Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Review
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The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is a full-frame 5x telephoto zoom lens for Nikon F-mount cameras. Featuring an optical formula comprising 20 elements in 12 groups – including 1 Super ED and 4 ED elements –, Nano lens coating and a 9-bladed iris diaphragm; the AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens boasts Nikon’s second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR) technology with Active and Normal modes, a built-in Silent Wave focus motor, an internal focusing mechanism and a focus limit switch. The lens ships with a removable tripod collar and a large lens hood as standard. The Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens is currently available for £1,899.00 / $2,696.95 in the UK and US, respectively.
Ease of Use
The Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens attached to a Nikon Df camera body
Weighing in at 1570 grams including the (removable) tripod collar, the AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is approximately as heavy as a typical 70-200mm f/2.8 lens but offers a wider zoom range and more telephoto reach – alongside a considerably slower, variable maximum aperture. This means that it is quite portable and definitely hand-holdable – but extended hand-held use requires a certain degree of fitness on the photographer's part.
Build quality is very good, if not quite on a par with Nikon's top-of-the-line professional telephoto lenses. The outer barrel is made of metal with a high-grade plastic shell, while the inner barrel is made of plastic.
Zoomed out and zoomed in
Zooming is not internal – as you can see, the front extends considerably upon zooming to 400mm. The ribbed zoom ring has a generous width and a quality feel to it.
The lens features a distance scale sheltered behind a window.
When it comes to features, the Nikon AF-S 80-400mm lens has a lot to offer. For starters, it comes with a built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM), which enables quiet auto focus operation with full-time manual override when the focus mode switch is set to the M/A position. As seen in the photo above, the switch has two other positions, A and M. Additionally, the lens has a focus limiter, which enables quick focusing on distant subjects by restricting focus to distances greater than 6m. The 'VR' abbreviation in the lens' name refers, of course, to Vibration Reduction, which has both a 'Normal' and an 'Active' mode. Normal VR compensates for quick and small vibrations resulting from shaky hands, but ignores slow and wide movements to allow you to use e.g. the focus-recompose technique or panning. Active VR tries to compensate for every movement, fast and slow, large and small, and is therefore better if you are shooting from a moving vehicle, for example. Finally, the lens has a zoom lock switch that allows you to secure the lens barrel at its minimum length for transport.
The supplied, detachable tripod collar
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR comes with a removable tripod collar. When attached, it allows camera rotation, eliminating the need to tilt the tripod head for switching from landscape to portrait orientation or vice versa. There are markings on the lens barrel to show 90° rotation points. Unfortunately, it has an inexplicably short foot.
Front of the lens
The AF-S Nikkor has a 77mm filter thread that does not rotate on focus.
Rear of the lens, isometric view
Unsurprisingly for a lens that costs and weighs this much, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR comes with a solid metal mount. The lens is not claimed to be weatherproof, but there is a rubber seal around the lens mount that should provide basic protection against dust and moisture.
Nikon HB-65 lens hood attached
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR ships with an HB-65 type lens hood that features a release button.
At the 80mm end of the zoom range, the angle of view is 30° 10'.
Field of view at 80mm
At the 400mm end, the angle of view narrows to 6° 10'.
Field of view at 400mm
With the lens attached to a Nikon Df, auto-focus is blazingly fast, exceedingly quiet and generally very accurate. In fact, the AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is one of the fastest-focusing Nikon lenses we have ever tested – at least in good light. Unlike zooming, focusing is fully internal, and the front lens element does not rotate on focus, making the use of polarisers that much easier.
As far as manual focusing is concerned, the focus ring is pleasantly wide but has very little “travel” between its close-focus point and infinity, making it a bit difficult to accurately focus on a subject. The design of the lens allows for full-time manual focus override when the focus mode switch is set to the M/A position.
At 400mm f/5.6, there is considerable light fall-off in the image corners, as seen in the image above. Fortunately, this phenomenon quickly improves upon stopping down.
Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as purple or blue fringes in the peripheral areas of the image, are very well controlled with this lens. The 100% crops below give you an idea of what you should expect in the worst case. (They are taken from raw images developed with automatic CA removal turned off.)
This is not a macro lens. The maximum reproduction ratio of the new Nikon 80-400mm VR is 1:5.1, and the minimum focus distance is 175cm. The example below shows how close you can get to the subject, in this case, a Compact Flash card.
Bokeh is a word used for the out-of-focus areas of a photograph, and is usually described in qualitative terms, such as smooth / creamy / harsh etc. In the AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, Nikon employed an iris diaphragm with 9 aperture blades for a pleasing rendition of the out-of-focus areas. In our view, their efforts have been fairly successful, but not brilliant - see the examples below.
In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following pages.