Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E Review: Good Super-Telephoto for Beginners

The Nikon Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E seems like a great option, especially for bird and wildlife photographers.

It’s long enough for serious bird photography.

The focal length range offers a lot of flexibility.

And the promise of Vibration Reduction (VR) is icing on the cake.

Oh, and did I mention the ultra-reasonable price?

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E
The Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E at 200mm.

Which brings us to the question:

Who should buy the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E?

Well, we got our hands on one.

And we put it to the test.

Read on to discover the bad, the good, and the best of the Nikkor 200-500mm review…and whether it’s the perfect lens for you.

(Spoiler: If you’re a beginning bird or wildlife photographer, you’re going to want to check it out.)

Sale
Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E VR
314 Reviews
Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E VR

  • Long maximum focal length allows for frame-filling wildlife photos
  • Effective focal length of 750mm on cropped-sensor cameras
  • Vibration reduction makes for sharp images in low light
  • Large zoom ring for easy handling

 

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E: First Impressions

Let’s start with a brief rundown of the Nikkor 200-500mm specifications:

Title
Nikon Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E VR
Preview
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto...
Minimum Focal Length
200mm (300mm on DX cameras)
Maximum Focal Length
500mm (750mm on DX cameras)
Aperture
f/5.6-f/32
Minimum Focusing Distance
7.2 ft (2.2 m)
Vibration Reduction?
4.5 stops of VR
Filter Size
95 mm
Weight
5.07 lbs (2.3 kgs)
Rating
Prime Status
Price
$1,256.95
Title
Nikon Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E VR
Preview
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto...
Minimum Focal Length
200mm (300mm on DX cameras)
Maximum Focal Length
500mm (750mm on DX cameras)
Aperture
f/5.6-f/32
Minimum Focusing Distance
7.2 ft (2.2 m)
Vibration Reduction?
4.5 stops of VR
Filter Size
95 mm
Weight
5.07 lbs (2.3 kgs)
Rating
Prime Status
Price
$1,256.95

Now, what makes this lens exciting?

  • Long maximum focal length (500mm) allows for full-frame images of distant subjects
  • An effective focal length of 750mm on cropped-sensor cameras
  • Vibration reduction makes for sharp images in low light
  • Large zoom ring for easy handling
  • Very reasonably priced for a super-telephoto lens

And what makes this lens less appealing?

  • Maximum aperture is fixed at f/5.6, which limits low-light shooting
  • Weight is 5 lbs (2.3 kgs)—heavy if you’re going on a long trek

Read on for a more in-depth look at this lens—and to find out how it performs in the field!

The Nikkor 200-500mm Is Compatible with FX and DX Cameras

A word about sensors:

This lens is designed to work on full-frame (FX) Nikkor cameras.

It also works beautifully on cropped-sensor (DX) cameras.

However, you should know: To get the full range of apertures, you must use a Nikon camera released since 2007. This includes the Nikon D3100, Nikon D5000, the D7000, and the Nikon D300.

With older cameras, you’ll be limited to shooting at f/5.6.

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E
The Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E

On a more positive note: If you’re using a DX camera, the lens’s effective focal length becomes 300mm to 700mm. For bird and wildlife photographers, this can be a huge benefit.

Why?

Because you can achieve far tighter compositions—and completely fill the frame with your subject.

The Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E Is Heavy, But Not Too Heavy

This lens is not light. But it’s not unwieldy, either.

It clocks in at 5 lbs (2.3 kgs). This is around the upper limits of what most people can handhold—especially with a heavier DSLR.

After some time, you’ll probably feel some muscle strain.

Nikkor 200-500mm and Nikkor 18-105mm comparison
Side-by-side: The Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E VR and the Nikkor 18-105mm.

That’s why I recommend using this lens with a monopod. That way, you’ll still have some flexibility while in the field. But you won’t have to deal with the heavier weight.

The lens even comes with a tripod collar. This is ideal for mounting a lens to a monopod (or, of course, a tripod).

Related Article: Best Monopods for DSLR Cameras

The Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E Is Well-Made (But Not Weather Sealed)

When I first held this lens in my hands, I was impressed.

Why?

This is a well-made lens.

It feels solid in your hands.

That said, you should be careful.

Because this lens is not weather sealed.

So if you need a lens to use in the rain/snow/sleet, etc., look for other options.

The lens does come with a lens hood, however. This will help protect the lens from scratches (while also dealing with unwanted lens flare).

Nikkor 200-500mm lens hood
The Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E hood will help protect the lens and deal with flare.

The Maximum Aperture of f/5.6 Limits Low-Light Photography

If you’re using a lens in low-light situations, you want a wide aperture. Something in the f/2.8 to f/4 range.

In this, the Nikkor 200-500mm falls short.

It offers a maximum aperture of f/5.6.

While it’s still possible to take low-light shots with this lens (especially with its impressive Vibration Reduction), the f/5.6 aperture can be frustrating.

Consider that many small animals and birds prefer to stay hidden in the foliage (where it’s often dark).

Bottom line?

This lens isn’t ideal for shooting in darker conditions. But f/5.6 is plenty wide for shooting in the sun.

Related Article: Wide vs Narrow Aperture: 10 Examples and Camera Settings

Image Quality is Good; Bokeh Is Mediocre

When it comes to choosing a lens, sharpness is key.

A lens that can’t deliver sharp results? It’s a lens I’m not interested in.

Fortunately, the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E lens gave sharp results in all my field tests:

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR sharpness test bird walking
The Nikkor 200-500mm rendered this bird fairly sharp.

On the other hand, bokeh quality (the quality of the background blur) was unimpressive.

I like my bokeh soft and creamy. But this lens’s bokeh left something to be desired.

Check out the bokeh in my shot of this bird:

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR bird with bokeh
I’m not too happy with the bokeh (background blur) in this bird photo.

And look at the bokeh quality on this plant photo:

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E bokeh
The bokeh in this photo is less creamy than I would like.

Ultimately, I wasn’t too pleased. These backgrounds are far from creamy.

But I wouldn’t write this lens off based on bokeh quality alone. Because among budget telephoto lenses?

This is hardly out of the ordinary.

Related Article: Capturing Bokeh

Autofocus Is Good But Not Great

In bird, wildlife, and sports photography, good autofocus is essential.

So how does this lens do?

Let’s start with the good:

  • Focusing is quick and smooth with stationary subjects
  • The lens includes a focus delimiter that speeds up focusing
Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR autofocus test ducks on water
A test of the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E autofocus.

And the bad:

  • When tracking moving subjects, focus becomes much spottier
  • Focus does worse at 500mm

The bottom line?

Autofocus on this lens is workable. If you’re shooting stationary subjects, you’ll do just fine.

But if you’re shooting moving subjects, I recommend using the focus delimiter—and potentially zooming out for a wider field of view.

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED autofocus test bird
The autofocus has trouble with moving subjects.

The Verdict: The Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E Is a Good Lens for Beginners (Especially Bird and Wildlife Photographers)

After using this lens for a few days, my thoughts boil down to this:

  • If you’re a beginning bird or wildlife photographer, you’ll like this lens. It takes good images in good light—images that are nice and sharp. The autofocus system, while not perfect, does a good job with stationary subjects. Plus, this lens has a very reasonable price tag.
two ducks with Nikkor lens
The Nikkor 200-500mm lets you capture photos of distant wildlife!
  • If you’re a more serious bird or wildlife photographer, this lens isn’t for you. The autofocus system and bokeh just leave too much to be desired for expert photographers.
  • If you’re a sports photographer, look at other options (such as the Sigma 150-600mm or the Tamron 150-600mm). The problematic autofocus and f/5.6 aperture are just too limiting. You’ll be disappointed when you take this lens into low-light situations (e.g., an auditorium) or try to photograph fast-moving sports (e.g., basketball).

Overall?

If you’re a wildlife or bird photographer looking for a budget telephoto zoom…

…then this is a good lens to buy.

Sale
Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E VR
314 Reviews
Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E VR

  • Long maximum focal length allows for frame-filling wildlife photos
  • Effective focal length of 750mm on cropped-sensor cameras
  • Vibration reduction makes for sharp images in low light
  • Large zoom ring for easy handling

 


Note: Last Amazon.com Price Update: 2019-05-26 | Refer to our Affiliate Disclosure and Disclaimer.

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