Nikon 200-500 F5.6 E ED VR Initial impressions and a short field review.

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I have already mentioned the reasons for  acquiring the 200-500 5.6 E ED VR lens here and this is a short initial impressions cum field review after using it once on the field.

Update: I have now taken and used this lens on a field trip and my field trip report can be found here and my long term review can be found here

Introduction

As I have mentioned earlier, the 200-500 F5.6 E is a surprising product from Nikon. But I guess competition from third party lens makers forced it to release this lens which puts it very close in performance and maybe even better in some respects to the pricey 200-400 f4.0 VR, the 80-400 F4.5-5.6 VR, and if I may dare to say, the mighty 500 F4.0 VR.

Build and Ergonomics

The 200-500 F5.6 E lens does not get the Nano coat or the gold ring but has the super integrated coat and weighs in at a hefty 2.3 kgs. There is no built in hood, rather a large plastic one called HB-71, that can be reversed and mounted on the lens for storage. There are the usual switches for M/A -M, VR ON – OFF, Full – Infinity to 6m focus limit and VR Sport – Normal. The zoom ring is big and is easy to use. It is extremely smooth, well damped and does not creep at all. If it does creep after  some extensive usage, there is a lock at 200mm to prevent unwanted extension of the zoom.

A special mention for the tripod collar. I think this will be the first Nikon oem collar that I will not be replacing. It’s very well built, has a long mounting base to connect to QR plates and is extremely smooth to operate. It is also a relatively low profile collar that IMHO does not need a replacement. But I will need more extensive testing and field usage to confirm this.

It is a wide lens and at 2.3 kgs it may not be something that you may be able to carry around your neck or in your hand for a considerable amount of time without getting tired. I used it on a Focus F1 strap along with my 8X43 binoculars for a 3 hour trek and I did not even notice it. A monopod may be another good way of carrying this lens and being relatively mobile at the same time.

The lens seems quite well built, but all the lenses of the batch that were delivered to my dealer had the rubber gasket near the lens mount peeled off. My dealer is in talks with Nikon India and will provide me with a solution soon.

So what does the ‘E’ designation imply on the lens. It should not be confused with the budget E series lenses that Nikon introduced some years ago, rather it stands for an Electronic diaphragm/aperture control. You will not see that little tab that opens and closes the aperture like you see on a G lens or an older lens, as now the aperture is controlled electronically. The Canon EOS mount has had this feature for eons now and now that Nikon also has this, it eliminates the biggest failure point of Nikon lenses i.e the aperture tab. Now with complete electronic aperture control, shooting at faster FPS is also less problematic and you will also have reduced instances of a few shots in a burst that have incorrect exposure just because the aperture tab opened or closed the aperture incorrectly.

Features, Optical Performance and Usage in the field

I took my Nikon 200-500 F5.6 E mounted on my D7200 for a short hike to Karnala near Panvel on the Mumbai Goa highway. I had the lens screwed via the tripod mount to my F1 strap and did a 3 hour hike without breaking into a sweat and did some low light testing of the lens in the forest. First and foremost, the focusing is extremely silent. Initially when I tried using the lens, I thought that the lens focusing is not working. But on closer examination I found that it is working fine and focusing silently. It is easily the most silent lens that I have used.

Even the VR works extremely silently. On my 600 F4.0 there is a loud whirring and clicking when VR is active. The 4.5 stop VR that has been advertised seemed to work very well. Initial impressions are that it works better than the best VR that I have used so far on my Nikon 70-200 F4.0. I have consistently been able to take sharp shots at 1/100 at 500mm. I did not get get a chance to test the Sport VR mode.

I did a quick comparison to my 300 f4.0 to see if there was any significant focus breathing. The 300 F4.0 focuses much closer than the 200-500 F5.6 so I compared at the minimum focusing distance of the 200-500 5.6 and found that image sizes were nearly identical.

So this brings up the topic of close focusing. I think its not that great. More than once I had to move back to get my shot in focus. When I looked up the specs, it is 7.2 feet so I do  not consider this lens as a close up lens at all even at 500mm.

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So how does this lens perform optically. In a single word, great. I bought this lens to use at 500 5.6 and I am extremely satisfied with its performance at 500 5.6. I really do not need to stop down this lens for better sharpness because it’s that good at 5.6.

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The rounded 9 blade aperture gives a very pleasing bokeh and at 500mm I am able to obliterate a lot of backgrounds when shooting wide open.

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So who is this lens for

I think Nikon has hit one out of that park with this lens. If you already have 70-200 lens, then this is a perfect next lens up to 500mm, unless you need the speed and subject isolation of the 500 F4.0. I still see my 600 F4.0 very relevant to what I shoot. When I am doing serious birding without long hikes, I still see the 600 F4.0 as a very good lens to have for all birds that you could encounter. I think the 200-500 F5.6 is the perfect safari lens for shooting large mammals and combined with a 70-200 will cover almost every situation that you could encounter on a safari except maybe extremely bad light.

So where does this leave the pricey but still very good  80-400 F4.5-5.6 VR. If you can have just one lens, then the 80-400 is perfect lens to have to do any kind of birding and safaris. Yes, it will do its job most of the time but may not be the best tool for that job.

Final thoughts

This lens has fulfilled my dream of a light 500 5.6 lens that has VR and does not cost a bomb. My plan is to use it on a safari with large groups or birding and trekking trips when it is not practical to carry my 600 F4.0 on a Gitzo 5541LS tripod and Jobu pro gimbal head.

The biggest advantage of this lens over say a Tamron 150-600 or even a Sigma C or S 150-600 is that it’s very good even wide open. I have seen extremely good shots with both these third party alternatives but shooting all day at 5.6 vs stopping down to gain optimum sharpness is a significant advantage with the Nikon. Also I do not need to worry about future and present compatibility which is always a concern with third party glass.

I will update my blog with more pictures and trip reports as I know this is going to be my most used lens in the days to come 🙂

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51 thoughts on “Nikon 200-500 F5.6 E ED VR Initial impressions and a short field review.

    1. Thank for taking the time to read and comment. Yes I do have a 1.4 TC but I seriously do not plan on using it with this lens as I prefer the 1.3X crop mode of my D7200 to get almost 1000mm and around 14 MPs on the subject. But yes I will surely test it with a 1.4 TC.

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      1. Nice observations on the lens.
        In the D7200, does the viewfinder display remain the same at 1.3x crop mode or does the display magnify appropriately?

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      2. hi mayur ji needed help on this lens

        Lens :nikon 200-500VR / sigma 150-600 Contemporary

        Purpose: Wildlife safaris mainly….No bird shooting
        Body used: nikon d7000
        pls help im confused sir

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      3. sir please help me with this

        Lens: Nikon 200-500VR / Sigma 150-600 contemporary
        body used: nikon d7000

        Purpose: Wildlife shooting only ( Wildanimals only)…… No birdies shooting

        kindly help.

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      4. Between the Sigma contemporary and the new Nikon, I prefer the new Nikon. The Sigma sport though is a different beast altogether. But since you plan to do safaris primarily you must have some kind of a 70/80-200 lens with you, as this has been my most used focal length with tigers on Indian jungles.

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  1. Sir which is best option 300 mm f4 with 1.4xTC or this 200-500mm f5.6 for birding ? Right now I use third party 150-500mm f5-6.3…
    Thanks

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    1. Are you talking about the older non VR 300 F4 + 1.4 TC, If yes then I will any day suggest the new 200-500 5.6 VR, as between a sharp 430mm 5.6 vs sharp 500 5.6 with a 4.5 stop VR, the newer lens is a no brainer atleast for me. The new 300 F4 VR + 1.4 TC will be a lighter option and may be useful on long treks or hikes as it is may be difficult to carry a 2.3 KG 200-500 5.6 all day.

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  2. I have taken most of the flying shots of birds and butterflies with the old 300mm f4 + 1.4 TC..now have u seen any significant difference in AF between 200-500 and the above said combination? Say ,at 420 mm 5.6 which lens will have faster AF?
    Thank you for the nice review.

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  3. Mayur, I am in a dilemma.. I have the tamron 150-600mm and am pretty satisfied with the iq, weight and build. I did get some nice shots, particularly at 600mm at the widest aperture.
    Now, i plan to move to nikon 200-500mm for two reasons. I am getting a good resale value for tamron which Surely would depreciate in months to come. Nikon would anyway have the forward and backward compatibility. I shoot with d610 (ff) and so, i have the full advantage of 5.6 aperture.
    My questions for you – is 5.6 aperture at 500mm on nikon sharp and more light gathering than 6.3 at 600mm on Tamron?
    Am i not losing on that extra 100mm and is the nikon worth that loss?

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    1. if I were you and had a good copy of a Tamron 150-600, I would have kept it. Compatibility is always a question with third party glass, but since you have already taken that step and have no problems with your current camera, I don’t see why you should lose money for a new lens where you will lose 50mm at the wide end and 100mm at the long end especially since you shoot FF, where every mm at the long end counts.
      If you did not have the Tamron, the Nikon was a no brainer and to answer your question, yes the Nikon 200-500 5.6 is perfectly sharp wide open and I don’t really need to stop down for additional sharpness. Also, I guess at 500mm even the Tamron must be around 5.6 or so aperture.

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  4. I am currently using 300f4 with 1.4x tele and happy indeed.However this combo offers optimum sharpness at f7.1 or more IMHO.Also it lacks VR which i miss most while venturing north eastern himalayan forests.But what i still like most of this combo is the focussing speed.So if i wish to upgrade,which one will be best?
    1)replace this combo with new 200-500 vr
    2)replace the 300f4 by newer 300f4 VR
    3)replace 300f4 by 300f2.8 VRI(cant afford VRII)

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    1. I too have a 300 F4.0 AF-S and extensively use it with a 1.4 TC. IMHO the VR on the new 200-500 F5.6 is a game change at least for me and even though the 300 F4.0 bare or a with a TC is a fabulous lens, I have lost a lot shots due to lack of VR. This shot for e.g., was taken at 1/60 ISO 1600 with the new lens which IMHO is impossible to take with the 300 F4.0 plus 1.4 TC https://flic.kr/p/youZpP

      If you absolutely need the speed of the 300 lens then I will recommend that you get the 300 2.8 VR but I don’t see much value in upgrading to the new 300 f4.0 VR unless you need to go really small.

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    1. I love the D7200 so much that I am not upgrading it to the D500, a camera that I have been waiting for all these years. The sensor on the D7200 is till better than the D500 but if FPS and better AF is important (Not that the D7200 is lacking in AF) and if I did not have the D7200, the D500 is a no brainer especially as I prefer the layout of the pro series to the enthusiast series.

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  5. I use Sigma 150-500mm f6.3 lens. I plan to upgrade. I am using the lens for bird photography. I am confused between the two choices, viz. the new 300 mmf4 VR with 1.4 TC (AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III) or 200-500mm f 5.6. Which do you suggest for bird photography?

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    1. The Sigma 150-500 had a high sample variation and was at its weakest at 500. The new 300 f4.0 PF E VR is a very good compact lens that takes the TC very well. But even then you will only be at 430 mm F 5.6. The new 200-500 5.6 E is very sharp at 500 5.6 and has a very effective VR. So unless the F4.0 aperture is important to you for low light or if light weight is important and you use the 300mm FL regularly, I would go for the new zoom, but the 2.3 Kg weight can easily tire you if you do a lot of hand held photography.

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  6. Hi Mayur,I currently have the newer version Nikon 80-400 lens which has excellent I.Q. And is easy to carry on safari but does not have the reach for more distant subjects,I have tried a 1.4111 converter
    But have found that the quality of picture is variable when fully open.Will the new 200-500 lens and 1.4 converter give me a better all round capability and quality when fully open.I use a Nikon d750 camera.
    Gavin

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    1. Purely from an IQ point of view, the D750 but reach is difficult to ignore and a crop camera like D7200 has many more pixels to crop which IMHO is invaluable for birding. I use a D800E for most of images and use a D7200 as a 1.5 TC with the same lens 🙂

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      1. Hello,
        Wonderful Review, very informative and helpful. Thanks

        I have D810 and Nikkor 200-500 should i buy TC 1.4 III(35K)/ TC 1.4 II(25k) or second hand D7200(50k) for more reach?

        Regards
        Sumit

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Mayur….brilliant review….can you tell me where can I buy Nikon 200-500…please ? Is it already available in India?
    I am an all Nikon person …. will be slightly less ready to buy a third party telephoto.

    thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Mayur, Can you please suggest as to where should I purchase this lens from? I am confused between purchasing it from Amazon & local shops. Location : MUMBAI

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  9. Dear Mayur, how do you find the 200-500 5.6 background blur in comparison to the egsotic telephoto lenses like 600 f4 or 400 2.8 ? I looked at many sample photos. Small subjects like birds are really good and smoothly isolated. That is already expected.
    I am confused about the bigger subjects though , how would you rate the bokeh ? Is it pleasant enough ? is it comaparable to lenses like 600 f4 ? Dont you think 5.6 is only good when here is enough light? Because most of the action happens in lowlight isnt it?

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      1. I never owned 300mm f4. So how would you rate the background blur, when you shoot bigger subjects like mammals.
        Let’s say 400 2.8 gets 10 out of 10 . What would you give to the 500 5.6 ?

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  10. Hi, can you compare the Nikkor 200-500 and the Sigma 150-600 s image qualities and tell which can be a better lens for birding? I use a d7200 and I want to buy any one of these so just wondering. I don’t plan on using a TC. I’m really confused as the Sigma, while being heavy, provides an extra reach of 100 mm, while the Nikkor has a fixed aperture, is lighter and portable but has a lesser reach. Also, the price of Sigma 150-600 s just decreased, so it seems a bit more lucrative. Thanks!

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    1. I haven’t used the Sigma S so cant give you a clear answer. The advantages of the Sigma should be the dock, 600mm FL and weather sealing. Cons would be weight, future compatibility and not so good VR. You have to weigh the pros and cons and decide.

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      1. Also, the Sigma just got cheaper! Their site says that it’s for $1799 now, so the dilemma increases. Just one thing–isn’t having a dock and updating firmware time-to-time a disadvantage? I was told that if in the same range, if the DSLR’s parent company makes a lens, then the third-party/other brand option shouldn’t be considered except if there’s an exceptional amount of difference in the IQ.

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