Is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens a Piece of Crap? And a Bit of Bad Luck? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens a Piece of Crap?


We had better luck with the pelicans on the first official day of the second San Diego IPT especially with some decent chances on flying birds. Then we had some excellent opportunities with the California Sea Lions. Lunch at Rubio’s, a nap, a Photoshop session, and a late afternoon with the gulls and Willets and too many people at Coronado. The relationship between this group and me could best be described as a love fest; lots of sweet folks who are interested in becoming better photographers and who ask lots of questions.

It looks as if I will get to bed before 9pm this evening, Sunday 28 JAN. Good night!

Nikon Part Help Needed

If you can find me one of these in stock anywhere: Nikon BL-5 Battery Chamber Cover for MB-D12 Battery Pack, please contact me via e-mail immediately.

The Streak

Today makes one hundred eighty-two days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took about an hour to prepare. With all of my upcoming free time (or not …), the plan right now is to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections and my continuing insanity willing.


Booking.Com came through for me twice again recently with both the DeSoto Fall IPT and next July’s UK Puffins, Gannets, and Bempton Pre-trip room reservations. And all the rates were great. If you’d like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and you will earn a $25 reward. Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created on the morning of Friday, January 26 at La Jolla, CA with the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens, the Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III (at 650mm), and the Nikon D850 DSLR. ISO 400. Matrix metering probably at -1/3 stop: 1/2000 sec. at f/9 in Manual mode. AWB at 8:49am on a clear sunny day.

d25/Shutter Button AF. Click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

Image #2: Western Gull head portrait

Is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens a Piece of Crap?

Is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens a piece of crap? Many internet experts would answer yes And many folks who have actually shot with the lens would say yes. Ans many who use it with the 45-mega pixel beast, the Nikon D-850 would say yes. And most who have used it with the Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III would say yes. I have been using my 200-500 for less and a week and I would say that it is a versatile, relatively lightweight, superbly sharp photographic tool with either the D5 or the D-850. With or without the TC-14E III. Take a close look at today’s two featured images and you be the judge.

Yes, I know that the images made with my soon-to-arrive Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens will be considerably sharper. That said both of today’s images are more than professionally sharp, sharp enough to sell, and sharp enough to make large, gorgeous prints

This image was created on the morning of Friday, January 26 at La Jolla, CA with the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens, the Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III (at 650mm), and the Nikon D850 DSLR. ISO 400. Matrix metering probably at -1/3 stop: 1/2000 sec. at f/10 in Manual mode. AWB at 8:56m on a clear sunny day.

d25/Shutter Button AF. Click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

Image #2: Western Gull yawning

A Bit of Bad Luck …

I spent a full 30 minutes doing head portraits of this handsome adult Western Gull. I was working against a variety of background tones from deep blue to brilliant white and everything in between as the waves crested and broke. It was, therefore, mandatory to work in Manual mode so that the changing background tonalities would not throw off the meter as would have happened had I been in an Automatic mode such as Av or Tv(S). The bird was amazingly cooperative so when I was sure that I had what I wanted I got up and walked over to Lee Sommie who had been photographing a Spotted Sandpiper. I happened to glance up just as my good gull friend let go a huge yawn. I love image #2 (that was a vertical crop of a horizontal original) but could not help but think of the image I might have gotten had I been a bit more patient. The large high quality of the original D-850 image file left me with a more than respectable 57.8mb flattened 8-bit master file.

Which Is Your Favorite?

Do you like the tight head portrait or the vertical yawn? Please let us know why.

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33 comments to Is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens a Piece of Crap? And a Bit of Bad Luck?

  • avatar RICK BROWN

    I don’t think it is Arthur job to prove anything to anybody. I check here and other sources for my information. He writes what he chooses to as most other people who write do. His opinion is as valid or invalid as the reader chooses to make it. Think for yourself. I appriciate what he writes here.

  • avatar Marty

    I would guess most people use this lens at max zoom. What I would really like to see is an inexpensive 500 5.6 prime. Nikon must think it wouldn’t sell, or perhaps take sales away from more expensive primes.

  • avatar Viper

    Arthur, you have to give us something more than perched gulls to prove that Nikon is better than Canon… 🙂

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks to John, James, Adam, David, and the rest.

    with much love, artie

  • Hi Artie

    Its seems that Canon our not the flavour of the month, UK Professional Photographer
    George Mc Carthyn has sold all his Professional Canon lens and is now using the electronic
    Panasonic G9 with pro lense’s I like your thoughts on that one if pos.
    Best and love
    Ps It is possible you might know George he ran Photo tours into the the Everglades for years
    for UK Photographers, he was the man responsible for me turning Professional 16 years ago he is a great all round Photographer.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Ken, I know George but I do not know anything about anything Panasonic …

      with love, artie

  • avatar Rick Alvarnaz

    Hi Art,
    Glad you are enjoying the Nikon 200-500 lens! I have used it for several years and I am thrilled with the results vs the cost. To me it is quite sharp, especially stopped down a bit. I am getting good BIF photos with 9 area dynamic continuous AF and VR in sport mode. I am encouraged by your results with the 1.4 x TC… may have to acquire one! Happy shooting

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I am thrilled with the results period. 🙂 Does your camera have Group (grp) AF? If you do get the 1.4X TC, please remember to use my product-specific B&H link in the blog post above.

      thanks with love, artie

      • avatar Rick Alvarnaz

        Thanks Art- I am using a D7100 body which allows 9, 21, or 51 point group AF. I tend to use 9 point group AF with BIF which makes it easier to lock onto and stay on a moving subject while still allowing selection of a somewhat specific area of the frame to begin with. I am finding the shallow buffer of the D7100 limiting with a series of shots, though. Hoping to upgrade the body at some point… Glad to use your B&H Link when I do as I appreciate your blog!

  • Hey Arthur, My favorite is the head portrait. Great blue background and nice detail.

  • avatar James Saxon

    The yawning gull is my favorite. I use the 200-500 on a D500 body and have gotten some very nice images with that combo.

  • Really enjoy the boldness of the colors in the first shot. And that stunning eye detail. I think the simplicity of the shape makes the shot quite compelling.

    Looks sharp on my 27 retina.

  • avatar Adam

    Both images are great but if I have to choose it’s the second one for the whimsical factor.

  • avatar Anthony Sakal

    Both of the images clearly demonstrate the resolving power of the 200-500 and additionally reflect that the teleconverters seem to work quite well. If these images were not cropped then they offer even more resolution than what is already very good. If they were cropped then a cropped body, such as the D500, might have given the same image provided it wasn’t cropped. If the 200-500 is such a piece of crap then how do you explain how well it allows the D850 to provide such stunning photographs? Seems to me that A. Morris answered his own question.

  • avatar Anthony Sakal

    Sue Jarrett. I share your sympathies. It is heavier than Canon’s 100-400. One of the zoom possibilities, besides the Nikon 200-500, was the Sigma Sport, which pretty much parallels the performance of Nikon’s lens but look at the weight. I have spent many years in the gym lifting heavy weights and can manage the Nikon lens but there is no way I would buy the Sport, despite it being built like a piece of artillery unless I planned to use it on a tripod all the time. There is no point in having two lenses which do the same thing. In fact, the Nikon will often be used on a tripod but at least I can hand hold it when I wish to. The Tamron lenses are another choice but for the additional weight of the 200-500 it does not pay, for me, because their original and improved version, which are ok, still lags behind the Nikon and I don’t know how well they integrate with the camera bodies, now and in the future. The bottom line is that despite the claims, of it being a piece of crap, how is it that the internet is resplendent with beautiful bird photographs, using this lens and cheaper bodies, than their flagship ones? For warblers and passerines, the combination of a D500 and this lens is hard to beat, especially when coupled with a flash unit. On the other hand, if you wish to photograph falcons then a 600 f4 with a 2x converter and a fast body is understandable. In fact you have to use a camera with a rapid shutter speed and that is where the 1DX II has an advantage over Nikon and if it was not for the focusing I doubt anyone would be switching systems. I believe Canon has heard the wakeup call, loud and clear, so I expect cameras which will be just as responsive as Nikon’s bodies and that is why I have no intention of selling my Canon glass.

  • avatar David Policansky

    I like both images, Artie, and I agree that they are more than sharp enough. I’ve never used the Nikon 200-500 but I have tested the Sigma 150-500. The Sigma also is sharp enough but 2 copies in my hands had lousy image stabilization and had slow AF so I couldn’t get sharp images of flying birds. I am sure the Nikon has good VR.

  • avatar Scott Borowy

    I enjoy the contrast on the head portrait, but love the potential for humor in the second, “yawning” image. It actually appears the Western Gull’s jaw has dropped because he saw Arthur Morris behind a Nikon system. 😀

  • I am not good at holding my heavy and long Nikon 200-500 to shoot flying birds. Instead I use my Nikon 70-200 similar to what Matt Cuda said about a lighter lens. I also use the 70-200 for sports shots for a newspaper. My 200-500 on my Nikon D500 is 99% of the time on my tripod or depending on a tour it is on a pad on a van’s wall as we see elephants, etc.
    I really enjoy that yawning Western Gull!

  • I don’t think sharpness is bad at all on many of the newer zooms. My Sigma 150-600 is more than sharp enough and it has the versatility of all the key focal lengths. At 300 to 500 it is tack sharp. Aside from sharpness, it just becomes a question as to whether it can lock on to birds in flight and stay locked. Also, lighter lenses are easier to hand hold which further gives the photographer and advantage.

    I like both shots for different reasons, but if I was looking for gesture or action in the image, I’d go for the yawning gull.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I’ve seen lots of sharp images made with off brand zooms. Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂

      with love, artie

  • avatar Anthony Sakal

    Nikon made a mistake. They overbuilt the 200-500 lens when it comes to image quality. They may have made it cheaply, as opposed to their prime lens, but it does the job fabulously, to capture sharp images when used on the D500 and the D850. The internet is full of examples. It appears to be not as well built as Canon’s second version of their 100-400. It may not even be as sharp but Nikon’s low-end cameras do a better job with the 200-500 than Canon’s low-end cameras do with their fabulous lens. Some attribute this to the lack of an aliasing filter and when it comes to wildlife, as opposed to architecture, they may be right. Considering what prime 500 and 600 lenses cost you could throw the 200-500 in the garbage and get a new one with your credit card instead of using your bank account. Considering the image quality, the weight, and the affordability, if some pros think this is a piece of crap, so be it, but most of us would be happy to get the pictures we could only dream about that previously demanded we use high-end prime telephoto lenses. Now if Canon could make an affordable camera to maximize the image qualities of the second generation 100-400 that would be fabulous. And if Nikon could make a camera with the custom buttons and the better ergonomics of the Canons that would be fabulous as well.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Anthony, Me thinks that you think that the 5D IV is too expensive; am I correct?

      As for the Nikon ergonomics, I will be doing a post soon on things that I hate about the Nikon bodies. 🙂 And the 200-500 as well (though not as much to hate there).

      with love, artie

      • avatar Anthony Sakal

        If the 5D is too expensive then what can you say about the Canon 1DX II? This site is visited by many amateurs using 500 and 600 prime lenses which cost far more. I shoot with a Canon 500 F4 second generation and was ready to buy the Canon 1DX II before you changed my mind. These high-end cameras are about build, processor size and speed; you pay for that. But flagship cameras are also only 20 megapixels for a reason. It is difficult to make the sensors work with high ISOs without shorting them on noise reduction unless processing time is increased. And those large buffers are only now becoming technically possible, available and affordable. But most bird photographers are not dependent on their cameras for making a living and don’t have to pay for what they probably don’t need. They don’t require faultless cameras. Birds which make their living off of the water and raptors are often photographed at a distance. Telephoto lenses then become important. When you photograph BIF then focusing and shutter speed becomes very important. When you photograph birds at a distance, and also in flight, then I would rather have a fast lens, fast shutter speed and a 20-megapixel tool than to lose the shot. This is what you do. I would love to see a D850 facsimile capable of shooting 12-14 frames/sec. There is no high-end camera like that including the D850. Now Nikon is way ahead in terms of good focus tracking and, additionally, their camera bodies, even at the low end, because of less noise at high ISO speeds, also allow for high shutter speeds. Their low-end cameras work well with the 200-500 and provide for exceptional tracking, shutter speed focusing and resolution. But they are not built as well as the D5 nor are they as fast.

        Check out this video:

    • avatar Adam

      Yes, I am hoping that the 7dmkiii will rival the D500 and it would be great. Right now I’m really enjoying the 100-400 is ii and it functions reasonably well with a TC as Artie observed on the 5dmkiv. But, as you noted if Canon made a killer crop camera, the 100-400 is ii would rock. I’m longing for the days of the APS-H, but with high pixel count.

  • Love the yawning Gull…especially since you can see
    the whole inside of his mouth.

    I have one close to it on my site, but due to the sun
    angle, the deep inside of his mouth is covered by
    a shadow…which when I saw yours, I’m like, wow,
    I never noticed the detail these gulls have inside.