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Camera Reviews Lens Reviews

Nikon D500 and 200-500mm Nikkor Birding Field Review

Jonathan Kandel (JonK)

Keywords: d500, 200_500mm, bif, birds, telephoto, wildlife, zoom, jonk

Learn about using the 200-500 Nikkor on the D500, a very good combo for bird photographers. Moderator and Nikon shooter Jonathan Kandel (JonK) joined Image Doctor Jason Odell (DrJay32) on a workshop to Florida.

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I’m back from a four-day bird blind shoot in south Texas with Jason Odell and five other shooters. Jason and I shot with the 200-500mm lens on the D500 body; some others in the group shot with the D500 and exotic primes and some others shot with the 200-500mm on other bodies (there were, alas a few C*non shooters…)


I had planned to do a direct comparison with Jason’s 500mm f/4 but it did not make the trip; Jason opted to shoot exclusively with the 200-500mm. However, before the trip he did a comparison of the 200-500mm and the 500mm and posted it here.

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Emiliano Achaval (Maui850) on May 26, 2019

Excelent article!

Mike Friel (thaigah) on November 10, 2018

Re James Saxon's comment below: "The 200-500 is much easier to travel with than the huge 600mm but I can use my 1.4tc with the 600", I recently bought the 200-500 and was delighted to find that (on the D7100 camera) my old Keiko 300Pro 1.4 TC works very well! At least it does to f8, which will be useful in some situations when birding.

Bill Stanke (IRunForBeer) on December 20, 2016

Thank you for writing this article. I have a heavy-duty ball head (Arca-Swiss), so I was very interested in your comments on the Sidekick vs. the full gimbal head. I find that I have a very low "keeper" rate with a D7100 and the "D" version of the 80-400. The 200-500 looks like a better deal than upgrading to the G version of the 80-400.The 200-500 looks like a relative steal for a Nikkor super telephoto - most of them seem to cost as much as a used car... Thanks again, Bill Stanke

John D. Roach (jdroach) on November 28, 2016

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Excellent article. It found it helpful as I evaluate options.

Jason Odell (DrJay32) on August 20, 2016

Awarded for his multiple written contributions for the Resources and eZine

Great review, Jon, and my impressions are the same. One thing I'd mention is that for high shutter speeds and either loose (gimbal) or hand-held shooting, the "SPORT" VR mode is the go-to setting. In normal VR mode, the viewfinder image will tend to jump significantly when VR is deactivated. This doesn't happen in SPORT mode, and it works really well. Looking forward to seeing you again in South Texas next year on the safari! -Jason

Kenneth A Strom (z06kenny) on August 7, 2016

Thank you! Looking forward to getting it especially after reading your review!

James Gould (jgould2) on August 7, 2016

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his excellent and frequent contributions and sharing his in-depth knowledge and experience with the community in the Nikonians spirit.

Thanks Jon. Great to hear your experiences. Most useful! JIM

Neal Nurmi (Wingman) on July 29, 2016

Awarded for sharing his excellent work and continued contribution to the forums, most notably at the Aviation forum. Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Thank you very much, Jon. Much food for thought here. I wish this lens and camera had been available 5 and 10 years ago when I was actively shooting airplane racing and motorsports. They would be much less useful in my current more sedentary work, but seeing your results leaves me mightily tempted nonetheless. Neal

Jerry Mullins (waegger) on July 20, 2016

I have the lens on my 7200 and love it, enjoyed the article.

John A. Meiers (Dakotaboy) on July 7, 2016

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his efforts to make easier to reach landscape information at Nikonians

I also enjoyed the article. Well written and easy to understand. Those are the type of articles I enjoy reading.

Owen Richards (racepics) on July 6, 2016

Very informative article. I have the lens on old D300s but look like a D500 would work better. Time will tell.

James Saxon (calvin1calvin) on July 6, 2016

I have a D500, 200-500, 80-400 and a 600 f4. Have not used my 80-400 much since getting the 200-500. I found the extra 100 mm was nice for BIF and smaller birds. I had a Tamron 150-600 but sold it after I got the 200-500 because the auto focus of the Nikon lens was faster than the Tamron, hated to give up those extra 100mms of reach. The 200-500 is much easier to travel with than the huge 600mm but I can use my 1.4tc with the 600. I have been scratching my head as to whether to keep the 80-400 and the 600. My wife told me not to get in a hurry to sell either because I will want to repurchase them in the future. I always knew she was smarter than me.

Henry Altszuler (HMA123) on July 5, 2016

Jon: I am in central NJ (Westfield). Jon and David: Thanks for your considered opinions. I'm not really concerned as much about missing the last 100mm since I just got a D500 after using my D800 exclusively for several years, so I get "bonus" reach now. I am more concerned with image quality and performance and weight. I too prefer hand-holding most of the time and find the 80-400 to be heavy but "doable". I'm not super impressed yet with its BIF performance, but am not sure if it's the rig or the photographer. Perhaps more reach with the subject filling more of the frame would result in better performance, but it may also result in a more difficult time tracking the erratically moving birds!

David H Dennis (davidhdennis) on July 4, 2016

Henry, some things to think about ... The 200-500 is significantly larger and heavier than the 80-400, so if you are like me and avoid tripods like the plague, you might not get that much out of the longer lens. You will note that this shoot was done pretty much entirely with tripods. When I was at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, I met a fellow Nikonian with the 200-500 and a D7200 and thought the weight of the 200-500 was pretty overwhelming. Since I use a Nikon D5, my rig would be even heavier, albeit better balanced with the big and heavy body. The actual weight difference is 5 pounds for the 200-500 and 3.5 pounds for the 80-400. The 80-400 has about a stop better light sensitivity at its widest angle, but my guess is that sensitivity is about the same when you get to the range the two lenses have in common. To determine how much 100 more mm might help you, review your shots and see how starved you are for reach. If all your birds look pretty tiny in the picture, an extra 100mm would help. If they are all well proportioned, the extra focal length might not matter that much. Also review how much you generally crop - the more you crop, the better more reach is going to look. 200-500 represents a 25% increase in reach over the 80-400. I would also look into the 150-600 lenses offered by Sigma and Tamron. The smaller Sigma (as opposed to the higher quality, but much bigger, heavier and pricier) one looks like it's about the same size and weight as the 200-500. I have friends who use the cheaper Sigma and their pictures are just as sharp as those using the Nikon. So I would at least give it a chance in the store. My store tried to sell me the 150-600 Sport (the large and pricey one), but it was just too big and heavy for me. I would also look at your photographic style and see how often you use 80mm. You're giving an awful lot of wide focal length to get that extra 100mm of telephoto. An 80-400 is an adequate substitute for a 70-200 and a 200-500 if you don't use 500mm that much ... a 200-500 cannot substitute for a 70-200. If you are using a full frame camera, you might consider that getting a D500 or D7200 would be comparable to the price of the new lens and yet give you exactly the same amount of reach with a smaller and lighter combination. Disclaimer: I was thinking of getting the 200-500 but instead bought a Leica X-U for underwater photography and so am out of the lens market for a while :).

Jonathan Kandel (JonK) on July 4, 2016

Awarded for his high level skills and in-depth knowledge in various areas, such as Wildlife, Landscape and Stage Photography Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

I no longer have the 80-400, but by memory I think the 200-500 is superior in many ways: faster AF, sharper, and that 100mm is worth gold when shooting birds (the exception being large birds, where the 200 minimum might be too much). Where in New Jersey are you? Send me an email… [font color=lime]Jon Kandel [font color=green]A New York City Nikonian and Team Member Please visit [|my website] and critique the images! [font color=white]

Henry Altszuler (HMA123) on July 4, 2016

Thanks for the review! I notice you referenced the 80-400 in comparison to the 200-500 lens. Have you done a side by side comparison of the 2 lenses with the D500? I have the new 80-400 and am trying to get better at BIF. Is the 200-500 good enough that it would make sense to add when I already have the 80-400? What advantage (other than 100mm) does the 200-500 have? Thanks!

Chuck Vincent (Chuckv) on July 1, 2016

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Wonderful writeup Jonathan, thanks for a well written piece. Chuck

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on July 1, 2016

Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for  his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

Excellent, thanks John!

Fred Laberge (labtrout) on June 30, 2016

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his constant sharing of his skills and continuous comments of encouragement in the Nikonians spirit.

Terrific review, Jon. Your insights and observations are well-presented and you write clearly and directly. This was a pleasure to read and will be helpful as a reference. Thank you.