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Currently, I use my smart phone's camera to photograph cars, trucks, and auto racing. I shoot outdoors, mostly in daylight, but often in gloomy overcast weather. Occasionally, I may shoot at dusk. I've decided that my smart phone camera isn't giving the results I want. It performs poorly in low light, rarely produces crisp images, lacks manual adjustments, and it's fixed angle of view is inconvenient and nowhere near long enough to reach my subjects. Thus, I am looking into purchasing a professional DSLR and lens. After exhaustive browsing I've narrowed down my options to:

a) A brand new Nikon D3500 w/ AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-6.3

or

b) A brand new Nikon D7500 w/ a used AF Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8D ED (two-touch version)

At this point, I've basically settled on these two choices and it's unlikely I'd consider anything else.

The problem is I am 'on the fence' and can't make up my mind. My questions are not about the cameras, but about the lenses:

  • The AF-P 70-300 DX costs less than than even a used 80-200. I hear it's also very sharp throughout it's zoom range and it's focus speed is lightning fast, which is ideal for my uses. My only concern is the narrow variable aperture.
  • The 80-200 looks like it's built to last a lifetime: much tougher than the 70-300 lens. I've read numerous but conflicting reviews about the 80-200's acuity and screw-driven AF speed. This has made me doubt the 80-200's performance for action photography in 2019. It's an old film-era lens with an even older optical formula. Given it's questionable screw-drive AF and sharpness, I am unsure whether it can get the job done for me. Honestly, it seems like it's better suited to portrait photography. The reason I am still considering it is the bight fixed f/2.8 aperture plus second-hand copies are relatively inexpensive.

It seems to me that in recent years, most of the progress and improvements in lens design was with zoom lenses. For this reason, despite being a plastic variable aperture kit lens, I'd reckon the 70-300 is as sharp as if not sharper than the 80-200 in the shared zoom/aperture range.

I'd like to get both panning and action-freezing shots so I may use slower shutter speeds or up to 1/2000 sec. Will the narrow aperture of the 70-300 be able to handle heavy overcast or dusk? Will I need to crank up ISO to the point the image becomes exceedingly noisy? If I go with the 80-200, will it be as sharp as the 70-300 on high pixel density DX sensor? Or will it be out resolved?

So, I'd like confirmation or negation of the claims I made about each lens so I can make a decision. If anyone has firsthand experience with either or both lenses, I'd appreciate your experience.

At the end of the day, I care about my pictures above everything else. I just need a camera and lens that can get the job done with minimal compromises and give me results significantly better than what I was getting with my smartphone. Apologies if my question was long-winded; I am just trying to be as thorough as possible to get specific answers.

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    "I just need a camera and lens that can get the job done with minimal compromises and give me results significantly better than what I was getting with my smartphone." Either option should fulfill that requirement. – Michael C Jul 27 at 8:24
  • Isn't it possible for you to buy the D7500 w/ 70-300? That seems to be the best choice. – Lisan Jul 27 at 17:51
  • @Lisan Yes I considered that option, but I thought that if I go with the D7500, I might as well buy the faster lens since it's compatible and within my budget. The 70-300 would be the best choice with the D3500 since the other compatible f/2.8 telezooms - even used or refurbished - are beyond my budget. – baz Jul 28 at 12:18
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With regards to the body, there is no question: the D7500 is far better suited to fast action photography. The D500 would be even better, but is perhaps outside your price envelope.

The choice of lens, as you've surmised through good research, is less clear. All of your concerns are valid.

Personally, I would lean toward the 80-200mm. The 70-300mm is too damn slow for action photography in low light. Its VR is of no help for that use case. And although its AF-P focus motor is indeed very quick, it isn't clear to me how well this particular lens's AF works when the subject is moving quickly and the camera is constantly adjusting focus to compensate. Might there be a performance reason none of Nikon's pro zooms use stepper motors for focus?

The 80-200mm is not only much faster in aperture, it's a pro lens through and through. The two-ring version you're considering is pretty fast in the focus department. Granted, that depends greatly on how powerful the focus motor in the camera is—and this would be my only area of concern, since the D7500 is a "prosumer" rather than a pro camera. I just have no data on how fast its focus motor is. But screw-drive AF speed is not only dependent on the camera; it also depends on how quickly the lens is geared and how precisely its geartrain fits together. In that area, I would trust that the 80-200mm D is good enough for sports. I think the same is true regarding its sharpness.

  • Good points. Although it's an older lens, the 80-200 is no slouch. Thanks for sharing. – baz Jul 28 at 12:10
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First, forget about D3500, that's no sports camera. D7500 may not be a pro level, but it's efficient and strong enough for the professional use on racing sports.

On daylight outdoors, D7500 will have good enough ISO management to handle it easily on f/6.3. As chulster says, even an old 80-200 will make much better image quality, as we're comparing an entry level lens against a full pro lens. But this will the case only if 80-200 is well mantained and has no calibration or focusing issues.

I Guess the racing cars must be quite far away from your shooting point, so focal lenght should be something to take in account. So you can imagine the "zoom in" you'll get, think that smartphone lenses view angle are usually equivallent to somewhat around 16-20mm on a crop-sensor DSLR. So, 200mm would be like zooming in your smartphone image around 10x-11x, and 300mm, around 15x-16x.

Another thing you must have in account is weight and portability. 80-200 is a much more heavy and bulky lens. High end quality has its price, not only economically. If you'll be holding your lens for a couple of hours, you'll have to ware about your back's health.

You seem to have almost made the desicion. But I'd suggest you about taking a look on third party lenses. Haven't seen it in real life, but Sigma 100-400/5-6,3 DG OS HSM looks attractive for a crop-sensor sports lens.

  • You're right, my smart phone camera's short and fixed focal length is a major frustration when photographing far away cars. I'm starting to favor the D7500 over the D3500 but am not convinced about the 80-200. Will make a decision soon. Whichever one I choose, I'm ready for a DSLR. Thanks for your feedback, Lisan. – baz Jul 28 at 23:29
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Definetly the AF Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8D. You will find that extra light you get and wider aperture is such a big step up from the other lens. The extra reach you have with the other lens will help only when having very good light but otherwise, you will get more detail from the 2.8 lens even if you have to crop, rather than the 300mm lens. Apart from this, you will have more flexibility with separating the subject from background.

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