Skip to main content

Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR review

An affordable and versatile Nikon super-telephoto lens which performs superbly for sports and wildlife photography

Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR
(Image: © Future)

Digital Camera World Verdict

If you're after an own-brand super-tele zoom for your Nikon DSLR, the Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a high-performing lens which is, at least by Nikon's standards, reasonably priced for the focal range on offer. It's a little disappointing that the lens isn't fully weather sealed, especially as this is an optic designed for sports and wildlife photography, which can take place in all weathers.

Pros

  • +

    Impressive image quality

  • +

    Good autofocus and stabilization

  • +

    Useful focal range

Cons

  • -

    Not fully weather sealed

  • -

    Rival lenses have greater focal range

If you’re a budding sports or wildlife photographer, a super-telephoto lens is the order of the day. Go for a super-tele zoom and you've also got the flexibility of being able to zoom in so your subject fills the frame, yet still retain the ability to zoom out to more easily track moving action, or take wider shots.

Specifications

Mount: Nikon F
Full frame: Yes
Image stabilization: Yes
Autofocus: Yes
Lens construction: 19 elements in 12 groups
Angle of view: 12-5 degrees
Diaphragm blades: 9
Minimum aperture: f/32
Minimum focusing distance: 2.2m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.22x
Filter size: 95mm
Dimensions: 267.5x108mm
Weight: 2,300g

Key features

(Image credit: Future)
(opens in new tab)

Big, heavy super-tele primes can set you back a five-figure sum, and while Nikon’s venerable AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR zoom lens is more reasonably priced and delivers excellent image quality, its 400mm max reach could be limiting. This newer 200-500mm zoom is more affordable option for Nikon FX DSLRs and packs in smart additional features. These include a constant-aperture design, and an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm that ensures greater exposure consistency in rapid-­fire shooting. Uprated VR (Vibration Reduction) is good for 4.5 stops and adds a ‘Sport’ mode for improved stability while tracking moving subjects.

Build and handling

Build quality is typically high for a Nikon lens at this price point, though it’s a pity there isn’t a full complement of weather seals – only the mount gets a rubber gasket to prevent water ingress. A focus distance window is present though, as is a tripod collar, hood and soft case.

Performance

Good levels of sharpness remain impressively consistent throughout the entire zoom range, and overall image quality is of a high standard. Autofocus and stabilisation systems work quickly and effectively. Our only real gripe is that the maximum focal length falls a little short when compared with Nikon-mount Sigma and Tamron 150- 600mm zooms, but performance levels are nonetheless very good.

Lab data

We run a range of lab tests under controlled conditions, using the Imatest Master testing suite. Photos of test charts are taken across the range of apertures and zooms (where available), then analyzed for sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberrations.

We use Imatest SFR (spatial frequency response) charts and analysis software to plot lens resolution at the centre of the image frame, corners and mid-point distances, across the range of aperture settings and, with zoom lenses, at four different focal lengths. The tests also measure distortion and color fringing (chromatic aberration).

Sharpness:

(Image credit: Future)
(opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Future)
(opens in new tab)

Sharpness in the center of frame is excellent throughout the zoom range. It drops off a bit in the corners at longer focal lengths, but this should rarely be an issue when shooting subjects often set against a blurred background.

Fringing:

(Image credit: Future)
(opens in new tab)

Fringing is barely visible at 200mm, but as you zoom in it becomes progressively more noticeable. However, only at 500mm are aberrations easily visible, and even then, they shouldn't be distracting.

Distortion:

(Image credit: Future)
(opens in new tab)

There's minimal pincushion distortion throughout the lens's focal range.

Verdict

If you're after an own-brand super-tele zoom for your Nikon DSLR, the Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a high-performing lens which is, at least by Nikon's standards, reasonably priced for the focal range on offer. It's a little disappointing that the lens isn't fully weather sealed, especially as this is an optic designed for sports and wildlife photography, which can take place in all weathers. As such, don't rule out alternative similarly priced lenses like F-mount version of the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 and Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | S.

Read more:

The best Nikon cameras (opens in new tab)
The best Nikon lenses (opens in new tab)
The best Nikon telephoto lenses (opens in new tab)
The best lenses for bird photography (opens in new tab)

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Ben is the Imaging Labs manager, responsible for all the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensors, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest camera phones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to camera bags, filters, memory cards, and all manner of camera accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography! With years of experience trialling and testing kit, he's a human encyclopedia of benchmarks when it comes to recommending the best buys.