Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Review
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR is designed to be the ultimate all-in-one zoom lens for professional sports and wildlife photographers.
This is a full-frame telephoto zoom lens for Nikon F-mount DSLR cameras that features a built-in 1.4x teleconverter which extends the focal range to 560mm at the push of a lever (the maximum aperture changes to f/5.6).
You can also used this lens on croppped DX sensor cameras, where the effective zoom range becomes 270-600mm or 378-840mm with the 1.4x teleconverter on.
The Nikkor 180-400mm features an optical formula comprised of 27 elements in 19 groups (including 8 ED lens elements, 1 fluorite element, and lens elements with Nano-Crystal coatings) and a 9-bladed iris diaphragm with electromagnetic aperture control for maintaining consistent exposures during high-speed continuous shooting.
The AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR has a close-focus point of 2m throughout the zoom range (measured from the sensor plane), and a maximum reproduction ratio of 0.25x at 400mm and 0.36x at 560mm.
The Vibration Reduction (VR) feature offers up to 4 stops of image stabilisation and features the latest Sport VR mode for shooting subjects that move quickly and unpredictably, while every moving part of the lens is fully weather sealed and a fluorine coating on the front element repels dirt and and water.
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR is available for £10,999 / $12,399 in the UK and the US, respectively.
Ease of Use
Weighing in at a whopping 3,500 grams, the AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR is a very heavy lens, probably one of the heaviest lenses of its kind on the market. This is definitely not a lens that you can hand-hold for very long at all, being much more at home mounted on a sturdy tripod or monopod. As seen in the photos below, it dwarves even a large 35mm full-frame DSLR camera like the Nikon D850.
Build quality is simply outstanding, certainly on par with any of Nikon's other top-of-the-line professional telephoto lenses. It has a dust- and moisture-resistant magnesium alloy lens barrel and every moving part of the lens is fully weather-sealed to ensure that you can use it in any kind of inclement conditions.
When it comes to features, the Nikon AF-S 180-400mm f/4 lens certainly has a lot to offer.
It comes with a built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM) which allows for quiet auto focus operation with full-time manual override when the focus mode switch is set to the M/A position. With the lens attached to a Nikon D850 DSLR, we found auto-focusing to be very quiet, very accurate and very fast.
Additionally, the lens has a focus limiter switch which enables quick focusing on faraway subjects by restricting focus to distances greater than 6m / 19.7'.
As far as manual focusing is concerned, the focus ring is pleasantly wide and has a lot of “travel” between its close-focus point and infinity, making it easier to accurately focus on a subject.
The 'VR' abbreviation in the lens' name refers to Vibration Reduction, which has both a 'Normal' and a 'Sport' mode, the latter mode being better suited to unpredictable moving subjects.
The “E” designation in the product name refers to an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism, which helps to maintain consistent exposure during high-speed burst shooting of fast action.
Zooming is fully internal, so the front does not extend when zooming out to 400mm. The ribbed zoom ring has a very generous width and a quality feel to it. One thing for long-time Nikon shooters to note is that the position of the zoom and focus rings has been reversed - unlike most Nikkor lenses, the zoom ring is at the end of the lens and the focus ring is in the middle, which may take some getting used to.
The lens features a distance scale sheltered behind a window which runs from 2m to infinity. There are hard stops at both ends of the range. The focusing ring is much narrower than the large zoom ring, but still big enough to easily locate in a hurry.
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL 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 white markings on the lens barrel to show 90° rotation points. Just the foot can also be removed if you wish to use a different third-party model.
Being such a heavy lens, it comes with its own strap that's attached to eyelets on the tripod collar, and you're strongly advised to carry it using this strap rather than holding the camera body.
Instead of a front filter thread, the AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR uses a rear 40.5mm drop-in filter system, with a Neutral Color Filter supplied in the box and an optional Circular Polarizer also available to purchase seperately.
Alongside the drop-in filter window is the lens' star turn, the built-in 1.4x teleconverter. At the flick of the lockable switch with your right-hand, this allows for on-the-fly changing to an effective 252-560mm f/5.6 lens for greater reach, greatly extending the versatility of the lens. Even better, because the teleconverter is integrated into the lens, it is optically matched to the lens and also maintains the full weather-sealing.
The lens has several soft Function buttons that can be assigned to the activation of AF/AE Lock modes or for switching between different AF Area Modes.
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR also ships with a carbon fibre HK-41 slip-on lens hood and a substantial soft case - we'd have liked to see a more protective hard case supplied, though, given the cost of this lens.
At the 180mm end of the zoom range, the angle of view is 13° 40'.
Field of view at 180mm
At the 400mm end, the angle of view narrows to 6° 10'.
Field of view at 400mm
With the 1.4x teleconverter, the focal length becomes 560mm and the angle of view narrows further to 4° 30'.
Field of view at 560mm
Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as purple or blue fringing in the peripheral areas of the image, are extremely well controlled with this lens. The 100% crop below give you an idea of what you should expect in the very worst case, which is essentially almost zero CA.
Light fall-off at 180mm f/4
At 180mm f/4, there is a little light fall-off in the image corners, as seen in the image above. At the long end of the zoom range, this phenomenon is more pronounced.
Light fall-off at 400mm f/4
This is not a macro lens. The maximum reproduction ratio of the new Nikon 180-400mm VR is 0.25x at 400mm and the minimum focus distance is 2m. The example below shows how close you can get to the subject, in this case, a Compact Flash memory 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 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR, Nikon employed an iris diaphragm with 9 rounded aperture blades for a pleasing rendition of the out-of-focus areas. In our view, their efforts have been very successful – see the examples below.
In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following pages.