreach.com Veteran Member • Posts: 7,538
My 2 cents...

I have the 500 f4 VR and 200-400 f4 VR, both great lenses.

The better birding lens is the 600 mm f4 for all the reasons that you heavily crop your images - you're rarely too close!

However, I don't like or want the 600 - too heavy, too big, too expensive.  The 500 is a very nice traveling companion.  Mine goes everywhere in a Thinktank Airport Accleration II. I really love this lens.

Whatever you decide you can't go wrong; these are superb lenses.

maljo

D800E + Nikon 500 f4 VR at f4, Jasper Pulaski, Indiana

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Paul B Jones
Paul B Jones Senior Member • Posts: 2,659
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

In my experience the 500 on a crop camera provides a decent amout of reach but once on full frame you have to be right on top of the subject. Just not strong enough for many situations.

Others will have different opinions.

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JimPearce
JimPearce Veteran Member • Posts: 9,188
A different take...

The OP could add a 500 f4 VR and a D7100. I'm quite liking the D7100 for tripod work with my 500 f4. He could shoot handheld with FX and benefit from the superior buffer of the D600/D800.

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Jim

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Lance B Forum Pro • Posts: 30,730
Re: A different take...

JimPearce wrote:

The OP could add a 500 f4 VR and a D7100. I'm quite liking the D7100 for tripod work with my 500 f4. He could shoot handheld with FX and benefit from the superior buffer of the D600/D800.

Not a bad thought if he really needs the extra reach. Buy the 500 and also buy the D7100.

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Jim

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Dr Bob
OP Dr Bob Senior Member • Posts: 1,319
Re: A different take...

Lance B wrote:

JimPearce wrote:

The OP could add a 500 f4 VR and a D7100. I'm quite liking the D7100 for tripod work with my 500 f4. He could shoot handheld with FX and benefit from the superior buffer of the D600/D800.

Not a bad thought if he really needs the extra reach. Buy the 500 and also buy the D7100.

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Jim

Lance/Jim,

I did a side by side test of a D600/80-400G with a D7100/80-400G to look at the benefits of using a crop body last September. It was a wash, with the extra copability of the D600 balancing the extra reach of the D7100, albeit at highish iso's (640-1000). There have also been a few recent posts showing the D800 vs the D7100 and coming to a similar conclusion. Perhaps the 7100 will come out the winner at lower iso's but this is South Wales and the seeing the sun is a rare occurance. The FF will come out better once you get up to the +2,000 iso's.

If both bodies give the same result then there is a benefit of shooting with the FF for BIF as it is then easier to frame the fast flying bird in the viewfinder, and crop out the excess later.

It's nice to have such a choice of great bodies to choose from. In my search for threads on these lenses going back to 2007, it was surprising to see a lot of the discussion about keeping iso's down to 200. Life is a lot easier these days!

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Lance B Forum Pro • Posts: 30,730
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

bitcoin wrote:

JP Scherrer wrote:

I don't have the 500 nor 600mm, but I tried them both, and I found the 600mm. Much heavier snd bulkier than the 500mm. !

Also, the gain of the 600 over the 500 is only 1.2x !!! With your D800 set to 1.2x, you will get an equal viewing size and as in most cases you will crop and/or resize the image, so you won't lose anything !

Just my 2 cents....

J-P.

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Actually the gain in not 20%, but 44%. Source from Arthur Morris

http://www.birdsasart-blog.com/2013/03/02/comparing-the-canon-500mm-f4l-is-ii-and-the-canon-600mm-f4l-is-ii/

The size of the subject in the frame is a function of the square of the focal length. A subject that fills 25% (5X5) of the frame in an image created with a 500mm lens will fill 36% (6X6) of the frame if photographed with a 600mm lens from the same distance. The huge advantage here goes to the 600 II which will render the subject 44% larger in the frame than the 500 II.

I think that's being a bit pedantic. If you are photographing a subject with the 500 and then with the 600 from the same distance, then the subject by the 600 will appear 20% longer and taller. I guess you are right to say that the area of the frame is 44% larger, but the actual subject is 20% longer by 20% taller.

 Lance B's gear list:Lance B's gear list
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JimPearce
JimPearce Veteran Member • Posts: 9,188
Tricky comparison...

In my opinion the D7100 works out very well for BIF (buffer notwithstanding), but with the 300 f2.8 VR and not the 80-400. The simple reason being that you can't open the aperture far enough on the 80-400 to shoot at one stop lower ISOs (equivalence). And of course if you can reach the bird with 400mm and an FX camera you'll often be too close and crowding the viewfinder with a DX camera.

The tripod comparison is even trickier, but at the end of the day the reach with a D800 on a 600 f4 slightly trumps the reach with the D7100 on a 500 f4. You can simply crop deeper with the D800 and 600 f4. I think this is partly due to the camera and partly the lens - the 600mm f4 resolves a little more. With the 500 f4 I think you do gain some reach with the D7100, but in low light situations where you'd shoot nearly wide open with FX (especially with a TC) you can indeed run into difficulties shooting DX. Which is why I still think the best solution for you is the 600 f4.

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Jim

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engbert Senior Member • Posts: 2,740
Re: Birding with a 500mm F4 or 600mm F4

Have you looked at the new Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3?

At present it is only available for Cannon, but the Nikon version will be available "soon" - no-one seems to know exactly when.

After owning it for 4 years, I sold my 500mm f4 vr within a week or two of getting the new 80-400mm af-s. I compared them shooting a test chart and on a few birds on my d7100. It was quite hard to see any difference after cropping the 400mm shots to the same field as the 500mm.  The difference in convenience was huge.

http://www.flickr.com/groups/2470447@N21/pool

There are now several Canon users contributing to their group on Flickr.  I can't wait to get mine!

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