NIKKOR 200-500mm Lens Review – Zoom Sharp and Zoom Smooth

Thinking of adding a Nikon lens to your gear?  The NIKKOR 200500mm f/5.6E ED VR is an excellent option to consider, and we review it here.

Zoom SHARP, Zoom SMOOTH by Jim Austin Jimages.

Our goal for this review is to dive into three fine points that make this zoom lens a precision tool, as well as a good value (USD $1250 to $1400).

These fine points are: the Sport Mode VR, Manual focusing, and finally a suggestion for push-pull zooming.

nikkor 200-500mm lens review
Layout of the function switches above the tripod collar on the Nikkor 200-500 ED VR f/5.6 lens.


You will feel assured about the sharpness of your shots, especially when hand-holding this 11 element super zoom. When you hand hold, turn on the VR and the Sport Mode.


It’s also easy to switch on the VR. With it, you have a choice between Normal and Sport Mode. For fast-moving subjects, I choose Sport Mode. I live on a boat, so Sport Mode is ideal for those rare situations when doing high speed burst photography with unpredictable subjects or HDR.

Sport mode is a compromise. It is a happy medium between a smooth display in the viewfinder, and less vibration reduction. It’s purpose, as you photograph birds, sports action and other fast-moving subject matter, is to avoid jerky movement in your camera viewfinder.


Hand holding the 200-500 lens with VR, when your subject is moving at warp 9, Sport Mode limits vibration reduction. This keeps the image in your viewfinder smooth and stable. You can then track your subject more effectively, especially when you are panning -as above- or doing burst photography.

You can keep your frame rate high while eliminating any shutter lag. So, the result is that you see your subject clearly though the viewfinder without any jerky or unnatural movement.

I find the Nikon rating of 4.5 stops (f/16 to about f/4) to improvement with VR to be slightly overrated. So, to ensure sharpness, I use at minimum a 1/2000th second shutter speed combined with VR Sport Mode. The Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 weights about 5 pounds (81 ounces), a mass that lets you comfortably hand hold the lens. It’s vibration reduction modes are positive and quiet.

Now in my Nikkor 200-500mm lens review,  let’s look at manually focusing this Nikon superzoom.

Vibration reduction (VR) is positive and quiet. 


The focus ring, at the body end of this lens, is smooth and lets a photographer focus with precision. The ability to get sharp, accurately focused images at a wide-open aperture of f/5.6 is excellent. Auto Focus with Nikon’s TC-14E teleconverter  works quickly in good light, paired with this lens.

While there are other lenses in the superzoom category with faster Autofocus (Tamron, Sigma, Nikon), Nikon’s focusing ring is one of the better designs for Manual focusing.

Next we’ll discover a push pull technique for zooming.


When you zoom, this lens gets larger. Its hefty zoom ring is one of the best features of the 200-500. In cold weather, however, a specific zoom technique may help you. G grip the front of the lens barrel and use it as a push pull zoom, while keeping a firm grip on the barrel. This works even if you are wearing cold weather gloves.

At 200 mm, the zoom stops and can be locked in. At the 500 mm mark, there is another decisive stop. This is an advantage compared to lenses whose design lets the zoom change focal length unintentionally due to lack of locking stops.


IMPROVING Your LENS: If you purchase the Nikon 200-500, I’d recommend replacing the poorly designed tripod collar with one by Kirk or Really Right Stuff (RRS).  Personally, the current collar design seems off-balance when working with the zoom on a tripod, as the weight of the lens goes to one area.

LAST WORD: I recommend this lens because of its performance. No lens is perfect, but after using this the Nikon 200-500 for over two years, I’ve found it a good value both for its build quality and sharpness.

Nikkor 200-500mm lens review by Jim Austin MA. Jim is an adventure photographer. His images have won a string of awards, including Nature’s Best in the Smithsonian Museum.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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