Deciding on which lens to take on Safari can be a tough decision and mostly depends on your destination as well as how close you can get to your subject. I do a lot of safaris into the Sabi Sands area and to date I have used Nikon’s 200-400mm f/4 lens on one camera body and a 70-200mm f/2.8 on a second, allowing me to cover quite an extensive focal range from 70mm all the way up to 400mm. Until however, Nikon released the new 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6, which I decided to give a full safari workout on an 8 day trip to Sabi Sands.
The 80-400mm is a mere 1570g, in comparison to the 200-400mm’s weighty 3360g, but what does this mean to a photographer?
With the 80-400mm being considerably smaller, lighter and therefore easier to handle, I was able to capture more photographs, since getting quick out of hand shots with the 80-400mm was much more successful than with the 200-400mm. In addition, when travelling with small aircraft in Africa, baggage is always an issue and the 80-400mm is a much easier travel companion, saving you both space and valuable kg’s. I also picked the following up while watching my wife who also enjoys photography, that the 80-400mm would be the wiser option for women and children, seeing as the 200-400mm is more of a man-size lens.
The 200-400mm has an aperture of f/4 throughout its focal range while the 80-400mm starts at f/4.5 at 80mm and gradually changes to end at f/5.6. Shooting in low light, the 200-400mm would have the advantage, as you could shoot at 400mm at f/4 and get a extra stop of light and shutter speed as opposed to the 80-400mm at 400mm. So how did this affect my safari?
Not as much as I initially thought, I often shoot at f/5.6 when the light is good so this made no difference to me at all in the right lighting conditions. Shooting in lower light, however was a bit more challenging and here I found I was getting fewer sharp images than when I used the 200-400mm but I still got some great images shooting with a spotlight and fill flash. I was able to increase my ISO by one third leaving me with two thirds short on the shutter speed as opposed to the f/4 lens. By using a beanbag and trying to shoot when the subject was not moving too much, yielded some good results. In the end I found I could get by with a f/5.6 aperture.
Sharpness and focusing
Both the 200-400mmm and 80-400mm lenses are extremely sharp and deliver great image clarity and quality. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the 80-400mm lens as my images were as sharp as the 200-400mm’s images. I imagine that if the lenses were compared side by side and you photographed the same subject under the same conditions the 200-400mm would be marginally sharper but I was very pleased with the sharpness and quality of the 80-400mm lens in both good- and lowlight conditions. The focusing of the 80-400mm is just as fast as the 200-400mm and I could find no difference between the two.
Here the 200-400mm has the advantage over the 80-400mm, it is a much more robust lens and it could probably handle an accidental drop or knock better than the 80-400mm, however I did not find the 80-400mm flimsy at all. The tripod collar of the 200-400mm is easier and smoother to work with than the 80-400mm’s.
Focal Range and second camera body
When using the 200-400mm I need to have a second camera body handy, often with a 70-200mm lens mounted, just in case the subject is closer than 200mm or if I want a wider view of my subject. When using the 80-400mm lens I found that I never used the second camera body with the 70-200mm lens attached, since the 80-400mm had all the focal ranges covered. I could now put the 24-70mm lens on the second camera body and this in turn opened up new opportunities for me.
A new 200-400mm is currently selling for about R137 940.00 while a new 80-400mm is currently selling for around R30 805.00
I can highly recommend the 80-400mm lens and it is a great lens to go on Safari with, it is fast, sharp and easy to travel with and use. It is also more affordable than the 200-400mm and the image quality, sharpness and clarity can hold up well against the 200-400mm. I would most certainly use the 80-400mm again and if I didn’t already own a 200-400mm I would more than likely buy a 80-400mm lens!