Teleconverter

Nikon's Telephoto Lenses Under $2,500 - Which One Is Your Best Option?

If you are interested or just getting into wildlife photography, you have to keep in mind that it's not always possible to reach to your subject physically closer most of the time. And in that case, you have two options; you can either get a mid-range telephoto lens and add a teleconverter to get an extra reach or get a long-range telephoto lens. Unless you are a pro wildlife photographer and making your living out of it, it's very hard to justify the cost of expensive telephoto lenses. In my previous blog, I wrote about should you buy a telephoto lens or get a teleconverter where I talked about the best possible route you can go. In short, if the budget is not an issue, get a telephoto lens by all means but if the budget will be an issue, you can get a mid-range telephoto lens and a teleconverter. In this blog, I am trying to discuss about two Nikon mid-range telephoto lenses under $2,500 and onto which you can attach a teleconverter to extend your reach. When you are shopping for the lenses, usually, you encounter with the two choices; whether to get a prime lens or a zoom lens. Most of the time, the deciding factor would be what is more important to you; speed of the prime or the flexibility of the zoom? Today, we are going to take a look at two lenses which are in similar price and focal range but one is prime and another one is zoom lens. Let's take a look at them one by one.

Prime Lens: AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

This lens has an effective focal length of 300mm on FX Model and 450mm on DX Model DSLR. Since it is a prime lens, the widest aperture is also constant at f/4 with the smallest aperture of f/32. This lens is made up of 16 elements grouped into 10 groups with the minimum focus distance of 4.6 ft. This lens has an aperture with 9 blades diaphragm, with the lens diameter of 77mm (takes 77mm filter) and weigh 755g and comes with the price tag of $1,999.95.

AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F4E PF ED VR

AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F4E PF ED VR

Nikkor 300mm f/4E has an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism (E) in the barrel which provides highly accurate electronic diaphragm or aperture blade control, whereas in conventional D/G type lenses, the diaphragm blades are operated by mechanical linkage levers. But this lens is most famous for a Nikon-designed Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element, a first for the Nikkor DSLR lens lineup. It helps to get sharper and clear image with virtually no chromatic aberration or ghosting. Due to it's revolutionary PF technology, this lens is relatively compact and lightweight.

It also includes one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass element and the Nano Crystal coat (N) combined with the Nikon's Silent Wave Motor (SWM) to deliver clear and accurate images with an ultra-quiet and ultra-fast auto-focusing system. It is weather sealed and the front element is coated with fluorine to repel dust, water, grease or dirt and ensures easy cleaning.

This lens comes with 4.5-stop of Vibration Reduction (VR) which provides an image stabilizing effect equivalent to a shutter speed increase of 4.5-stop in a Normal mode. It helps to capture sharp and clear handheld images in low light, Sports and Action. Image sharpness and contrast are fabulous from f/4 all the way through to f/16, and they don't drop off much at f/22-32. Color fringing and distortion are negligible, while resistance to ghosting and flare is very good and the overall image quality is superb.

Zoom Lens: AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

This lens has an effective focal length of 80-400mm on FX Model and 120-600mm on DX Model DSLR. Since it is a zoom lens with a variable aperture, the widest aperture is f/4.5 at 80mm and f/5.6 at 400mm with the smallest aperture of f/32-f/40. This lens is made up of 20 elements grouped into 12 groups with the minimum focus distance of 5.74 ft. This lens has an aperture with 9 blades diaphragm, with the lens diameter of 77mm (takes 77mm filter) and weight 1570g and comes with the price tag of $2,299.95.

AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 G ED VR

AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 G ED VR

Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G doesn't come with a Fresnel element but it does have four ED elements and one super ED element. There is no fluorine coating and only the mount is weather sealed, but as with the 300mm lens, the Nano Crystal Coating helps to combat ghosting and flare. With a minimum length of 203mm, this lens is at least a third longer than the 300mm and it extends considerably at longer zoom settings. It also weigh about twice as much as the prime lens, but comes complete with a tripod/monopod collar which is an optional purchase on 300mm prime. The 80-400mm has the same triple-mode focusing system as the 300mm, and there's also an autofocus range limiter and a zoom lock switch, but AF speed is slightly slower. It comes with the Nikon's second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR) technology which is rated at up-to 4-stop, and has a conventional normal and "active" modes.

Because of it's weight, it makes hard to shoot handheld for a longer period of time but you can get the versatility of the zoom range. This lens comes with the mechanically controlled aperture (G) which is less accurate in high-speed continuous shooting. The image quality of this lens is not as consistent as that of 300mm. It has an impressive sharpness throughout most of the zoom range but drops off quality little bit near 400mm. This lens is not as sharp as 300mm prime even at 300mm and the color fringing and the distortions are slightly more noticeable, but they're still pretty negligible.

Conclusion

I think based on the price, size, manageability and the overall image quality, Nikkor 300mm prime is easily a winner. It's also good value for a Nikon telephoto prime, and standout features include an electromagnetically-controlled diaphragm and a more effective VR system. However, if you can put up with the extra size and weight, the 80-400mm is almost as good, has a greater reach, and is much more versatile lens.

Should I Buy A Telephoto Lens Or Use A Teleconverter?

This post is part of our Q&A section. If you want to submit your question, please use the form in the Contact page.

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Oliver (Auckland, New Zealand) asked: I like doing nature and wildlife photography and considering my options whether to buy telephoto lens or teleconverter. Please suggest what should I do?

Hello Oliver! If the budget is not an issue, getting telephoto lens for your need is the best choice by all means. If you are serious into sports photography or nature and specially wildlife photography, telephoto lens will make its way into your camera bag sooner or later. And if you can't afford good telephoto lens yet but have mid-range zoom lens, 70-200mm for example, your option is to get teleconverter and extend its range.

Why do we need a Telephoto Lens?

Telephoto lens is a specific type of long-focus lens and an essential tool to have if you are into wildlife photography and considering to make it your profession or serious hobby. You cannot always get closer to your subject and telephoto lens is the only way to capture them. But good telephoto lens comes with big price and might be bulky for some of us to carry around all day long. As of today, the most expensive and long range Nikon super-telephoto lens (AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR) costs around $16,299.95 and weighs around 10.1 lbs (4.5 Kg) and mid-range telephoto lens (AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II) costs around $6,999.95 and weighs around 7.4 lbs (3.3 Kg). Not everyone needs and can afford these beasts but that doesn't mean we should give up.

What should we do then?

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Where there is a will, there is a way, and, this is where teleconverter comes into our discussion. Teleconverter is a cheap way to extend your lens range from its normal range. As name suggests itself, teleconverter multiplies your lens range by its x factor. Let's say you have a 70-200mm lens with f/2.8 max aperture and you bought 2.0x teleconverter. Once you fit this teleconverter to your lens, it will extend range from 70-200mm to 140-400mm and reduces maximum aperture to f/5.6, by half, allowing only half amount of lights and hence slowing down the speed which might be crucial for wildlife photography specially for capturing birds and fast moving animals. If you were thinking little earlier why telephoto lenses were that much expensive when you can achieve the same range with cheaper teleconverter, you may now have the answer. Yes, it not only extends the zoom range by x factor but also decreases the aperture by same factor. So, if your goal is to get greater range with maximum aperture possible (to produce nice bokeh effect in the background and faster shutter speed) then you may have no choice but buy expensive telephoto lens. Sometimes you may be able to get nice blurry background even with smaller aperture if your focusing distance is greater because depth of field is affected by your distance to subject as well. Another disadvantage of using teleconverter is distortion effect. Your image might be little distorted because teleconverter adds different sets of glasses behind your lens adding an external components to the lens whereas telephoto lens is made up of same quality glasses incorporated inside single barrel to produce better result. Distortion might be little less noticeable or even unnoticeable if you use teleconverter from same manufacturer as your lens.

To summarize our discussion into points,

1. Telephoto lens can be heavy and expensive but it is the best option if the budget is not an issue and you do not want to compromise with quality of pictures.

2. Teleconverter is the best alternative and cheaper option to get extended range from your normal zoom lens.

3. Teleconverter extends the range of your lens but also decreases the max aperture by same factor and slow down your lens by allowing only half of the lights than the lens without the converter.

4. And that is why getting telephoto lens or using teleconverter depends on what you want to achieve and how much money you are willing to spend for it.