Gear

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)

Great Gifts for Photographers (Under $100)

GREAT HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

There are a lot of these “Great Gift Ideas for Photographers” listicles out there, so I was reluctant to write one. What I finally decided is that most of them didn’t actually list items that are all that useful to serious photographers or the items they list are just plain kitschy junk. I mean we’ve all seen the camera lens mugs that look cool, but in practice are pretty crappy vessels for the all-important-coffee-break when in the field. This list of gift ideas is full of things I actually use frequently, or I would like to have myself, as a working photographer. No kitsch…just real practical gifts that the photographer in your life will use and enjoy for under $100 USD.

Peak Design Leash Camera Strap ($39 or less)

I own two camera straps by Peak Design. They make solid products. The “leash” is my favourite. Whether you’re shooting a small mirrorless camera or a large pro DSLR, the leash works great. Their ingenious system for fastening the strap to your camera provides versatility and supports up to 200 lbs of weight! It’s also easily adjustable and very comfortable to use in the field. I used mine the entire time I was travelling in Europe last summer. Visit https://www.peakdesign.com/ for more info. Check the price on Amazon.

Also consider the Peak Design Slide Summit Edition (which I also own) for heavier camera and lens combos ($65 or less):


Think Tank Photo Retrospective 10 Shoulder Bag ($100)

Think Tank Photo makes awesome shoulder bags. The Retrospective 10 shoulder bag is great for carrying one large camera body and up to three pro-lenses (with other accessories). I own the larger Retrospective 50, which is bit overkill for my needs. The Retrospective 10 is a much more reasonable size and carries the essential needs of a travel photographer. These bags are well-made and very comfortable. I really like that is doesn’t really look like a camera bag, and thus draws less attention. Check the specs, price, and see more images on Amazon.


Think Tank Photo Holster 30 V2.0 Camera Bag ($80 or less)

Walking around with larger lenses is tricky. You don’t always have time to go digging around your backpack for your 70-200mm lens when an elk walks out in front of you or when you’re walking around a city and something interesting happens. Sometimes you need access to your longer lens for more reach on the fly. Think Tank makes solid products that a lot of pro-photographers love. I have one of their shoulder bags, and it’s great (but cost more than $100, so I didn’t list it here). I don’t own the Photo Holster 30 V2.0 by Think Tank, but I can see it being something that I’d use frequently on those shorter walks in the woods when I only want minimal gear and need a telephoto lens close at hand. Think Tank Photo also makes smaller versions of this bag. For more info visit www.thinktankphoto.com.
Check the price on Amazon.


Tenba Protective Wrap Tools 16in Protective Wraps (various sizes $14 - $17)

I own and use several Tenba Protective Wraps. They’re great for wrapping up your lenses for extra padding in transit. They’re available in several different sizes and colours. Most lenses and camera bodies fit into the 16 inch version, but I own a few 20 inch ones as well. I’ve even used these to line my messenger bag for extra padding, affectively making it a camera shoulder bag. Check the price on Amazon.


Giottos AA1920 Rocket Air Blaster ($8 - $15)

This silly looking little thing is one of the most important things a photographer can own. I’ve had mine for many years and use it daily. Essentially it’s used for blowing dust, dirt, lint, and sand off your camera body and lenses. It can also be used (when used properly) during the process of cleaning dust from camera sensors. I use it to blow away dust and debris before wiping the glass components of my camera and lens. It can be purchased alone or in a cleaning kit with other accessories.
Check the price on Amazon.


Water resistant memory card case ( $10 or less)

There are many waterproof and water resistant card cases for memory cards out there. They’re all very similar. The one listed here is a popular product on Amazon and the one that I use. It holds 12 SD cards. There is a version for CF cards available and a few other configurations as well.
Check the price on Amazon.


OP/TECH Rainsleeves - 2-Pack ($7 or less)

These very inexpensive (less than $7 for two!) rain covers work great at keeping your camera gear dry. I used them while photographing grizzlies in the rainy Khutzeymateen wilderness in northern British Columbia. They worked great, even with my Nikon 200-500mm VR lens! They are very easy to use and even allow your zoom lenses to zoom out without slipping off. I’d recommend these to anyone who shoots outdoors. I prefer them to more bulky and expensive options. Check them out on Amazon.


Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge DVD Box Set (Entire Series $70 or less)

Travels to the Edge is an excellent television series featuring world renowned travel and nature photographer Art Wolfe. If it doesn’t get you motivated to get outdoors and make some images, nothing will. Art’s photos are amazing, and the videography of the awesome places he visits on the show is top quality. I own this set and rewatch my favourite episodes often. It is both entertaining as well as educational for the aspiring outdoor photographer. Check the price on Amazon.


Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Photography
($16 or less)

This guide, written by one of my favourite travel photographers Richard I’Anson, taught me a lot of what I know about travel photography as both a hobby and business. It’s packed full of great images and lessons for the aspiring travel photographer. Even though I’ve read it twice over, I still reference it time and time again in preparation for trips abroad. Check the price on Amazon.

Looking for more books on photography? Check out my favourite photography books by
clicking
here.

Travel Photographer's Master Packing List

I like to travel light. Not "ultra-light" necessarily- I'm a photographer, so the gear required to do a job takes precedence over everything else I carry. That stuff adds a bit of weight. I do manage, however, to fit everything I need for most travel photography situations into a single 35 litre backpack (usually weighing less than 30 lbs). I don't check luggage. That means all the camera gear, clothing, and everything else has to fit into one backpack that fits in any overhead compartment. It's taken years to whittle things down and develop a system that provides me with everything I need and nothing extraneous. One pack means I don't have to waste extra funds paying to check bags and risk missing flights during layovers waiting for my luggage to be rechecked (never check your camera gear!).

Below is my "master packing list." Everything listed here fits into (or onto) a 35L Mammut Nirvana Pro backpack. This system works great for both city travel and nature photography. The following assumes I am traveling to a destination by plane with weight restrictions.

Pictured are a few of my travel photography essentials. The F-Stop Gear Medium Shallow ICU fits perfectly in my Mammut Nirvana Pro 35 backpack with just enough room left over for the necessary photo accessories and clothing for 1 - 2 weeks. The Cameron CF700 tripod with BH30 head is a new addition that I may review later. It straps securly to the outside of my backpack.

Pictured are a few of my travel photography essentials. The F-Stop Gear Medium Shallow ICU fits perfectly in my Mammut Nirvana Pro 35 backpack with just enough room left over for the necessary photo accessories and clothing for 1 - 2 weeks. The Cameron CF700 tripod with BH30 head is a new addition that I may review later. It straps securly to the outside of my backpack.

Storage System:

Clothing:

Miscellaneous Essentials:

  • Passports & wallet
  • Toiletries (I only take toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant)
  • Clif Bars (4 to 6)
  • Empty water bottle (filled with random things on this list to save space)
  • Headlamp
  • Travel-size first aid kit (with Ibuprofen and extra bandaids)
  • Small notebook and 2 pens
  • Parachute cord (20 feet)
  • Maps (good old fashioned printed on paper maps are best)
  • Phone, iPad Mini, ear phones, and chargers
  • Power adaptor (for international travel)

Camera Gear Option I: Typical for City Travel

Camera Gear Option II: Typical for Nature & Wildlife Trips

Why not use a traditional camera backpack? After my most recent Lowepro bag finally kicked the dust, I decided to look for better options for not only storing camera gear, but everything else I needed for travel as well. Camera bag manufacturers just don't make comfortable bags for hiking long distances either, so I started looking into alpine pack companies like Mammut who make rugged packs with a fully-opening back just like traditional camera packs. The Nirvana Pro 35 zips open on the back to fully reveal the main compartment's contents just like F-Stop or Lowepro packs.

Using the F-Stop ICU, I can have quick and easy access to my gear while the backpack lies flat on the ground. It works just like F-Stop Gear's system, but with a much cheaper backpack. For us Canadians, F-Stop bags are just too pricey once you factor in import fees and taxes. My Mammut bag, which is very well designed and comfortable, was only $120 CDN at my local outdoor gear shop (and about $150 for the F-Stop Medium ICU on Amazon). After several uses on international trips, wildlife excursions, and landscape shoots, I can confidently say this is the best/most versitile camera backpack I've ever had. 

Mammut Backpack with F-Stop Medium Shallow ICU:

* The highlighted items are affiliate links. When you click on a link and make a purchase, a small percentage of that sale goes to Maps & Cameras at no extra cost to you. If the product listed is no longer available, the link goes to the store I purchased it from, or to a similar item. This blog has no sponsors; however, all the items listed here are products I use and trust. As always, shop around for the best price.

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.