P is for Pariah

Since my last post, my family and I have moved back up to North Carolina.  It feels so good to be back in the place we feel is home to us.  Now surrounded again by all this State’s natural beauty and wildlife, I’ve had quite the itch to ramp up my efforts in bird photography that began down in Florida.

The past few weeks I’ve been researching ultra-telephoto lenses for bird/wildlife photography.  Not wanting to spend a fortune on a modern lens, I focused on legacy, manual focus lenses.  After much browsing of internet forums I started to pick up on a trend in the mention of a “P-series” Nikon lens from the 1980’s.  Many commenters lavished it with praise for its amazing optics but in the same breath would quickly distance themselves from it by discussing the difficulties in shooting with it on a modern Nikon DSLR.  Late-model Nikon cameras no longer have focusing screens with split microprisms and other such features which aid your eye in setting correct manual focus.  This makes using any manual focus lens a challenge and extremely difficult one for a lens of this focal length; even for those with perfect eyesight.  Another big negative that was mentioned was the lack of any sort of Vibration Reduction which can be found in the modern equivalent (costing over $8k).  A pariah of a lens in the Nikon community, I agree 100% with these commenters’ warnings… if I shot with a Nikon.

As you long-time readers well know, I’ve been using Sony’s mirrorless cameras since they first hit the market (formerly a Nikon shooter).  The A7RII is my primary camera and with it I have an excellent Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) with 14X focusing magnification and focus peaking.  I also get an incredibly effective in-body, sensor-based image stabilization up to 1000mm.  The two main reasons why Nikon users have rejected this lens are easily rebutted by the technology packed inside a modern Sony mirrorless camera body.  Convinced I had found the right lens to pursue, I set out to find one online.  After a few days of hemming and hawing over an eBay listing from Japan, I finally pulled the trigger and bought it.  Lens, hood, internal filter, straps, and the original Nikon hard case, all in excellent condition.

Here it is: the brilliant, behemoth Nikon Nikkor 500m f/4 IF-ED P-series lens with my blacked-out A7RII hanging off the back of it.


Measuring a whopping 21.5″ in length with the hood attached and weighing a smidge over 6.5 lbs, this is not a subtle lens.  It’s one of those lenses you can’t help but feel silly while walking around with it in public.

 

After proudly showing off my new lens to my wife, I received an iMessage from her with this image.  Yeah… she pretty much nailed it. LOLOL

 

With the hood removed, you can see that giant 122mm front element.

 

At the same time I purchased this lens, I also ordered a used Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter.  This brings that 500mm to 700mm with only one stop of light loss – effectively a 700mm f/5.6 lens.

 

My first day out with it, I spotted a deer in the woods around Stone Mountain State Park (NC not GA).  The deer saw this lens and was like, “DAAAaaannng!”

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6)

Since I bought this lens primarily for birds (who are not so easily impressed), let’s see how it does.  Each photo is captioned with whether or not I had the Teleconverter attached.  All photos were shot with the aperture set wide-open.  All photos were shot handheld.

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P – Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P – Squirrel!!!

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P – Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P – Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P + Nikon TC-14B 1.4x Teleconverter (=700mm f/5.6) – Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P – Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

 

Sony A7RII w/ Nikon ED Nikkor 500mm f/4 P – Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

I am mighty impressed by the image quality and reach this lens offers!  Even with the Teleconverter attached, I see no appreciable degrade in sharpness, contrast or color.  After all these years of trying to get bird photos with 200mm, 300mm, and even 400mm outfits, I’ve never tasted as much success as with this 500/700mm Nikon setup.  I’ve been amazed at how much more relaxed the birds are with a more comfortable distance between us and in turn how much more enjoyment I get out of the experience.  This has definitely been a worthwhile pursuit, getting into the ultra-telephoto focal lengths.  Really the only negative comment I might add here is that I wish the lens’ tripod foot was a smidge bigger for using as a handhold and handle.  I won’t get into all the boring minutia of specs and lens construction as it can be found elsewhere on the web.  To that end, I will say that if you’ve got a 2nd or 3rd Generation Sony mirrorless camera and you’re interested in a killer, manual focus wildlife lens for it, I highly recommend this Nikon.

My daughter, Eliya, has been a huge help to me in identifying each of these birds.  It’s great to have her help and to see her so fascinated by the world around her.  I have a feeling she’ll always have an eye and heart for this.

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7 thoughts on “P is for Pariah

  1. I love these photos. I love your sense of humor. I’m so glad you have this lens! 🙂 Not just for the great photos, but also for the pleasure it brings us all! Eliya so enjoys getting to help you with the proper bird names. S’good stuff~

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  2. Love, love all the bird photos; especially Eastern Blue Bird and squirrel!! 🤩. Of course, your wife’s photo contribution was MOST enhancing to today’s post! 👍😆.
    Can’t thank you enough for sharing the beauty through your lense! Hugs all around, dears!!

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  3. Awesome article, Tom- and, as always- amazing photos. Glad you’ve found a setup that you like- and works for you. Wonderful communing with nature, isn’t it?? I guess digiscoping isn’t in your future anymore!
    Going to have to catch up on you with the move and all!

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  4. Wow that lens is a monster but what impressive photos! Its bokeh is simply elegant. Your bird pics are very good. I think my fave is the European Starling shot. I always enjoy your humor. 🙂

    Two thoughts come to mind after reading your post. First, I’m not sure I could handle a rig that weighs as much as this one. I shoot with the same Sony a7RII and all vintage lenses like you, but walking around the woods with that much weight would wear me out pretty fast.

    Second, you must shoot the moon with this outfit! I expect you will get some breathtaking shots. The moon is a good test of a telephoto. There are so many people shooting that subject making it an easy way to compare the sharpness of various lenses. I think there is a full moon tonight.

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  5. Good to hear you are back in NC. I always steered clear of long lens because they have limited use in my photography and they require the use of a tripod to get max resolution. Your photos make me want to buy a long telephoto and bring the tripod out of the closet. If I think back to the 1980’s, many of my best photos were made using a tripod. Maybe there is a message there?

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