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200-400 VR vs 300 f2.8 AFS w/TC

IntegrityPhotos

Deerfield, US
1253 posts

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IntegrityPhotos Registered since 26th Apr 2006
Wed 16-Jan-08 01:00 PM

As others have often asked about how these two top Nikkor lenses compare in the same focal lengths, I decided to do one more head to head comparison. (The original one was done when I was evaluating the 200-400 VR for purchase.)This time I included using both the TC14EII and the TC20EII. The latter TC was chosen to see what the effect of post processing had using the maximum focal length of the lens vs the magnified teleconverter image, with both cropped to the same final image size. For comparison, seven images are included.

All images are shot using the following equipment:

Nikon D200 body set to JPEG Large/Fine, ISO 200, single shot with focus priority, spot metered, cloudy WB, aperture priority, Adobe RGB, and normal sharpening. Shutter speeds varied between 1/160 at f8 and 600mm, to 1/500 at f4 and 300mm.

Gitzo G-1349 CF tripod, with leveling base and Wimberly head, locked down with NO VR and NO mirror lockup, using the best long lens shooting technique I could muster.

Shooting conditions were early evening in the Midwest US, facing East, with flat light, no wind and clear with no haze. Subject image was under shade that during normal daylight would have influenced the lighting to a greater extent. Attached images are the best of several shot sequentially for each lens and setting. Variance in this regard was not much, but there were a few that resulted in a slight loss of resolution, primarily due to my loss of concentration. I initially shot a few images with VR ON, but quickly confirmed the results for this test were inferior in this mode, as opposed to the benefit when shooting under less favorable conditions.

The images at 300(mm) and 400(mm) are both cropped at 400%, an extreme magnification, but one that allows examination of the beginning effect of resolution on a pixel level. The images at 600(mm) are cropped to result in the same final image size as the 400(mm) images, to allow a direct comparison.

Observations:

The native lens resolution of the 300 f2.8 AFS lens is slightly better than the 200-400 VR at maximum focal length and f4, with the latter lens holding slightly greater contrast. This was sometimes exhibited by this lens producing slightly darker images with equivalent camera settings.

With the TC14EII the 300 f2.8 AFS at 420mm is essentially equal to the 200-400 VR at 400mm with both at f8. I chose f8 so it would provide a comparison with the TC20EII at comparable apertures. Earlier tests suggest the 200-400 VR would hold a slight edge at f4, but shooting conditions could allow the results to go either way.

With the TC20EII, the results are somewhat surprising to me. The use of this TC is often regarded as producing unacceptable results, but in this situation, with extreme cropping, the TC20EII on the 300 f2.8 AFS lens, as well as the TC14EII on the 200-400 VR, produce clearly better results than with the more extremely cropped native resolution of the 200-400 VR or the 300 f2.8 AFS with the TC14EII. This suggests to me that both of these lenses are out-resolving the sensor of the D200, and the additional magnification of the TC provides higher resolution to the sensor allowing better cropped results of the same final image size. I would guess a much higher quality sensor would be required to determine the point at which these lenses no longer out resolve the camera capabilities. All in all, I was quite surprised with the quality of the TC20EII under these controlled conditions, as I have had less success using it in more demanding situations. Obviously, the quality of these two lenses makes a substantial difference in the use of this TC, or any other, at least in my experience, and with very stable and controlled conditions.

Now here are the images:

The following reference image is included for a perspective of the subject, which measured approximately 50 yards from the film plane.

300 at f4 300 reference at 50yd.jpg

The other images are in the following order:

200-400 f4 300mm.jpg
300 at f4 300mm.jpg
200-400 f8 400mm.jpg
300 at f8 420mm.jpg
200-400 f8 560mm.jpg
300 at f8 600mm.jpg

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OldPhotos
"If everyone possesses some measure of this intangible quality called creativity, photography is unprecedented as an outlet for its expression." - Ansel Adams

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