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Review: Nikon 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR


Mongo

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.

 

AF Issues

 

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.

 

VR

 

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.

 

Quality Control

 

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.

 

See: http://nikonrumors.com/2015/10/06/some-nikkor-200-500mm-f5-6e-ed-vr-lenses-have-af-issue-must-be-sent-back-to-nikon-for-service.aspx/#more-98465

 

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.

 

Image Quality

 

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.

 

Teleconverters

 

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.

 

Commentary

 

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.

 

Conclusion

 

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

gallery_2_446_219175.jpg

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I will have to go and count the pennies in my piggy bank.  

 

Thank you.

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These are nearly impossible to find in the US unless you want to buy a "used" one at a hefty premium.

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just some quick images of the lens when Mongo was unpacking it

 

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post-12774-0-58081300-1445480869_thumb.j

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Terrific review of what looks to be a fantastic lens for Nikon shooters! Thanks for posting it Mongo - I have made it an article on our database. :) 

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I got mine last week from Adorama.  I had been on a wait list for less than ten days.  I think they are out again, but it was not a long wait. So far I have made wonderful shots of my books in the bookcase, and a few shots outside, through my double-paned windows.  It is supposed to be much drier tomorrow, so I hope to get some more shots then.  My serial number is 6,000,xxx so I should be up to date on the firmware.  I was amazed at how well (how close!) it would focus in my room in low light.  It seemed to lock on quite well.  I will have to remember Mongo's recommendations for which VR mode to use. ( I was using normal mode.)

 

I bought my 200-500 to give to my lady friend for a better long lens than her 80-400 VR I zoom. Those who have used one of these know how terribly slow the focus is, and how it is just about impossible to follow a bird in flight. The Tamron 150-600 is far better focusing than the 80-400 (and far more nimble with birds in flight,) so if this 200-500 is in the same league as the TAMRON,  OR EVEN BETTER! then it will be a winner. 

 

With the 200-500 I did look at some magpie photos in my back yard (again, taken through the double paned glass,)  and could see the silhouette of my duplex clearly reflected in the bird's eye. He was on my fence about 60 feet from where I was sitting in the house.

 

But this lens is quite a bit heavier than the 80-400 VRI, and also noticeably heavier than the Tamron 150-600. I will need to spend some time comparing images taken with these two latter lenses.  My first 150-600 was awful.  I sent it back, and the second one is absolutely phenomenal.  But I suspect she will end up with the Tamron, as it is lighter than the Nikon.  The Nikon 200-500 on my D700 with the Battery Grip is quite a weight to carry.  I cannot imagine her using it without at least a good monopod.  And that is probably true of the 150-600 Tamron, as well. 

 

If this performs as well on my D700 as the Tamron 150-600 does,  I will be absolutely ecstatic.

 

Kirk Photo is already manufacturing a replacement lens collar for the 200-500 (almost $200.)  So some people must not be satisfied with the rigidity of this Nikon lens collar/foot?  Or is Kirk just that good at marketing?  I do have the Kirk collar on my older 80-400, and I think it makes a difference on a tripod (but I bought it for $50 off of eBay, not for $200.) The Nikon collar and foot were really pretty wimpy on the 80-400.   I am glad that Mongo thinks this newer Nikon collar is substantial enough on the 200-500.  I am anxious to get a little better weather so I can "put a few miles" on this lens.  

 

The weight of the 150-600 is listed as 4.3 pounds.The old 80-400 VR1 lens is listed as 2.95 pounds, and the Nikon 200-500 is listed as 5.07 pounds.  I may have a job convincing her that the added weight is worth it (selling the 80-400 is part of my financial plan to be able to justify the new lens....before she gets back from a trip!)  Basically the Tamron will be an extra 1.3 pounds over the 80-400, and it extends much longer than the 80-400.  The 200-500 is an additional 2 pounds plus over the 80-400.  I do not see either of us using this handheld;.. at least not for very long.  Whereas the 80-400 can be handheld (of course, this works well only for stationary targets.) If it is moving, then you better be very lucky.

 

Walt

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Good luck with that new lens Walt.

 

One thing you mentioned that Mongo overlooked and that is the close focusing of this lens. Despite reading about its MFD before buying and using this lens, Mongo was still pleasantly shocked at the reality of it when he first used it. It is another positive feature.

 

Another small point Mongo also forgot to mention is the relatively good balance this lens has in hand.

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Mongo,

 

Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with this lens. 

 

For those of us without unlimited resources or write-off capability it is a pleasure to see that Nikon can still produce an affordable, quality lens in the vein of the AFS 300/4 (except for the tripod foot).

 

Looks good and will go on my shortlist to replace the older 80-400 and/or the 300/4 with multiple TC's.

 

Great contribution.

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Used mine for a soccer game a week or so ago.

It was a rare game with a late afternoon start while there was some daylight

I decided to take the 200-500 to give it a whirl for sports....especially since the Nikon "ad" for this lens show them shooting soccer.

Even strapped to a D4, I knew once the sun went down, f5.6 was going to end my day early.

 

My thought are as follows:

- AF is slower than most of the lenses I use for sports (super-tele's) however it is fast enough to yield a decent percentage of keepers.

- The zoom ring will wear you out twisting it...way too much travel.

- My left are was not nearly as tired as usual -- nice to lighten the load.

 

It would be a great lens for daytime outdoor sports.....just not much opportunity for that in this neck of the woods this time of year.

A lot of soccer moms will love it.

 

I will be a nice birding lens for us....Mi-Anne loves the reach on her D7200.

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Guest Thomas Van Dyke

Posted

 Thank you Mongo for your candid and thoughtful insights into Nikon’s recent offering in the long telephoto range… it’s VR performance (once corrected); wide zoom range and price point may allow more affordable access to sport & wildlife genre for emerging enthusiast…  believe worth/value may indeed be it’s strongest merit…  Albeit agree with Walt that at 2.3 kilos handheld may not be the most ideal scenario…

 

Intriguing writeup... points well taken...

Again thank your for your diligence...

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I had the 200-500 for two weeks intensive use. I returned it because it is to heavy for my purpose.

In exchange I got the 300PF which suits my shooting style much better and now I am following in you footsteps, Mongo, shooting birds in their natural environment.

PS. the hood is a pain. always on the brink of losing it. Very bad attachment. The tripod mount / collar is not as bad as some people say IMO though.

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      Chargers
       
      In the pocket shown as empty here I later added my sunglasses cases. I had a pair of polarised driving glasses and a regular pair.
       
      So on the day of the flight I got to the airport (early as usual) and there was a very large queue of people waiting to check into the Kukula.com flights. I was somewhere near the front of the queue when I heard this announcement being made that went something along these lines: "Kulula.com advises all passengers travelling with them that hand luggage is restricted to one item only and that it may not exceed 7kgs. It will be weighed at the check-in counter and also again at the gate. If any hand luggage is found to be over the limit at the gate you will be sent back to the check-in counter and additional check-in charges will be incurred." Oh. What could I do? My carry on weighed close to 20kgs!
       
      Well, I could only do one thing: plead ignorance. I got to the counter, hoisted my big red suitcase onto the conveyor and would you believe it, the scale read 20.8kgs. The attendant looks at me and says I am over the 20kg limit and I will have to pay in R250 (about $25) for additional baggage. I look back at her and I smile. "That can't be possible. I weighed this suitcase at home and it was 19.5kgs. There must be something wrong with your scale. Can we try it on another scale?" Now at this point the queue had gotten longer and there were no additional free counters for us to check the weight at. She looked at me, half-smiled and said, "OK, I'll let you go through without extra charges, but next time you'll have to pay the R250..."
       
      Phew.
       
      All this timethe ThinkTank Security roller was parked right in front of the desk with my jacket over it. "What's that bag?" she asked, somehow managing to catch sight of it. I told her that it's just my camera bag. She handed me my boarding pass and ID and wished me a pleasant flight.
      At the gate I was looking for these hand luggage weight police but I saw no scales or scaffolding apparatus that could possibly be used to measure bags, so I relaxed a little and waited to be let on board. Fortunately the bag fit perfectly in the overhead stowage of the plane and I got to Cape Town without any further drama.
       
      Flying back from Cape Town to Durban my big red suitcase had somehow lost a bit of weight and only tipped the scales at 19.1kgs. No questions about anything else. Onboard I found myself sitting right at the back of a very full Boeing 737-800 which also had slightly different overhead bins to the plane I had flown down on, the kind that hang down and are then clipped up during the flight. I managed to get the roller into the one directly over my seat, but it was a bit of a struggle as somebody else had already put stuff in it (I wasn't the first to board because Cape Town airport has to buck convention and their gates are illogically designed when it comes to figuring out how to queue up). Just prior to touch down in Durban we hit a bit of turbulence and the overhead bin with my roller in it popped open. Thankfully nothing fell out and the passenger on the aisle was able to simply pop it closed by reaching up his arm.
       
      Phew, once again.
       
      OK, so about the case... the ThinkTank Airport Security rolling case is awesome. Compared to the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 version it has a few additional features, such as a set of backpack straps that hide away in a compartment in the back. You can wear it on your back but don't expect it to be very comfortable when fully laden. I guess this feature is handy to have if you have to take the case across terrain that isn't exactly roller-friendly (like muddy patches, or grass, etc).
       

       
      Showing the straps that fold into a flap on the back
       
      There's an extra pocket that flips open on the side of the case and inside it there are some stretchy divisions that are handy to store things like keys, wallets, etc. It also has a buckle that you use to attach the tripod/monopod straps to secure such things to your case. It is a bit tricky to figure out if you don't use the instructions sheet, but once you know how it's a doddle.
       

       
      Side pocket with buckle for tripod attachment bits
       
      At the top of the case there is a place to put your business cards in. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep a good supply of these in all your camera bags. It's great that all the ThinkTank bags I have used have dedicated space for these to be easily accessible. I also used this roller on the ICANN47 meeting here in Durban and I was constantly dishing out cards to people throughout the conference.
       
      Just below the business card holder is another zippered pocket with enough room to store your plane tickets and passport which makes them very easy to get to.
       

       
      The rest of the case is very similar to the International, just a bit roomier. This case is ideal for photographers who need to carry big lenses like 400mm f/2.8's and while I don't have one to try, I reckon you might even get a 600mm f/4 into it too.
      As with the International I would strongly advise getting the low divider set so that you can store your laptop on the inside of the case while travelling. Speaking of the inside, once you have it open the lid has 4 zippered pockets that you can store things like memory cards, AA batteries, cleaning kits and whatever else you need to store that is slim line. ThinkTank have also very cleverly sewn in little stretchy pockets for the zip ends to slip snugly into. This ensures that they are not exposed to your gear where friction could cause unsightly abrasions.
       
      The reason why I decided to keep the larger version of the ThinkTank rollers and not the International is because of the additional room. When I was shooting the ICANN47 conference I had my Nikon and micro four thirds kit inside it, but what I did with the m43 kit is put the whole lot into my amazing little ThinkTank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag and then put that bag right into the roller. It was a perfect fit and it gave me the versatility I needed to be mobile as well as have as much gear as necessary securely placed nearby. Being able to lock the roller's lid zipper with the combination is probably the cleverest thing I have ever seen on any camera case. Love it.
       
      On the rolling side the wheels used on the Airport series of rollers are excellent. They roll super-smoothly and are practically silent. I believe they use the same wheels that you get on roller blades, but I'll need to confirm that.
       
      So, now that I have established that it is in fact possible to travel on most domestic flights between big cities in South Africa that are relevant to our safari operations, this roller will become my go-to companion on those trips. It will also be very useful for when I am covering conferences and other shoots that require a fair amount of gear to be brought along. The Airport Security V2.0 is pretty rugged. While we were in Namibia there were 3 of us using these cases and they all came through with flying colours. They kept the dust out (and boy, did we have a lot of dust!) plus they rolled everywhere. They are easy to load and unload into vehicles because of the extra handles on the top, bottom and side. Plus, all these ThinkTank rollers have a metal plate riveted onto the top rear section with your serial number printed onto it. You can register your case with them and if it is ever lost and then found by a good samaritan it can be returned to you.
       

       
      A ThinkTank dominated Land Rover Freelander in Damaraland, Namibia.
       
      Many thanks to ThinkTank for not only designing this awesome piece of kit storage, but also for sponsoring evaluation copies for me to review and put to the test in the harshest conditions (which is why the product shots shown here look a bit scruffy - they were taken after the case had travelled more than 10,000kms with me by road and air - I'll get around to cleaning it someday soon).
       
      If you're in the USA you can buy your ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 directly from the company, plus you will also get a free gift from them when you do so using this link! 
       
      Note: the V2.0 has been replaced with the V3.0.

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      A few weeks after our Ultimate Big 5 Safari in August, I found myself packing to fly to Cape Town where we had a 32 day adventure lined up, namely the Namaqualand to Namibia Safari. This time there was a lot more to pack, so I decided to put the ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 to the task, seeing as I already knew it would fit on a smaller plane (one of our guests used it without drama on the flight from Kruger Airport to Jo'burg) and the plane to CT would certainly be a lot larger than that other one.
      I had planned to do a lot of landscape work on this trip so while I was going to bring along my Nikons and the Sigma 120-300/2.8, I also needed to find space for my entire mirrorless kit. Configuring the roller with the low divider set was challenging for the m43 stuff, mainly because the lenses are so much smaller and the dividers are designed for much bigger partitions. But I managed and here's a shot from my iPhone of everything that fit inside the Security V2.0 roller.
       

       
      Lot of stuff, huh? Here's a full list:
      Nikon D700
      Nikon D3100
      Olympus OM-D E-M5
      Olympus 9-18mm
      Olympus 75mm f/1.8
      Panasonic 14-45mm
      Panasonic 45-175mm
      Samyang 7.5mm fisheye
      Sigma 120-300/2.8 OS
      Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens (review is in the works)
      Sigma 12-24mm f/4-5.6
      13" MacBook Pro
      iPad Mini
      Back-up hard drive (WD 1TB)
      Lee Filters Seven5 system (to be reviewed soon!)
      Chargers
       
      In the pocket shown as empty here I later added my sunglasses cases. I had a pair of polarised driving glasses and a regular pair.
       
      So on the day of the flight I got to the airport (early as usual) and there was a very large queue of people waiting to check into the Kukula.com flights. I was somewhere near the front of the queue when I heard this announcement being made that went something along these lines: "Kulula.com advises all passengers travelling with them that hand luggage is restricted to one item only and that it may not exceed 7kgs. It will be weighed at the check-in counter and also again at the gate. If any hand luggage is found to be over the limit at the gate you will be sent back to the check-in counter and additional check-in charges will be incurred." Oh. What could I do? My carry on weighed close to 20kgs!
       
      Well, I could only do one thing: plead ignorance. I got to the counter, hoisted my big red suitcase onto the conveyor and would you believe it, the scale read 20.8kgs. The attendant looks at me and says I am over the 20kg limit and I will have to pay in R250 (about $25) for additional baggage. I look back at her and I smile. "That can't be possible. I weighed this suitcase at home and it was 19.5kgs. There must be something wrong with your scale. Can we try it on another scale?" Now at this point the queue had gotten longer and there were no additional free counters for us to check the weight at. She looked at me, half-smiled and said, "OK, I'll let you go through without extra charges, but next time you'll have to pay the R250..."
       
      Phew.
       
      All this timethe ThinkTank Security roller was parked right in front of the desk with my jacket over it. "What's that bag?" she asked, somehow managing to catch sight of it. I told her that it's just my camera bag. She handed me my boarding pass and ID and wished me a pleasant flight.
      At the gate I was looking for these hand luggage weight police but I saw no scales or scaffolding apparatus that could possibly be used to measure bags, so I relaxed a little and waited to be let on board. Fortunately the bag fit perfectly in the overhead stowage of the plane and I got to Cape Town without any further drama.
       
      Flying back from Cape Town to Durban my big red suitcase had somehow lost a bit of weight and only tipped the scales at 19.1kgs. No questions about anything else. Onboard I found myself sitting right at the back of a very full Boeing 737-800 which also had slightly different overhead bins to the plane I had flown down on, the kind that hang down and are then clipped up during the flight. I managed to get the roller into the one directly over my seat, but it was a bit of a struggle as somebody else had already put stuff in it (I wasn't the first to board because Cape Town airport has to buck convention and their gates are illogically designed when it comes to figuring out how to queue up). Just prior to touch down in Durban we hit a bit of turbulence and the overhead bin with my roller in it popped open. Thankfully nothing fell out and the passenger on the aisle was able to simply pop it closed by reaching up his arm.
       
      Phew, once again.
       
      OK, so about the case... the ThinkTank Airport Security rolling case is awesome. Compared to the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 version it has a few additional features, such as a set of backpack straps that hide away in a compartment in the back. You can wear it on your back but don't expect it to be very comfortable when fully laden. I guess this feature is handy to have if you have to take the case across terrain that isn't exactly roller-friendly (like muddy patches, or grass, etc).
       

       
      Showing the straps that fold into a flap on the back
       
      There's an extra pocket that flips open on the side of the case and inside it there are some stretchy divisions that are handy to store things like keys, wallets, etc. It also has a buckle that you use to attach the tripod/monopod straps to secure such things to your case. It is a bit tricky to figure out if you don't use the instructions sheet, but once you know how it's a doddle.
       

       
      Side pocket with buckle for tripod attachment bits
       
      At the top of the case there is a place to put your business cards in. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep a good supply of these in all your camera bags. It's great that all the ThinkTank bags I have used have dedicated space for these to be easily accessible. I also used this roller on the ICANN47 meeting here in Durban and I was constantly dishing out cards to people throughout the conference.
       
      Just below the business card holder is another zippered pocket with enough room to store your plane tickets and passport which makes them very easy to get to.
       

       
      The rest of the case is very similar to the International, just a bit roomier. This case is ideal for photographers who need to carry big lenses like 400mm f/2.8's and while I don't have one to try, I reckon you might even get a 600mm f/4 into it too.
      As with the International I would strongly advise getting the low divider set so that you can store your laptop on the inside of the case while travelling. Speaking of the inside, once you have it open the lid has 4 zippered pockets that you can store things like memory cards, AA batteries, cleaning kits and whatever else you need to store that is slim line. ThinkTank have also very cleverly sewn in little stretchy pockets for the zip ends to slip snugly into. This ensures that they are not exposed to your gear where friction could cause unsightly abrasions.
       
      The reason why I decided to keep the larger version of the ThinkTank rollers and not the International is because of the additional room. When I was shooting the ICANN47 conference I had my Nikon and micro four thirds kit inside it, but what I did with the m43 kit is put the whole lot into my amazing little ThinkTank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag and then put that bag right into the roller. It was a perfect fit and it gave me the versatility I needed to be mobile as well as have as much gear as necessary securely placed nearby. Being able to lock the roller's lid zipper with the combination is probably the cleverest thing I have ever seen on any camera case. Love it.
       
      On the rolling side the wheels used on the Airport series of rollers are excellent. They roll super-smoothly and are practically silent. I believe they use the same wheels that you get on roller blades, but I'll need to confirm that.
       
      So, now that I have established that it is in fact possible to travel on most domestic flights between big cities in South Africa that are relevant to our safari operations, this roller will become my go-to companion on those trips. It will also be very useful for when I am covering conferences and other shoots that require a fair amount of gear to be brought along. The Airport Security V2.0 is pretty rugged. While we were in Namibia there were 3 of us using these cases and they all came through with flying colours. They kept the dust out (and boy, did we have a lot of dust!) plus they rolled everywhere. They are easy to load and unload into vehicles because of the extra handles on the top, bottom and side. Plus, all these ThinkTank rollers have a metal plate riveted onto the top rear section with your serial number printed onto it. You can register your case with them and if it is ever lost and then found by a good samaritan it can be returned to you.
       

       
      A ThinkTank dominated Land Rover Freelander in Damaraland, Namibia.
       
      Many thanks to ThinkTank for not only designing this awesome piece of kit storage, but also for sponsoring evaluation copies for me to review and put to the test in the harshest conditions (which is why the product shots shown here look a bit scruffy - they were taken after the case had travelled more than 10,000kms with me by road and air - I'll get around to cleaning it someday soon).
       
      If you're in the USA you can buy your ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 directly from the company, plus you will also get a free gift from them when you do so using this link! 
       
      Note: the V2.0 has been replaced with the V3.0.
    • By Dallas
      As a photographer who organises wildlife safaris fairly often, the biggest elephant in the room I usually have to deal with is transporting my camera gear on airplanes between cities in South Africa. The issue is that if you are flying on a domestic airline within South Africa the rule for carry on luggage is that it can't exceed a certain dimension or weight. This happens to be either 7 or 8kgs, depending on which flavour airline you're on. Not a hell of a lot, is it? Put a couple of pro cameras with big lenses and a laptop into the mix and you'll be over the limit very quickly. The domestic airlines here also restrict you to one piece of checked luggage that cannot exceed 20kgs. On my last safari to Namibia I think my camera bag was pretty close to 20kgs on its own. I'll elaborate a bit more on what was in it later in this article.
       
      The volume side of the carry-on restrictions is not usually a problem, provided the bag you're using fits into the little aluminium scaffolding apparatus they use to determine maximum proportions at the check-in counter. Smaller planes don't always have overhead stowage so your bag has to fit under the seat in front of you which is not always a possibility, especially if it's a really small plane and also if you find yourself sitting next to an emergency exit.
       
      When you are at the check in counter at South African airports that are run by ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) you will also notice that there are signs behind the attendants clearly indicating that you are prohibited from checking in any valuable electronics, including cameras, computers, etc. So, it's a conundrum alright. How do you get yourself and your equipment from one city to the next without going through the stress of possibly being charged additional luggage fees for being overweight, or perhaps being forced to check your equipment in with your regular luggage and running the risk of it being stolen or damaged by the handlers? The answer is simple: you don't. The stress is just something you have to deal with. Fortunately there are a few strategies you can employ to minimise the issue.
       
      1) You can wear your equipment using one of those photographer vests with numerous and large pockets. These work quite well, but you will attract the attention of airport security as well as raise the anxiety levels of nervous flyers who may mistake you for a terrorist. You're also not going to have the most comfortable flight if you're thinking of wearing it in your seat.
       
      2) You can upgrade your ticket to Business Class which allows you more hand luggage, but this is not always available, especially not on regional routes. I haven't seen any business class on any flight to the Kruger Park.
       
      3) You can choose the right bag, one that is unobtrusive, versatile and in the worst case scenario where you have to check it in, will provide your gear with adequate protection. You may also need to be a little devious in this regard.
       
      The ThinkTank Airport roller series are such bags (or cases if you're a stickler for details). On the two safaris I have led this year I evaluated two different types of Airport rollers, namely the Airport International V2.0 and the Airport Security V2.0. This article is about the smaller one, the Airport International V2.0 which I used on our Big 5 Safari. I will write a separate article about the Airport Security, which is the one I used on our Namibian safari shortly after the Big 5 trip.
       
      So, at the beginning of August this year we did our annual Ultimate Big 5 Safari to the Sabi Sands which is a private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. I had to fly from Durban to Johannesburg and then once we had all our guests with us we flew from Johannesburg to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA). I decided to use the Airport International roller because the Security, while only slightly bigger than the International, does appear a lot bigger than it on the outside. When I first received the Security I thought there is no ways that thing is going to be allowed as a carry on - it looks more like a suitcase than anything else, so I got the International just to be safe.
       
      We normally fly on SAA to KMIA from Jo'burg and they use a 4 engine jet plane (can't remember the name, so I have a photo of it below this paragraph). This plane has adequate overhead stowage capacity, but sometimes they might change the plane depending on the number of passengers booked on the flight, so prudence is advisable when going to KMIA on SAA. For this trip I had to fly back to Durban on Kulula from Johannesburg and I hadn't flown with them before, so I had to be extra prudent in the light of not knowing how strict they were with hand luggage, or the type of plane they operated.
       
      I had managed to keep the weight of the Airport International V2.0 down to about 15kgs. Inside I had my Nikon D700 with MB-D10 grip, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS, a couple of teleconverters, a Nikon D3100, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus 75mm f/1.8, Samyang 7.5mm fisheye, Panasonic 14-45mm, 45-175mm and Olympus 9-18mm lenses, MacBook Pro 13", iPad Mini. A fair amount of kit for a week in the bush! I was also using the low dividers set for this case which is an absolute must in my opinion. This lets you put your laptop inside the case for extra protection. There is a sleeve on the outside of the roller you could put one into, but it's not advisable. When you open the lid of the roller the laptop will slide out of the sleeve. Trust me, I've done this - it's the making of a movie with a very sad ending.
       
      Getting to Jo'burg from Durban on SAA was easy. I have never been asked to weigh my carry-on luggage by SAA and this time was no different. I checked in my main suitcase and they didn't even ask about the ThinkTank roller which I had strategically positioned directly in front of the check in desk so that the attendant didn't really see it. I also draped my jacket over the top of it to camouflage its dimensions a little. No questions were asked. I went through security and on the other side I found the gate I needed to be at, making sure I was the first in line to board. This is important as it assures you of a space in the overhead bin - the last thing you want to have happen if you can't find any space in those overhead bins is for the flight attendants to have to place your bag for you, because the weight will be a major concern and then they will most likely gate check it if they haven't already compressed their vertebrae trying to hoist it somewhere themselves. Get on the plane first and secure a space in the overhead bin.
       
      Going back the other way from this year's Big 5 safari required me to make two flights; one from KMIA to Johannesburg, and then from Johannesburg back to Durban. In the past I have flown directly back to Durban from KMIA, but this is where I encountered the small plane problems that I knew I would not be able to take a big carry-on like the ThinkTank rollers onboard. On that flight there was no overhead bin and there was very little space under the seat, so I decided to fly back via Johannesburg this time. Longer and more expensive, but I'd rather pay more for the flights and get all my gear home safely than check it at the gate and possibly lose everything.
       
      One of our guests on this safari had brought his gear over from the US in the bigger ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 roller. While we were waiting to board the plane back to JHB from KMIA after the safari we were both approached by a ground personnel individual and asked to gate check the rollers as we walked out to the plane from the gate. She seemed a little unassertive, so we both refused, citing the contents as being too valuable to check. She relented easily enough and we boarded the aircraft with our rollers ahead of everyone else, found our seats, stowed them above us and sat down to enjoy the flight. I also had no problem getting the roller onboard the Kulula flight back to my home city, Durban. Job done. Thank you ThinkTank!
       
      If you're thinking about getting this case, I can highly recommend it. You'll fit a decent amount of kit into it and it has some pretty neat features, including a raincoat, lockable zippers, external pockets and also a system for attaching your monopod or tripod to the outside of it. There's also a combination lock you can use to secure your case to a pole or something immovable if you need to be away from it for a short while. I can see this coming in handy when shooting on location. The build quality is also top notch.
       
      If I can offer some criticism of the case it's that I found some of the dividers a little too stiff to configure nicely. I think if they could make them a bit more flexible it would be a whole lot more awesome as a solution for your camera travels. Also, the telescopic handle of this model seems very thin and flimsy compared to its bigger brother's handle. Speaking of handles, ThinkTank have placed one on three of the cases edges, which makes it very easy to hoist from any angle. That's clever design.
       
      The inside also zips out completely so you can wash it out thoroughly, especially if you're in the habit of dragging your roller into dusty locations, which we tend to do a lot on safari! My associate Pepe is now using this roller permanently and I have opted to use the larger one, the Airport Security V2.0 which I will discuss in my next article.
       
      If you are in the USA you can buy this bag directly from ThinkTank and get a free gift when you use this link.
       
      Note: unfortunately the images for this article were lost in a software upgrade. 
       
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