Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S Review
The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is a professional super-telephoto zoom lens for Nikon Z-series full-frame mirrorless cameras.
It features a very complex optical structure comprised of 25 elements in 20 groups, including 6 ED elements, 2 super-ED elements, elements with Nano Crystal and ARNEO coats, and a fluorine-coated front lens element.
This lens has a 9 blade diaphragm which creates an attractive blur to the out-of-focus areas of the image.
It's equipped with an optical vibration reduction system that offers 5.5 stops of built-in stabilisation and has a dust and drip resistant design.
An internal focusing mechanism means the lens barrel doesn't move, and it offers an impressive minimum focusing distance of 0.75 m (2.46 ft) and a maximum magnification ratio of 0.38x, whilst using 77m filters.
There's a configurable ring on the lens barrel which allows you to control either aperture, exposure compensation or ISO speed.
This lens is also compatible with the Nikon Z 1.4x and 2x extenders with no limitations on the zoom range, offering focal ranges of 140mm - 560mm and 200mm - 800mm respectively.
The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens is available now priced at £2699 / $2699 in the UK and the US, respectively. It is designed and made in Japan.
Ease of Use
Weighing in at 1435g (3lb 2.7oz) and measuring 22.2cm (8.8in.) in length (when set to the 100mm focal length), the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is a large and heavy lens, understandable given the large focal range of 100-400mm that's on offer.
It feels rather unbalanced when using it with a small sized camera body like the Nikon Z5 body that Nikon provided for us to test it with, as shown in the product photos, and would be much more at home mounted on a larger Z6 or Z7 camera, preferably with a battery grip fitted.
The lens extends further by an additional 5cm to reach a total length of 27cm when fully zoomed out to 400mm.
Build quality is outstanding for what is after all a professional-level lens. With a mostly metal construction, the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S feels very solid in your hand, and it commendably has a metal mount. Note that this lens also has a weather-resistant design to help protect it against dust and moisture.
There are two switches on the left hand side of the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens. The top one is a switch for choosing between auto-focusing and manual focusing.
The bottom one is a focus range limiter switch with two settings, Full and Infinity-3m.
The built-in 5.5 stops of image stabilisation are important when hand-holding such a long lens, and the system thankfully works very well, ensuring that you can shoot at slower shutter speeds than 1/400th and still get sharp results (obviously depending on your technique).
Note that there is no external control on the lens for turning image stabilisation on or off.
An OLED data display shows you three types of information - the selected aperture, focusing distance and focal length. You can choose which to display by pressing the button marked “disp” next to the OLED display.
On the same section of the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens, you’ll also find one of the customisable function buttons, labeled as “L-Fn1”. In the main camera menu, you can choose from one of 21 different functions, including AF lock, metering, subject tracking, framing grid display and so on.
There’s another function button marked L-Fn2 a little further down the lens barrel which can also be customised. There are a further three unmarked buttons on the same ring which will duplicate whichever setting you assign to the L-Fn2 button, ensuring that you can always access one of the buttons no matter how you’re holding the lens.
Towards the lens mount end of the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens, there’s the first (and smallest) of the lens’ three rings. This lens can be customised, too. By default it is set to control aperture, but you can also change it to adjust exposure compensation or ISO. Alternatively you can have it set to do nothing at all.
At the centre of the lens, you’ll find the focusing ring. It has no hard stops at either end of the focusing ring, but you can use the display window to show you when you have reached infinity focusing. The ring has just enough resistance to make fine adjustments to manual focusing, without having too much give.
The final ring is the zoom ring. which has a short zoom throw rotation of just 80°. It has focal lengths marked at 100, 135, 200, 300 and 400mm, but again you can also use the display window to keep on eye on exactly which focal length you’re using - which is great for making quick adjustments.
All three of the lens rings are ridged, helping you feel them by touch when shooting through the viewfinder. They also help to add to the high-quality and sturdy feel of the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens.
This lens has been designed to be as quick and quiet as possible when autofocusing. That makes it ideally placed for both stills shooting and video.
Shooting with the lens proves it to have almost unerringly accurate and rapid autofocus in the majority of situations, with barely any hunting at all. It’s also impressively quiet, too.
An inbuilt tripod collar is included, towards the lens mount end of the lens. You can position it anywhere you like around the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S lens, allowing you to attach the camera to your tripod or monopod in whatever position you need it.
A removable foot is also included, which has two different tripod attachment threads (one at the front, one at the back). You can use the dots on the tripod collar to match up with the lines on the lens itself to perfectly align it, too.
Also included in the box is a large lens hood (HB-103), which fits onto the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S’ 77mm filter thread. The hood locks into place and is reversible so you can reduce the size of the lens for transporting it and storing it at a smaller size.
The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S's focal range provides an angle of view of 24° 20' at 100mm and 6° 10' at 400mm.
Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as blue or purple fringes along contrasty edges, were not especially apparent in our test shots, only appearing in very high contrast areas.
With the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens set to its maximum aperture, there is some light fall-off in the corners, which you'll need to correct in post-processing.
There's some mild pin-cushion distortion at either end of the focal range in both the JPEG and Raw files, but it's not too pronounced.
The Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S offers a minimum focusing distance of 0.75 m (2.46 ft) at 100mm focal length and 0.98 m (3.22 ft) at 400mm, with a maximum magnification of 0.38x. This enables you to capture some good macro shots when shooting at the 400mm focal length.
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 Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens, Nikon have employed an iris diaphragm with 9 rounded blades, which combined with the rather slow maximum apertures results in fairly nice bokeh in our view.
We do realise, however, that bokeh evaluation is subjective, so we've included lots of examples below for your perusal.
In order to show you how sharp the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following pages.