Digital info for serious shooters: specializing in Nikon & Canon

Older & Lighter: Improved Shooting Solutions

If you're like me, when you're out photographing with a long lens and tripod you're asked repeatedly "How much does that weigh?" I'm sure we've all been tempted to answer, "Too much." After several years of lugging around my 600f/4 along with a Gitzo 1548 tripod, Wimberly head and various SLRs and D-SLRs I've become more or less immune to the weight. But not everyone is built to be a pack mule. And all of us are getting older. Besides, with air travel getting increasingly difficult smaller and lighter photography solutions have become attractive no matter how much you enjoy hiking with your gear.

So I decided to try to put together a lighter system that I could use for many types of photography, particularly mammals of all sizes and some birding opportunities. Normally I would have relied on my 400f/2.8, but at nearly 10 lbs plus the 7 lbs of tripod and head it required it wasn't any real savings over the 600f/4.

Enter the new Nikon 200-400f/4 VR. It is not all that much smaller than the 400/f2.8 physically, but it is narrower and lighter. Enough so that I feel comfortable using it with a smaller Gitzo 1325 tripod and the lighter combination of Arca-Swiss B1 head and Wimberly Sidekick. Since I bring the B1 on trips anyway for scenics, this way I can travel with one integrated and lighter system.

Elephant Seal
shot with 200-400 in high winds
I've successfully used this new arrangement for mammals of all sizes, from tiny Kangaroo Rats to huge Elephant Seals. The VR on the lens is part of what gives me the confidence to lighten up. The 1300 series tripods are not as stable as their heavier brethren, particularly in the wind, but the VR on the 200-400 does a great job of helping reduce the vibration. I was able to capture sharp photographs of the Elephant Seals even in 60mph wind gusts--although a calmer day would have been welcomed!

Shortcomings: Obviously this setup has its limits. For starters, it doesn't do a great job of isolating birds in most cases. I still use my 600f/4 almost exclusively for birds. The exception are locations like feeders where the closer minimum focusing distance (MFD) of the 200-400 is a big plus, or shooting from boats where the VR is helpful. Another shortcoming is auto-focus with a 2x Teleconverter. It works okay with my D2H and the center focus point, but not well or not at all with the other focus points. As with the 600f/4, this is because the combination of lens + TC is an effective f/8, so as far as Nikon is concerned it isn't really supported in the first place.

Giant Kangaroo Rat
Nocturnal shot with 200-400
But the bottom line is that by using the lighter head, lighter tripod, lighter lens, and being able to fit it all in an MP-3 instead of the larger MP-1, I can shave 8-10 lbs. off my travel weight when I'm working on projects where this new setup is effective.













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