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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.
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.
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.
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.
How to read our chartsThe 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.
How to read our chartsChromatic 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
Telephoto | 1/500 sec | f/6.3 | 400.0 mm | ISO 200
Closest focus is 175cm using autofocus and 150cm using manual focus | 1/200 sec | f/8.0 | 400.0 mm | ISO 640
Nano-Crystal coatings help to reduce flare and retain contrast | 1/250 sec | f/5.6 | 300.0 mm | ISO 200
1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 80.0 mm | ISO 200
1/200 sec | f/8.0 | 400.0 mm | ISO 200
1/800 sec | f/6.3 | 330.0 mm | ISO 200
1/200 sec | f/5.3 | 240.0 mm | ISO 800
Value for MoneyJust 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.
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 ProsExcellent sharpness
Fast silent focusing
Very low CA
Effective VR system
Could be considered expensive at current prices
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Cons
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Specifications
|Focal Length||80mm - 400mm|
|Angle of View||No Data|
|Max Aperture||f/4.5 - f/5.6|
|Min Aperture||f/32 - f/40|
|35mm equivalent||No Data|
|Box Contents||Lens Case CL-M2, Lens Cap LF-4, Lens Cap LC-77|