OK, here’s the deal. I absolutely love the Nikon 200-400 f/4 lens and I will part with it when they pry it from my cold dead hands. But… always a but. It’s physically big enough that I need to use a support with it to get good images. Ok, you say, suck it up Bruce. Do you want the photo or are you just kickin’ tires? I know, I know. The few times that I’ve traveled on foot with the lens and tripod have left me envying my friend Eric and his ultra-portable Canon 400 f/5.6 lens and the dexterity, flexibility and opportunities he has with it. He and Dennis Davenport both use the lens to great end and I am always amazed (OK, frequently) at the clarity they achieve. I’ve bottled up my envy for as long as I’ve known Eric and we’ve traveled together to photograph birds. He can swing onto birds in flight while I’m loosening my tripod head. aaaaaarrrrrgggghhh. He can respond quickly to the situation while I feel like a mud-soaked tadpole trying to emerge from the lake bed. Get the point? Yes, I suffer from “lens envy” even though I own a truly legendary Nikon lens that I will hand down in my will.
In a few weeks Eric and I will travel to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico to photograph sandhill cranes and snow geese. My fourth trip there and Eric’s first. I know that he is going to be over the top with the birds and I’m anxious to witness his glee during his first massive “fly out”. Really, I am torn between trying to get one of the 3 photos I want there or just watching him bring the experience in. He’s a bright and emotive guy and I expect a wonderful reaction. Anyway, we’re going south and I know Eric will have his 400mm lens along. Trust me, I’ll have the 200-400 and tripod. But I still suffer from knowing that there will be times when I’ll wish for a lens that was easier to carry and can bring in shots like Eric and Dennis routinely deliver.
As an aside, Eric and I share info on a wide variety of subjects… lenses, blogs, technique, politics, economics, life… ooops, got derailed a bit. He knows that I am not a huge Moose Peterson fan. For those of you who don’t know, Moose is a famous wildlife photogapher and a guy who produces great work in abundance. It’s just his demeanor that gets to me. No shortage on ego when Moose is on screen. Eric and I both belong to KelbyTraining.com and he mentioned that he and his Dad had watched Moose’s latest series on basic wildlife photography and had enjoyed it. Eric thought the content was useful. Well, I’ve learned to listen to Eric and I invested a couple of hours to watch the laterst video lessons Moose produced. Honestly, I enjoyed it and learned a lot. Thanks Moose. But the part that really caught me up short came near the front of the video series when Moose talked about camera gear and starting out as a wildlife photographer. He’s holding a Nikon “top of the line” camera with a lens attached that I’d never paid any attention to in the past. A Nikon 300 mm f/4. It looked small and easy to swing around. My immediate reaction was “damn, if only it was a 400”. Then I realized that if I had that lens on my new camera body I can switch to a smaller sensor mode with a single menu selection. Magic. Instant 450 f/4 lens on a camera I am learning to really love. On we go. I started doing some research and review of reviews. The lens got good marks from others. The price is not astronomical. I started talking about it to Dianne (always a wise move, eh?) and to Eric. Darned if he didn’t come up with a brilliant idea… rent one and give it a whirl. So, for $25 I have a Nikon 300 mm f/4 lens in my possession for the weekend. Thanks Eric.
Later today Eric texted that he thought he’d go to Fernhill wetlands based on a field report that showed a lot of birds there. I asked if he wanted company and he agreed. I picked the lens up at ProPhoto, came home and mounted it to the body and took a few shots. I headed to Fernhill to get some experience with the camera and lens before Eric showed up (he has to work for a living… a good thing, really). I wandered down the dikes at an area that I always resisted going to because my lens/tripod setup was always a bit much to haul around. Here I was with a monopod and a pretty small lens over my shoulder. I could feel the spring in my step… ok, maybe not but it was clearly a different sensation. I like it.
It was overcast and dull at Fernhill. I dialed in ISO 400 and shot some Shovelers. Amazing… the images were sharp even if under exposed a bit. I boosted the ISO to 800 and started playing. Things just got better. I experimented with full frame and reduced sensor modes on the D800. Nice. I was really encouraged and made a lap before Eric showed up. He texted when he arrived and we joined up shortly after that. I could see his white Canon 400 bouncing along the dike as he walked. We wandered around until it go too dark to shoot. He (we) ran into a couple of his Flickr friends and stopped to visit a bit. I immediately felt whimpy. Scott was toting a Canon 600mm lens on a large Gitzo tripod. If there was a photo to be had he was ready and willing to haul big glass around to get it. I satisfied myself by noting that he is much younger than I am. Yeah…
The time at Fernhill was truly experimental but I came away knowing that the Nikon 300 mm lens performs well in dim light. It is quick to focus and image errors are mine, not the lens’. Here are a few from the time out tonight.
Oh yeah, I’m guessing that the Nikon 3oo will be in my bag beside the 200-400 when Eric and I hit New Mexico in a few weeks.