I'm at the brink of making a rather important, large decision in terms of kit. After shooting the Nikon 400mm/2.8 in last year's National Fly Fishing Championship I've been forever smitten with big glass. I read on DPReview aftterwards a guy saying, "don't ever, ever rent big glass until you're ready to buy it." Big glass, for the un-initiated in photo-speak, for our purposes here equates to the line of "super telephoto" lenses Nikon puts out. They're big, beautiful and very, very expensive.
Having tucked away budget for such a purchase one rainy day, beautiful clouds are beginning to form overhead and I'm smelling that rain smell. That day is drawing near. Based on the type of shooting I do - if one could classify such a thing - I'm attempting to draw some logical conclusions. However, I'm also keenly interested in what the "illogical," passion-evoked voice of my heart has to say, and eager to distill all that noise and information down into some semblance of an actionable decision. In other words, wants and needs, left and right, heart and mind, must come to some sort of agreement.
I've narrowed it down to 4 primary contenders, with a long shot 5th contender if my Powerball ticket comes in big (just kidding-I don't gamble), presented here in order of favored consideration:
Yesterday before heading to the ballpark for the Rockies/Pirates game, I made a deal with my son. The deal was, we were heading to the camera store to do some research first. The goal was to get my hands on the 2 front runners and do a side-by-side comparison using my primary camera, the Nikon D300. If he'd be patient with me while I did my "research," I'd make sure he had a wonderful night at the ball park (read below's entry for how this promise was fulfilled).
The camera store in this case was downtown Denver's Wolf Camera, on California Street. Wolf Camera downtown has been an excellent partner over the years. Corey Anderson, the manager has been extremely helpful whenever I've needed gear, and Chris, one of my favorite salesmen, is always willing to help however he can when I come down.
Nice, young couple enjoying a pleasant Saturday afternoon stroll down California Street, downtown Denver.
I prefer to purchase my gear new when I can, and to purchase it from a brick-and-mortar store when I can. The reasons are the following:
So all that to say, I'll buy new if I can, and buy from a local store if we can come to some sort of agreement on price (everything is negotiable). I don't expect them to match the on-line guys penny for penny, but I do appreciate some willingness to work with me, especially because I still need to pay sales tax on top of that cost (you should also pay sales tax to the city whenever you buy on-line, but can get away with not doing so if you're shrewd. Buying from a store and paying the sales tax like you're supposed to is a good way to keep your nose clean with the tax people).
I tend to not by after-market brands. I tend to buy the brand version of something. For example, when I bought the 12-24mm DX (AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED) wide angle before heading out this spring, I looked at the (highly-regarded) Tokina 12-24 right along side the Nikon. I held them both in my hands, judged the build, feel, quality, and came up with a draw. There was about $450 price difference between the two. I stood at the counter in tremendous turmoil, I'm sure much to the amusement of the clerk (at Jax Outdoor Gear, Fort Collins), and finally walked out with the Tokina. "That's a lot of money you're saving," I kept telling myself on the drive home. It almost worked. Jax is on the north end of Fort Collins, and I live on the south end. It takes about 20-25 minutes to travel from one point to another on a Sunday afternoon. I made it to the Foothills Fashion Mall light, roughly 15 minutes into the 25 minute journey, and turned around. "I'm coming back," I told the clerk on the cell phone. "I just can't do it." Today, I never think about how much that lens cost. It's a superb lens and well-used. A permanent addition to the kit. I digress-and I'll never get to the point of this post if I keep it up.
Here's the point: I love the 200-400/f4/VR (AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED) and have pretty well made up my mind that's what I'll get.
There can be no mistaking this for a piece of serious-calibur equipment. Often times zooms are poo-poo'd by the purists for their softness-as in, not quite as sharp as primes. OK, I think there is some validity to this. But more so in the past, and I've seen what this lens can do in the capable hands of others, and have put that issue to rest once and for all: sharpness is more than adequate. My only hesitation with this lens is that it's F4. F4 is good-not as good as 2.8, but not variable ap. F4 is the standard amongst super tele's with the exception of the blazing fast, rediculously expensive 400/2.8. None the less, I wish the 200-400 were f2.8. It's that separation between a sharply isolated, perfectly focused subject and the beautiful, soft, blurry background bokeh of quality glass that I crave. Would f4 get me there? Could I shoot it wide-open? Would contrast hold up? Edge-to-edge sharpness? CA? Color frigning? Could I hold it steady at 400 (EFL 600mm). Only one way to find out and that's to shoot it.
I took both lenses out of the store (many thanks, Chris-not many would let a guy take $10,000 worth of brand new exotic lenses out onto the streets of Denver leaving only my 70-200VR and my 85/1.4 as collateral behind the counter) onto the sidewalk and started shooting. Not having my tripod, doing any kind of serious application comparison wasn't feasible. Instead, for this outing I wanted to learn what I was up against in hand-holding these guys. After all, most of the time I use a tripod/monopod. The rest of the time, I want to be able to get it out quickly and shoot hand held.
Out on the sidewalk in front of the store in Denver, on California Street, I dropped to one knee, propped my left elbow on the up-knee, cradled the foot of the lens in my left hand, and started shooting with the right.
Here are some first impressions of the 200-400VR:
First Impressions of the AF-S VR NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G IF-ED (aka: 300mm/f2.8)
100% crop of Nice, Young Couple. Notice some minor CA on her shoulder.
Final analysis: I walked away from the store yesterday favoring the 300 for its handling ease, sharpness, fast focusing and overall speed. Truely a magnificent, world class chunk of glass, truly worth every penny of its $4K +price tag. No more superlatives. Just gorgeous. But in the back of my mind, I was reserving final decisions until I saw the full resolution results on the computer monitor. Which was this morning. Looking at the two images side by side, I dare not try to tell them apart at 300/f4. Now add to that the flexibility of shooting at 200 when you need to, and of course the extra reach of 400mm and the decision becomes quite a bit easier.
In many ways it's unfair to compare these two lenses. They have different intents. But given their price point, reach and size, it's something I needed to do regardless.
I saw 3 differences in the above images. (disclaimer: the same focal point was used, the same ISO, the same exposure, and both were shot within 30-60 seconds of each other. Images are RAW converted in CNX2, exported as 16-bit TIF's, then JPEG'd in Photoshop CS3. No sharpening, leveling or any other post is applied to these images either in CNX2 or Photoshop CS3).
While I can't deny the purist in me wants to shoot just primes and boast to others about it in an obnoxiously snobby, elitist and condescending way, I've decided on the 200-400VR/f4 with no doubt or regret in doing so. Besides the fact you'd need a llama or a sherpa to carry all your primes on any kind of outdoor adventure (what price vanity?), the zoom is unquestionably more convenient-especially for wildlife, especially when your position is confined due to circumstances where the slightest movement would scare the animal and blow a shot.
The other lenses all have their pluses and minuses (there's not a bad lens in that bunch), and some day, PowerBall willing, I may have the privilidge of adding (one of) them to the kit as well. But for now, lens lust and pragmatism pat themselves on the back in their ability to work across the aisle as they go walking off into the sunset with a rather self-congratulatory gate to the camera shop, happy to deliver the news to the newest member of the family.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
Keywords: National Fly Fishing Championship, Nikon 200-400mm/f4, Nikon 300mm/f2.8, Nikon D300, Nikon Super Telephoto lenses, digital camera buying decisions, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, which lens to buy
No comments posted.
Recent PostsHonesty 4042n: Little Snake River Valley Portra Color Negative (C41) Scanning Workflow Yesterday in Grover, Colorado. The "NEW" Kodak Portra. Again. KATA E-702 Element Cover Mini-Review Motion & "Dragging" the Shutter The Ability to Improvise Haiti. Wow. Haitian "Momma's" Portrait Project