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Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR Review

Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR Review

The Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
is a super-telephoto lens with full-frame coverage. Primary intended for wildlife and sport photography, this new lens offers a long reach and a constant F/5.6 aperture which is uncommon among zoom lenses covering such focal-range. This high-grade Nikkor optics is fully weather-sealed and offers the latest in Vibration Reduction, claimed to be effective for up to 4.5 stops.

Nikkor AF-S 2000-500mm F/5.6E ED VR

Although it weighs a hefty 2.3kg, the Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm is billed a lightweight and compact super-telephoto zoom since it is lighter than typical wildlife photography lenses. Other lenses covering the 200-500mm range are either much dimmer or significantly heavier. The front of the lens is threaded for a 95mm filter which are quite rare, as none could be found yet.

This lens is built of high-grade plastic and feels extremely solid. It has a huge 10cm zoom ring with a ribbed rubber-coated surface split across two levels. This makes it extremely easy to operate, even with gloves on. Closer to the mount, there is 3cm ribbed plastic focus-ring which turns smoothly and continuously past the ends of the focus-range. Each ring requires 180° rotation to go over its entire range. A focus-distance scale is shown in a small window close to the base of the lens.

Nikkor AF-S 2000-500mm F/5.6E ED VR

Between the focus and zoom rings, there is a small locking switch to fix the focal-length at 200mm. The lens must be at its widest point for the lock to engage. Once locked, the lens barrel does not extend when the lens is pointed downwards. There are 4 more two-position switches near the lens mount:

  • M/A - M: Switches between Quickshift AF and MF.
  • Full - ∞-6m: Allows the AF system to focus from 2.2m or 6m.
  • VR On - Off: Enables or disables image-stabilization.
  • Normal - Sport: Selects standard or sport stabilization. The latter automatically detects panning and adjusts compensation accordingly.

Given the significant weight and size of this lens, a collar allows the lens to be mounted directly on a tripod. This relieves stress from the camera's lens mount and improves stability by moving the tripod closer to the center of balance. The color rotates all around the lens with markings but no detents at horizontal and vertical orientations. A 1.5cm-wide knob at the base of the collar tightens to stop it from rotating.

This Nikkor AF-S lens uses a built-in Sonic-Wave-Motor (SWM) to adjust an internal focus (IF) system. This lets the lens provide a Quickshift AF (M/A) mechanism, meaning that focus can be manually adjusted at any time, even when the camera is set to autofocus. The E designation after the aperture says that this lens has an Electromagnetic Diaphragm Mechanism which apparently allows for a smoother transition between aperture values.

Glass elements in this lens are covered in Super Integrated Coating (SIC) and several of them are made of Extra-Low Dispersion Glass (ED). While these terms refer to some technical aspect of the lens, they are no guarantee of image-quality and only really mean that these modern technologies are used within.

Nikkor AF-S 2000-500mm F/5.6E ED VR

The Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR is extremely sharp. The center shows perfect sharpness from wide-open at F/5.6 until diffraction hits around F/13 for a D810 which has a 36 megapixels full-frame sensor without anti-alias filter. The extreme corners show a miniscule amount of softness at F/5.6 which disappears at F/6.7. They remain completely sharp until diffraction-limited.

There is virtually no optical distortion at any focal-length. Illumination is also extremely even from corner to corner. There are no signs of chromatic aberrations either. Even when light sources appear in the frame, the AF-S 200-500mm shows superb contrast with excellent flare-resistance.

The SWM focuses more slowly than typical Nikkor AF-S lenses. This is certainly due to the relatively dim F/5.6 maximum aperture, possibly compounded by the weight of lens elements within. When already close, autofocus can lock in around ¼s but it often takes 1s or more, particularly when light is low. Expect about ¾s on average. This makes it difficult to catch fast-moving wildlife. While performing autofocus, the SWM emits a low yet somewhat high-pitched sound which may be audible in videos.

The Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
is optically excellent. It render fine details extremely sharply staring at its maximum aperture. Corners improve at F/6.7. The dim aperture though and relatively slow autofocus casts some doubts over its suitability for fast action. For wildlife photography though, where subjects are not constantly in motion, it can really deliver.

Nikkor AF-S 2000-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
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