Photos? Awesome! Process: less so...

Image quality & handling: good results aren't enough. The shooting experience also counts

Author: Thushara Verhoeven | Photo & image credits: © TPJ Verhoeven Photography | 1.496 words | Published on: 16 September 2021 | Last edited on: 29 December 2021

1. My current glass...

What are the problems that I am facing and why do I need a better lens? The choices are plentiful. So, what are the options?

(34x) You tell me: is it nice and sharp?

Photo gallery: animals at Dutch safari wildlife park 'De Beekse Bergen' (34 photos)

I have two long range telephoto lenses. #1. The Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G and #2. the Nikon 300mm /4E PF. Both are supposed to be awesome but the problem is: they're not. Or at least, not entirely, which over time increasinly frustrates me more and more to a point that I feel limited in my long range telephoto work.

2. Why am I unhappy?

Because of various reasons. I discovered that I have a flawed copy of lens #1. Of course I knew that it was used when I bought it, but it apparently not even remotely performs as it should. I found that out when I met a random visitor of the park who was coincidentally shooting with the exact same lens. The image quality was somewhat similar, but other than that... his copy performed way better than mine in terms of handling.

Now I do know for a fact that there are better long range telephoto lenses out there, which are easier to handle / shoot with. Problem is that they are very expensive, so I have to pick wisely since I don't have the budget to pick more than one.

Lastly because of future plans I have, regarding travelling to remote / exotic / places with potentially camera unfriendly weather conditions, where I will be in need of a lens that can handle it all.

"But, Covid?"

Yes, the virus is still here and it probably is here to stay. I know, but it doesn't hurt to make plans, right? So that's what I've been doing these past months: researching and making plans. I won't go in to deep but I know there will be some sort of end to this pandemic at some point in the future and that borders eventually will reopen. When that happens I want to be ready with gear that is on point to do some serious shooting abroad in beautiful but difficult places. 

"So why a new lens? Are the ones you have not enough?"

No. Bearing all of the above in mind, unfortunately not. Granted, both my recent Nikon tele zooms aren't too shabby (80-400mm and 300mm f/4E PF), but both don't meet my standard. That last one is probably there to stay but the first one I am just not excited about. Don't get me wrong: I like the photos I took with it since I own it, but I don't love them. They are decent enough to put out there only because of a good dose of luck while shooting and my editing skills.

I do acknowledge the fact that it's an expensive lens and it should in theory be capable of delivering stunning results. I know it's also a bit of a privilige as well since not everybody has the opportunity to put such a lens on his/her camera body, but that doesn't mean I am completely satisfied with the results or the handling or both. Because of that particular last reason I don't use it as often as I want to. That earlier mentioned issues combined make that it's on my 'to be sold' list for quite some time now.

"Is it not just you?"

Yes, it is. I won't consider myself a pixel peeper, but, yes, I can be a pixel peeper at times. Before you dismiss me on this, I want to take you a bit deeper into the handling aspect of my copy of this lens and why I am not satisfied with it. I am quite serious when I say that unfortunately I do see a rather big difference in the final image quality, keeping in mind what it should be. Another thing and this is way more important: I often simply don't get the shot even and I know for a fact that it's not because of my camera bodies or my technique. Compared to my other telephoto lenses like the 70-200mm and the 300mm, this one just underperforms. Of course, certain things can be done in post with adequate editing but that's not what I want. I want straight out of the camera professional quality which I am pursuing as a full time professional photographer in my job and free time. And I just am not getting it.

I am in need a lens that can deliver top results and handles conveniently in literally ALL weather conditions and situations at the same time. I know and feel that I am right there at the top with my high end 70-200m f/2.8E FL, which unfortunately only goes to 200mm. I also do love that little PF for its extreme low weight and size, but I need (and want) something with more reach that has the versatility of a zoom.

To sum up what I am looking for: it has to offer the same weather sealing and the same low levels or absence of CA and vignetting as the other pinnacles of Nikon engineering I already own and love. It needs to be capable of edge-to-edge sharpness when shot wide open on all zoom ranges end to end. I look for something that preferably zooms internally and overall: it has to feel like it can take a serious splash and punch. So... Is there something out there like that? It might (not) surprise you but the answer is a resounding "yes". Taken all of the above into account Nikon has two serious options. A cheap one and an expensive one.

The cheap(er) one is the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E, which for its price is a really good option, because it checks a lot of the boxes. It doesn't check all them though, leaving me with the other option. In the end all the research is pointing me towards just one high end Nikon native contestant, which is the Nikon 180-400mm f/4E.Extra bonus points: it has a built-in 1.4x teleconverter which transforms it into a 252-560mm f/5.6 lens on an FX body, which translate to 378-840mm f/5.6 on a DX body, capable of delivering practically the same image quality as with the TC off, which still should supposedly be still ridiculously high.

"Why this lens?"

This piece of Nikon engineering checks all of the boxes. Following up on all research and reviews I've read and watched: it just doesn't have any flaws, besides punching a serious hole in my bank account if it ever comes within my reach and maybe the weight, but you know what they say... money is there to spend and therefore it's on the very top of my wish list for quite some time now. There's a reason this thing dubbed 'the Ultimate long range telephoto zoom lens' and 'the last telephoto zoom lens you will ever buy', because it literally has the potential to replace all other telephoto lenses you might own or have owned in the past (except for the longer and/or faster primes). I particularly like the sound of that, meaning that I can sell some of my less used glass to earn back a bit of the investment.

Until the opportunity presents itself, I'll stick with what I have right now. I have done my research extensively because I seriously run into the limits of my current glass. In hindsight my copy of the 80-400mm turned out to be a bit of a bad bargain. I bought it used, with little foreknowledge at the time only to found out in the weeks and months after that, that it does have its serious flaws since it apparently already had been used to quite some extend before my purchase. 

"Anything else?"

I am aware of the fact that I might come across a teensy weensy bit ambitious here, given the fact that the price of this lens is simply put... astronomical. With that kind of money you can buy the 200-500mm 9 times over. But that's not what I need and want. I know and I feel that I am right about this one. As far as telephoto zoom lenses are concerned it indeed will be the last big purchase I'll probably ever make. When I do it will be a solid investment that does retain most of its value for years on end which is often the case with these particular kind of lenses.

For now there's only one thing left to do: let's save up, be patient and until then: let's just enjoy the pictures, shall we? 

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