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Im about to get the Nikkor 400mm F/2.8 VR (not the FL one). This is a lens I always desired.

I have already planned some tours through northern Europe and hope to gain some wildlife photography experience. I plan to use the 400mm F/2.8 on my D500 (which is an APS-C sensor sized camera) and maybe I will also get the 1.4x teleconverter. I thought this should be a decent setup for some wildlife shots.

A few weeks ago I adapted the 70-200mm onto my MFT video camera. At 200mm it gave me an good idea of how 400mm would look like, since the MFT has a crop factor of 2.

What I noticed was that 400mm are already zooming in quite a bit but not like crazy. A few days ago I was in store and asked whether the 400mm F/2.8 might have not enough reach. They told me that most wildlife photographers using big primes rely on the 600mm F/4.

Now please dont tell me not to get a 400mm or a 600mm. This is not about whether they are not the right decision. Its just about comparing them. I do know the advantages of a smaller and lighter zoom that is also much more versatile. Lets just talk about the 400mm vs. the 600mm.

The main advantage of the 400mm would be that it is smaller (and also a little bit lighter). The 400mm would definitely be more packagable. Also I heard that the 400mm is the best in terms of optics compared to the 600mm and the 500mm.

The advantage of the 600mm would of course be its reach. But maybe even with 600mm I might need to adapt a teleconverter. I guess for wildlife photography (most of the time) you cant have enough reach. I think distance might be the key.

Now you might need to know what Im planning to do with it. I mainly want to take pictures of birds, owls, squirrels, wolfs, moose, deers, reindeers etc. Mainly of the animals of northern Europe. I dont intend to visit Africa to get shots of elephants, lions or go to the arctic to get shots of polar bears. A third of the time I want to take videos with it since I also do a lot of documentary stuff. For video I use my MFT camera (I need to adapt lenses. The adapter features an aperture ring but no electronical contacts - so the FL is no option since I would not be able to control its aperture on my MFT). The MFT has a crop factor of 2. I think the 600mm could be a little bit overkill on the MFT.

What are your suggestions? I think Im going for the 400mm because its just smaller, has the bigger aperture and is the lens I always wanted to own. The only reason I would go for the 600mm would be that the 400mm is just not long enough and I end up using a 1.7x or even 2.0x teleconverter all the time.

  • Another point to consider is the stabilization. More focal length + darker objective = potentially blurrier photos. – Rafael Mar 13 at 22:31
  • What do you mean by "darker objetive"? The 400mm combined with the 1.4x TC gives approximately the same focal length and aperture as the 600mm does natively. Or do you just mean that the 600mm plus smaller aperture has a higher potential of blurry images than the 400mm without a TC? – Arjihad Mar 13 at 22:43
  • You do realize that your D500 has a crop factor of 1.5X, so the difference between it and a 2X Micro Four-Thirds camera is less than the difference between it and a FF camera, which is also what "most wildlife photographers using really big primes" are using to shoot. – Michael C Mar 14 at 3:32
  • How’s your fieldcraft? Ask local hunters how far away they usually take a shot at these animals. If you’re new at this, know you probably won’t be getting that close. Pick the lens that’ll give you the reach you need. – OnBreak. Mar 14 at 17:55
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Birds and squirrels will give your reach a run for its money. I have a Panasonic DMC-FZ200 which goes to 600mm equivalent focal length, and at a distance out of the kitchen window where occupied birds used to humans will not fly when being very careful (6m of distance maybe?), I can easily tack on an 1.7× extender without coming into danger of overfilling the frame.

I am not really sure whether for birding a full-frame camera is the right choice. Wolves and deers are a different size factor and quite more likely to make a full-frame camera work with good tele.

The following is already a crop from a 600mm EFL image originally in 4:3 aspect ratio, so this 16:9 crop is about 88% horizontally and 66% vertically: Birding picture

This was taken at a distance that you'd not expect to work "in the wild". As you can see, the 12MP an 1/2.3" sensor delivers here are, when looking closely, so-so at best in image quality. So if you are going for a 600mm lens and full-frame sensor for birding, probably look for a camera body with a pixel count more on the high side. That will not be all too great with regard to high ISO performance, so owls are going to be tricky...

Life is hard and expensive for birders.

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  • Thank you for sharing your experience. I intend to use the tele on my Nikon D500 which is a crop sensor sized camera (crop factor 1.5) with 21 megapixels. – Arjihad Mar 13 at 23:09
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Sounds like you've definitely done your research here, and have clear criteria on which to evaluate your options! My recommendation: if it's an option for you before your trip, there's no better research than renting one or (preferably) both out for a weekend1, taking it out (ideally in a space you're familiar with), and just getting to know it.2 Like a date, but for lenses, and you can switch between them!

On-site, take note of whether one feels a little more "fun" to shoot, or conversely if you feel you're constantly just missing that perfect shot with another, even if it did manage to capture an image you're happy with. This might be one downside you find with the 600mm, for example — you've got that extra reach, but if that comes at the expense of making framing difficult make framing more difficult for very active subjects that you could have easily captured on the 400mm and cropped if necessary (maybe? especially since you mentioned the latter may have superior optics, which could make up for the loss in MP).

Last part: import your photos, do a quick reject/pick pass-through, then group by lens (Lightroom makes this super easy). Which lens did you use more? Which had a higher ratio of "picked" images? What about "rejected" images? (etc.)

1: (I know in NYC, many $2k+ USD lenses can be rented over the weekend for

2: There's no way trying to peer around a store with a 400mm on a crop sensor is going to give you an idea of what it's like out in the field :)


This is a technique I've been using for years before investing in new glass, and it lets me come away with a dataset I've compiled myself, specific to my shooting needs and preferences. Third-party reviews and DPReview forum posts are valuable data points, but you're the best authority on whether or not a lens is going to end up one that comes with you on every shoot, or one that ends up collecting dust.

Hope this helps!

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