Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 vs. Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3: The Ultimate Telephoto Lens Battle for Sports and Wildlife Enthusiasts

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Are you a passionate sports or wildlife photographer looking for the perfect telephoto lens to capture stunning images of fast-paced action and elusive creatures?

Whether you’re on the sidelines of an intense game or exploring the great outdoors, having the right lens can make all the difference in your photographic pursuits.

In this article, we’ll dive into an in-depth comparison between two popular telephoto lenses: the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 and the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3. These lenses, with their unique features and performance capabilities, cater to photographers seeking versatility, portability, and exceptional image quality.

Join us as we explore the strengths and weaknesses of these two lenses, examining crucial factors such as low light performance, autofocus, optical stabilization, sharpness, bokeh quality, and more.

By the end of this comprehensive comparison, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision on which lens best aligns with your photographic goals and aspirations.

So, get ready to take your sports and wildlife photography to new heights with the knowledge you’ll gain from this detailed lens showdown!


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F5.6E ED VRTamron 100-400mm F4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Nikon F (FX)
Max ApertureF5.6F4.5-6.3
Aperture TypeFixedVariable
Focal Range (mm)200-500100-400
Mount TypeNikon F (FX)Nikon F (FX)
Zoom Ratio (X)2.54

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 has a fixed aperture of f/5.6, while the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 has a variable aperture of f/4.5-6.3. The fixed aperture of the Nikon lens allows it to maintain consistent performance and image quality throughout its 200-500mm focal range. In contrast, the Tamron lens has a more versatile 100-400mm focal range but may exhibit some compromises in image quality and low light performance due to its variable aperture. Both lenses feature the Nikon F (FX) mount type.

In terms of zoom ratio, the Nikon lens has a 2.5x zoom, while the Tamron lens has a 4.0x zoom. The Tamron lens offers more flexibility in composing shots, but the Nikon lens may provide better image quality due to its fixed aperture and narrower zoom range.

For sports and wildlife photography, the Nikon lens’s larger fixed aperture will enable better low light performance, faster shutter speeds, and shallower depth of field, allowing you to isolate subjects from their background. The Tamron lens offers more versatility with its greater zoom range, but may struggle in low light situations or produce slightly less sharp images due to its variable aperture.

Design and Ease of Use

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F5.6E ED VRTamron 100-400mm F4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Nikon F (FX)
Diameter x Length (mm)⌀108×267.5mm⌀86×199mm
Weight (gr)23001115
Filter Thread (mm)9567
Weather SealingNoYes
Zoom MethodRotary (extending)Rotary (extending)
Distance ScaleYesYes
DoF ScaleNoNo
Hood SuppliedYesYes
Tripod CollarYesNo

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 has dimensions of ⌀108×267.5mm and weighs 2300g, while the Tamron lens has dimensions of ⌀86×199mm and weighs 1115g. The Tamron lens is significantly more compact and lightweight than the Nikon lens, making it easier to carry around and handle during long shooting sessions.

In sports and wildlife photography, portability and balance are essential factors to consider. The lighter Tamron lens would be less tiring to carry and use for extended periods, and its smaller size may make it easier to handle, especially when swapping lenses quickly. The compactness of the Tamron lens also makes it more discreet, allowing you to blend in more easily when capturing candid shots without drawing too much attention.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3, being larger and heavier, may provide a more solid and stable feel during shooting but could lead to discomfort or difficulty in handling the camera during longer shoots.

In conclusion, if you prioritize portability, ease of handling, and discreetness, the Tamron lens is the superior choice due to its smaller size and lighter weight. However, if you prefer a more solid and stable feel during shooting and don’t mind the additional weight, the Nikon lens might be a better fit.

Lens Mount and Barrel

The metal lens mount on the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 comes equipped with a rubber gasket that safeguards against moisture and dust, whereas the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 features a weather sealing gasket with a metal lens mount. Both lens mounts offer durability and protection from the elements, making them suitable for various shooting conditions.

In terms of lens barrels, the Nikon lens has a metal outer barrel with a high-grade plastic shell and a plastic inner barrel. It extends when zooming, but there’s a lock to keep it at its shortest 200mm length, preventing lens creep. The Tamron lens, on the other hand, has a barrel made of rubber-covered plastic and magnesium alloy with a sleek, modern design. It also extends when zooming, with a lock switch to fix the zoom at 100mm to prevent lens creep.

While plastic lens barrels tend to be less expensive and lighter, they may not have the same level of durability as their metal counterparts. Metal lens barrels, while sturdier and offering a more professional feel, can be heavier and less portable. The Nikon lens combines both materials, whereas the Tamron lens uses a blend of rubber-covered plastic and magnesium alloy, which provides durability and a lightweight construction.

Considering lens mount and barrel quality, both lenses offer solid construction and protection from the elements. The Nikon lens may be more suitable for those who prefer a mix of metal and plastic materials for a balance between weight, durability, and cost, while the Tamron lens may appeal to photographers who value a sleek, modern design with a combination of lightweight and durable materials.

Weather Sealing

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 offers partial weather sealing, with a rubber gasket at the lens mount to help prevent water ingress. However, it lacks internal seals at rings, switches, and the front of the barrel, and has no fluorine coating on the front element. Although this lens can withstand some exposure to cold, dust, and moisture, it is not specifically engineered to endure heavy abuse or extreme weather conditions like a professional-grade lens.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 boasts full weather sealing, featuring a gasket at the lens mount, internal seals at various points, and a fluorine coating on the front element. This sealing and coating provide moisture resistance and protection against dust, making it suitable for use in harsh weather conditions.

Weather sealing is an essential aspect of sports and wildlife photography, as these types of photography often involve shooting in unpredictable and challenging environments. A fully weather-sealed lens can offer better protection, durability, and performance in adverse conditions compared to a partially sealed one.

In conclusion, the Tamron lens offers superior weather sealing, making it a more suitable option for sports and wildlife photographers who need a lens that can withstand harsh weather conditions. The Nikon lens, while offering some protection, may not be as reliable in extreme situations, requiring extra care or additional protection when shooting in challenging environments.


The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 features two rings: a ribbed zoom ring and a focus ring covered in textured rubber, designed for smooth rotation and a quality feel. The zoom ring is towards the front of the lens and takes almost 180 degrees of rotation to zoom from 200mm to 500mm, while the focus ring is closer to the camera body.

By enabling simple adjustments to the focal length while maintaining a firm grip and balanced technique, this placement provides ease of use. The lens has a zoom lock switch at its shortest 200mm length and offers full-time manual focus override with a focus limiter function when set to the M/A position.

In contrast, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 has two textured rubber rings, with the focus ring located closer to the camera body and the zoom ring towards the front of the lens barrel. The zoom ring is larger than the focus ring and requires a 135-degree turn to fully zoom from 100mm to 400mm.

The focus ring offers 130 degrees of rotation, providing adequate precision for manual focusing. The lens barrel extends during zooming but has a lock switch to secure it at the 100mm position. The lens design is sleek and modern, with ergonomic bevels and a mostly smooth rotation experience for both rings.

In conclusion, the Nikon lens’s rings are superior due to their design, smooth rotation, and overall quality feel, which contribute to an enhanced user experience. However, the Tamron lens still provides a satisfactory performance, making it a decent option for those seeking a modern design and comfortable grip.


On the side of the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6, you will find four switches: an AF/MF switch, a focus limiter switch, an IS switch, and a VR mode switch. Full-time manual focus override is made possible by the AF/MF switch, while the focus limiter switch confines the autofocus distance to a predetermined range.

The IS switch controls the vibration reduction system, and the VR mode switch toggles between normal and sport mode. These switches are conveniently placed and user-friendly, complementing the well-designed, textured focus ring and zoom ring for comfortable handling.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 offers three well-designed switches on the lens barrel’s side, which are easily accessible and practical. The first switch is a 3-position AF/MF switch with a mid-position called “LIMIT,” functioning as a focus distance limiter to speed up focus acquisition. The second switch controls Vibration Compensation (VC), with three settings: Mode 1 for general use, Mode 2 for panning, and an off position.

The third switch, located on the opposite side of the lens, locks the lens in the retracted position. These switches provide crisp haptic feedback, enabling easy operation even with gloves on. Moreover, the focus limiter and VC settings can be customized using Tamron’s Tap-In console for added versatility.

In conclusion, both lenses offer well-designed and functional switches, but the Tamron lens takes the lead with its customizable settings through the Tap-In console and the added convenience of crisp haptic feedback. This makes the Tamron lens’s switches/buttons superior, providing a more tailored and user-friendly experience.

Filter Thread

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 features a 95mm filter thread, which is an uncommon size. Typically made of metal for durability and a secure fit, the front element and filter thread do not rotate during focusing, simplifying the use of polarizers and graduated neutral density filters. Although the 95mm filter size is less common, high-quality filters from reputable brands like B+W and Hoya are available and provide excellent protection and performance.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 has a 67mm filter thread made of plastic. The front element and filter thread also do not rotate during focusing, allowing easy use with various filters. The filter thread is edged with rubber, a recent trend in telephoto lenses, which offers extra protection against potential damage from accidental knocks.

Considering both lenses, the Tamron lens has a more common 67mm filter thread size, making it easier to find filters at a reasonable price. The rubber-edged filter thread adds a layer of protection against accidental damage. In contrast, the Nikon lens has a less common 95mm filter thread, but its metal construction offers durability and a secure fit. While both lenses have their merits, the Tamron lens’s filter thread is superior due to its compatibility, availability, and cost-effectiveness, as well as the added protection from the rubber edge.

Lens Hood

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 comes with a one-piece plastic bayonet lens hood, which is included in the package. The lens hood is quite large, measuring 5 inches in diameter and 4 inches in length, and is effective at reducing flare and protecting the lens. The lens hood is made of plastic with a smooth finish and can be smoothly rotated. It can also be reversed and put back on the lens for transportation.

The Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 also includes a lens hood in the package. Made of slightly-flexible plastic material, it offers better impact absorption and substantial protection for the front lens element. The lens hood features a solid finish and an ergonomic bevel designed for push/pull zooming, although using it this way requires a firm grip. The lens hood can be smoothly rotated and locks securely into place when mounted on the lens.

While both lens hoods provide effective protection and flare reduction, the Tamron lens hood offers a slight edge in terms of impact absorption due to its slightly-flexible material. Additionally, the ergonomic bevel design adds functionality for push/pull zooming. Overall, the Tamron lens hood is superior, as it offers better protection and a more versatile design.

Tripod Collar

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 has a built-in tripod collar that supports its weight and ensures stability when using a tripod. However, its single point of connection at the far end of the lens barrel could be improved by adopting a two-point stabilization system like Kirk and RRS replacement lens collars. Although not directly Arca-Swiss compatible, many photographers choose aftermarket collars for better support and compatibility. The removable collar allows for more comfortable handheld use.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3, which is much lighter than the Nikon lens, does not include a tripod collar. This reduces the demand for a tripod collar. However, it is designed to work with the optional A035TM tripod mount, an Arca-Swiss compatible collar available for purchase separately. This compatibility enhances the tripod-mounted experience, making it a valuable addition for photographers who frequently use tripods.

In conclusion, the Tamron tripod collar is superior due to its Arca-Swiss compatibility and the optional nature of the purchase, catering to photographers’ varying needs. However, the lighter weight of the Tamron lens might reduce the demand for a tripod collar altogether.

Focusing and Optical Stabilization

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F5.6E ED VRTamron 100-400mm F4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Nikon F (FX)
AF MotorSilent Wave MotorRing-type ultrasonic
Rotating Front ElementDoes not rotate on focusingDoes not rotate on focusing
Min Focus Distance2.2m1.5m
Max Magnification (X)0.220.28
Full-Time Manual FocusYesYes
Focus MethodInternalInternal

Focusing Performance

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 features a built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM), providing quiet autofocus operation and full-time manual focus override in the M/A position. It has a relatively fast autofocus speed, with initial focus acquisition surpassing many f/1.8 Nikon primes.

This lens is known for its accurate and consistent focusing, with excellent repeatability. Thanks to a smooth manual focus action and a wide focus ring, precise adjustments are easily achievable. Its internally focusing design maintains a constant length and prevents the front element from rotating, making it convenient for polarizing filters.

The Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3, on the other hand, delivers fast and nearly silent autofocus performance with only a quiet whirring sound. It has an impressive focusing speed and accuracy. Manual focus override is available by sliding the real mechanical focus ring with a fingertip. The focus ring turns smoothly and quite precisely, offering a satisfying manual focus experience.

The lens also features an internally focusing design, ensuring a constant length regardless of focus and zoom settings. However, there is some focus breathing, causing the image size to change as the focus adjusts. In low-light situations, the autofocus performance might not be as instantaneous as some Canon or Nikon lenses, but it remains consistent across peripheral and center AF points.

Considering the importance of fast and accurate autofocus for telephoto lenses used in sports, wildlife, and portrait photography, the Nikon lens edges out the Tamron lens in focusing performance due to its faster initial focus acquisition and excellent repeatability. However, both lenses offer solid autofocus and manual focus options that cater to a variety of photography styles and situations.

Optical Stabilization

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 boasts an effective Vibration Reduction (VR) system, providing up to 4.5 stops of stabilization. This allows for sharp images even at slower shutter speeds and is suitable for both photography and video recording. The lens offers two stabilization modes: Normal and Sport, with the latter optimized for tracking fast-moving subjects. When shooting at 500mm with VR enabled, shutter speeds as slow as 1/60 seconds can produce usable shots, and even down to 1/25 seconds in certain cases.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 features its Vibration Compensation (VC) system, delivering around 4 stops of image stabilization. This helps achieve sharper handheld shots in various lighting conditions. The lens also has two stabilization modes: Mode 1 for general handheld photography, and Mode 2 designed for panning. With the VC system, you can achieve sharp shots at shutter speeds of 1/10 of a second at 100mm and around 1/50 of a second at 400mm. This system not only reduces camera shake but also enhances autofocus precision.

While both lenses offer valuable optical stabilization systems, the Nikon lens appears to be superior with its 4.5 stops of stabilization compared to the Tamron’s 4 stops. Additionally, the Nikon lens demonstrates impressive stabilization performance at slower shutter speeds, particularly at the 500mm focal length. This advantage is particularly beneficial in sports and wildlife photography, where capturing fast-moving subjects and minimizing camera shake is crucial.

Image Quality

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F5.6E ED VRTamron 100-400mm F4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Nikon F (FX)
Special Elements3 ED elements3 LD elements + eBAND coating
Diaphragm Blades99
Circular ApertureYesYes


The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 demonstrates minimal chromatic aberration, even in high-contrast situations, making color fringing difficult to spot at a 200% crop. Although chromatic aberration levels are low at 200mm and 300mm, they increase slightly towards 400mm and 500mm focal lengths. The lens exhibits some cat’s-eye effect, coma, and onion-ring bokeh. However, extra-low dispersion lens elements significantly reduce spherical aberration, contributing to the lens’s overall sharpness and contrast.

In contrast, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 displays various forms of chromatic aberration. Axial CA is more noticeable at 100mm and decreases as the focal length increases. Lateral chromatic aberration is well-controlled at the frame’s center but is slightly higher in the corners.

Axial CA, which appears as green fringing, is generally not severe but can be harder to correct in post-processing. Longitudinal chromatic aberration (loCA) is present, especially at shorter focal lengths, but remains manageable. Spherical aberration and spherochromatism contribute to a less sharp, hazy appearance at wider apertures, which can be reduced by stopping down one to two stops.

Based on the comparison, the Nikon lens outperforms the Tamron lens in terms of aberration control. The Nikon lens displays minimal chromatic aberration and effectively reduces spherical aberration with its extra-low dispersion lens elements, resulting in better overall sharpness and contrast. The Tamron lens, while manageable, exhibits more types and higher levels of aberration, which may require additional post-processing to correct.


The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 displays outstanding center sharpness across its zoom range, although some corner softness is observed at longer focal lengths and wide open apertures. Corner sharpness improves upon stopping down, typically peaking around f/11.

At 200mm, the lens demonstrates very good center sharpness at f/5.6, becoming excellent at f/8. Sharpness decreases as you zoom in, with a noticeable decline at 500mm, but it remains usable. Employing a teleconverter may affect autofocus accuracy and further diminish sharpness.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 exhibits excellent central sharpness at 100mm within the f/4.5 to f/8 range, with a reduction due to diffraction at f/11. Corner sharpness is noticeably softer, improving only slightly when stopping down.

At 200mm and 300mm, the central sharpness stays strong, and corner sharpness slightly enhances when stopped down to f/8 or smaller apertures. At 400mm, central sharpness declines somewhat, and corner sharpness exhibits minimal improvement upon stopping down. The sharpest apertures generally range between f/5.6 and f/8, depending on the focal length.

Considering the sharpness performance of both lenses, the Nikon lens has a slight edge, particularly in maintaining center sharpness across its zoom range.

Bokeh Quality

In sports and wildlife photography, bokeh quality is an essential factor as it impacts the subject’s isolation and enhances the overall image aesthetics.

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 offers pleasing bokeh quality, characterized by smooth and beautiful out-of-focus areas. Its 9 rounded aperture blades contribute to the attractive rendition of these areas. The lens effectively manages specular highlights and background isolation, resulting in appealing bokeh without onion-shaped highlights or distracting patterns. Minimal longitudinal chromatic aberration is displayed in the bokeh balls, and although the cat’s-eye effect is present, it is not overly obtrusive.

Conversely, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 also provides satisfying bokeh quality, featuring smooth and creamy out-of-focus areas in many cases, thanks to its 9 rounded aperture blades. Although the bokeh is generally pleasant, especially at the shorter end of the focal range, it may exhibit some unusual patterns and harshness when shooting at the longer end, possibly due to glass surface polishing limitations at this price point. Nonetheless, the lens can still generate a robust background blur when shooting at 400mm and focusing closely on the subject.

Considering both lenses’ bokeh quality, the Nikon lens appears to be superior in delivering consistently pleasing bokeh across its focal range. This makes it a more desirable option for sports and wildlife photographers who value subject isolation and aesthetic appeal in their images.


Flare and ghosting are optical phenomena that can affect image quality, particularly when strong light sources are present in or near the frame. These artifacts can reduce image contrast and create unwanted patterns or coloration.

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 demonstrates good flare-resistance, but it can still encounter ghosting and flare issues if a strong light source is directly in the frame or near the edge. However, when the light is clearly outside the image-frame, the lens does not produce artifacts. The flare patterns produced are simple and without additional coloration. Overall, the flare and ghosting performance is good, provided that photographers avoid strong light sources directly outside the frame.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 incorporates two advanced coating technologies, eBAND and BBAR, to minimize flare and ghosting. While the lens generally exhibits good flare and ghosting performance, it may still display some artifacts in certain challenging situations, such as when the sun is in the corner of a telephoto lens or when strong light sources are not well outside the image circle at longer focal lengths. Although the lens outperforms many zoom lenses in controlling flare, it is not exceptional in this regard.

In conclusion, both lenses demonstrate good flare and ghosting performance, but the Tamron lens has a slight advantage due to its eBAND and BBAR coating technologies.


Vignetting is an optical phenomenon in which the brightness of an image decreases towards the edges, resulting in a gradual darkening.

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 showcases impressive control over vignetting, displaying only minor darkening at the edges beyond 300mm when focused at infinity. At shorter focal lengths, vignetting is nearly non-existent. Although there is some vignetting, it can be effortlessly corrected in post-processing and may even add a delightful quality to the images.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 exhibits some vignetting at wider apertures, with just over 2 stops of shading in 100mm corners at f/4.5. Stopping down reduces the vignetting, with similar shading appearing at longer focal lengths at the same or similar aperture. At f/8, only around 0.8 stops of shading remain in the wide and long corners, and about 0.5 stops show in the mid focal length range.

At f/11, the vignetting is negligible, with only a rarely-noticeable 0.2 stops remaining over the entire focal length range. Vignetting effects are unlikely to be noticeable on APS-C sensor cameras at any focal lengths and aperture combinations.

In conclusion, both lenses perform well in terms of vignetting control, but the Nikon lens has a slight advantage due to its impressive performance at shorter focal lengths and minor edge darkening at longer focal lengths.


Distortion is an optical aberration that causes straight lines to appear curved in an image. Pincushion distortion is characterized by lines bowing inward, while barrel distortion causes lines to curve outward. Both types of distortion can be corrected using post-processing software.

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 exhibits minor pincushion distortion across various settings and distances, but it typically goes unnoticed in real-world situations. Most Nikon DSLRs are capable of automatically correcting this distortion. If not, it can be easily removed using post-processing software like Photoshop’s Lens Distortion tool. Despite these minor imperfections, the lens delivers sharp images with minimal linear distortion, making the distortion manageable and easily corrected in post-processing.

In contrast, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 exhibits a slight pincushion distortion at the wide end of 100mm, which increases gradually as the focal length is extended. At 200mm, 300mm, and 400mm, the distortion causes straight lines to display a subtle inward curve that can be corrected using software tools. At all focal lengths, the lens exhibits a very slight amount of barrel distortion, with the lowest amount present at 100mm. In general, the lens offers reasonable distortion performance, although it is not entirely distortion-free.

In conclusion, both lenses demonstrate a certain degree of distortion, but the Nikon lens holds a slight advantage due to its minimal and easily correctable pincushion distortion. This makes it the superior choice for photographers seeking better control over distortion in their images.

Final Verdict

When considering sports and wildlife photography, various factors need to be taken into account.

The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 offers better low light performance, faster shutter speeds, shallower depth of field, faster and more accurate autofocus, superior optical stabilization, and better aberration control. It also has a slight edge in terms of sharpness, bokeh quality, vignetting control, and distortion management. These attributes make it ideal for capturing fast-moving subjects and producing aesthetically pleasing images.

On the other hand, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 offers more versatility with its greater zoom range, superior weather sealing, and slightly better flare and ghosting performance. Moreover, its smaller size and lighter weight make it more portable and easier to handle. This lens is suitable for photographers who require flexibility and adaptability in various environments.

In conclusion, for sports and wildlife photography, the Nikon lens is generally a better choice due to its superior performance in key areas such as low light capabilities, autofocus, optical stabilization, sharpness, bokeh quality, and aberration control. However, the Tamron lens may still be a viable option for those who prioritize weather sealing, versatility, and portability.

Meet the Author

Wei Mao

Wei was a cruise photographer who worked at Disney Cruise Line. He is a lucky traveler who has been to more than 20 countries with his camera while working on an around-the-world cruise. Photography has changed his view of the world forever. Now he wants more people to benefit from photography through his blog.

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