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  1. #1
    Senior Member
    lokatz's Avatar

    300 PF versus 200-500

    300 PF versus 200-500
    A week ago I had an exchange with Blacktop on how his Nikon 200-500 F5.6 compares to my Nikon 300 F4 PF (the Phase Fresnel version of the 300mm F4) for wildlife and birding. That was over in the “Post Your D500 Shots” thread. I am opening a new one here so others can comment independently. Wanting to find out myself, I borrowed a 200-500 to compare the two.

    • Caveat 1: This is a LONG post as I want to share the results of extensive testing. Hope you’re willing to put up with that.
    • Caveat 2: I focus solely on the primary use of a long tele for wildlife, birding and BIF shooting. This is not a comprehensive comparison. You may have other uses, with different criteria.

    Two respective lens configurations were pitted against each other, the 200-500 @ 300mm against the 300 PF, and the 200-500 @ 500mm against the 300 PF with a Nikon TC-20E III for a resulting 600mm. All tests were done on a D500. (Yes, these are FX lenses, but for wildlife and birding, the D500, with its fast auto-focus, low-light capability, and 1.5x DX crop factor, IMHO is the king of the hill these days.)

    I first AF fine-tuned each lens to minimize front-/back-focus issues. Next, I determined the lowest usable handheld shutter speed, with VR set to Sports, which Nikon recommends for the above mentioned subjects. The test was comprised of shooting at different shutter speeds and identifying the one where I was getting at least 11 sharp shots out of a series of 20. This turned out to be at 1/60 seconds for the 200-500 @ 300mm and 300 PF without TC, and 1/90s for the 200-500 @ 500mm and 300 PF + TC-20. The latter would have to be expected to need 1/125s because of the longer length, but it still inched in with 11 good shots at 1/90s.

    (Note: Please refrain from telling me that you can shoot faster hand-held. I am in decent physical shape and have a bit of experience with slow-speed shooting. Keep in mind that the amount of available light, which was intentionally fairly low in my tests, and other factors influence this. You may have gotten sharp shots at much slower speeds – I have, too, but that’s not the point here.)

    I then conducted two IQ tests: Test 1 determined IQ when shooting handheld at similar light conditions but at 2 stops faster than the lowest usable handheld shutter speed. In other words, I shot at 1/250s for 300mm respectively 1/350s for the longer lens variants. The target, a sticker on a rather messy letterbox, is about 20m / 65ft away. The below enlargements (about 3.2% of the original image area) show the best shots out of series of 10 each. Note that I only compared center sharpness.

    300 PF versus 200-500-comparison-hand-held.jpg

    Test 2 used the same target, but camera and lens were on a tripod this time, with VR turned off and mirror-up shooting to get the optimum IQ.

    300 PF versus 200-500-comparison-tripod.jpg

    My conclusions
    As a proud owner of the 300mm F4 PF, I would have loved to claim that it fared better than the cheaper 200-500. It did not.

    For starters, the heavy 200-500 (2,300g / 81oz) supports about the same shutter speeds when handheld as the much lighter 300 PF (755g / 26.5oz, or 1,085g / 38oz with TC). My guess is that the heft of the 200-500 serves as sort of a stabilizer against hand tremble.

    As far as IQ goes, the differences are small at 300mm (and a bit hard to see in the low-res images here). Both lenses fare about the same when hand-held, though the 200-500 does marginally better than the 300 PF when both are mounted on a tripod.

    At the 500mm end, the 200-500 really shines. The IQ is impressive and beats the 300 PF with TC-20 by more than I would have expected. [Note: I previously had the TC-14 and compared the two TCs, so please trust me here: 300 PF + TC14 versus 200-500 at 420mm would have yielded the same result.]

    So, am I ready to switch? Hell, no. My D500 together with the 300 PF and the TC combined still weigh less than the 200-500 alone, and I often take my gear along on long hikes in remote areas. The 300 PF is 7.5 inches long, versus the 200-500’s 17.2, so it also fits into a normal photo backpack where the big gun won't. It is an amazing accomplishment by Nikon to create such as small tele lens with good optical performance. As my tests show, though, you cannot beat the laws of physics: bigger glass is better.

    › See More: 300 PF versus 200-500
    Thanks/Like Blacktop, Kevin H, Danno, TedG954, ryan20fun Thanks/liked this post
    Lothar Katz

    Nikon D700, D500, D7100, 200-500 f/5.6, 300 f/4 PF, 55-200 f/4-5.6, 50mm f/1.8 - Tamron 60 f/2 Macro - Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4 - Tokina 12-28 f/4 - Yongnou YN568 - Panasonic TZ101 (a.k.a. ZN100) - Photoshop CS6 - Lightroom 6 - DXO PhotoLab - Aurora HDR 2018

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Challenge Team
    Blacktop's Avatar

    Re: 300 PF versus 200-500

    Thanks for doing this @lokatz. Having shot with the 200-500mm for a over a year, first on the D750 and now on the D500 it is the best lens that I own. I shot everything with it from bugs to flowers to birds to wildlife, and it still amazes me sometimes. If I could afford and justify adding a 300mm pf I would do it in a heartbeat. It would be an addition, not a replacement to the 200-500mm for those times when carrying the 200-500 is awkward.
    Right now I have the 70-200mm f/2.8 to fill that need.
    Thanks/Like lokatz, Kevin H Thanks/liked this post
    Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AF-D
    Nikkor 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5-D
    Nikkor 50mm f/1.8-D
    Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 VR
    Nikkor 70-200mm F/2.8 VR I
    Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 VR
    Pete's Flickr... Blacktop's Photo and a Song .... Blacktops 365

  3. #3
    Senior Member

    Re: 300 PF versus 200-500

    Excellent write up! I did a less thorough version of the same camera/lens combinations and agree with all you have said. My final thought was whichever combination you have is going to be hard to beat. I wish I could afford a 300pf for longer hikes, but for most of my needs the 200-500 is almost perfect. Thanks for putting in the time!

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Thanks/Like lokatz Thanks/liked this post
    Tommy C. D500 and usually a Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6

    -If there truly are two types of people in this world, strive to be neither.- Me

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Kevin H's Avatar

    Re: 300 PF versus 200-500

    Great write up @lokatz
    Thanks/Like lokatz Thanks/liked this post
    Nikon D7200
    Nikon D7100 (she's Dead)
    Nikon D5100
    Nikon 300 f4
    Nikon 55-300
    Nikon 18-105
    Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX
    Tamron 90 f2.8 macro
    Sigma 10-20 f3.5
    Sigma 150-500

    My Flickr

  5. #5
    Challenge Team
    RocketCowboy's Avatar

    Re: 300 PF versus 200-500

    Nice write up! Glad I have both available to me, but good to see the comparisons/contrasts.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Thanks/Like lokatz Thanks/liked this post
    Charlie, aka RocketCowboy

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  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Ironwood's Avatar

    Re: 300 PF versus 200-500

    Thanks for doing this. Great to get an unbiased user report.
    Thanks/Like lokatz Thanks/liked this post

    Every Day might not be a good Day,
    ​ but there is something good in every Day.

  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Roy1961's Avatar

    Re: 300 PF versus 200-500

    nice read.
    Thanks/Like lokatz Thanks/liked this post
    Learn to laugh at yourself, everyone else is.
    D500, D7000. SB700.

    Nikkor 18-105mm, 35mm, 70-300mm and Sigma 50-500.

    LowePro 202 Slingshot bag, Wimberley Gimbal head, Benro Carbon Fiber Tripod.

    Vanguard Alta 263 Tripod with SBH-250 ballhead, Vanguard AM 263 Monopod with SBH-100 ballhead.

  8. #8
    Senior Member

    Re: 300 PF versus 200-500

    Different lens, but my Sigma 150-600mm Sport has gathered far more dust than action since I picked up the 300mm. Sharpness of a prime cannot be matched. That, a 1.4x and a 1.7x in my pocket and I can walk in the woods all day with no shoulder ache - it's lighter than my 24-120mm. Still not sure why I haven't sold the Sigma, but I know I'll need it if I ever get back to Rocky Mt Natl Park.
    Thanks/Like lokatz, RocketCowboy Thanks/liked this post

    Hippies Must Use Back Door ... No Exceptions

    D750, D500, D610, D800 @ IR 720nm, Sony a6000 (and a bunch of other stuff)

  9. #9
    Senior Member
    Iansky's Avatar

    Re: 300 PF versus 200-500

    Great comparison between 2 outstanding lenses, I have the 300mm f4 PF and a colleague has the 200-500mm - we both shoot car racing / wildlife and airshows and to date I have been delighted with the 300mm and IQ delivered. To date, I have not felt the need for a zoom and being a small light lens enables me to carry and use the 300mm on my D500 all day without discomfort and have a 450mm equivalent focal length when needed and increase that to 630 when using the 1.4 extender.

    In defence of the 200 - 500, on a good tripod with gimbal and a static location it is the perfect lens for many of the events above but if you like to change locations frequently it is a heavy set of kit to carry.

    Both lenses are stunning and deliver in spades and it is very much a fine line between the 2.

    Well done Nikon for delivering such stunning lenses.
    Thanks/Like lokatz, RocketCowboy Thanks/liked this post

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