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janzin

Lens dilemma for Kenya-Masai Mara

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A good lens that can be picked up at a reasonable price is the 400mm Canon DO, I got mine for £1800. It is a little tatty but the optics are in A1 condition and that's what matters, it also take a 1.4 converter well. Another advantage is it's light weight and size, something to take into consideration when you have internal flights with their strict luggage limits. A new MKII version would be my dream but well outside the budget unfortunately.

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A good lens that can be picked up at a reasonable price is the 400mm Canon DO, I got mine for £1800. It is a little tatty but the optics are in A1 condition and that's what matters, it also take a 1.4 converter well. Another advantage is it's light weight and size, something to take into consideration when you have internal flights with their strict luggage limits. A new MKII version would be my dream but well outside the budget unfortunately.

 

As good as that lens is Andy, the OP Janzin is a Nikon owner ;)

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Nikon??? What's that? :rolleyes:

 

 

Note to self:-

Must read first posts properly. :)

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I would take both, the 500/4 and the 200-400/4.

It is an excellent combination!

 

My safari set up is:

D500 + 500 (+TC14) for birds, small animals, portraits and details over short distances

D4 + 200-400 for larger animals over medium distances

D810 + 24-70 for larger animals over short distance or landscapes

 

Depending of the situation I can swap lenses to the 14-24 and 70-200.

I am thinking to exchange the 24-70 to a 24-120 and leave the 70-200 home.

 

Transportation:

Most of the equipment fits into a quite small bag (Lowepro Magnum).

Most airlines accept a small item, like a camera, as a second hand luggage item.

I carry the 500 "naked" (the camera, not me) with the third camera only with the elephant condom.

In the plane and at the arrival airport I put it into a thin water proof bag (25 liter from sea-to-summit).

During the flight, it travels between my legs.

Not convenient, but I did it many times.

 

I can handhold the 500 for short periods.

 

If you can / like to carry only one big lens,

then, I would take the 500.

For medium distances I would use the 70-200 + TC14 or TC17.

An other option is to replace the 200-400 by an 80-400 to get more flexibility.

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Posted (edited)

Interesting thoughts, @@Photo-Kiboko !

 

What are "short distances" and "medium distances" in case of those lenses?? I have found that 200-500 @ 500mm is excellent up to 20-25 meters (even when small birds has to be cropped heavily) but that it gives unsatisfactory results when trying to capture larger birds, like grey heron or stork or eagle at beyond that distance, and at 50 meters they fall behind the results of 300mmf/4 + TC17.

Edited by xelas

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Posted (edited)

Wow this topic got a lot of action while I was away! I'll try to catch up.

 

 

Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I'm out of the country right now (on a non-wildlife focused trip) so will need to get back to this issue on my return. But it's given me much to think about!

 

 

Do you actually have the 500/4? If not, I'd stick with the 200-400 and pair it with the D500 for an awesome 300-600 f/4 and when you're after birds/BIF you have

the option of the 1.3 crop (really a 1.25 crop) on the D500 still giving you 375 to 750 and 12MP, which is ample IMO.

 

I still own the 500/4 and used to have the 200-400, still a fine lens as you know, it has it's limitations, but I think it's sharper, faster AF, f/4 compared to the 200-500, which I have used for a week of testing, my opinion of course.

 

Cheers

Marc

 

@@africaaddict I do actually have the 500 F4, hence the dilemma. At this point I've eliminated the idea of taking the 200-500 but I'm still wavering re: 200-400 vs 500. Good cases have been made here for both!

 

@@xelas - many lodges are very used to being asked to fill beanbags. They never even flinch when I present them my empty bean bag and ask them to fill it : usually they fill with beans or rice.

 

I heard the best filling is buckwheat hulls as they are lighter - but I never had luck finding them in Johannesburg.

@@cheetah80 I have buckwheat hulls in my Kinesis Safari Sack but honestly I don't like them. When I think I can fill it with something else at my destination, I bring it empty...my favorite fill is a kind of cracked corn I found in South Africa. The buckwheat hulls are indeed light but it seems no matter how much you put in the bag stays floppy and not as supportive.

 

We used rice in India but I found it REALLY heavy to move the bean bag around, nearly wrenched my back a few times. So I guess I prefer beans but you have to take what's available!

 

No matter what I end up with in terms of lenses, I will be bringing two empty beanbags, both the Kinesis and a Molar-type. I'll let the lodges know in advance that I'll need them filled, its not usually a problem. Hubby usually uses one if I'm using the other :)

 

I would take both, the 500/4 and the 200-400/4.

It is an excellent combination!

 

My safari set up is:

D500 + 500 (+TC14) for birds, small animals, portraits and details over short distances

D4 + 200-400 for larger animals over medium distances

D810 + 24-70 for larger animals over short distance or landscapes

 

Depending of the situation I can swap lenses to the 14-24 and 70-200.

I am thinking to exchange the 24-70 to a 24-120 and leave the 70-200 home.

 

Transportation:

Most of the equipment fits into a quite small bag (Lowepro Magnum).

Most airlines accept a small item, like a camera, as a second hand luggage item.

I carry the 500 "naked" (the camera, not me) with the third camera only with the elephant condom.

In the plane and at the arrival airport I put it into a thin water proof bag (25 liter from sea-to-summit).

During the flight, it travels between my legs.

Not convenient, but I did it many times.

 

I can handhold the 500 for short periods.

 

If you can / like to carry only one big lens,

then, I would take the 500.

For medium distances I would use the 70-200 + TC14 or TC17.

An other option is to replace the 200-400 by an 80-400 to get more flexibility.

 

@@Photo-Kiboko Bringing both is really not an option, besides the weight restrictions (I really don't see how you can manage it!) I just personally couldn't manage carrying both. I actually do have the 80-400 but my husband will be using that one.

 

Interesting idea to swap out the 24-70 with the 24-120 (I have that too, and its lighter) but I can't see leaving the 70-200 which can take a 1.4 TC easily. Actually if I need to save weight, I'd consider leaving the 24-70 as I don't usually take that many wide angle landscapes; maybe throw in the 50mm 1.8 (or I have a Sigma 24 1.8 (an old one--not the ART!) but it may not be up to par using it with the D810.

 

So, again, there really is no perfect option and no consensus and I'm still up in the air! I'm leaning at this point with sticking with the 200-400...I think it might do better on the D500 than it has on the D800/810 but I need to get out with it soon for a test run (I've not yet even mounted it on the D500.)

Edited by janzin
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Sorry, I seem to have missed the whole conversation.

 

500mm is never too much...

 

Also, I don't know how much bigger/stronger I am than you, ( PROBABLY A LOT !--jz) but I find the 500mm quite hand-holdable for short periods.

And in an open vehicle like that, my favourite support is a monopod with a one-axis head on. I have a quick-release clamp on mine as well, so that I can slip it off quickly.

 

I'll likely bring the monopod no matter which lens I end up taking...

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@@xelas

short distance is for me up to 10 to 15m

medium distance is for me up to 30 to 50m

 

There was a thread in the German Nikon Forum a couple of years ago.

Some people made test shots over distance and focal lengths in comparison with other lenses.

The 200-400 is not so good with a focal length above 350 mm on distances above 50m.

 

I try to avoid to take pictures over long distances with a long tele lens.

The atmospheric activity just reduces the maximum resolution.

You might get just a bigger magnification of the blur.

Sometimes the weather conditions are fine and it works, but most of the time it doesn't.

 

During my first safaris I had the 200-400, only.

I have combined it with a D300 and a TC14 (or even TC17) to get maximum focal length for small birds.

I am not so fond to switch TCs or cameras in the field.

Therefore, I have used the same set up for larger mammals, too.

I was not 100% satisfied.

The combination of lens "features" + TC + atmospheric effects limits the image quality.

 

In 2010 I bought the 500/4 and I use both long lenses on Safari.

I have combined the 200-400 with a low resolution FX camera (first a D700, then the D4).

The image quality improved and I am very happy with this combination.

 

I travel as light as possible, to counteract mass restrictions, (i.e. no razor, no spare shoes, minimum spare clothes).

My main luggage is around 10 kg for a two week safari. The photo gear is about 20 kg.

However, it is not fun to carry the equipment around.

 

You need some space in the vehicle to handle three cameras and two long lenses.

Usually I travel with two friends. We share a long Land Rover or Landcruizer with three rows and a driverguide.

Preferable with roof hatches, instead of a sun roof.

Each photographer has its own row.

With three persons you can arrange to shoot in any direction.

You have a free seat for the cameras / camera bag.

You can go onto the knees to shoot from lower angular.

 

Best regards

Bernd

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Still no firm decision but discovered from my T.O. that his vehicle has a special raised bar for clamping! So I went ahead and ordered the Manfrotto 35 clamp and I'm going to try it out at home (clamped to a chair or similar) just to see how it handles with the gimbal with either lens. I'm thinking I can leave the clamp/gimbal in place for those times when we might be at a prolonged sit of something distant (lion on a kill, etc.) where I'm not expecting much movement from a different direction. Or focused on a river crossing where the action is pretty much in one spot. On the other hand, I'll also keep bean bags at the ready as well.

 

Of course I won't be able to use that clamp on those days we have a shared vehicle (the three nights at Porini Lion) so there I will have to hand-hold. For this reason I am strongly leaning towards the 200-400 (today...could change my mind tomorrow...) :unsure:

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@@Photo-Kiboko

 

Indeed the atmospheric disturbances plays a great role when starting to push the reach over, say, 500mm (35 mm equivalent FOV). Sometimes is impossible to get closer. However, in those instances, maybe is better not to take any photos and to just enjoy through binoculars. And primes, even with a TC, are better at larger distances than zooms.

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So, today's leaning is a total about-face. :rolleyes:

 

I posed this query to Andy Biggs, a pro safari photographer. He's been helpful to me before in responding to question regarding safari photography. His response "If it was my gear, I would likely take a 70-200mm and a 500mm, but I would be tempted to take the 70-200mm and 200-500mm to make life simple. The optical quality of the 200-500mm is extremely good, so I wouldn’t worry about that. Focusing speed isn’t terrible, but usually in low light you aren’t shooting things that are moving anyway. I am almost always shooting something that is sedentary when the light is marginal, so I wouldn’t worry about that aspect. I would be thinking more about having to shoot at really high ISO values instead, since f/5.6 is on the slow side."

 

So he got me thinking again about the 200-500. He clearly favors it optically over the 200-400VR. Taking it would give me a host of benefits--ease of use when we had the shared vehicle, easy to use walking around camps (don't need to bring the tripod); much less weight overall which means I could pack the 24-70 F2.8 instead of the 24-120 F4 which I'd intended for scenics, and maybe some other lens as well. I just have to decide whether I'd really miss that F4 at the long end... (I could use the 1.4 tc on the 70-200 to at least have F4 up to 280mm...) And I still am slightly concerned about the fact that it extends...which makes it much less dust-sealed and more vulnerable to knocks.

 

I also found this Thom Hogan review in which he favors it over the 200-400VR and had no problems with its build, using it in the Galapagos islands. http://www.dslrbodies.com/lenses/nikon-lens-reviews/nikon-200-500mm-f56-lens.html

 

That's today's thought...could change tomorrow... :wacko:

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Well we leave in two days (!!!) and all my camera gear is packed. This is the final decision!!

 

Nikon D500

Nikon D810

200-500 5.6 VR Yes I decided this is really my best bet considering what I posted above.

70-200 2.8 VRI

24-120 F4 VR Lighter than the 24-70 and with VR which will help in low light situations (I only have the 24-70 without VR, not the newer one.)

1.4 TCEIII

 

Nikon 1V2 with 18.5 1.8 lens (for grab shots around camp, maybe some night shots with that 1.8 lens.)

FT-1 Adapter for the V2 (which lets me use any of my other Nikon lenses on it. With a 2.7 crop factor that can give me incredible reach if I need it, along with 20fps! although there are some limitations.)

 

For hubby:

Nikon D7200 Yes, bought him a new body to use instead of my hand-me-down D300s. More pixels and better AF for him, and it gives me a better back-up in case of a disaster with the D500 :D

Nikon 80-400 VR

 

Also bringing:

SB-900 flash w/ Better Beamer

Jobo Jr 3 Gimbal head with Manfrotto clamp

Two empty beanbags: One Molar TV and one Kinesis Safari Sack

 

I found out that our private vehicle has now added a beanbag table! Which I'm actually not sure if I can use with the clamp, but they will swap it out for the bar if I prefer. I think though I can clamp to this table.

 

beanbag.jpg

 

 

What I'm NOT bringing: No tripod, no monopod.

 

Each of our camera bags now weigh about 20 lbs. (That includes my netbook in one.)

 

So any last minute advice???? Am I forgetting something??

Edited by janzin
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You didn't forget anything I think. You won't really need a clamp with that set up but you can try fixing it to your dining table at home and seeing how it feels!

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Huraah for 200-500 f/5.6. It delivered for us in Sri Lanka, no doubts it will deliver for you also. Zvezda was able to handhold it all the time. And the HighISO capabilities of D7200 are way better than those of D7100. But overall, as crop body, no match to D500 in AF department.

 

So have a blast and great light!

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Thanks @@pault and @@xelas! Glad to hear that you had good luck with the 200-500 in Sri Lanka. I look forward to reading that report :)

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Posted (edited)

Thought I'd update this with my experience.

 

I was really happy with my decision to bring the Nikon 200-500. I was able to hand hold it all the time; ended up never using the clamp or the gimbal (waste of weight, oh well!) There were just a few times I wish I had that F4 (we actually had a lot of afternoon rain and cloudy skies) but the flexibility of the 200-500 made up for it. I was even able to use the 1.4 converter a few times with this lens and it held up well enough.

 

Porini Lion filled my Molar bean bag, no problem (never bothered to fill the Kinesis as there were ample bean bags for hubby to use.) We ended up with a private vehicle at Porini (just due to the configurations of the other guests that were there--we got really lucky!). The private vehicle for the rest of our trip was outfitted with more beanbags of every type and shape then one would ever need.

 

The 70-200 was mostly on the D810 but I often put it on the D500 when I needed a faster aperture and things were close enough.

 

Only used the flash a couple of times. Due to a lot of rainy evenings, we only did two real night drives the entire trip. It seemed every time we set out for one, it would start pouring rain. Also due to this weather we had none of the famous Mara sunsets :( So I only used the 24-120 a few times as well. I think for my next similar trip I may get something like the Sony RX-100 or the Nikon DL (if it every comes out) to use for scenery. The Nikon V2 got used a bit for camp shots but not very much for scenery--I didn't have the right lens, as it broke just before the trip and I decided not to replace it.

 

Anyway, bottom line I was really happy with the 200-500. Its really a great lens, and it held up fine in all the bouncing and dust (which was one of my concerns.) Anyone want to buy a very nice Nikon 200-400 F4? :D (Seriously, I may sell it, but haven't quite committed to that yet.)

 

Plenty sharp at 500mm....

 

14642379_10154366411561049_9137370467896

Edited by janzin
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Very glad you were happy with the call you made. If I were @@Game Warden I would ask for the link to the trip report but I am not and so I will just try to remember the name of that bird, which is on the tip of my tongue but won't form into words.

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@@pault the bird is the Purple Grenadier, fairly common in the Mara, but hard to photograph as it seems to run around constantly on the ground. It was a lifer for me so I was happy!

 

Trip report is not yet written...first I have to process the photos...and I am still working on the culling process (10,000+ shot, I'm down to about 4200 but haven't finished yet!) So there's a long way to go before the trip report. Hopefully it will be done before the end of the year :rolleyes:

 

Next trip I am not going to shoot the D500 at 11 fps all the time! Way too many photos to delete! (on the other hand...you just never know when that one in a million moment might happen...)

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2 weeks unti my first trip to the Mara :) I will be taking hand luggage only and I'm currently pondering my camera packing list. Previously i've been to South Africa and had more lenient luggage weight limts than the 15kg offered in Kenya. My standard kit has been a D7200 with an 80-400 lens and a D7100 with 16-85 lens (both DX/crop format so good reach at the long end and adequate at the wide end). I would guess that the 80-400 gets used for at least 95% of my photos. This time I'm pondering substituting the D7100 / 16-85 lens with a Nikon J1 with a 10-30 lens which gives me equivalence to 18-55 on a DX camera).

Other than losing easy backup if anything happens to the D7200 does anyone see any likely issues with this plan?

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@@pomkiwi I am a big fan of the Nikon 1 (I have a V3) but not so much the lenses. I have now had three Nikon 1 lenses fail on me, and if you look at some message boards you find this is not uncommon.

 

I usually keep the V3 with the 10-30 or the 11-27.5 in my photo vest pocket for quick scenic photos. But both those lenses failed (along with a 30-110) and when they do, they do it fast--one day they work, the next they don't (it seems the lens diaphragm locks partially open.) I've been waiting for the Nikon DL to be released but since it still hasn't been and it doesn't look like it will be in time for my next trip in early March, I just ordered a replacement 10-30 for my V2 (it wasn't under warranty and it cost less to buy a used one than have it serviced.) I had already bought a replacement for the 30-110 that failed!

 

Bottom line, if you bring the J1 I would definitely bring a couple of lenses for that camera in case one fails. (Since they are so small and light it is easy to toss in another lens.) The 18mm 1.8 is a nice lens and inexpensive, nice to have the speed for sunset or dawn photos.

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@ janzin Fascinating reading this thread which I have only just discovered. With my big trip soon about to take place I have similar dilemmas but the trip is different for me in as much as for only the second time I have had to consider both mammals as well as birds and my previous experience was very limited.

I thought your decision not to take either the 200-400 or 500f4 interesting.

The 200-400 was for many years the envy of Canon users as it was the one lens where Nikon scored an advantage. I am aware that it did need extra technique ( whatever that might mean) but when Canon brought out their own version, even better with a built in TC, I decided if I ever went on a safari I would buy one.

Well, I am going and I haven't bought one.

Why?

At the end of the day it's main use would be limited for me and as someone pointed out , Canon's 100-400 f4.5 -5.6 is a much more portable lens, razor sharp and a fraction of the price. I was pleased to read you were happy with your decision to settle for the 200-500. I bought a 100-400 for my trip and that has the same potential weaknesses re dust etc but I can live with that until it happens!

If I would you I'd sell the 200-400 and buy a 300mm f2.8 for BIF if you find the 500mm too heavy to hand hold.

My biggest dilemma is which of my 500mm or 600mm f4 lenses I should take. The former is so hand holdable, the latter hasn't but 20% extra reach is not to be sniffed at! For birds though I have to take one of them if not both.

It was also interesting to hear you hadn't used your flash unit. I have decided I probably won't take mine either but what about a remote control? Did you have one, you didn't mention it?

I guess one of the biggest considerations is where you are going to be taking photos too. If it's out of a car window and from a confined space the priorities are different to standing outdoors. I will definitely need a tripod and head but at least that can travel in the hold baggage so the weight isn't such an issue.

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Dave,is the tripod for the waterholes and walking around camp? i think the 200-400 is supposed to resolve the dilemma of which to bring. An all in one lens for the larger creatures - going 200-560 without a change. But since you have all those nice lenses already you can do without.

 

If you take the 600 you'll likely use the 100-400 for more of your wildlife shots, due to portability and focal length - lot of shots at the long end of the 100-400! Tough decision indeed given your birding priorities, especially if you are counting the difference in focal length with a TC. I vote for 500, although everyone takes the lens I didn't pick for some reason, so you'll doubtless end up deciding on the 600. Mind the gap though.

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If you're in a vehicle with others that a predominantly using shorter length tele lenses (say in the 100-400mm range) or you cannot control the positioning of the vehicle for subject distance then the 600mm is a complete waste of time. You're better off with a 300mm f/2.8 with both converters. Even though you'll loose a stop of light using a 2.0 TC and slower AF it is still very acceptable for birds and much easier to cart around.

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@@Dave Williams

 

Most of your photographing will be either on foot around lodges, or from the car, thus bring the longest lens you owe! A bean bag for when in the car, although a molar bag would be even better, not to mentioned those special door contraptions. A tripod or monopod for when on foot. I have had zero issues with light, maybe just the opposite, too much (harsh) light between 10:00 and 15:00.

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@@Geoff I swapped my 300mmf2.8 for a Canon 100-400 Mk2 as I wasn't getting much use out of the 300 since I went full frame, however, I recently bought a 7D2 which is a crop body to we will see if I come to regret it. The 300 makes a very handhold able and adaptable lens but on my limited safari experience I found it there too much reach for most mammals on a 1.5 Nikon 300s even without a TC. ( and that was where you are not allowed off road). I also find I'm equally comfortable hand holding with a 500Mk2 vs a 300f2.8 Mk1. It's all about the weight distribution. One day in the future I will probably sell the 600, possibly the 500 too, and settle for the super lightweight 400mmDO f4, a Canon speciality. However, as long as I'm able the current lens offer a keep fit regime too!

 

I have plenty of experience of birding out of a car window and I have to admit, the 600mm is pretty unwieldy due to it's bulk. Once it's manoeuvred in to position it's not such a problem. I would only contemplate two people in a "normal" car so that the front seat is always free to store gear and both shooters can go to either side if needed. For mammals I fully expect the 100-400 will be a lens of choice for me but I'll use a bigger lens for birds. Still deciding on the verdict for that one.

 

@@pault During my trip I will have 6 days definitely inside Etosha were there will be little option other than to sit in the car or wander around camp. Depending on how that goes I can increase the number of Etosha visits just entering for the day. A lot of photo opportunities may well occur as we are travelling in the rest of Namibia too so at these times the weight of the 600 is less important than the bulk. When I'm in a position to go walkabout which again might be as many as 10 or 11 days, the weight issue comes in to play. Both my big lenses are the lightweight versions but the 600 pushes my limits whereas the 500 is no problem for quite some time when it comes to hand holding. No matter which of the two I decide on I will use a tripod in preference to hand holding though. It's easier to compose a shot to say nothing of relief from carrying a lens and the ability to leave everything set up yet walk away when you want to... a reason I don't even comntemplate buying a monopod.

 

Why did I end up with both super teles ? Basically, some flights have such a limited cabin allowance the 600 is a no go and I don't want to put it in the hold. I actually bought the 500 after I sold the 600mmMK1 but at the same time went full frame from a 1.3 crop body and I really noticed the lack of reach ( hence selling the 300f2.8) . In the future who knows, I might even decide to take a fly-in safari but with only 15kgs , the usual total luggage allowance, weight will be critical.

 

As for the 200-400 f4. Well, Canon's version doesn't seem to have any problems through the focal length but there again not that many people have one so reports are limited. A photographer friend of mine put the thought of acquiring one straight out of my mind when you compare cost and product performance. You can stick a 1.4 TC on the 100-400 and with today's cameras you can bump the ISO considerably more than you could when Nikon's 200-400 was launched. I imagine that you would be using a smaller aperture most of the time for DOF when photographing large creatures so that's one advantage nullified. At the other end 200mm might be too long too so the 100-400 suddenly has that advantage as well as weight and bulk too and as far as price is concerned, well it's chalk and cheese.

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