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Nikon NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR II Review

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Category: Interchangeable Lenses
Product: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR
Price: £2,200.00
Rating: 4.5 out of 54.5 out of 54.5 out of 54.5 out of 54.5 out of 54.5 out of 5

Nikon NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Review - Gary Wolstenholme reviews the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR II lens.

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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

NIKON NIKKOR 80 400MM VR (4)

Of all the lenses in Nikon's range, their 80-400mm offering has been long overdue an update for quite some time. The old lens had a reputation for being slow slow and clunky. Thankfully this new lens couldn't easily be labelled as either of these thanks to the inclusion of a silent wave autofocus motor, Nano-Crystal coating to help control flare and Vibration reduction technology. However, it does cost around £2200. In this review we'll take a look at how it performs and whether the improvements are worth the extra money.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Handling and Features

NIKON NIKKOR 80 400MM VR (5)

This lens is heavier than its predecessor, tipping the scales at just under 1.6kg. Although this is far from a lightweight lens, the size and design make this weight relatively easy to handle. As a result it balances well with the Nikon D600 used for testing, even without the MB-D14 battery grip. The barrel is constructed from a combination of high quality plastics and metal and is sealed against the elements.

Auto focus is powered by a silent wave motor, and autofocus is very fast and accurate. Manual adjustments can be applied at any time via the focusing ring. The wide focusing ring, which is located close to the camera body is smooth, and well damped, which makes applying manual adjustments a pleasure. Autofocus is also possible using a 1.4x teleconverter with lenses that support autofocus at apertures as low as f/8.


NIKON NIKKOR 80 400MM VR (2)

Closest focus distance is 175cm when using autofocus, and 150cm when using manual focus. As focusing is performed internally the 77mm filter thread does not rotate, which should make this lens ideal for use with graduated filters and polarisers. A tough metal tripod collar is included with the lens, which is easily detached when not required.

The Vibration Reduction system promises sharp hand held shooting at shutter speeds up to four stops slower than would be possible without the technology. As with other VR lenses, leaving a short pause before taking an image is advisable for best results. With care, hand-held shots at 1/25sec are possible at 400mm with a fair amount of consistency. This is around four stops slower than the usual rule of thumb would normally recommend. The VR system in this lens really helps to steady the viewfinder well, which helps with composition and focusing at telephoto focal lengths.


NIKON NIKKOR 80 400MM VR (7)

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Performance

At 80mm and maximum aperture, sharpness in the centre of the frame is already outstanding, and the clarity towards the edges of the frame approaches excellent levels. Stopping down the aperture to between f/8 and f/11 results in outstanding sharpness across the frame.

Performance is much the same with the lens zoomed to 200mm, with excellent sharpness in the centre of the frame and clarity not being far behind towards the edges of the frame at maximum aperture. As is the case at 80mm, peak clarity across the frame is achieved between f/8 and f/11, where sharpness across the frame is outstanding.

Finally, zooming to 400mm does result in an overall reduction in sharpness, but the lens still performs well. At f/5.6 clarity is very good in the centre of the frame, and good towards the edges of the frame. Stopping down to f/11 results in peak performance across the frame for this focal length, with excellent sharpness in the centre and very good clarity towards the edges of the frame.


MTF@80mm
MTF@80mm

MTF@200mm
MTF@200mm

MTF@400mm
MTF@400mm

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.

For a super-telephoto lens covering this range, chromatic aberrations are remarkably well controlled. Fringing is at its most prevalent towards the edges of the frame at 80mm with the aperture stopped down to f/16 or beyond. Even then half a pixel width of fringing is barely exceeded.


CA@80mm
CA@80mm

CA@200mm
CA@200mm
CA@400mm
CA@400mm

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc. to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D600 using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners is reasonably well controlled for a telephoto zoom lens. At 80mm and maximum aperture the corners are only 1.3stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination is achieved with the lens stopped down to f/8 or beyond. At 400mm the corners are 1.66stops darker and visually uniform illumination is achieved with the aperture stopped down to f/11 or beyond.

Imatest detected fairly consistent pincushion distortion throughout the zoom range between 0.6% at 80mm and 0.768% at 400mm. This low level of distortion shouldn't pose too many issues. If absolutely straight lines are paramount, you'll be glad to hear the distortion pattern is uniform throughout the zoom range, which should make applying corrections in image editing software afterwards relatively straightforward.

Thanks to Nikon's Nano-crystal coating, incidences of flare and ghosting are a rare occurrence. Contrast holds up very well, even when shooting into the light at maximum aperture. A deep hood with a slight petal cut-out comes supplied with the lens, which does a decent job of shading the lens from extraneous light that may cause issues.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Sample Photos

Wide-angle | 1/1000 sec | f/6.3 | 80.0 mm | ISO 200

Wide-angle | 1/1000 sec | f/6.3 | 80.0 mm | ISO 200
High-Res

Telephoto | 1/500 sec | f/6.3 | 400.0 mm | ISO 200

Telephoto | 1/500 sec | f/6.3 | 400.0 mm | ISO 200
High-Res

Closest focus is 175cm using autofocus and 150cm using manual focus  | 1/200 sec | f/8.0 | 400.0 mm | ISO 640

Closest focus is 175cm using autofocus and 150cm using manual focus | 1/200 sec | f/8.0 | 400.0 mm | ISO 640
High-Res

Nano-Crystal coatings help to reduce flare and retain contrast | 1/250 sec | f/5.6 | 300.0 mm | ISO 200

Nano-Crystal coatings help to reduce flare and retain contrast | 1/250 sec | f/5.6 | 300.0 mm | ISO 200
High-Res

1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 80.0 mm | ISO 200

1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 80.0 mm | ISO 200
High-Res

1/200 sec | f/8.0 | 400.0 mm | ISO 200

1/200 sec | f/8.0 | 400.0 mm | ISO 200
High-Res

1/800 sec | f/6.3 | 330.0 mm | ISO 200

1/800 sec | f/6.3 | 330.0 mm | ISO 200
High-Res

1/200 sec | f/5.3 | 240.0 mm | ISO 800

1/200 sec | f/5.3 | 240.0 mm | ISO 800
High-Res


Value for Money

Just like with any newly launched lens, the asking price may seem a little steep at first, especially when the current £2200 price tag of this lens is compared with the outgoing lens, which is available for just under half that. Even with the price difference, this lens is still a worthwhile purchase, as an upgrade, or simply because you require a lens covering this range. The difference in performance between the two is such that the newer lens is much more pleasant to use, and will generally yield better results.

Those on a budget may also consider Sigma's 120-400mm DG OS HSM lens, which is available for around £630. On paper this lens sports many similar features, including optical stabilisation and silent focusing, but it doesn't deliver performance of the same level as this lens.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Verdict

Nikon camera owners have been crying out for an update to the 80-400mm lens for an age, and now it's here it proves itself to be worth the wait.

It delivers crisp images, focuses swiftly and is a pleasure to use. In fact it is such a joy to use that the £2200 asking price almost becomes insignificant. I said almost, as it's still a fair amount of cash to part with.


 
The NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR delivers excellent sharpness with fast silent focusing.  

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Pros

Excellent sharpness
Fast silent focusing
Very low CA
Low distortion
Weather sealed
Effective VR system


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Cons

Could be considered expensive at current prices

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
OVERALL  

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Specifications

ManufacturerNikon
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon AF
Lens
Focal Length 80mm - 400mm
Angle of View No Data
Max Aperture f/4.5 - f/5.6
Min Aperture f/32 - f/40
Filter Size 77mm
35mm equivalent No Data
Internal focusing Yes
Focusing
Min Focus 150cm
Stabilised Yes
Construction
Blades 9
Elements 20
Groups 12
Box Contents
Box Contents Lens Case CL-M2, Lens Cap LF-4, Lens Cap LC-77
Dimensions
Weight 1570g
Height 203mm

View Full Product Details


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Comments

oselimg
oselimg  2
31 May 2013 - 12:44 PM

There is something very odd, strange about the sharpness performance of this lens. While it is very sharp in the center I would like to draw attention to two benches on the left and right bottom corners in the 80mm shot. Both benches are at equal distance to the camera and the one on the right is very soft. Again the left side of the building is much softer than the right. It is very difficult to judge where the camera was focused or as if there are more than one focus points. I don't have much technical knowledge about the issue but does this indicate a severe focal plane problem or is this lens a "bad apple"?

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Rab90
Rab90  2 Scotland
5 Jun 2013 - 11:30 AM

Hi Oselimg, I think it is a depth of field issue not softness of the lens. The people on the right are out of focus while those on the left are more in focus due to dof i.e. further away from the lens. Seems like a stunning lens to me but will be a long time before I can save up enough to buy it. Oh well!

stevedigip
7 Jun 2013 - 5:45 PM

Great review and looks to be an excellent lens. Wonder how it compares to the 70-200VRII with a TC20EIII?

Lance_B
22 Jun 2013 - 2:32 PM

Hi oselimg,
Like what Rab90 says, it is a depth of field thing. The focus would have been on the clock or the wall that it is on and therefore at 80mm and f6.3, which this was taken at, the DOF would have meant that the benches would have been less in focus. Both these benches are just a tad less in focus but appear to be of similar focus. I think it best to cover the people on the right with your hand as the fact that they have motion blur gives the impression that the bench behind them is also blurred. If you cover the people, both the left and right benches look about the same, just look at the writing on the RSPB sign, which looks to be only just a tad out of focus.
I have this lens and I can tell you it is superb!

Dscarinci1
26 Sep 2013 - 10:35 AM

I am having a hard time deciding between this lens and the new Sigma 70-300 to use on my Nikon D800. This lens is not on Nikon's recommended list of lenses for the D800 and that is putting me off. I would love to hear comments on this. Should I buy the Sigma instead of this lens?

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