Most people think mountain photography is all about wide-angle lenses. But over half of my mountain images are taken with a telephoto. My go to lens is my Nikon 24-70, which is great when you’re in tight with the mountains. However, when I know I am going to be a far distance from the mountains, or think there will be plenty of tight detail shots of glaciers, I prefer to bring a telephoto. My new go-to telephoto is the Nikon 70-200 F4.
When I began using digital in 2006, I went with Canon and purchased their 70-200 F4 right off the bat. When I switched to Nikon for this project (after a few years using Sony) I was bummed that Nikon didn’t have a light, high quality zoom. Luckily for me, they came out with one right when I began investing in the their system.
Is it sharp?
Really, that is all I care about. Telephoto zooms aren’t known for their stellar performance for landscapes. The edges tend to get really soft. But before we talk edges, I just want to say that the center sharpness of this lens is wicked sharp, just fantastic with tons of resolving power to match the D800e. Its performance at middle distances is off the chart, and pretty good at infinity, which is what most mountain shots are at.
Okay, the edges. It does pretty good job up to about 120 or so, then the edges tend to get pretty soft, not unusable, but noticeable, especially when making big prints. Kind of a bummer, because I shoot a lot at 200mm. Obviously, stopping down to f8-f11 helps a lot, making the images very usable. One of the problems is that the center is so good that the edges just stand out.
Not something I thought I would use much, being a tripod type of guy. But during my latest Alaska Range trip it was so cold that it wasn’t fair to my climbing partners to constantly stop and set up a tripod every time I wanted to take a shot. Then I went on a flight with my friend Dan Bailey and used it for the entire flight. I really didn’t think any of the shots would be sharp, especially ones at 200mm, but I was wrong, the VR worked great!
Its bulky, kind of heavy, focuses fast with my D800e…
At this moment, the 70-200 F4 is the best Nikon option for telephoto mountain images. If you shoot portraits or back country sports, you will be blown away by its center sharpness.
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We got this lens a few months ago to shoot with both the D800 and the D4. Love it. For all the reason you stated. We also photograph a lot of high school basketball with this lens, too.
In shalow light? although this new VR states that can stop down 5 times… you can’t get to a fast shutter speed for sports as you do with the heavier ( in price and weight ) 2.8 right?
2.8 is not necessary for the work I do. There is only one stop between f2.8 and f4, boosting the ISO one stop will get you the same shutter speed. If I was shooting indoors sports, the one extra stop might pay off. 2.8 does, however, give you more shallow depth of field than f4, great for isolating your subject.
I also use this lens on my crop sensor d5100, and it works brilliantly! I bought it for shooting birds, as the 70-200 f2.8 was out of my budget. Out in the field I find it works great for landscapes as well. And when I upgrade to full frame, it will work very well there too!
Actually using the 70-200, 2.8 or 4, will be sharper on a cropped sensor than a full frame. Those soft corners at the edges.. gone when its cropped just a bit by the dx sensor.
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Hi, could you give me any pointers with tripods? I shall be using it a lot in the Alps in winter, and shall be skiing back country with it and my gear.
Hi Scott, check out this post I wrote http://thealaskarange.com/2013/10/21/tips-for-using-ultra-light-tripods-in-the-field/ should answer most questions. If you have anymore feel free to send me an email, email@example.com
Thanks for the advice with the tripods it was very helpful.
With the high contrast of some of your mountain pictures, (especially with the snow and shadows at sunset and sunrise), do you recommend ND filters or do you use exposure bracketing for HDR post editing?
Thanks for the tips, great pictures!
My d800e handles high contrast images with ease. Since I purchased it, I haven’t used my Graduated ND filters. I don’t do any exposure bracketing for post processing.