Mongo was sort of lucky enough to be one of the first to get one of these in Australia. He has had it now for about a month. There is good and bad about it but mainly good (now that is). Mongo purchased it from an authorised Nikon dealer for $1700 Australian Dollars which is a very good price.
Initially, Mongo had considerable trouble with the lens. The AF seem to go “to sleep” at times and would not work unless you woke it by manually turing the focus ring or turning the camera on and off. Not really what you need when trying to catch wildlife (particularly birds in flight), sports action, aviation etc. These are the things this lens was surely designed for.
The other problem Mongo noticed was that the lens seemed very slow to acquire focus on moving objects. The lens was relatively OK on stationary objects (apart from falling asleep as described above). This mystery was largely solved in two steps. First, having the “sleep issue” “fixed” with the firmware update. Secondly, by using the most appropriate VR mode.
Unfortunately, Mongo had to work out the do’s and don’ts of VR on this lens largely by himself and the odd rare comment he could find on the net as the lens was still reactively new and few people had used it. It seems that “normal” mode reduced the the AF speed whereas, “sports” mode seems to have far less affect on AF speed. Unfortunately, the lens does not come with a real explanatory booklet - it only has a single open-out sheet. Mongo is all for cost saving to be able to provide this lens cheaply to customers but some information should not be skimped on.
When you look through the viewfinder and engage “normal” VR mode, the effect is dramatic ! the movement is almost completely halted in a way Mongo has not previously experienced with other Nikon VR lenses. The claim that his lens’ VR is the best to date is probably well founded. However, as with any fast car or precision tool, you must know how to use it to get any good out of it.
Mongo has determined that, “normal” mode is best used when handholding the lens and focusing on stationary objects. “Spots” mode VR should be used in all other instances including on a monopod, panning etc. Some of this information is in the instruction sheet but not all of it an not enough to have worked this out effectively in Mongo’s opinion.
The combination of the above two steps have now brought the lens to a reasonable standard and one that Mongo is happy enough with and could, potentially, be very pleased with subject to further testing. However, all indications so far are that there is a little more that can be extracted from this lens and that should bring it to the that level of satisfaction.
Typically, Nikon realised the lens (in Mongo’s view) half baked and poorly tested - if at all. Untypically, Nikon came out within weeks of the lens being sold to admit there were AF issues and had a firmware update to rectify it.
So, Mongo was not wrong when he had earlier complained to Nikon that the lens had AF issues. It should be noted that Mongo noticed the problem within the first few hours of using the lens. One would have to ask how Nikon could not have notice this problem if it had carried out any credible testing. Again, as Mongo has previously stated, this should never have happened and Nikon needs to get its act together about properly testing its products before subjecting the public to them and expecting the public to be its test guinea pigs. If it does so, it may keep more of its customers and regain a lot of lost respect.
If you buy a lens with a serial number greater than 2008365, the issue should already have been rectified. So, in the scheme of things, the problem was caught relatively early after the lens’ release.
Build Quality & Features
Mongo could go on at some length about this but it is easier to summarise it extremely good and excellent value for the money. It is solid, well built and well finished, movements are very precise (not sloppy) and no lens creep. Also, the foot on this lens is not like the 300 f4 AFS. It is , In Mongo’s opinion, it is very solid and well designed for this lens’ needs. In short, you will not have the need or urge to go out and buy an after market foot with possibly one exception. Most of us use the arca swiss attachment system and this lens does not have that feature. That is unfortunate as the foot is big enough and solid enough to have machined that profile into it. Mongo assumes this has not been done due to possible patent issues. Nonetheless, you can buy a short arca swiss plate/rail and attach it to the lens’ existing foot without any concerns.
What would you expect to get for this money in this zoom range? Well, you would have to think that it has to be at least as good as Tamron and Sigma offerings or there would be no point in making it. Mongo has only tried the Tamorn 150-600mm and found it to be a respectably good lens. He has not tried the Sigmas (although he managed to get a look at them and handle them as well as see some images from them). From that small amount of largely indirect knowledge, it seems they too are very good performers.
Mongo’s analysis of the MTF charts lead him to believe that the Nikon is most closely aligned to the Sigma Sport.
It would be unfair for Mongo (in these circumstances) to attempt to draw some comparison between the various lenses. So, he will comment on the Nikon more directly.
The image quality is surprisingly good, indeed, very good. Even wide open at f5.6, the lens delivers sharp images with good contrast. As a habit , Mongo now largely shoots at f5.6, f6.3 and f7.1 averaging f6.3 most of the time. Even so, he finds that you may need to stop down a little more but largely for extra DOF and not for want of sharpness. This lens is small enough to fool you into forgetting it is 500mm and that you may be too close to the subject unless you add more DOF. Funny but you never seem to forget this when lugging the 600mm f4 around. It is something you will get used to quickly when using the 200-500mm.
Having owned and used a Nikon 200-400 f4 VR for a few years, Mongo can say he can not tell the difference in the image quality produced by both lenses. If there is any, it could not justify 4 times the price and more than 30% more weight. The extra stop is not enough to faze Mongo either.
Mongo must admit that, due to the other initial issues to try and get the lens right, there has been some delay in testing the teleconverters properly. Mongo had an initial try with the teleconverters before the lens was firmware updated and calibrated. Therefore, those old results are not reliable. Nonetheless, Mongo can tell you that the 1.4EII. 1.7EII and 20EIII all work with this lens although, not necessarily the AF.
To break those results down, on the D800E, you get AF with the 1.4EII only but you can manually focus the other converters and the shutter releases and it all works etc. On the D4s, you get AF with the 1.4EII and the 1.7EII (which is very surprising becuase the latter combo is f9.3 wide open i.e more than f8 and theoretically the AF should not be capable of working …..but it does !).
Neither body auto focus with the 20EIII. The images Mongo got from all these combos were all good to very good but read further below.
While having the firmware update carried out on the lens, Mongo also asked that it also be calibrated (together with calibration of his D4s and D800E). Since getting the gear back about 10days ago, Mongo has been flat out trying to AF fine tune the lens to the camera bodies. At present , despite all having been calibrated and theoretically no AF fine tune should be needed, Mongo has found that the D800E and the lens are best at +4 AF fine tune. Accordingly, Mongo will have to calibrate each of the teleconverters with the lens and redo all the test with them. It may well be that he will get even better results than before the lens was firmware updated and calibrated. This remains to be seen.
There is a thread in this forum started on 4 August. There is much speculation in it because the lens was not really around at that time to gain a real impression and feel for it. Mongo hopes his thread (here) helps clarify some of the lens’ mystery. Certainly, if Mongo were ever to go on one of those safaris he reads about, he would not hesitate to take this lens.
Nikon 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR is clearly aimed at the Tamron and Sigma competitors and despite its unfortunate troubled birth, it will make a serious indent into their market share of this approximate zoom range. Mongo would now recommend this lens.
a quick sample image (view large):
D800E , 200-500 @500mm, f6.3, 1/800th, ISO 2000, -0.3EV, +4 AF fine tune, monopod