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

 
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200-500mm $1,397
average price
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Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR Field Test

A lot of performance for the price

by Jeremy Gray | 01/06/2016

Updates:
06/09/2016: Added D500 Gallery shots
10/24/2016: Added D3400 Gallery shots
: Added D850 Gallery shots

Nikon's newest telephoto zoom lens, the AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR delivers great performance for a reasonably low cost of just under US$1,400.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
D500: 500mm (750mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 280.
[Clicking any image will access the full-size image and EXIF data.]

The 200-500mm lens is neither small nor light, but for its focal length it is a manageable size. It weighs in at 81.2 ounces (2,300 grams) and is 10.5 inches (267.5mm) long when at the 200mm focal length. The lens has a 4.2 inch (108mm) diameter and accepts 95mm screw-on filters, which is not a particularly common filter size. When using the lens at 500mm, it becomes quite a bit longer, but it remained well-balanced with my D800E.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Product Image
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Product Image

The lens body itself looks nice and has typical Nikon styling, with gold branding and white focal length markings on the lens. The focal lengths (200, 300, 400, and 500mm) are painted on the zoom ring, but the markings on the lens barrel and tripod collar are engraved. Unlike many lenses, the focus ring is actually closer to the camera than the zoom ring, and I think that this is a good decision because it allows you to change the focal length while maintaining good balance and lens-holding technique. Manual focusing is useful at times, but the ring will certainly be used less regularly than the zoom ring for most users and is easily accessed.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
D800E: 500mm, f/8, 1/1250s, ISO 400.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

One aspect of the zoom ring that I dislike, however, is that it requires about 180 degrees of rotation to zoom from 200 to 500mm. If it could zoom with a shorter range of motion, I think that the lens would handle a lot better. The focus ring rotates well, but it’s a bit loose-feeling.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
D850: 440mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200.
Click for full-size image.

In my opinion, the tripod collar is an area of strength for the 200-500mm lens. It also features a very neat design for removing it; if you line up the white arrow on the tripod collar with the marking on the lens, you can unscrew and simply slide the tripod collar off (so long as the lens isn’t attached to a camera, that is). The 200-500mm also includes a screw-on lens hood that is quite large and does its job well. It can be reversed and put back on the lens when transporting. Additionally, there’s a switch on the lens to lock it at 200mm for ensuring that it doesn’t extend during transporting.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
D3400: 200mm (300mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 3200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Now let's move on to performance. The 200-500mm lens has performed very well for me. I don’t mean that it has performed well for an affordable telephoto zoom either, I mean that it has performed well in absolute terms. The lens is sharp wide open across the entire focal length range and delivers fast, reliable autofocus performance. While a constant aperture of f/5.6 is not always ideal, especially when shooting in low light or shooting a fast-moving subject, a 200-500mm f/4 lens would be much larger, heavier, and more expensive (Nikon’s most recent 200-400mm f/4 lens weighs 7.4 lbs (3.36 kg) and costs nearly $7000 USD, for example). Even Nikon’s 80-400mm f/4-5.6 lens costs nearly $1000 USD more than the 200-500mm f/5.6.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- MTF Image

The f/5.6 aperture has not proven to be much of an issue for me out in the field considering the high ISO capabilities of modern DSLR cameras, but it does mean that using teleconverters with the 200-500mm lens can be difficult. Using a Nikon DSLR capable of autofocusing at f/8, autofocus is possible with the TC-1.4 teleconverter, but it is not fast. Using any teleconverter beyond that will require manually focusing the lens and will not produce particularly good results nor be usable for most types of wildlife photography.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
D800E: 700mm (500mm + TC-14e III), f/8, 1/1600s, ISO 400.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

When using the 200-500mm lens without a teleconverter, autofocus performance is really good. Compared to my 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens (my fastest autofocusing lens), the 200-500mm held up very well in good lighting conditions. The 70-200mm lens is a bit faster, but the 200-500mm isn’t far behind and its autofocus performance really impressed me. Autofocus speeds slowed down slightly at 500mm, but the lens remains very snappy. For increased speeds when photographing distant subjects, there’s a switch on the lens to limit the focus to 6m to infinity. With its full autofocus range enabled, the lens can close focus to 7.2 feet (2.2 meters) and it provides a maximum reproduction ratio of 0.22x.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
D3400: 500mm (750mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

Vibration reduction is impressive as well. In Sport mode (enabled via a switch on the lens, you can choose between ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’), the 200-500mm provides around 4.5 stops of vibration reduction. I found it to be very effective and it allowed me to capture sharp images at shutter speeds I wouldn’t normally expect to be able to capture images at, especially at a focal length like 500mm. This good vibration reduction performance also helps alleviate some of the issues of using an f/5.6 lens in low light conditions.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
D800E: 700mm (500mm + TC-14e III), f/8, 1/1600s, ISO 400.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Nikon will be shipping us a 200-500mm lens for testing in our lab, so a full review of the lens and its optical performance is forthcoming, but in the meantime I can say that I have not observed optical aberrations. Corner sharpness does fall off a bit, especially when shooting wide open at the extreme ends of the lens, but this is typically not an issue for wildlife photography anyway. This lens does not feature Nikon’s Nano Crystal coating, but I have not experienced issues with flare or reflections.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
100% crop of RAW image with default Adobe Camera RAW sharpening converted to JPEG. D800E: 500mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 400

Overall, I am thrilled with the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E lens. It isn’t perfect as its f/5.6 aperture limits its usability in low light and when using teleconverters, but it’s light enough for me to carry around all day, small enough to fit in my backpack, and it provides solid performance. This lens could easily be priced higher and still be a good value. If you are a Nikon photographer looking for a new telephoto zoom, I highly recommend this lens.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E VR Review -- Sample Image
100% crop of RAW image with default Adobe Camera RAW sharpening converted to JPEG. D800E: 390mm, f/9, 1/400s, ISO 640

See a lot more real-world images from this lens taken with the
Nikon D850, D800E, D500 and D3400 on our massive
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR Gallery page!

 

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR Overview

(From Nikon lens literature) Wherever your passion lies, this outstanding super telephoto zoom lens can bring it into focus. Capture and share stunning views of birds, wildlife, motorsports, athletes, performers, landmarks and other faraway subjects. A fast f/5.6 constant aperture gives your shots beautifully out-of-focus backgrounds across the entire zoom range. Turn fast-moving action into dazzling photo sequences -- the electromagnetic diaphragm operates in sync for the fastest subjects and shutter speeds while Vibration Reduction image stabilization keeps your shots sharp and steady. And in the rare cases when additional reach is needed, you can increase the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR's zoom power with an optional Nikon 1.4x, 1.7x or 2x teleconverter*.

Whether your subject is far in the distance or close, fast or slow, you can land the shot. On FX-format cameras, 500mm brings distant birds, wildlife, athletes, performers, landmarks and more into tight focus. DX-format cameras add an additional 1.5x zoom effect for an angle of view equivalent to a whopping 750mm! And despite that extreme power, you can also focus on subjects as close as 7.2 feet away for detail rich close-ups.

At super telephoto distances, the smallest camera movements can cause image blur. Vibration Reduction image stabilization counteracts camera shake up to ~4.5 stops** for sharp photos and steady videos. You also can shoot at slower shutter speeds in low light -- great for those magic moments at dawn and dusk. Sports Mode is optimized for camera pans and other movements common when shooting fast action.

Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass cuts through the glare of bright sunlight. Silent Wave Motor (SWM) powers ultra-fast, near-silent autofocusing with seamless manual override. The Electromagnetic diaphragm (E) operates in sync with the fastest shutter speeds and frame rates, even when using an optional teleconverter. Always bring home views that amaze.

The AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR will be available in mid-September 2015 for the SRP of US$1399.95.

The lens incorporates an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism. The following cameras are compatible with this lens: D5, D4 series, D3 series, Df, D850, D810, D810A, D800 series, D750, D700, D610, D600, D500, D300 series, D7500, D7200, D7100, D7000, D5600, D5500, D5300, D5200, D5100, D5000, D3400, D3300, D3200, D3100, Nikon 1 J1, J2, J3, J4, J5 with FT-1, Nikon 1 V1, V2, V3 with FT-1, Nikon 1 S1, S2 with FT-1.

*Compatible with TC-14E series teleconverters (AF is only available when used with DSLR cameras that offer f/8 support. These include: D5, D4, D4S, Df, D500, D600, D610, D750, D800, D800E, D810, D850, D7100, D7200, D7500). Compatible with TC-17E and TC-20E series teleconverters (AF not possible).

**Based on CIPA Standard. This value is achieved when: FX-format compatible lenses are attached to an FX-format digital SLR camera and zoom lenses are set at the maximum telephoto position.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S Nikkor User Reviews

9.7/10 average of 3 reviews Build Quality 9.3/10 Image Quality 10.0/10
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (1 reviews)
    Sharp, fantastic VR, relatively inexpensive.
    Long, gets heavy after a while.

    Love the lens. I have used it for wildlife and birds and find it works well with my D800. It can easily be hand held in daylight but I prefer a monopod. The VR snaps everything in to place - surprised me the first time I used it.

    Lens has smooth autofocus and zoom although I find that you will probably need to set the focus manually to start when focusing at the minimum focus distance.

    Tripod collar is more robust than some of Nikon's offerings - I have had no issues with it.

    I've been using it lately at drag races and find it's the only lens I need. Sharp images, fast focus and great detail. It's a much better buy than the Sigma or Tamron equivalents and competitive in price point as well.

    reviewed August 23rd, 2016 (purchased for $1,091)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (3 reviews)
    Vibration reduction Sharp Low distortion Zoom range Price/Value
    Weight Zoom ring gearing No weather sealing

    Santa gave me this lens to use with my D800 for a safari to Okovango delta in October. I brought the lens with me on our winter vacation in the Florida keys and gave it a good wringing out. In my judgment this is an excellent value.

    The biggest asset of this lens is the VR. Markedly better than the VR II on my Nikon 70-200 VR II F2.8 and my Nikon 24-120 F4. When you activate it the image freezes instantly. This lens can be used hand held on daylight at any zoom setting without losing resolution. The weight of the lens does make it very desirable to use a monopod, tripod or a bean bag for extended shooting. The lens works well for birds in flight.

    The zoom range makes it a perfect complement to my zoom collection of 16-35 F2.8, 24-128 F4 and 70-200 F2.8.

    I have had less luck using teleconverters. My Tamron 1.4 and Nikon TC-17E II will both focus, but with markedly increased hunting. Definitely not usable for birds in flight, but OK for wildlife standing still.

    The bottom line is that this is a keeper and a great value.

    reviewed March 3rd, 2016 (purchased for $1,386)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (25 reviews)
    Extremely sharp; remarkable VR; excellent contrast and color rendition; reasonable price
    Heavy; long; clumsy

    I would highly recommend this lens to anyone who does what it's designed to do: wildlife photography, distant landscape and architectural detail. It's not too hard to carry, even with the neck strap, although some kind of sling would help. But hand-holding while shooting is tiring because it's so heavy and clumsy. I suppose one can get used to that.

    Zooming is very smooth, but a bit awkward, because it takes a lot of turning to zoom out and in. So I'm not sure it would be the best lens for flying birds or even some sporting events.

    The VR is so good that camera shake is minimal to absent, even in low light. From a seated position, I was able to shoot knick-knacks in my den at speeds of 1/10 second down to 1/3 second! The resulting images surprised me by their sharpness.

    Outdoors, the problem is the lens's length. It's a long, heavy cantilever. So even a fairly light breeze affects it, held out there scanning for pictures. In windy conditions, I found it particularly hard to hold, and image quality suffered.

    So carrying this lens is not the primary problem; one can get used to the weight and odd balance even on a relatively small DSLR, like my Nikon D7100 and D610, with which I tested it. But hand-holding for extended periods, especially in wind or even a fairly light breeze, is tiring.

    I don't use a tripod, but it shouldn't be necessary with this lens, as the VR is so effective. Image capture...autofocus and aperture setting...is instantaneous, as in most of this year's iteration of Nikon lenses. Because of this, I didn't have to hold it out there for long before shooting. That definitely helps.

    The tripod collar got in the way, so I quickly removed it. I'm quite sure someone will offer a collar with a semi-vertical pistol grip. That would be handy, as perhaps the cradle device that birders use with heavy binoculars and long lenses like this.

    I tested it shooting ordinary things, not test screens: Birds, distant mountains, flowers, etc. It does well on all of these subjects, except flying birds. Zooming is awkward, because of the low "gear ratio." So one would have to spot a bird, set the focal length and stick with that while following the subject.

    Out of curiosity, I tried it with the Kenko 1.4x teleconverter. I have the DGX model, which works superbly on my Nikon 70-300 and D7100: quick autofocus and negligible image softening. With the TC on this 200-500 lens autofocus is not as quick or as precise, on the D7100, and focus is not captured at all on the D610. But the latter, at least, was to be expected. There seems to be an incompatibility between the Kenko TC and this lens, however. I wouldn't recommend the combination.

    I tried using extension tubes, to see if the minimal focal distance could be reduced for extra magnification on closer subjects. Yes, they work, but it takes a lot of them, pushing the whole rig even farther out, to achieve any meaningful result. In other words, this lens is what it is, and is so good within the range of usage for which it was designed that there's no point in pushing it.

    When shooting distant mountains it appears, at first, that contrast at 500mm is sacrificed. But that's because one is shooting through atmospheric haze even on a clear day. With closer subjects, contrast is excellent. So it's just atmospheric effects, which I easily removed in post-processing.

    This lens is even sharper than the 70-300, something I noticed at all subject distances. Anyone with a 70-300, which is already a very sharp lens, will be amazed at the difference.

    I noticed no difference in any important effects...image capture, contrast, sharpness, etc...at any of the focal lengths in its range. I didn't shoot on targets, so I can't comment on distortion, but edges of buildings, stop signs, etc. seemed not to be distorted. Anyhow, distortion is easy to remove, PP.

    The lens definitely produces less chromatic aberration than the 70-300 at longer focal lengths. That I noticed many times.

    Frankly, when I rented this lens, I had no intention to buy it; I just wanted to fool around with it to see what it can do. I must say that I was so impressed that I almost changed my mind and bought it from the rental company, even though I don't often shoot the kinds of subjects it was designed for. It's so much fun to play with that I might yet buy one, as the price is very reasonable, considering what you get. Later, maybe.

    But for someone who shoots a lot of wildlife or architectural detail, who can securely pack it with other camera equipment, I recommend this lens without reservation. It's a great tool! Its sharpness, excellent contrast and color rendition, all the way out to 500mm, plus its remarkable VR...especially at such a reasonable price...is really amazing.

    I would even recommend it to someone who might only use it on a single African or Indian wildlife park tour. It would be worth the modest extra investment to get breathtaking shots.

    Now, I've bought a Nikon USA refurbished 200-500 and compared it with my 80-400.

    Bottom line, the 80-400 is sharper at 200, but the 200-500 is sharper at 400. They cross somewhere around 280...say, 300...which is probably where I'll switch lenses in the field. But they're both very sharp.

    I've gotten used to the length and weight of the 200-500, and find that it scans better, because once you learn how to hold it up, you can swing it smoothly. But the 80-400 is much lighter, better balanced, more flexible, and generally handier, as I found out trying to take pictures of the rocks at Joshua Tree NP. With a minimum 200mm focal length, the 200-500 just crops too much, compared with the 80-400, which can take over very well at 80-200.

    VR seems just slightly better with the 200-500, but AF is definitely faster with the 80-400. Both lenses work equally well with the Nikon TC-14EII, which hardly affects resolution, although, of course, you have to shoot at one stop smaller aperture...in my case, f/11, instead of f/8. But the excellent VR of both lenses compensates for that.

    So the relative pros and cons convinced me to use both of them, with the cutoff around 300mm.

    reviewed December 6th, 2015 (purchased for $1,090)