Street photography with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4 D lens

Street photography with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4 D lens

Hello, my name is Vincent from Paris and I own my food blog at I already wrote an article about how I take food’s picture but today I’ll let you know about my other passion: street photography. I’m not a pro but let me share my tips about my last acquisition, a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4 D lens.

First, it’s huge. Second, it’s heavy. Third and most important, it’s really… EXPENSIVE – new it’s around $10k.

So why I choose it? Mainly for two reasons: I found this amazing piece of glass second hand (around $3k) and I tried other focal lengths for street photography (50mm, 85mm and 200mm) and I was disappointed. The problem with shorter tele lenses is that people you’re taking pictures of can actually see you taking pictures of them. I don’t really mind that, in the worst case, they yell at you and you delete the picture (yes people can be very aggressive in street photography). But you can lose the spontaneity or the naive situation in which people are.

At the beginning I had to concentrate on how far I can take pictures of people, 500mm is more for safari pictures. I can’t say exactly how many meters but with experience, I know. Like one of my friends who’s magician and knows how many cards he has in hand just by cutting the deck. The brain is your most important tool in photography.

After habituating yourself, you’ll discover the power of a long focal: people are really isolated from the background. And Nikon knows how to make super sharp lens at full aperture. I really like my 200mm f/2 but if you’re not accurate for a portrait, you’ll get one eye sharp and the other not, really frustrating. At 500mm, nothing like that happens, you sure of mastering sharpness.

The bokeh is great, soft and pleasant. The only fault I found is, at dawn or at night, f/4 is not enough when I couple it to my D750. It’s quite an old lens comparing to Nikon D5 and High ISO are not as good. But, and it’s really important, during the day, when you’re at full aperture, you don’t have a burn image, like when you have at 50mm f/1.4 on a bright sunny day. There’s no perfect lens but when I have a bright sun, I’m happy to use my 500mm.

Another point: the weight. It’s really heavy, around 3kg but it’s well balanced. My 200mm it’s a little lighter but shorter and all the weight is on the last lens element. I remember once it was hurting my hip while walking, not strong, but repeated 10,000 times during a day, it’s really painful. The 500mm lens is longer and it doesn’t really touch you.
 The last point: you can feel really uncomfortable carrying such lens in not safe places. But most of the time I had impressed comments like: “it’s bigger than a shotgun” or “I always dream to have that big lens”. Most of the time, people don’t really understand what you are shooting and you blend into the surrounding. I always use my lens in touristic places without any worries.

I hope you found distracting the misuse of that big lens and that it’ll give you some new ideas!

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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