#33. "RE: sharpness: my perpetural struggle" In response to In response to 32 Wed 30-Jan-13 10:05 PM by nrothschild
>> What makes this lens so difficult?
Forget the optics and look at the geometry. It is a well designed... tuning fork .
It has a handle (the lens foot), just like a tuning fork, and like a straight sided tuning fork (not the more typical U shaped) it has two nice arms to resonate sweetly.
This is true of any collared lens, to some degree. Some people have some trouble mastering a 70-200 if that is their first collared lens. And if they do not understand the physics of a tripod, that particular lens can produce better results hand held (usually using VR) than on a tripod.
The next tiny step up is a 300/4, unless it is shot at 500 or 600mm with a TC (as most people do because most users are birders). That can take a little time.
The next step up woould be your 200-400 or a 300/2.8 working a TC. I suspect you did not get perfect results with that lens out of the box the first day. But while that lens is tougher than a 70-200 it is much easier than your newer 600/4.
Among the highest end 400/500/600 lenses, your 600 is usually considered the toughest of the bunch, simply because it is physically longer and heavier. If you want an efficient tuning fork you generally increase the length of the arms.
Weight is important because weight stresses the mount, and the length allows you to more easily put leverage on it, even if you don't want to. The length also adds "moment arm" which is another way to say it's a good tuning fork!
It is all a matter of degree, and this lens is at the top of the heap, in quality and relative difficulty.
I'm not trying to say this lens is beyond your ability or nearly impossible to master, but you asked, and I am trying to explain it as best I can, and on a purely relative basis compared to other lenses, especially those you have shot. You've made a very good start by starting this thread.
The good new is that once you master this lens, just about any other "normal" lens you shoot will seem like child's play. With the exception of very deep macro where all the issues I mentioned (except now usually a one sided tuning fork) apply at a microscopic level.
Since you do not plan to make an intensive hobby out of this lens, as many or most of us do, it just means you have to approach your learning curve smarter, and we are trying to help you do that.
If you do not want to make this lens an obsession, then you absolutely, positively need to get that Series 5. Many of us use less, usually a Series 3, but we are putting more time behind the lens to acquire the better skills necessary to use that tripod. You will accomplish more, and faster, with a Series 5. I am as sure of that as anything regarding what I think is a rather fuzzy and ill defined subject. It is as much art as science for us because few of us are vibration engineers. We just know what empirically works for us.
I would also suggest finding a local "duck pond" and getting in some quality time behind the lens before the trip. I have a busy local pond I use for practice and testing new gear or new ideas for technique. And this is prime duck season.
And you have the lens, you should try to use it out west.
Edit: I have talked to a number of 600/4 shooters that use Series 3's. I rarely see a Series 5 in the field. When I ask them about VR/IS they all tell me they could not shoot their lens without it. Most are Canon users simply because most of them are old timers that bought their Canon IS lenses back before Nikon had a VR model.
For that reason alone I would suggest you seriously try VR and determine if it helps or hurts. You will get varying opinions on that so you need to find out for yourself.