Everyone who has been following this blog, knows that bird and wildlife photography is my primary genre of photography and I have already mentioned earlier in one of my blog posts, that this genre is easily the most expensive genres to follow if you are serious about it.
For years, hobbyists and enthusiasts like me have tried finding ways of getting maximum reach, maximum quality at minimum cost. I have to admit that there was a time when I really envied all the Canon folks, who had multiple options for the budget wild life photographer, like the 100-400 F4.0-5.6, 400 5.6 and 300 F4.0 IS, while we Nikonians had to be content with a slow focusing and not so great 80-400 4.5-5.6 D and the non VR 300 F4.0 AF-S, which even though is optically excellent, is severely hampered due to lack of VR. Nikon always had the super duper 200-400 F4.0 but it was too expensive, very heavy and beyond the reach of mere mortals like.
So Canon easily was the first choice of almost all photographers who shot any bit of wild life and birds. But then Nikon released the D3 and D700 and since then Nikon has been on a roll. Not only is it making cameras that are now top of the heap but is now slowly and surely updating all its old lenses and making them relevant and competitive in the current age.
Nikon first released an update of the 80-400 4.5-5-6 by incorporating a better VR, a faster AF-S motor and excellent performance at 400mm where it mattered. Soon many people around the world were selling their 200-400 F4.0s and buying this lens. Then came the super compact 300 F4.0 E PF VR. This was again an innovative lens with almost no loss in performance compared to the previous version, in a very small, light form factor, thanks to the usage of a Fresnel element and with the much needed addition of VR.
Most would have thought that Nikon is done for the time being. But it was not to be. Ever since Tamron released that 150-600 F 5.0-6.3 lens some time last year, many people were attracted to this budget 600mm which is a pretty decent performer at 600mm especially stopped down to F8.0. It costs about half of what the Canon/Nikon 80/100-400 lenses cost with an equivalent performance at 400mm. I personally know many people who have opted for the Tamron over the Canon or the Nikon zoom.
Next Sigma released 2 more 150-600 lenses in 2 different flavors i.e.the Contemporary and the Sport. Ever since their release both of these lenses, especially the Sport, have got rave reviews for optical quality and build. They also sell a dock to fine tune AF speed, focus errors and image stabilization and have thus eliminated the age old problem of focus errors and focusing speed of third party lenses.
I am sure both Sigma and Tamron have been selling a truck load of these lenses and I guess Nikon took notice. Any Nikon user including me will always prefer an OEM zoom that ensures full compatibility with all functions, with all future and current Nikon bodies, at a competitive price. A lot of times third party lenses could not even be fine tuned using the in body AF fine tune feature on the higher end Nikons as they needed an AF fine tune value greater than +-20 which is beyond the maximum allowed values. This was a reason that I never explored a Sigma Art lens or any of the Sigma Sport series lenses even though they all seemed to be good. My only current third party lenses are a manual focus Rokinon 14 2.8 UWA and Tamron 90 2.8 and 180 3.5 macro lenses which any way are best focused manually.
The performance of the new Sigma and Tamron 150-600 lenses has proved that it is no longer tough to get a sharp zoom at the long end, which was always a problem with previous generation zooms, at a budget and one no longer needs to spend an obscene amount of money for a sharp 600 or a 500 or a 400 mm lens. Looks like the only reason to get that super expensive prime now is for a faster aperture to shoot at extremely bad light and to get subject isolation which may still be of importance to most professional shooters.
I have always envied the Canon 400 5.6 and have always wished for a Nikon 400 or a fabled 500 5.6 lens that would light enough to haul everywhere, had an effective VR and was easy on my wallet. So seeing that its no longer difficult to get an optically good 400 or a 600mm zoom, when Nikon announced the constant aperture 200-500 5.6, I was very excited. I also needed a good zoom above my 70-200 F4.0 and below my 600 F4.0. I also wanted something to replace my 300 F4.0 whose operational problems I have already mentioned in my review here.
Another reason was to get a long safari zoom that could be hand held for unpredictable animals and birds and when it gets too tight in a gypsy to carry my Nikon 600 F4.0. Also being a birder at heart, I wanted a long lens that I could sling across my shoulder with my F1 strap and still be able to carry my Pentax PF-ED65 spotting scope on a tripod on long treks and bird walks.
Then started the wait and when Anish George posted that it will be available in September third week I decided to get one one in the first shipment itself. I did not even bother with reviews and seeing Nikon’s iffy QC in the recent times, I knew I was taking a chance. Finally it came in stock and Anish delivered one of the first 5 he received to me. After tracking the shipment for over 2 days it was finally delivered today in the evening.
First impressions are very positive. The lens is not too light but still easily hand holdable. The VR is amazing and the promised 4.5 stops seems better than the version on my Nikon 70-200 F4.0 which so far was the best I have used. Close focus is no where as good as my 300 F4.0 AF-S but my primary use is going to be birds and mammals. Bad things is that the rubber gasket near the lens mount has already fallen off and I can not attach it back properly 😦 Not good Nikon. It was too dark to do any 500mm shots but some snapshots around the house seem promising. I will write a detailed review as well as first impressions soon.