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Just about to purchase one of these. I would like to know others opinions regarding the 400 F2.8 or the 600 F4 option. This will be used as a wildlife lens that will , on occasion, be hand holdable. I'm sure that I have made up my mind but it is a lot of money and it has taken forever to save up for it I just do not want to make a mistake.
If you haven't already, check out Thom Hogan's comments on Nikon's entire 'exotic' lens lineup...definitely worth the read...Thom Hogan Exotic Telephotos
The 400/2.8 is one of Nikon's sharpest lenses of any focal length and takes TC's better than most, but it's really meant for sports shooters IMO (e.g. shooting night games/isolating the subject). It works well for wildlife too but needs a tripod and isn't long enough for birds w/o a TC.
The 600VR is very sharp and obviously provides the most reach, and is an ideal birding lens and for wildlife at long range, but at 11.15 lbs it really needs a tripod.
The 500VR is really a compromise between the 400 and 600 (ie isn't quite as sharp as the 400 but is shorter and lighter than the 600). I chose the 500VR because it's extremely versatile and I like to hand hold, which I can do for short periods. In my experience the 500 is sharper at shorter/mid ranges, not so much at infinity, but most of my shooting is at short range so it works for me. It also takes the TC14EII very well (almost no need to stop down) but even takes my TC17EII quite well when stopped down to at least f8. I get better results with a pro body (FX) rather than DX, however. I use my 500VR hand held much of the time with the TC17EII tacked on. The VR works very well -- I recently sold my 200-400VR as I find I can use the 500 in my canoe just as well.
Not to nitpick, but there is no 500VRII -- the current model is still marketed as the 500VR, which incorporates the VRII mechanism and has nano coatings.