Gear Reviews

Nikon 200-500 f5.6 VR Lens One Year Later

It’s been just over a year since I got my hands on what has become an essential part of my lens arsenal. The Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 VR is probably my favourite lens for wildlife. It’s so versatile. Though the newer 500mm f5.6E PF is tempting me, it lacks the versatile zoom range of the 200-500mm (and it’s twice the price). I’ve used the 200-500mm f5.6 VR for the vast majority of my wildlife shots (and a lot of landscapes as well) over the last year. I’d like to celebrate this anniversary by sharing a few of my favourite shots that I’ve made using this lens. You can read my full review by clicking here.
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Grizzly grazing in the estuary, Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 4000)

Grizzly grazing in the estuary, Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 4000)

Grizzly cub resting by the estuary in low tide, Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 2500)

Grizzly cub resting by the estuary in low tide, Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 2500)

Mountain goat nanny and kid looking over the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f.8, 1/2500 sec, ISO 500)

Mountain goat nanny and kid looking over the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f.8, 1/2500 sec, ISO 500)

Bison shaking off snow, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 290mm, f8, 1/400 sec, ISO 800)

Bison shaking off snow, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 290mm, f8, 1/400 sec, ISO 800)

Canada goose goslings, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f8, 1/800 sec, ISO 400)

Canada goose goslings, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f8, 1/800 sec, ISO 400)

White-tailed Jackrabbits, Alberta, Canada (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 290mm, f7.1, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400)

White-tailed Jackrabbits, Alberta, Canada (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 290mm, f7.1, 1/1600 sec, ISO 400)

Elk in snow, Banff National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 1800)

Elk in snow, Banff National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm f5.6 VR, 500mm, f5.6, 1/800 sec, ISO 1800)

Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 VR for Wildlife & Landscape Photography

I'd been eye-ballin' the Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 VR lens since it was released a couple years ago. I finally decided to add it to my collection fairly recently after receiving some good feedback on it from a trusted friend. Since moving up to the Canadian north, I've been photographing wildlife pretty much every week, so relying solely on my 70-200mm with a 1.7x teleconverter wasn't going to cut it much longer. I'm glad I made the leap to this versatile and relatively light super-tele. In a short amount of time, it's already become an integral tool for my wildlife photography. My only regret is that I didn't get it sooner!

This is not a technical review, there are plenty of those out there. If you want the full specs and list of features that the Nikon 200-500mm VR has, you can find that here. I don't waste my time shooting brick walls or telephone poles to test sharpness. I'm not a "pixel-peeper." I like seeing how gear holds up in real-world conditions and looking at image samples from the field rather than charts and graphs (I'm a photographer, not a scientist!). 

PROS:

Some folks on the web say this lens isn't sharp enough. That's simply not true. Plus, sharpness depends largely (especially when it comes to large telephoto lenses) on the photographer's technique and experience. When I asked my photography mentor, David Hessell, a travel and nature photographer with decades of pro-experience how he liked his 200-500 VR, he said, "It's sharp. Period." In further research I found that some of my favorite wildlife photographers were using this lens and leaving their larger exotic 500mm and 600mm primes behind. Photographers like Morten Hilmer (he has an awesome YouTube Channel) and the legendary Thomas Mangleson use this lens. 

That isn't to say the Nikon 200-500mm is "better" than the 500mm f4 VR or whatever, it's not going to be quite as sharp or fast focusing. But it is more versatile, lighter, and FAR less expensive than those big expensive fixed teles (or even the 200-400 f4 VR). When using proper long lens technique, shooting on a tripod, or VR and proper hand-holding, I've had no problem getting sharp images.

  • Sharp throughout focal range from 200mm to 400mm at all f-stops (softer at 500mm wide-open at f5.6, but still very good)

  • Lightweight and easy to hand-hold versus larger prime telephotos

  • Compact versus larger prime lenses

  • Well-made, feels good in your hands

  • Fast autofocus

  • Vibration Reduction works great, up to 4 stops for still subjects

  • Weather-sealed (except the part that zooms out, rain cover is recommended)

  • Smooth focus and zoom rings

  • Much closer minimum focus distance than large prime wildlife lenses

  • Costs is very reasonable, averaging $1,200 - $1,400 USD

CONS:

It really is difficult to come up with any negatives. I really enjoy using this lens and can't wait to take it to the Khutzeymateen and the Canadian Rockies this summer. Here are some considerations, however:

  • Lens gets longer when zooming out. The exposed portion needs cover against rain and dusty conditions.

  • Even though it's pretty lightweight, use on a tripod is best as it can get tiring to hand-hold for a long shoot.

  • Not as sharp at 500mm wide open (stopping down to f6.3 or f7.1 improves this)

Image samples:

White-tail Jackrabbit in winter, Edmonton, Alberta (Nikon D750, 200-500mm VR - 500mm, ISO 800, f7.1, 1/320 sec)

White-tail Jackrabbit in winter, Edmonton, Alberta (Nikon D750, 200-500mm VR - 500mm, ISO 800, f7.1, 1/320 sec)

Bull Elk in deep snow, Banff National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm VR - 440mm, ISO 1400, f7.1, 1/1250 sec)

Bull Elk in deep snow, Banff National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm VR - 440mm, ISO 1400, f7.1, 1/1250 sec)

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram, Jasper National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm VR - 500mm, ISO 500, f8, 1/1000 sec)

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Ram, Jasper National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm VR - 500mm, ISO 500, f8, 1/1000 sec)

Bison grazing near Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm VR - 310mm, ISO 1400, f7.1, 1/640 sec)

Bison grazing near Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm VR - 310mm, ISO 1400, f7.1, 1/640 sec)

Bison crossing a snow-covered lake in a heavy snow storm, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm VR - 500mm, ISO 640, f8, 1/1000 sec)

Bison crossing a snow-covered lake in a heavy snow storm, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D7200, 200-500mm VR - 500mm, ISO 640, f8, 1/1000 sec)

Hoar frost, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm VR - 200mm, ISO 500, f8, 1/800 sec)

Hoar frost, Elk Island National Park (Nikon D750, 200-500mm VR - 200mm, ISO 500, f8, 1/800 sec)

I recommend shopping around for the best price from the following trusted retailers: B&H Photo, Amazon, and Henry's (Canada). For my full photo gear list, click here

See more wildlife images made with this lens by clicking here.

Nikon's Best FX Travel Lenses Under a Grand

I try to keep the gear posts to a minimum, but, like everyone else, I'm always open to recommendations for new equipment. I think I'm pretty set with what I'm currently using, but in case you're in the market for some epic glass for your Nikon, I've compiled a list of what I believe to be the best options for a traveling photographer. A few of these lenses are (or have been) in my bag and are used often. Though I have not used all of the lenses listed below, I have researched enough to feel that I can recommend them all without reservation. It's up to you to decide what works best for you. Clicking the links and images will take you to trusted online dealers for the more technical information not listed here. As always, look around for the best price from a store you trust. Without further adieu, here are (in my humble opinion) Nikon's best FX (full-frame) travel lenses for under $1,000 USD.

WIDE ANGLES

Nikon 18-35mm f3.5-4.5 G (Under $800 USD)

The Nikkor 18-35G (the newer one, not the old "D" version) is my favorite wide angle zoom. The slightly wider and more expensive Nikkor 16-35 f4 is an excellent lens, but it's larger, heavier, and almost twice the price. I've owned this lens for years and have made some of my best images with it. It is light, well-made, takes 77mm filters, is very sharp, and at less than $800 USD (around $500 used), it's a great option. 

Check price: Amazon / B&H Photo

Nikon 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 G VR (Under $500 USD)

The Nikkor 24-85G VR is usually available as a "kit lens" when you by an "entry level" (I despise these arbitrary marketing terms...) full-frame Nikon like the D610 or D750. It is very versatile for very little money if purchased separately. I've seen them used for less than $300 and have read some great reviews on it. I was considering this as a walk-around lens for city travel on my D750, but went for the Nikkor 24-120 f4 VR instead because it takes 77mm filters (the 24-85G uses 72mm). If the latter is just out of your budget, the 24-85G shouldn't disappoint as your go-to wide angle zoom. 

Check price: Amazon / B&H Photo

Nikon 20mm f1.8 G (Under $800 USD)

The Nikkor 20mm f1.8G is a sexy lens. I've been drooling over it since it came out, but have been satisfied enough with my 18-35G that I haven't been able to justify buying it. This would not only be a great lens for wide landscapes, but the generous max-aperture of f1.8 makes this an awesome lens for nighttime and astrophotography. It focuses super-close as well, down to 0.66 feet.

If you're on a tighter budget, the Nikkor 20mm f2.8 AF-D is still a great option for under $400 used.

Check price: Amazon / B&H Photo

Nikon 35mm f1.8 G (Under $600 USD)

If I could only have (for some odd reason) one lens for city travel, I'd choose the Nikkor 35mm f1.8G. That 35mm focal length is probably the most versatile as far as fixed lenses go. It's not too wide and not too tight. I don't own this fast super-sharp lens, but I do have the Fuji 23mm f2, which on the cropped sensor Fuji cameras is equivalent to 35mm on a full frame sensor. I find that focal length really great for the majority of "street photography" situations. At f1.8, this lens provides really shallow depth of field while maintaining a reasonably wide angle of view. 

Check price: Amazon / B&H Photo


NORMAL LENSES

Nikon 50mm f1.8 G (Under $250 USD)

My first Nikon lens was the Nikkor 50mm f1.8G. I picked mine up used for only $150 USD. I don't use it much since I don't shoot weddings or portraits anymore, but I keep it around for indoor, low-light situations when traveling abroad. It is a very small and extremely lightweight lens that packs loads of lustful sharpness for very little money. 

Check price: Amazon / B&H Photo

Nikon 60mm f2.8 G (Under $600 USD)

Since we're keeping things under a grand, I couldn't list Nikon's 105mm macro lenses, but the Nikkor 60mm f2.8G is still a great choice. This has been called the "Swiss army knife of lenses" because it serves as a macro, normal prime, and great portrait lens all in one. On a DX (crop sensor) camera it has the equivalent focal length of 90mm, which should provide a good amount of working space between camera and subject without breaking the bank. 

Check price: Amazon / B&H Photo


Fixed Telephotos & Zooms

Nikon 85mm f1.8 G (Under $500 USD)

If for some strange, out of my control reason I had to choose only three fixed-lenses from this list for my travel and landscape photography, I'd pick the 20mm f1.8G, the 50mm f1.8G, and this 85mm f1.8G. That would cover me pretty well with some arousingly-fast glass for a mere $1,400. (I wouldn't be shooting much wildlife with those choices, but this list is for globetrotters anyway...) The Nikkor 85mm f1.8G is an excellent portrait lens for an excellent price. The f1.4 version is much more expensive, but only provides a little more light...not sure about you, but that's not worth the price difference to me. 

Check price: Amazon / B&H Photo

Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 E VR (Under $800 USD)

Before I bought my 70-200 f2.8 VR II, I owned the older version of the Nikkor 70-300 VR and really enjoyed it. I hear that this new "E" version is even sharper, focuses faster, and has more stops of vibration reduction. That 70-300mm range is great for versatility. If I had that proverbial gun to my head and could only choose the three zooms from this list, I'd be pretty set for every situation including wildlife (...still be having heart palpitations over that 20mm 1.8G though...). It'd be nice if the price of this lens decreased a bit, but it certainly packs a lot of features for less than $800. 

Check price: Amazon / B&H Photo

Nikon 18-35mm f3.5-4.5 G Review (Awesome Wide Lens!)

NIKON 18-35MM F3.5-4.5 G REVIEW (AWESOME WIDE LENS!)

There are two lenses I don't think I could live without, and the Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f3.5-4.5 G is definitely one of them (the other is any good 70-200mm). I don't often review gear on this blog because there's so much out there already on every piece of photo equipment imaginable, but there's only a few good reviews on this beautiful lens. When I bought it in 2015, all that was out there in internet land was one good article and a video from legendary nature photographer Moose Peterson raving about it. I thought I'd carve out some time, now that I've had two years to use it, to talk about this awesome wide-angle zoom and why it's not being traded or sold for as long as I shoot Nikon. 

I've put 1,000s of shots through the Nikon 18-35G and have taken it on all my trips since the winter of 2015. It's been my main super-wide angle lens in Iceland (twice), Boston, Sweden, North Carolina's mountains and beaches, and the Canadian Rockies. It's lightweight, well-made, sharp, works with 77mm filter systems with no vignetting, and shows very little distortion or chromatic aberration. I'm not going to talk about the specs much, instead I'll mainly touch on why I like this lens so much and why it's always in my bag. I'd also like to share some of my favorite images that I've made using this lens. If you want boring old charts and graphs, pictures of brick walls and stuffed animals, or side by side comparisons with other lenses, you should probably go elsewhere. To borrow the words of Moose Peterson, "I'm not a chart photographer." 

Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f3.5-4.5 G wide angle lens on a D600

Nikon AF-S 18-35mm f3.5-4.5 G wide angle lens on a D600

technical specs:

Mount: Nikon F-Bayonet
Focal Length Range: 18-35mm
Zoom Ratio: 1.9 x
Maximum Aperture: f/ 3.5
Minimum Aperture: f/ 22-29
Format: FX / 35mm
Maximum Angle of View (FX-format): 100°
Minimum Angle of View (FX-format): 63°
Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 0.2 x
Lens Elements: 12
Lens Groups: 8
Compatible Format(s): FX,  DX , 35mm Film
Diaphragm Blades: 7
Distance Information: Yes
ED Glass Elements: 2
Aspherical Elements: 3
Super Integrated Coating: Yes
Autofocus: Yes
AF-S (Silent Wave Motor): Yes
Internal Focusing: Yes
Minimum Focus Distance: 0.92  ft. ( 0.28 m) 
Focus Mode: Manual , Manual/Auto
G-type: Yes
Filter Size: 77mm
Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
Approx. Dimensions (Diameter x Length): (83mm) (95mm)
Approx. Weight: 13.6 oz. (385 g)

pros:

- Lightweight and durable poly-carbonate construction
- Weather-sealed
- Produces very sharp images with little to no color fringing or distortion
- Sharp at all apertures and focal lengths (especially around f8 - f13 for landscapes)
- Relatively inexpensive at $500-700 USD
- Works great with Lee and Nisi 77mm polarizers and filter systems
- Compact size fits in any camera backpack
- 18-35mm FX zoom range remains versatile even on a DX sensor body (equivalent to ~28-52mm)
- Fast autofocus with manual override
- Very close minimum focus distance
 

cons:

Racking my brain here... For me there are none really. If two extra millimeters was essential, then the more expensive, larger, and heavier Nikon 16-35mm G might be a good choice. It's considered a "pro lens" (though I'm technically a professional and use the 18-35G). The difference in 16mm and 18mm on a full frame camera is like taking one step backward, so that's not worth the $400 price difference to me. In all honesty, I can't think of a reason not to recommend this lens, especially to the weight-conscious travel photographer. The only negative I can think of is that it's difficult to find this lens in used condition because people that own it like it so much.

In The Field:

Here are a few of my favorite images made with the Nikon 18-35G. I purchased mine new on eBay from a trusted North American seller with the standard 1 year warrantee. I would also recommend purchasing it on AmazonB&H, or Henry's for my Canadian readers. Always shop around for the best price and remember plane tickets are better than gear. Thanks for reading and happy travels!

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 29mm, ISO100, f13, 1/6 sec, tripod, polarizer, 3 stop grad. ND)

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 29mm, ISO100, f13, 1/6 sec, tripod, polarizer, 3 stop grad. ND)

Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park (Nikon D7100, 18-35G : 18mm, ISO 100, f11, 8 sec, tripod, polarizer, 3 stop grad. ND, 6 stop ND)

Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park (Nikon D7100, 18-35G : 18mm, ISO 100, f11, 8 sec, tripod, polarizer, 3 stop grad. ND, 6 stop ND)

Intracoastal Waterway, Calabash, N.C. (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 35mm, ISO 100, f8, 2.5 sec, tripod)

Intracoastal Waterway, Calabash, N.C. (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 35mm, ISO 100, f8, 2.5 sec, tripod)

Old Town Stockholm, Sweden (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 18mm, ISO 400, f8, 1/100 sec, handheld)

Old Town Stockholm, Sweden (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 18mm, ISO 400, f8, 1/100 sec, handheld)

Dyrholaey, Iceland (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 35mm, ISO 100, f10, 3 sec, tripod, polarizer, 6 stop ND)

Dyrholaey, Iceland (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 35mm, ISO 100, f10, 3 sec, tripod, polarizer, 6 stop ND)

Kirkjufellsfoss, Iceland (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 26mm, ISO 100, f14, 1/4 sec, tripod, polarizer)

Kirkjufellsfoss, Iceland (Nikon D600, 18-35G : 26mm, ISO 100, f14, 1/4 sec, tripod, polarizer)

For the full list of the photography gear I use, click here.