I hope my blog readers know by now that my wife and I share a photography habit… I mean hobby. Unlike Linda’s dog agility hobby and my addiction to running, this hobby is one we equally enjoy. It also gives us an opportunity to spend quality time together which is difficult in today’s hectic corporate world and what seems like an endless queue of errands and fix-its. It is also one of the few activities I willingly leave the comfort of my bed BEFORE the crack of dawn. Every once in awhile we get the opportunity to upgrade our equipment. This always a stressful event based on the fact that photography can be an expensive hobby and we have specific shooting interests that can, unfortunately, force you into higher dollar items. Lately, Linda has been shooting in low light facilities trying to capture dogs on the agility course. I am always trying to close the distance between my camera and wildlife. In both cases, the telephoto is generally the go-to glass. Up to this point, our workhorse has been the 80-200 f/2.8. This glass is solid and has never failed us, but the lack of VR can result in hand held fuzziness and probably more annoying, the inability to put a teleconverter on it (thanks Nikon) keeps us just out of optimal distance. To be honest, I will always complain that I am just out of optimal distance no matter what lens we have because that’s the wildlife photographer’s creed.
A few weeks back, we decided to pull the trigger on new glass. There were a few options in the zoom category we investigated including upgrading our 80-200 f/2.8 to the newer VR (vibration reduction), going with a superfast prime lens (300,400,500) or bite the bullet and go with a relatively fast longer zoom with VR. Linda wisely pointed out that buying another lens in the range we already have seems pointless (even if it has VR). The fast primes in the 400+ range is wicked expensive and really inhibits composition due to not being able to adjust the distance making it difficult to use for the agility ring. This left us with the longer zoom option. After much debate, sleepless nights and more than a hint of hesitation we pulled the trigger on the Nikon 200-400 VRII f/4 (end to end). The VRII offered some compensation for the uplift in aperture and fit our budget a little better than the house mortgaging below f/4 models. With that decision out of the way, the hunt was on to actually find one. The tsunami in Japan had a big hit in inventories leaving a few older models available and only ONE current model in stock across every photography retailer we could find on the Internet. Long story short, we took an availability premium hit and locked into the new lens.
After a quick inquiry as to the arrival date (since the delivery date was fast approaching without notification), we were informed it was on its way. I do not know if it was a result of the inquiry or in respect to the purchase price, but the glass was upgraded to two-day express. Sure enough, the package arrived as notified. This is when reality set in. Check out the packaging required. (Note, Rizzi was a reluctant participant, but I needed some scale)
Exactly what have we gotten ourselves into. We knew it was going to be larger than our current zoom, but this might be on a whole different level.
Hit the jump to see what was in those boxes.
After cutting through the layers of boxes, I pulled out this suitcase… or rather lens case. Now this was impressive. It has a fully padded outershell complete with carrying straps and attachment points for tripods etc. Once the front is unzipped, it reveals an inner padding that folds around the lens and clasps with velcro. With that out of the way, you are left with a third layer of padding about 8″ wide that wraps around the camera ends of the lens. On the very top is a 2″ padded circle with a zipper (with the Nikon label in the picture). My guess is this also doubles as a filter holder.
At this point I am getting very nervous. This glass is padded more than fine Tiffany. Eventually the nerves were calmed and the lens was extracted from its cocoon. The first thought was Linda is going to have fun lugging this lens around and the monopod is going to become a key accessory. Turns out, the lens even has another cover on it with a draw string – logically, this serves as the glass protector with the provided lens barrel hood. Ready to see what this thing looks like? Here you go (with protector over the hood )
I included the camera body to give you a feel for the size of this thing. This is going to require a definite tweak to the workout program in order physically hold up with this thing in the field. Based on the specs, it lists at 7lbs, but I am not sure if that includes the hood cover or not. Regardless, this is is a load especially on the extended arm while shooting freehand. Our quickly adopted name for this glass is “The BEAST”. Here it is without the lens protector (still with the hood). What you can’t see very clearly, because it sank into the pillows, but there is a heavy collar mount which is essential since the camera hangs off the lens, not the other way around.
In case you are curious as to how this new lens stacks up against our 80-200, I made an attempt to put the two telephotos side by side. After some struggles to get them to line up due to overwhelming the pillow, I had to resort to the dog’s turtle toy. Guessing the new one is at least a third longer than the old one and easily twice as long with the hood in place. It was unplanned, but the toy does give a nice feeling for how it might go for the first few outings with the Beast. Now I know why professional photographer Peter Lik has such big guns on him.
I almost forgot that this lens has a special VR setting for shooting out of a moving vehicle. That is going to be awesome for the next Phoadtography opportunity. Well, we just wanted to introduce the new member of the family. Yesterday was our first outing with the new glass and from first impressions, this is going to be a lot of fun! (hint, if they came out even half as good as I think they did I’ll be ecstatic based on the zoom reach this lens has). Once the processing is done I’ll post some of the photos from that shoot. As for now, I’m heading down to hit the weights.