For those wanting an affordable super telephoto zoom lens from the Nikon camp, options used to be limited. When third-party makers released cost-effective versions, Nikon stepped up their game with the mouthful of a name, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR SWM IF. Strapped onto a cropped sensor body, the focal length comes out at an impressive 300-750mm.
Add in features like image stabilization and updated optics and this lens could be a great option for going long without costing a fortune. Thus, let’s dig in and see what this lens has to offer.
Firstly, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR SWM IF has a constant aperture which makes it a step ahead of third-party alternatives which generally have variable apertures. This makes the lens faster and more suitable fur use with teleconverters. As for specific features, the lens has been designed with the wildlife, action, and event photographer in mind, at a reasonable price point.
The lens works equally well on FX and DX formats, with a constant f/5.6 aperture for smooth, blurred backgrounds. Focal length is just as important for quality bokeh, which means that longer lengths and constant aperture produce the best results. Vibration Reduction in sport mode aims to give 4.5 stops which is a much-needed item on long telephoto lenses.
The general aperture range on this lens goes from f/5.6-f/32 and houses 19 elements in 12 groups, three ED Glass Elements with two of them being extra-low dispersion lens elements, with a front Super Integrated Coating. Inside are nine rounded diaphragm blades, with all the focusing done internally by an AF-S (Silent Wave Motor). Upfront is a 95mm filter thread and everything weighs in at a chunky 2300g.
Covering such a long focal length means the zoom ring moves with 180 degrees of rotation. Luckily, there is a switch for locking the focal length at 200 or 500mm.
There are also four other switches on the side of the lens which include the auto and manual focusing switch, focus limiter with the options of full range or six meters to infinity, vibration reduction (VR) on and off, and the switch for two modes of vibration reduction – Normal and Sports.
The lens is not weather sealed, but it’s built sturdy enough and has a rubber gasket on the mount to stop the majority of nasties getting into the lens. Using the focus lock button helps when swapping lenses, so the lens doesn’t move and suck in any external dust.
Although this lens is very affordable considering its features and focal length range, it is built extremely well and solid enough to use in a variety of situations. As with any enthusiast lens, it’s an idea to try a few copies out to test consistency.
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR SWM IF in Use
When it comes to focusing speed, the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR SWM IF is better at tracking large objects than small ones. Not that it’s a bad performer, just not as fast as the more expensive super telephoto primes lens. However, at 500mm when focus is locked, subjects pop out of the background nicely with a good deal of bokeh.
The lens copes relatively well in low light conditions, helped enormously by VR, but with a maximum aperture of f/5.6, it can only go so far. This means that if you’re continually shooting in low light, you will have to opt for a more expensive telephoto offering. Still, give this lens enough light and it will snap into focus fine.
As for lens sharpness, everything is at it’s finest at 200mm, dropping as you go to 500mm. Wide-open edges do suffer from slight softness, but as this lens will be predominantly used for capturing distant subjects, the corners aren’t always a concern.
Overall sharpness hits its peak at 300mm, dropping slightly after this point. Stopping down to f/8 helps somewhat, but slight softness is still evident. There is a little vignetting at 500mm in the corners when focusing to infinity, but this is virtually non-existent at the shorter focal lengths.
Ghosting and flaring can be an issue with long telephoto lenses, so it’s always advisable to keep the lens hood in place which helps enormously. As for lens distortion, this is very minimal across the range and any slight amounts present can be easily rectified in software. Lastly, chromatic aberration starts to creep in at 300mm, with minimal amounts at 500mm against very high contrast areas.
The VR system works very well and is essential for long lenses such as this one. ISO can be very quickly increased if you’re not careful, so employing the three to four stops of image stabilization helps with increasing the number of keeper images.
As for bokeh, when the subject is well isolated from the background, the lens does a fine job of producing nice transitions of color, with nice rounded highlights that are not at all distracting. No complaints in this department.
In total, this lens is very sharp in reasonable light conditions, with a good deal of contrast in images considering its price point.
How Does It Compare?
As the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR SWM IF is aimed at the enthusiast level of the market, there are some third-party alternatives which could be considered. These include the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC. The Nikon definitely outperforms the Tamron at 500mm and generally delivers sharper results across the board. The Nikon is also arguably more versatile, having better performance when used with a teleconverter.
Another option comes from the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3. Like the Tamron, this lens has a longer overall reach than the Nikon, but it’s the Nikon that works out to be the sharpest across the range, most evident below f/8. On the flip side, the Sigma 150-600mm Sport is a more expensive lens but also works out to be the better performer. In the usual case, spend more and you should get more.
|Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR SWM IF||Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3|
|Elements||19 elements in 12 groups||20 elements in 13 groups|
This Nikon lens is clearly aimed at competing with third-party makers in the enthusiasts market. In this department, the Nikon is the clear winner, but the Sigma 150-600mm Sport also throws a spanner in the works. It may cost a bit more, but it also produces fantastic sharpness and has a better reach overall.
However, if you don’t want the extra bulk of the Sigma Sport, then the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR SWM IF is a worthy buy.