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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Review

John Riley reviews the new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR telephoto zoom lens.


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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification



The AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 E ED lens is an FX format powerful telephoto zoom, ideally aimed at sports and wildlife photographers. It has a constant but modest f/5.6 maximum aperture, which enables a fairly compact design for its focal length. It is a complex lens of 19 elements in 12 groups, with three ED elements.


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Handling and Features

Nikon 200 500mm Close Up Of Focus Scale

This is an FX format (full frame) lens. When mounted on a DX format (crop sensor) camera, the 35mm-equivalent focal length is 300-750mm. It was tested on a full frame Nikon D750.

The lens is heavy at 2300g, including the tripod collar, but fairly compact and it is possible to hand hold with ease for a considerable period if necessary. The up to 4.5 stop advantage of the built in VR system clinches the ability to use this lens without a tripod, which is a real advantage. The VR system has a normal and a sport mode, the latter being more suitable for unpredictably moving subjects such as athletes. In both cases panning is supported and VR is only applied to vertical movement in this instance.

Two focusing settings are provided. The M/A setting is for AF operation, with manual adjustment available at any time. The M setting is for manual focus. The focusing range can also be adjusted in AF, either focusing over the whole range or from 6m to infinity if subjects will be further away. This will increase the speed of AF at longer distances. In any event, the AF operates silently and swiftly and rarely refuses to lock on to a subject.


Nikon 200 500mm On D750

A lock button is provided so that the lens may be safely carried without extending under its own weight. This operates at the 200mm setting only. The tripod collar can be rotated, and also removed completely if desired. It provides an excellent grip to carry the lens/camera combination and a sturdy and stable connection to a tripod.

Zoom and focus rings are rubberized and afford an excellent grip. They both operate smoothly and easily, which is very important when wielding such a heavy lens. The closest focus is 2.2m (7.22 feet) from the sensor plane, which is reasonable with this type of lens. Focusing is internal, so the lens does not rotate or change dimensions when focusing. Zooming out to 500mm does extend the lens, but balance remains good.

A very substantial bayonet fit lens hood is provided and is totally effective in protecting against any possible trace of flare.

Handling the lens is a pleasure. It is smooth, responsive and impressively well built. The constant aperture is not the widest, but very usable in the field. Keeping to a modest f/5.6 has resulted in a portable lens that can be used hand-held, whereas a wider maximum aperture would have meant a very unwieldy optic.


Nikon 200 500mm Side View With Lens Hood
 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Performance

All the pleasure of using the lens would be for nought if the performance were not up to scratch, so it is good to report that the lens delivers crisp, saturated images free from flare. Performance does dip as we zoom in, but the maximum aperture remains usable throughout the range.

At all focal lengths the optimum apertures are f/8 to f/16, where image quality is very good across the frame and approaches excellent. There is fall off at the widest aperture, but performance is still very good. f/32 is by far the weakest aperture, being fair to good but limited by diffraction effects. It is still useful to have the option to gaining some depth of field, but it is at a price optically.

MTFat200mm

MTF @ 200mm
 
MTFat300mm

MTF @ 300mm
 
MTFat500mm

MTF @ 500mm
 

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. 

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D750 using Imatest.

 

What is particularly impressive is the evenness of the performance across the frame. The amount of CA and distortion are also impressively low. There is a small amount of pincushion distortion, 0.439% at 200mm, 0.559% at 300mm, 0.657% at 400mm and 0.574% at 500mm. This should not present any problem with most subjects.

CAat200mm

CA @ 200mm
 
CAat300mm

CA @ 300mm
 
CAat500mm

CA @ 500mm
 

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimise the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D750 using Imatest.

 

Subjectively, images from the lens were excellent throughout the range. Maximum aperture was used quite a bit as it is usually desirable to stop movement in wild animals and other action shots. Stopping down a notch or two might result in sharper images but that is a choice to be made.

When using a lens this long making sure backgrounds can be kept out of focus is not too difficult. The bokeh is very smooth and very nice indeed. This is helped by the 9 blade diaphragm, which gives attractive round highlights.


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Sample Photos

Value For Money

The Nikon 200-500mm compares very favourably, costing around £1179, compared to the £1799 price tag for the Nikon 80-400mm F4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S Nikkor lens. It also compares favourably with the lenses available for other marques, Canon's 100-400mm costing £1849 and Pentax's 150-450mm costing £1599.

Sigma offers a 50-500mm (£799), 150-600mm Sport (£1399) and it is worth noting that the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary can be found at £799. Tamron has the 150-600mm at £799.

Third party lenses give a wide degree of choice, but for those wanting a marque lens the Nikon 200-500mm does offer good value for money. For more options have a look at to Top 10 Best Nikon Lenses of 2015.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Verdict

We have a very compelling package here, a lens that is ideally geared up for the wildlife and sports photographer, in a fairly compact portable form that enables hand holding for extended periods of time. I can see this suiting a lot of Nikon photographers. The focal length range is ideal, as there is arguably no need for the lens to have a wider zoom range. A lens of this size would, for example, make a very unwieldy 50mm or even 100mm lens, so starting at 200mm seems very sensible.

The results are very good, the lens feels right and its use can be extended to flower portraits, human portraits and even fashion shots. A versatile quality optic for Nikon users.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Pros

Quality of manufacture
Hand-holdable
Excellent even results
Excellent ergonomic design
Constant f/5.6 aperture

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Cons

Weight

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  



The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 VR is an excellent choice for sports and wildlife photographers.

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Specifications

ManufacturerNikon
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon AF
Lens
Focal Length200mm - 500mm
Angle of View5 - 12.2
Max Aperturef/5.6
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size95mm
StabilisedYes
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Focusing
Min Focus220cm
Construction
Blades9
Elements19
Groups12
Box Contents
Box ContentsLC-95 95 mm Snap-on Front Lens Cap, HB-71 Bayonet Hood, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, CL-1434 Semi-soft Case
Dimensions
Weight2300g
Height267.5mm

View Full Product Details

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Comments


gsyguy 9
23 Oct 2015 7:25PM
So no sports pics just the usual static ones .........doesnt make me want to buy one for Sports.....

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tasosone 4 11 Canada
25 Oct 2015 1:50AM
acstrath Junior Member 5 2 Spain
25 Oct 2015 5:35PM
The photos look very sharp to my eyes. When looking at the performance charts, where is the border between soft and just sharp to the human eye when viewing an A4 size at normal reading distance? LW/PH doesn't say anything to me. In earlier tests, ePHOTOzine used "Good, Excellent and Outstanding as meassure which was somewhat easier for a layman to understand.

acstrath
30 Oct 2015 12:11AM
You will still find the words you seek in the text of the review. The feeling was that providing the actual figures would be an improvement to the information provided, something more tangible and objective than just the words. There is no doubt though that this is a very nice lens and it produces nice sharp images.
15 Aug 2018 5:31PM
Had great results with mine delighted

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