Nikkor AF-S 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR: Far-reaching Quality

Nikkor AF-S 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR

Nikkor AF-S 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR

The Nikkor 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR combines quality and affordability for the serious wildlife photographer. Shridhar Kunte puts it to the test.

The Nikkor 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a response to Tamron and Sigma’s popular 150–600mm lenses. Nikon has priced it strategically, a touch above Tamron’s and Sigma’s Contemporary series lens, but lower than Sigma’s Sports series. While Sigma and Tamron both offer a wider zoom range, the Nikkor has a constant aperture of f/5.6, as opposed to its two main competitors, that are only f/6.3 at the telephoto end. This makes the Nikkor a little heavier, but also more practical, while shooting in fading light.

Thanks to an internal focusing system, the overall length of the lens remains the same while focusing, and the 95mm filter thread does not rotate. This makes the lens ideal for use with polarising and graduated filters, if you can afford them in that size, of course. The lens features a 9-bladed aperture diaphragm for beautiful, evenly blurred backgrounds. The minimum focusing distance is 2.2m, which is quite good, considering the focal length. The lens is neither designed nor suitable for macro work as it offers a magnification ratio of 0.22x (1:4.5). But in practice, you can shoot really small subjects like dragonflies.

We wouldn’t recommend using this lens handheld. In fact, when I tried handholding the combination of the D4S and lens, my left arm tennis elbow injury, which had subsided earlier this year, started troubling me again. Also, when the lens is zoomed in, its length increases, which moves some of the weight further out in front, way from the centre of gravity, thus making it unstable. The lens is equipped with a removable tripod mount collar which is not so adequate in size, considering the bulk of the lens. A larger collar would have provided a fuller, more balanced area to place your hand while shooting. In addition to this, a longer collar with contoured finger grips on the underside of the tripod mount, would have also helped when carrying the lens around. The base of the collar is not compatible with Arca-type locking. I would advise you to attach an extra lens plate, but again, there is only one hole to mount the plate and no provision to engage the locking pin.

The locking pin would have avoided the twisting of plate on field, while using the lens on any kind of support. To zoom in or out, the zoom ring needs to be rotated to 180 °, which makes the lens operation a bit slow to capture fast action.

The focusing speed is a lot faster than its close competitors from Sigma and Tamron, especially in low light, where it excels. Even while shooting birds in flight and tiny dragonflies, AF acquisition time and speed were very good.

The fast focusing speed helped in capturing the approaching bird in flight. The lens exhibits good overall sharpness even when shot at wide open. Exposure: 1/2500sec at f/5.6 (ISO 800). Photograph/Suresh Narayanan

The fast focusing speed helped in capturing the approaching bird in flight. The lens exhibits good overall sharpness even when shot at wide open. Exposure: 1/2500sec at f/5.6 (ISO 800). Photograph/Suresh Narayanan

The lens exhibits excellent sharpness throughout its focal length. The lens is sharp wide open at every focal length, and optimum sharpness is achieved at f/8 and f/11. While shooting against the light, a slight hint of flare is noticed at the wide end of the lens. Despite the absence of Nano Crystal Coating, chromatic aberration is nearly absent. The light falloff behaviour is similar to most other telephotos—uniform illumination is achieved by f/8 at wide end and f/11 at telephoto end. Though handheld shooting isn’t ideal with this lens, the VR, in practice, gave me a three-stop advantage, letting me shoot at 500mm, at 1/60sec.

This is not a perfect lens… its ergonomics, especially, could have been a lot better. But getting a super telephoto under a lakh is often about compromises. When compared to the Sigma Contemporary and Tamron lens, the Nikkor may have a slight focal length disadvantage, but excels in every other aspect. The price of Rs. 94,950 is slightly more than its close competitors, but the vast gains in quality, along with the constant f/5.6 aperture, make the difference in price worth it. If you are conscious about quality and wish to photograph sports and wildlife, you should not look elsewhere.

IS mode for sports, weathersealed, f/5.6
Sharpness, Good IS performance
Build Quality
High quality metal and plastic construction combined
Large zoom ring rotation angle, small tripod collar
Warranty & Support
Large number of service facilities
MRP Rs. 94,950
Who should buy it? Wildlife and action photographers who don’t mind sacrificing reach, for better quality.
Why? Class-leading performance at every focal length.
Tags: Shridhar Kunte, Nikkor, Nikkor AF-S 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR, Nikkor 200-500 review, December 2015