Monday 5 October 2015

Birding with the Nikon 200mm-500mm.

Sept 22-Oct 2 2015 Various Locations 16c T-shirt weather.

After picking up my new lens the first thing I did was head home. It was early evening and the garden and bird feeder were already in the shade. I shot handheld using ISO1600. I just had to see how the 200mm-500mm would perform. Right out of the box I shot this frame on the full frame D3s.
Out of the box shot. Nikon 200mm-500mm D3S. F5.6 ISO 1600 1/640 sec

Over the next few days I birded Brydon Lagoon, Blackie Spit and various Boundary Bay locations. I went on an all day walk and on another occasion I joined a birder group at Blackie Spit for their weekly bird count. 
Despite its weight and bulk I hardly noticed the camera and lens on my shoulder, probably because I am used to lugging around a 500mm F4, Wimberly head and Gitzo Tripod.

I shot the loons while on the walk. Unless noted all images are handheld. For expert technical descriptions and reviews you'll have to read the tech heads at DPI Review and other reviewers. My views are from the my experiences as a birdwatcher in training.

Blackie Spit Oct 1/15

Full Frame Handheld 1/1000 F/10
As you can see, a substantial crop of the previous photo but quite acceptable.
 The search for sharpness can sometimes overshadow image content so with the 200mm-500mm I quickly took this handheld shot of a Coyote hunting ducks and sandpipers at Blackie Spit.

Blackie Spit Coyote on the prowl. When the coyote saw our group I had to shoot quickly, the zoom was perfect for composing a pleasing shot. I later cropped off 50% of the image to create more impact.

The 200mm-500mm is the lens many Nikon users have been looking forward to and for many a pleasant surprise when it was announced. Nikon had kept it under wraps so there are presently few if any reviews out there to match it against the Tamron 150mm-600mm and the two Sigma 150mm-600mm zooms. I have used the Tamron (see earlier posts) and was very happy with it but it wasn't a Nikon! I haven't used the Sigma's but I yet to hear any negative reports.
The Sigma comes in two models, an "enthusiasts" model and a "pro" model, all three lens are very popular with bird photographers. Canon already has had the legendary 100mm-400mm for years so Nikon users, especially those on a budget are hoping the lens will be a winner.
The constant aperture of F5.6 is a big selling point and is only one stop slower than the more expensive and heavier 500mm F4. Today's camera with their high ISO capabilities means for most applications F5.6 is fine. Where the 200mm-500mm might not work as well is for birds in flight on cloudy winter days or early and late in the day where the brighter 500mm F4 will be more useful. I tried a few flight shots on a sunny day and had about a 60% success rate with small birds and 85% with larger birds like raptors and geese.

All images handheld unless otherwise noted.

I wanted a smaller lens for long walks, hiking and whenever a handhold zoom would be easier to use, or for trips on small plane, when on holiday or when crammed into a car full of birdwatchers and space is limited and using a tripod is not an option. 


Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Next morning I went to Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary where birds are reasonably easy to approach. I used the 200mm-500mm with a Nikon D7100.

Great Blue Heron
Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk 1/640 F/9 at 500mm handheld.
A good ID shot from about 500 feet.

Size comparison between a Malard and two Least Sandpiper.

Long-Billed Dowitcher (Tripod D7100)

Full Frame no crop. Nikon 200mm-500mm (D7100 Tripod)
This shot was taken from about 200 feet away with the 200mm-500mm and greatly cropped. Basically a dot in the frame but good enough for a decent ID shot but not for printing. It all depends on your final use. Personally I like the background and the ripples reflecting the blue sky in the water.

It was also the target species for the day and a 2015 Canada year bird #284. 

Not Sharp but considering the distance this Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (D7100 Tripod) was a nice find.
The above image is purely for ID purposes, the bird never came closer than 200 feet. 

Crane Test shots from a stationary position. Cropped in Lightroom.
Sandhill Crane
D7100 F/9 1/3200sec at 390mm
Same exposure cropped in Lightroom
None of these shots have been over sharpened.

Northern Harrier.

The "rare" European House Sparrow (Full frame)
Handheld cropped shot.
So there you go, you can take it from there. The fact that lenses vary in quality as they leave the factory and much too much time is spent "admiring" them rather than shooting them, the bottom line is that all we can hope for is that when we spend $1500 on a product it should deliver as advertised. 
I tried my 1.4 and 2x converters on the DX 7100 and D300s they are as soft as butter so I am not too sure where Nikon is coming from on that. Apparently I need to use newer camera like the D7200, D610 or D800. I will conduct some more test with the FX body before I pass judgement on the use of converters with the 200mm-500mm.
The images above are just a few examples but best try out the lens for yourself. Personally I sold my Tamron as I prefer the build of the Nikon. It feels more solid and I am willing to give up the extra 20% reach for the sharpness of the Nikon at 500mm. 

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

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