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Nikkor VR 80-400 vs 70-300 VR for African Safari

Karthik Subramanian , Nov 09, 2007; 08:02 a.m.

Hello all,

I will be going on a 2 month tour early next year around the world (climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, African Safari, India and Europe).

While it will be mostly landscape photography, I want to make sure I have a good lens for the safari. Also, since I will climb Mt. Kili before the safari, I cannot carry very heavy equipment (hence no very heavy lenses).

I have a D80 and the 18-135 kit lens that came with it. I am trying to choose btw the 70-300 and the 80-400 (both have VRs). While the latter has a longer zoom, I have read that the AF is not fast on the lens and might not be appropriate for safari photographs. I have also read that the 70-300 is not sharp closer to 300mm, so I am not very sure about its reach for safari photographs. I am mostly interested in the mammals, but if I get a few bird shots, it will be a plus.

Also, my budget will not allow me to buy the 80-400, so I may have to rent it and I am not sure if any store will rent it out for 2.5 months (most I have come across rent it out for upto 4 weeks).

Any advice regarding my situation will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

KS

Responses


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Mac Mcanirlin , Nov 09, 2007; 08:07 a.m.

It your budget will not allow you to buy the 80-400, it sounds like you know the choice you need to make. If you rent it for 2.5 months I am sure that might also be cost prohibitive.

Shun Cheung , Nov 09, 2007; 08:12 a.m.

Renting a lens for 1 to 2 months is going to be fairly expensive too.

Another possibility is to buy one used and then sell it afterwards. If you are good at bargaining, it is possible to "rent" an item this way practically for free, but of course you have to go through the hassle of buying and selling. Anyway, this is merely more food for thought.

Juan Parménides , Nov 09, 2007; 08:14 a.m.

I would choose the 80-400 VR for a Safari. The extra 100mm will give you a lot of good chances to shoot. In reality, the 80-400 VR is sharper than 70-300 VR @ 300mm. You can limit the focus to improve AF speed. If you do not have the budget, then go for the 70-300 VR, but you must close to f8 or f11 @ 300mm to obtain good pictures. The 70-300 VR AF is fast with good light.

Regards

Carl Becker , Nov 09, 2007; 08:52 a.m.

After going to Yellowstone National Park back in June I wish I had a 500mm f4 prime instead of my 400mm f5.6 prime. IMHO length, speed and sharpness wide open are critical. I don't think a 500mm f4 prime will fit your travel needs but a used Sigma 170-500mm may be a better choice than your current prospects. Otherwise I would suggest finding a used $500 400mm f5.6 prime for size, weight and speed.

Tim Knight , Nov 09, 2007; 09:25 a.m.

Seems the major problem is do you want to carry a heavy zoom lens your entire trip? Try and see if you can rent where you will be going for your Safari. A long time ago it was asked: Why the people that you pay for the Safari don't carry some of these large zooms for photographers to rent? I live in South Dakota and the Pheasant hunting lodges have extra shotguns for their clients.

Joseph Smith , Nov 09, 2007; 10:49 a.m.

Some safari operators do rent lenses. I would ask yours if they rent them. As an alternative to renting an 80-400mm VR, consider renting the 200-400mm VR. It will cost more but it might be worth it. It allows for a constant f 4.0 aperture across all focal lenghts and focuses closer at 6.2 feet than the 80-400mm at 7.5 feet. It also accepts the Nikon AF teleconverters. The 80-400mm does not. Of course it is longer and weighs more. Joe Smith

Robert Taylor , Nov 09, 2007; 02:46 p.m.

I had a similar question a couple of years ago just before I was heading off to South Africa, except it was between the 70-200mm with a 1.4 teleconverter versus the 80-400.

I finally opted for the 80-400 because I liked having a single lens with a range from 80-400. On safari, there are as many opportunities to shoot at the shorter range as at the long end. So, I was very pleased with this lens. I understood before buying this lens, that it was slow focusing... With a D200 this did not turn out to be as much of a problem as I thought it might. However, the lens can be a challenge to focus at dusk or in other low light situations.

Also, it works with a kenko 1.4 TC although the resulting images at the long end can be a little soft. Bottom line, I like the lens and plan to take it back to South Africa this winter.

Robert

Eric Arnold , Nov 09, 2007; 06:20 p.m.

i'd think the 80-400 could be a lot to lift on a kilimanjaro climb, while the 70-300 would be a little short at times during the safari, but certainly much lighter and easier to stuff into a backpack. dont think you can use it with a TC though.

that said, the 80-400 would probably be better overall. i'd also recommend a wide-angle lens, like the tokina 12-24 or sigma 10-20.

Michael Seto , Nov 09, 2007; 09:32 p.m.

Depending on which company you use to set up your Kili climb (I suggest taking the eight day trip vs the six day due to acclimitization issues) you may be able to just leave the lens in the hotel you'll return to when you come off the mountain; or have your local travel agent lock it in their desk drawer.

Usually, you'll pare down your climbing gear for Kili and leave other travel stuff in your hotel (since you usually start and return to the same hotel). As well, a climb always has a guide, cook, and a few porters who lug your pack - climber/trekkers will typically just carry, water, snack, camera and wind/rain shell.

To make a long story short - I would not let the weight of carrying the lens on Kili be a big factor in your decision.


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