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by rajandesai on Wed Mar 17, 2021 11:08 am
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I am trying to figure out if there is any advantage in switching to 400mm f/2.8 instead of 600mm f/4 for wildlife? The biggest question is will it be enough for birds? I have thought about this for some time now but always thought 600mm f/4 is the way to go. 

Here is why I am asking this question again: with high MP cameras Canon R5, Sony A1 it is easier to switch to ASP-C mode on the fly giving you a respectable 20MP file. 

1. f/2.8 may open up an option for shooting in low light condition
2. AF performance might be better with f/2.8
3. More versatile - wide possibilities, low light, narrow DoF
4. Smaller size (but not necessarily weight advantage)

Now the question: Is background blur created by 400mm different than that created by 600mm? I have heard that somehow, 600mm bokeh under similar conditions is better than 400. I don't have anything to compare the 2.

In the end, I understand it is a personal choice but I am trying see if anybody has made such switch and has any thoughts.

Thanks,
 

by E.J. Peiker on Wed Mar 17, 2021 11:29 am
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1. In today's world of excellent high ISO performance and/or ISO invariant sensors, that isn't really a huge issue
2. Not usually but possibly.  Most mirrorless cameras like the ones you mentioned show no difference in AF performance between a 400/2.8 and 600/4 - note that only Sony makes these two lenses specifically for mirrorless so that is the best comparison since adapters introduce other variables.
3. DOF is a function of subject reproduction ratio and aperture.  So if you can get close enough with a 400/2.8 to get the same size of the bird in the frame as a 600 f/4 you will get more background blur.  But if you just have to crop or have to use a 1.4x all the time then this goes completely out the door.
4. Not much smaller, approximately the same front diameter, just a little shorter.

Bokeh is a function of lens design, two identical focal length and aperture lenses from different manufacturers can have very different bokeh.  One can't make the universal statement that a 400 is better or worse for bokeh, there are too many variables not the least of which is lens design.

Personally, for birds I'd stick with a 600.  For larger wildlife, there is more of a debate.

As an aside, this is one of the reasons 500 f/4's were so popular in the DSLR world - they are significantly smaller in diameter than both the 400/2.8 and 600 f/4 and usually weigh less (within the same brand) and therefore made a good compromise between the two.  Unfortunately nobody makes a mirrorless 500 f/4 and there aren't any on published roadmaps.
 

by rajandesai on Wed Mar 17, 2021 11:48 am
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Thank E.J.
So 400mm with 1.5x crop @ f/4 and 600mm f/4 full-frame - are those 2 options comparable at all?
I understand these are 2 different lenses (say from the same manufacturer) so each lens is going to have its own bokeh characteristics.
But that is what I am trying to figure out - how different are these lenses...

Probably the best way is to rent the lens and compare it side-by-side. I was wondering if anybody has done this type of comparison.
 

by E.J. Peiker on Wed Mar 17, 2021 11:57 am
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The 400 with a crop to the field of view of a 600 when shot at f/4 will give you approximately the same thing as the 600 shot at f/5.6 because your subject reproduction ratio is less - it may look the same in the frame, but the frame is smaller so the reproduction ratio is smaller.  To get about the same DOF when cropping the 400 you would need to shoot it at f/2.8.
 

by rajandesai on Wed Mar 17, 2021 12:14 pm
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A-ha... that makes sense.
 

by Primus on Tue Mar 30, 2021 1:45 pm
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Rajan, I have used both lenses on my a9 body. I also have the 200-600. 

Initially I had bought the 400 as it was the first supertele from Sony. Then, even though I liked it a lot, I sold it for the 600 when that came out - lust for more reach. I found that the 600 while not that much heavier, was a much bulkier lens to handhold, somehow the balance was harder. I had no trouble carrying the 400 plus a9 combo around for a long time, but found it difficult with the 600, esp for BIF when you have to pan with the bird. 

I am a small person and not that muscular. After using the 600 for over a year, I swapped it again for the 400. The reason being that I mostly do larger animals/mammals. Even the birds that I shoot are usually much closer - e.g. at Nickerson beach. If more reach is needed, adding a TC will get me almost to 600. 

if you are ONLY using the long lens for birds, then the 600 would be a better choice, but if larger animals are in the game and if you, like me, prefer a little more habitat around the subject then the 400 would be a better choice. 

I know some people who have both lenses and sometimes that is an option if you can afford it.

Pradeep
 

by Stephen Feingold on Sat Apr 03, 2021 8:36 pm
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Get the longest focal length you can afford and carry. The longer focal length allows photographing from a longer distance for the comfort of the wildlife, safety of the photographer, and distance limitations due to terrain, and policy at public parks.  A 400mm lens with 1.4 converter produces 560mm; a 600mm lens with 1.4 converter produces 840mm - now you don’t have to crop. This is at quality resolution.
Also due to the narrower angle of acceptance of longer lenses the background will cover a smaller area, allowing for a less cluttered background. For shorter distances and handholdability I recommend a good 100-400mm zoom on a second body. Now all bases are covered.

Blessed be technology and pray for a money tree.
 

by sdaconsulting on Sat Apr 10, 2021 10:47 am
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My daughter and I own both for Sony (2x 600/4, 1x 400/2.8 ). If I could have only one it would unquestionably be the 400/2.8.

Advantages of the 600/4:

1) Slightly sharper at 840/5.6 with the 1.4x than the 400mm is at 800/5.6 with the 2x.
2) Almost immeasurably sharper at 600/4 than the 400mm is at 560/4 (very close to a wash!)
3) Quite useful for sharp images at 1200/8 with the 2x when you have really excellent camera and lens stabilization & shutter technique (otherwise, forgetaboutit!)

Advantages of the 400/2.8:

1) MFD is quite close while MFD with the 600mm is far away. This is a factor for me ALL THE TIME with squirrels, bird feeder photography, etc. HUGE advantage. And MFD is preserved
2) 400/2.8 usable as a really long macro-ish lens bare or with teleconverters. You can photograph spiders, butterflies etc. from far away without disturbing them.
3) Usable at 400mm with large BIF when they get too close to you for 600mm. Same for other large wildlife where you are often too close to use it at a 600mm AoV.
4) Useful for dog and cat and even human portrait photography outdoors.
5) In summary, the 400/2.8 can easily be turned into a 560/4 which is a wash for a bare 600/4 lens, but with much better MFD.

The 400/2.8 is a very flexible and useful lens. The 600/4 is less flexible and less useful. I'm glad to have both, but between the two I know which one I would pick if I could have only one.
Matthew Cromer
 

by E.J. Peiker on Sun Apr 11, 2021 11:05 am
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sdaconsulting wrote:
My daughter and I own both for Sony (2x 600/4, 1x 400/2.8 ). If I could have only one it would unquestionably be the 400/2.8.

Advantages of the 600/4:

1) Slightly sharper at 840/5.6 with the 1.4x than the 400mm is at 800/5.6 with the 2x.
2) Almost immeasurably sharper at 600/4 than the 400mm is at 560/4 (very close to a wash!)
3) Quite useful for sharp images at 1200/8 with the 2x when you have really excellent camera and lens stabilization & shutter technique (otherwise, forgetaboutit!)

Advantages of the 400/2.8:

1) MFD is quite close while MFD with the 600mm is far away. This is a factor for me ALL THE TIME with squirrels, bird feeder photography, etc. HUGE advantage. And MFD is preserved
2) 400/2.8 usable as a really long macro-ish lens bare or with teleconverters. You can photograph spiders, butterflies etc. from far away without disturbing them.
3) Usable at 400mm with large BIF when they get too close to you for 600mm. Same for other large wildlife where you are often too close to use it at a 600mm AoV.
4) Useful for dog and cat and even human portrait photography outdoors.
5) In summary, the 400/2.8 can easily be turned into a 560/4 which is a wash for a bare 600/4 lens, but with much better MFD.

The 400/2.8 is a very flexible and useful lens. The 600/4 is less flexible and less useful. I'm glad to have both, but between the two I know which one I would pick if I could have only one.

I think you post indirectly points out why 500 f/4 lenses were so popular in the DSLR age.  They have a closer MFD, are excellent 700 f/5.6 lenses and are smaller and lighter than either a 400/2.8 or a 600 f/4.  They are a really good compromise.  That said, something like the Sony 200-600 f/5.6 is drastically smaller than any of the primes, very sharp wide open, and an even better MFD than any of the primes (plus it is internal zoom so it doesn't get longer or shorter as you zoom like all other competitors in that genre) and finally way less expensive and easier to travel with.  It's all about which compromises work for you and which ones don't for all of these lenses.
 

by sdaconsulting on Mon Apr 12, 2021 9:47 pm
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Interesting EJ.

We have two 200-600s as well and they haven't been touched since getting the big primes, mostly due to light gathering / SS / ISO issues. Good lenses but not bright ones.
Matthew Cromer
 

by DMoncla on Fri Aug 27, 2021 6:05 pm
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sdaconsulting wrote:
My daughter and I own both for Sony (2x 600/4, 1x 400/2.8 ). If I could have only one it would unquestionably be the 400/2.8.

Advantages of the 600/4:

1) Slightly sharper at 840/5.6 with the 1.4x than the 400mm is at 800/5.6 with the 2x.
2) Almost immeasurably sharper at 600/4 than the 400mm is at 560/4 (very close to a wash!)
3) Quite useful for sharp images at 1200/8 with the 2x when you have really excellent camera and lens stabilization & shutter technique (otherwise, forgetaboutit!)

Advantages of the 400/2.8:

1) MFD is quite close while MFD with the 600mm is far away. This is a factor for me ALL THE TIME with squirrels, bird feeder photography, etc. HUGE advantage. And MFD is preserved
2) 400/2.8 usable as a really long macro-ish lens bare or with teleconverters. You can photograph spiders, butterflies etc. from far away without disturbing them.
3) Usable at 400mm with large BIF when they get too close to you for 600mm. Same for other large wildlife where you are often too close to use it at a 600mm AoV.
4) Useful for dog and cat and even human portrait photography outdoors.
5) In summary, the 400/2.8 can easily be turned into a 560/4 which is a wash for a bare 600/4 lens, but with much better MFD.

The 400/2.8 is a very flexible and useful lens. The 600/4 is less flexible and less useful. I'm glad to have both, but between the two I know which one I would pick if I could have only one.


Your answer speaks volumes to me. I own an A7Riv and the 200-600G and keep debating lens upgrade or body upgrade to the A1. I asked myself if I chose the lens would the 400 2.8 serve me better even though I do so much bird photography work? 2.8 is SO attractive! But so is a bird eye autofocus and 30fps over no bird eye and 10fps. If you own all of those I'm assuming you own an A1. If you had to give up the primes and shoot the A1 and the 200-600 would you do it or would you shoot the primes on an A7Riv? Logically I've always gone glass first till this level of purchase came along. 
 

by photoman4343 on Sun Aug 29, 2021 10:12 pm
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I am a Nikon DSLR user.  For just birds, I would get a 600mm f4. For birds and wildlife, a 500mm f4for the reasons EJ  has made. As others have said, just reach may not be the only consideration. It could be weight, bokeh, MFD, etc. For me MFD and weight often make my two Nikon pf lenses the ones I use.

Even within Nikon DSLR there are difference in lenses with the same reach: For example:

                                                                               MFD       wt.             cost
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lens      4.59 ft 1.66 lb $2,000
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens    7.22 ft 6.38 lb $5,500
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Lens    9.84 ft 3.21 lb $3,600
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Lens      11.81 ft 6.81 lb $10,300
Joe Smith
 

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