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Nikon 80-400mm vs. Sigma 50-500mm

Mihut Ionescu , Jan 21, 2005; 05:18 a.m.

I'm considering buying a lens for wildlife photography. I already have the Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 AF-D, but its reach is limited. I was wondering if anyone had experience using the Nikon 80-400mm and the Sigma 50-500mm and have some comparative feedback. I have a Nikon D70.

I don't like much the Nikon lens because of its lack of fast AF. I played with it in a store and it's slow. I also tried the Sigma 50-500mm in the store and it's much faster, however it's bigger and heavier.

Honestly, I don't really see the advantage of having VR on a lens used for wildlife photography, I see fast AF much more important, that's why I'm inclining towards the Sigma. If you need to freeze subjects in motion, you'll need a fast shutter speed anyways which will probably be enough to compensate for any camera shake that the VR is trying to help with. Even if you shoots stationary birds/animals, they usually move a bit anyways, so you still need a faster shutter speed.

I agree that I'm a beginner at wildlife photography, is my judgement completely off?



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Mark Chappell , Jan 21, 2005; 10:55 a.m.

I do a lot of wildlife photography and I do think your judgement is off (but maybe not completely). Believe me, a big telephoto lens, even on a tripod at 'normal' daylight shutter speeds, benefits a lot from stabilization. It's true that the 80-400 VR system isn't happy on a tripod, but other stabilization systems are, and the difference in sharpness is pronounced -- especially if it's at all windy, or you're trying to track a moving subject, or your tripod isn't on the firmest footing. Maybe if you get up in the 1/2000 second exposure range it's less important, but that short an exposure is not routine (especially with the two relatively slow lenses you are considering). Sometimes a fast AF is crucial (like for flying birds or running animals), but usually much less so.

If you are interested in photographing birds and animals, my recommendation is to not bother with any zoom lens but go directly to the longest telephoto prime you can afford.

Joel Blacher , Jan 21, 2005; 12:02 p.m.

I just traded for a 50-500HSM. I will have the first slides back soon and will post my results (a narrative anyway...I don't do digital). I posted a "review" of the handling and build if you're interested:


Craig Bridge , Jan 21, 2005; 04:37 p.m.

At 400mm (600mm equivalent FOV crop), these are both around f/5.6 so your shutter speed argument is moot!

You might try adding a Tamron 1.4x SPAF TC to your 80-200 AFD to get an effective 420mm FOV at f/4 (one of the setups I use hand-held).

A 600mm equivalent lens definitely requires long lens techniques! The tripod collar on the 80-400VR is a joke, but Kirk sells a replacement that does work!

There are many situations where I either turn off AF or use dynamic AF to follow a subject on the 80-400 VR (one of the setups I also use hand-held or on a tripod when I want something light to carry).

No zoom will come close to a fast prime on a tripod in the 400, 500, or 600mm range.

Vivek . , Jan 21, 2005; 06:51 p.m.

Here is another real possibility:

The new Nikon advert claims that they expect the 200mm f/2 will become popular in combination with the carop mode of D2X. 400mm f/2. Add a 2X converter and you are at 800mm f/4 !!!

If Nikon offers increases in crop modes further in their future cameras, my 105mm f/2 DC nikkor will become a super fast-super tele lens. Light weight as well!

Robert McLaughlin , Jan 21, 2005; 09:32 p.m.

I debated the 50-500 and ther 80-400 as well. I got the 80-400 because of the VR. I traded it because the VR was slow and got the 70-200VR. I wish the Sigma had VR!

Arnab Pratim Das , Jan 21, 2005; 11:16 p.m.

Unlikely you'd want to use the 50-500 at 50mm as an all-around zoom. Have you looked into the Sigma 170-500 zoom? Lighter, cheaper, more compact and just as sharp.

Joel Blacher , Jan 21, 2005; 11:38 p.m.

Arnab, are you sure about that? I did a bit of research before picking up the 50-500 and the general concensus on several sites(among the experienced folk...especially birders) was that the optical performance of the 170-500 was not as good especially at the long end and opened up (where images became slightly soft and lost significant contrast compared to the 50-500). Can you share personal experience with the two (I'm still deciding if I'll keep it)? I have yet to see my slides and I have never used the 170-500, so I have no idea personally. I am anxious to see how the 50-500 compares to my 80-200mmf2.8, 300mm f4&2.8 and 400mm/5.6 Nikkors. I'm especially interested in comparing it to the Nikkor 300mm's + tc14b. If it is in the ballpark I will be quite happy cuz those are amazing combos. If not...back to the trading block for another prime perhaps? : ) Anyway, I'm interested in what you have learned. Thanks for your input, -Joel

Arnab Pratim Das , Jan 21, 2005; 11:58 p.m.

Joel you caught me with my foot in the mouth. I have seen results from both and that's how it appeared to me. But I never had opportunity to compare them side by side (head hung in shame...).

My advanced amateur friend Harald Derkx used to use the 170-500 extensively, and I've seen his Rajasthan pictures blown up to 20x30 on 200 ISO negative film and they were admirably sharp. But I don't know what focal lengths they were shot on. I may not be quite right in my last post. photographyreview.com may be a more reliable place to get a common consensus.

Joel Blacher , Jan 22, 2005; 12:11 a.m.

No need for head-hanging Arnab : ) I am always interested in the long end, wide open performance of lenses like this because that is usually how I end up using them. I realize that many lenses are just fine in the sweet spot, but I've got this 500mm 6.3 now...and I kind of hope that it'll do a good job opened up because I don't have any speed to spare. I was looking at many sites including ph.rev.com as you mentioned. I also read a lot on naturescapes, photomigrations, naturephotographers.com, apug.org, and Nikonians. It was from all of these (and several others) that I based my decision to give it a shot. The test will be when the slides come back, and then I'll be happy to post my thoughts on how this beast performs (along with the shortcomings of my long lens technique : )

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