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Thread: 500 f/4 v 600 f/4

  1. #1
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    Default 500 f/4 v 600 f/4

    I'm in the market and asking the perennial question for bird photographers - 500 or 600?

    I am a bit different to some in that I'm happy to shoot either Canon or Nikon, and have extensively shot a Canon 500 f/4 IS, which is just a sublime lens and which I used handheld about 95% of the time. Although I prefer the handling of Nikon bodies & flash units, given the cost of the lens I'm happy to buy a dedicated APS-C body & a flash for use only with the long lens (eg 7D) if I go Canon. However, the additional camera and flash does mean that the price difference between the two major brands (Nikon lens much more expensive) is pretty much irrelevant for me.

    This is just a bit of a stream of consciousness post as I go through the selection process, and I very much welcome other people chiming in with their anecdotal or theoretical thoughts!

    I am sorely tempted to just pick up a current gen Canon 500 f/4 IS second hand. I've taken about 80K frames through one of these and I can't fault it. No problems handholding it for me.

    I've also had it drawn to my attention that the new Canon 600 f/4 is about the same weight as the current 500, and I must say that is very tempting... although I'm assuming it'll be somewhere around the drive away price of a small car.

    Anyway, Sunday morning I'll be down at Bicentennial Park with a Nikkor 600 f/4 (non-VR) and a Nikkor 500 f/4 VR to see how those handle. More details to follow as I go through the journey of finding the right long lens for me. I'm looking forward to the selection process & welcome everyone's feedback on their own experiences.

    Alistair

  2. #2
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    I recently bought a 500/4L IS and love it. Use it mostly with the 1.4x (1D body) and sometimes the 2x or even stacked. I reckon the 500/4 is the best all-purpose wildlife lens.

    If you want a lens purely for birds and even remotely think of buying the new 600/4, then maybe just buy the 800/5.6L IS. If I could, I would; at only 4.5KG it's easy to handhold (for me perhaps) and when coupled with a 1.4x it will AF with a 1D series body all the way up to a MkIV. . Don't necessarily believe what everyone says about the MFD being too long on the 800mm. I reckon you'd easily walk back a step or two without spooking a bird rather than walk towards it as you may want to get it bigger in the frame. For me, though, the 500/4L is still sufficient as I am not that into the small birds. Those are on the menu of what I love to photograph anyway.

    You may want to consider a 1D series body with the 1.3x FOV crop. I think those super teles cry for "real" camera bodies. Yes, the 7D is nice, but I personally always wanted the top of the range body with f/8 AF capability, which I now have, though used. Also, the buffer will hold more images in case you have the opportunity to shoot continuously. I have not tried the 7D for this (i.e. buffer writing to card speed etc), but find my 1DMkIIn very quick and I am usually happy with 21-22 images in a burst (if I really have to gun it). The 7D for example will only give 11 frames in the buffer (I think). In any case, at the end of the day the lens will be far more important than a body, but you should consider a 1D, even the MkIII.

    Best wishes for your purchase.

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    If you after small birds and can cope with the extra weight, the 600 is normally considered the way to go, the MFD on the 800 is an issue because you want to be closer for the small birds. I have a 500m and find it a bit limiting for small birds, the extra 100mm is significant when you are after small birds. There's a couple of 600mm f4L IS lenses on Ebay (Aust) right now (also a battered 600mm f4 non IS - I wouldn't go there) from memory the buy it now prices are around the $7-7.5K mark.

    I agree with Akos, if you are spending that much on a lens a 1D body is a good idea. However my view is the MkIII is a bit of a lottery. By way of example, someone approached me using a MKIII on the Mason park outing and he was having issues with achieving focus on BW stilts in good light and it wasn't even hot yet. My MkII was having no issues. The MkIIn is a fine camera, just a little short of MP on occasion.
    Chris Ross
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    www.aus-natural.com
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    What do you mean short of megapixels Chris? Is that because of cropping or printing? I don't have a problem having (only) 8.2mp. Tiff files of 40-50 megabytes are sure enough for most uses aren't they? Or you can have what's it called that I also have? That Noel Carboni thingy.....that you can up-res files with....

    I remembered, Genuine Fractals.

  5. #5
    Tony Hansford Guest

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    I used Genuine Fractals to res up an 8mb 30D image of a rally car in mid air to poster size. It worked really well and my client was stoked. The only reasons I bought a 1D Mk3 instead of the Mk2N is that there were no low mileage Mk2N's around when my Mk3 came on the market. My Mk3 had just had the mirror box/shutter fix done by Canon Sydney so buying it was no longer "a lottery" as Chris Ross puts it
    And I also like the Lithium Ion battery and the big lcd screen on the Mk3.

    I like the 500mm because of its lower weight. Weight is an issue for me. There's no point having IS if you can't lift the lens.

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    Akos, the comment is mainly around having th ability to crop, you can't always get that close to small birds. Sure you can up-rez, but a IdMkIII and IV will have lower base noise and result in an overall smoother image with less magnification of noise along with the image. The MkIIn is very good make no mistake but it does have its limitations. My Ideal would be about 12MP in a 1.3x, but of course that doesn't exist. As things are currently I'm quite happy with my MkIIn when I don't crop too much when I get in the 50-60% crop range the quality is varaible depending on the base noise levels. Note that the MkIIn is a significant upgrade on the MkII, with much better handling of the highlights and better highlight separation, exactly what you need for white bird feather detail. You also get a 2.5" instead of 2" LCD and some other minor upgrades.

    Regarding the MkIII, even the sub mirror fix is no guarantee, the example I quoted before was on a blue dot MkIII which had the sub mirror fix installed in the factory. So getting Canon to service it is also a dice roll unfortunately.

    My guess is that the tolerances to get the whole system to work well together are very tight and a random variations in components can throw the system out of kilter, basically the tolerances on all individual components needs to be tighter than originally specified to get the whole to behave within tolerance. What this translates into is a randomness where some cameras work perfectly and some are dogs. Unfortunately Canon service is a bit stumped here because all they can do is test individual components to see if they are in factory tolerance. You may get lucky and they replace the part with one that is in needed range or you may not.

    If your MkIII works well and I am not doubting that, good luck to you, it produces great images when all is working well, the comment is directed to anyone thinking of buying a used MkIII, ideally you go into the deal knowing the risks or can purchase from someone you know and trust or be able to test it out.
    Chris Ross
    Helensburgh NSW
    www.aus-natural.com
    Instagram: @ausnaturalimages

  7. #7
    Tony Hansford Guest

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    Speaking of 500's, mine has been in Canon's care for two weeks now. I hope no news is good news
    I lost my job last Friday so buying a new one is now impossible.

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    Thanks Chris.
    Yeah my friend just bought a MkII off E-bay for $550 and she is rapt, even though she was after a IIn. The MkII is still a good camera.
    I do try to not crop too much wherever I can, so I am happy with 8.2Mp until I can buy a used MkIV in a few years for a grand.

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    Hmm interesting topic, I had an “accident” with my 500mm last year and it ended up being a right off, so no 500 anymore. Now that I’m really getting into birds I’m looking at investing in some new big glass.

    I loved the 500mm but worry it might be a bit short for the birds.

    So, that leaves the 600mm but as I have a dodgy shoulder from years of carrying cameras and tripods, I’m a bit concerned about the weight of the 600mm.

    Unfortunately, I’m locked into Nikon because of the loss I would have trading over to Canon. Although I love the full frame D3s I miss the 1.5 crop from other years...I have big hands and the bigger camera fits well in my hands and the buttons all are where I need them. If I go down to a D300s the camera just feels too small. Cures to Nikon LOL.

    Also I'm worried about air travel with the 600 whereas the 500 fits in my bag and if I'm lucky I can get it on board as carry on (mind you I haven't flown for awhile).

    My question is, is the 500mm with TC’s going to cut it on the D3 as a birders lens?

  10. #10
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    If you have weight handling problems you will probably want the 500. IMHO it's the perfect all around wildlife lens, not just for birds. People do cringe at using 2x converters, but I really don't understand why they worry. It all comes down to good quality glass, good technique and good light. Have all these three things and you will kill it. You may want to read my recent blog post about using converters here. I do believe that 500/2x combo is sufficient for small birds. Man, I could get shots of small birds with a 300/1.4x combo so I cannot see the fuss. There are many ways to get them close to you, including calls, water/hide combo and some luck. Of course the longer FL will triumph.

    My friend uses a Nikon D3 with a 600/4 VR lens. His shots taken with the new Nikon 2x are just AWESOME and sharp as nails. It all comes down to your technique James and I am sure you have that sorted. Send me an e-mail and I can put you in touch with Steve (Davey) and also a gentleman I know who is thinking of selling his Nikon 500/4VR lens. He does look after it, he is over 80 yrs old. He just does not take many photos and is considering selling it.

  11. The following user says thank you to Ákos Lumnitzer for their reply:

    James Doyle (19-11-2011)

  12. #11
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    Akos, your experience is with Canon 2x, the Nikon, even the newest one is a dog on f4 lenses. Here's a comparison of the Canon and Nikon 500mm f4 lenses both with the 2x on. The Canon combo is very usable, the Nikon combo is mushy, mouse over to see the Canon:

    http://www.the-digital-picture.com/R...mp=2&APIComp=4

    This seems to be widely reported, if your friend has good results, then I'd have to think that was luck with good matching samples of both lens and 2x. In the above link you can compare results from the the bare lens, and 1.4x by selecting from the drop focal length box. The 1.4x seems usable on the Nikon 500. If you select the second 1000m choice on the Canon you get the 2xIII and the difference is even more dramatic.

    Back to the 500mm, definitely usable for birds, but you can never get enough focal length, where you will want the extra FL is for small birds, but it's still do-able with technique. My 500mm basically has the 1.4x glued to it, only coming off for larger birds generally. The Canon 500mm f4 is 3.8kg and the 600mm f4 is 5.4kg, doesn't sound a lot but a full rig on a tripod is pretty heavy with the 500m, the 600mm just adds to it. The other thing to consider is that you can buy a Canon 500mm f4L IS (type 1) a 7D and battery grip new for about the price of a new Nikon 500mm f4 VR, assuming stock is still available. You do see super teles coming up on Ebay quite often and at least for Canon lenses the prices are quite reasonable compared to new.
    Chris Ross
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    Anywhere around 800mm EFL is a great length for birds (I use an EFL of 840mm almost 90% of the time nowadays). So whatever gets you to that focal length (crop camera or otherwise) is pretty much ideal though I do wish for more reach every now and then.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ákos Lumnitzer View Post
    You may want to read my recent blog post about using converters here.
    Very interesting reading Akos, cheers.

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    Thanks Guys and Gals,

    I used the 2X teleconverter on the old 500mm and didn't have much problems with AF...that is on the D3, on the old D2X it worked but was sluggish. I also use it on the 200-400mm and no problems at all, I was really surprised how well it works, but I try to avoid using the 2X unless I really need to prefering the 1.7X.

    But for me the AF part is not that important as I'm "old school" and tend to manual focus most of the time, the exception is for birds in flight.

    So with the original choice to be made, if I use a 500mm + 1.7X I get 850mm EFL on the D3 12MP or I can use the 1.2X crop in addition and get 1020mm EFLat 8.4MP which will still give me a saleable file for stock.

    Plus I think the 500mm is the same weight (or close to it) as the 200-400mm

    BUT then again it's a lot of cash to spend and would hate to regrete not getting the 600mm.

    Decisions Decisions :-(

  16. #15
    Tony Hansford Guest

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    I had a 500mm and it was good while it lasted (all of 2 weeks of use all up). That's plenty heavy for me so if it comes back fixed from Canon or I can afford to replace it some day then that's all I want really. In the mean time I'm having great success with my 300mm IS + 1.4TC. If I can find a cheap 2x I might try Akos's TC stacking on the 300mm and see how that works.

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