Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED Review

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED Review - John Riley reviews the premium telephoto zoom lens, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED, with built-in 1.4x teleconverter.

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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR (Super-telephoto) Zoom Lens
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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification
Nikkor 180 400mm F4e Front Oblique View

An expensive, professional zoom lens covering a very useful focal length range of 180-400mm, made even more desirable with the addition of a built-in teleconverter that results in a range of 252-560mm. The constant aperture is a relatively fast f/4, or f/5.6 with the converter switched in, making a potentially ideal sports and wildlife lens for Nikon DSLR cameras. Here we use the Nikon D850 45MP full frame body, so let's see how this combination works out in use and how it performs technically.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED Handling and Features

Nikkor 180 400mm F4e Right Side View

It will be little surprise that the quality of construction is very, very high. Weighing in at a substantial 3500g the lens is no lightweight, but it is reasonably compact for its specification and balances well on the Nikon D850 body. It is usable handheld, but the weight means it is probably more comfortable on a tripod or monopod.

We commence our tour of the lens at the front element, fluorine coated, which is intended to repel grease and water. There is no front filter thread and the large round lens hood simply slides into position, held in place by a knurled knob that tightens onto the edge of the barrel. This method will be familiar to users of long Nikon lenses. It is simple and it works.

There are four equally spaced buttons around the front of the lens barrel. These are Focus Function buttons and will activate whatever parameter has been set on a switch near the lens mount. These options are AF-L (Focus Lock), Memory Recall (Saves a frequently used focus position) and AF-ON (Focuses using AF).

Moving towards the camera body we find a wide and comfortable zoom ring. This is clearly marked in focal lengths for the main lens alone, rather than the lens plus converter. The action is smooth and even. As we zoom, focus holds well, indicating a parfocal design. However, it is hard to break the usual habit of zooming and then focusing. Behind the zoom ring is the distance scale, located under a clear window. Indications are in feet and metres. Focusing is down to 2m or 6.6 feet, giving a maximum magnification of 0.25x, or 0.36x with the converter switched in.

Behind this is a manual focus ring, again well damped and very smooth in operation. Manual focusing is possible during AF operation, always a useful feature for a final tweak of the focusing position, or perhaps when the subject is unsuitable for AF.

Continuing, we have a ring that contains the tripod foot. The ring can be easily turned to provide for vertical and well as horizontal shots. There are no click stops in this, so the range of adjustment is continuous. The ring is locked by a knurled knob. Also, at this point, we find two tethering points where the lens can be attached to a tether or tethers for security.

Nikkor 180 400mm F4e Left Side View Controls

Further back again, a series of switches control various options. The first sets AF/MF options, A/M (AF with manual override but AF priority), M/A (AF with manual override but Manual priority) and M (Manual focus with electronic rangefinder). The difference between A/M and M/A is that with the former it takes a longer turn of the focusing ring for manual focus to be engaged during AF operation. With M/A the effect is immediate.

The second switch is the focus range limiter. This can be set to Full or limited to between infinity and 6m. The limiter will speed up AF where longer focus distances only are being used.

The third switch controls the VR (Vibration Reduction) system and has options Off, Normal and Sport. The Sport setting may be more suitable when panning. Four stops advantage is claimed.

The fourth switch controls the settings of the Memory Recall system. AF-L locks focus, Memory Recall is a saved distance setting and AF-ON activates AF.

There is a fifth switch that switches a beep on and off. This applies to the Memory Recall functions.

On the opposite side of the barrel is the Memory Set button.

Nikkor 180 400mm F4e Filter Drawer

At the closest point to the lens mount, we have a filter slot that enables 40.5mm filters to be employed. A clear filter is supplied that must be used if no filters are needed.

Finally, on the right side, there is a substantial switch that can be thrown to either enable or disable use of the built-in teleconverter, engaging either option with a satisfyingly heavy clunk. There is also a firm locking catch so the setting cannot be accidentally changed.

Optical construction is a massive 27 elements in 19 groups, having 8 ED (Extra Low Dispersion) and 1 Fluorite element, plus Nano Crystal coatings. The 1.4x teleconverter adds in another 8 elements in 5 groups. The E diaphragm (electronically operated) has 9 rounded blades to enhance the bokeh, although long lenses, in any event, tend to throw the background out of focus very effectively. Only camera bodies that support use of the E diaphragm can be used, all others will shoot with the lens always wide open. The E diaphragm is accurate and silent in operation.

Nikkor 180 400mm F4e With Hood On Nikon D850 On Tripod

With the teleconverter switched in cameras that enable f/8 AF support will be needed to ensure the AF system continues to operate. Compatibility can be checked on the Nikon website, but the following are listed in the instruction leaflet as being incompatible: D2-series, D1-series, D200, D100, D90, D80, D70-series, D60, D50, D40-series, D3000 and all film SLR bodies.

Of course, the built-in TC does mean that there is an overlap of options and, for example, it is possible to set say 250mm both with or without the TC. In practice, for maximum quality, it might be marginally better to use the lens without, but this is largely academic and for wildlife and sports using the TC will bring in that extra reach, still with the ability to zoom out when needed. It all works out rather well in the field and, despite the weight, the lens handles nicely on the D850. For static work, a tripod makes life easier, but for sports and wildlife handheld use is straightforward enough.

Nikkor 180 400mm F4e Rear Oblique View

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED Performance

The sharpness tests were run both with and without the TC. Starting with lens alone, at 180mm the central sharpness is simply outstanding from f/4 through to f/8, excellent from f/11 to f/22 and only at f/32 softening through diffraction. The edges are excellent at f/4 and f/5.6, outstanding at f/8, excellent at f/11, very good at f/16 and f/22 and again softening at f/32.

At 200mm centrally results are outstanding from f/4 to f/8, excellent at f/11, very good at f/16 and f/22 and soft at f/32. The edges are excellent at f/4, outstanding at f/5.6 and f/8, excellent at f/11, very good at f/16, good at f/22 and soft at f/32.

300mm maintains this well. Centrally it is outstanding from f/4 to f/8, excellent at f/11, very good at f/16, good at f/22 and soft at f/32. The edges are excellent from f/4 to f/8, very good at f/11 and f/16, good at f/22 and soft at f/32.

400mm sees sharpness very good at f/4, excellent at f/5.6, very good from f/8 to f/16, good at f/22 and soft at f/32. The edges are very good from f/4 to f/16 and soften beyond that at f/22 and f/32.
 

Now we do expect some reduction in sharpness with the TC switched in, but at 250mm (actually 252mm) it is centrally excellent from f/5.6 to f/11, very good at f/16, good at f/22 and softening beyond that at f/32 and f/45. The edges are excellent from f/5.6 to f/11, very good at f/16, good at f/22 and soft beyond that at f/32 and f/45.

 

At 280mm, the centre is excellent from f/5.6 to f/11, very good at f/16, good at f/22 and softening at f/32 and f/45. The edges are excellent at f/5.6 and f/8, very good at f/11 and f/16, good at f/22 and again softening at f/32 and f/45.

 

420mm is centrally very good at f/5.6, excellent at f/8, very good at f/11, good at f/16 and then softening from f/22 through to f/45. The edges are good from f/5.6 to f/16 and then soften from f/22 to f/45.

 

At 560mm the centre is good at f/5.6, very good from f/8 to f/16 and then slowly softens from f/22 through to f/45. The edges are good at f/5.6, very good from f/8 to f/11 and again softening from f/22 on to f/45.

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR MTF Charts

How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D850 using Imatest.


Without the TC, the CA figures are impressive, with a very high degree of correction throughout the range. Colour fringing is unlikely to be an issue, although if desired further correction can always be made using software.

With TC engaged, the CA figures are still very low, giving a very well balanced set of figures throughout. Further correction can be made in software but is probably not necessary for most subjects.

 

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) 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 D850 using Imatest.

 

Distortion measures -0.45% barrel at 180mm, -0.26% barrel at 200mm, +0.69% pincushion at 300mm and +1.12% pincushion at 400mm. A fantastic result and there are few subjects that would demand further software correction.

 

The distortion figures with the TC are pincushion all the way, measuring +0.94% at 252mm, +1.01% at 280mm, +1.51% at 420mm and +1.75% at 560mm.

 

Flare is non-existent, with no loss of contrast or created artefacts in against the light shots.

Bokeh is, of course, the smoothness of the gradation of out of focus areas and all long lenses are already ahead of the game by virtue of the reduced depth of field. The bokeh here is lovely throughout the range, with commendable smoothness in tonal transitions.

The VR system offers a realistic four stops of advantage, a very welcome bonus in a lens that is already delivering a very high standard. This does nothing to help subject movement of course, so higher shutter speeds are helped by the fast aperture.

All in all a complex set of results, but a very impressive performance.


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Sample Photos

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Other sample images

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Aperture range

 

Value For Money

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR lens is priced at £10,999, a mouth-watering amount of cash.

It is hard to relate this to any concept of VFM, but we do have a yardstick as Canon makes a similar optic, the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x at £10,089.

If we can do without the converter then there is the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 G ED VR II at £6749.

If we can do without the bright, fast f/4 aperture then there are some possibilities at far lower prices:

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, £2049
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary, £799
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport, £1329
Sigma 100-400mm f/4-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary, £799
Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 with 1.4x Converter, £1349
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR, £1299

For more options have a look at the Top 14 Best Nikon Lenses, or the Top 25 Best Telephoto zoom lenses.

 

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED Verdict

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED is a large and heavy lens, but it does the job and to a very high standard. It is also fast in terms of functions such as AF as well as in terms of its bright f/4 aperture. It is also very, very expensive.

Most of us will have to settle for other options, but this lens falls into that category where quality and specification will be unique to the photographer's needs. Professionals who need this lens will know they need it and why, and VFM will be in the money it earns. There may well also be some well-off amateurs who can become lucky owners of this very fine lens, but I suspect they will be few in number. In any event, it deserves to be Highly Recommended.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED Pros

  • Excellent to Outstanding sharpness
  • Low CA
  • No flare
  • Fast AF
  • High-quality construction
  • Effective VR
  • Low distortion
  • Fast f/4 aperture
  • Built-in TC

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED Cons

  • Heavy
  • Very expensive

Features5/5
Handling4.5/5
Performance5/5
Value3.5/5
Overall Verdict

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Specifications

ManufacturerNikon
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon AF
Lens
Focal Length180mm - 400mm
Angle of View6.1 - 13.4
Max Aperturef/4
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size40.5mm
StabilisedYes
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnification0.36x
Focusing
Min Focus200cm
Construction
Blades9
Elements27
Groups19
Box Contents
Box ContentsLC-K103 slip-on Front Lens Cap, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, HK-41 Lens Hood, Dedicated slip-in Filter Holder1, 40.5 mm screw-on Neutral Color (NC) filter, LN-2 Strap, CL-L2 Lens Case
Dimensions
Weight3500g
Height362.5mm

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Comments


Tord 6 Sweden
21 Mar 2018 10:53PM
The good things first, like total resistance to flare, and the fact that activating the TC
doesn't increase the number of optical abbreviations, rather the reverse.
And it isn't much heavier than my Sigma 150-600 Sports (with its lens hood). Bravo!

But this lens costs almost ten times as much as my Sigma, that is surely not sane.

Why on earth charge that much for this lens?!

Nikon does not like selling a lot of these beauties, or they would have put the price
at a much more palatable level, say 5,000, which to many of us is very steep, but
perhaps not unattainable.

So not for me, unless someone gives it to me!

Join ePHOTOzine for free and remove these adverts.

22 Mar 2018 1:11AM
I just cannot get it
what a dramatic drop from 300mm to 400mm
Is there anything wrong?
Its hard to trust Nikon built this
LenShepherd 10 3.7k United Kingdom
25 Mar 2018 8:20AM
I presume the results are based on MTF 50.
As you say results at 180mm results are superb at around 4500 centre and edge. They hold up well in the centre (much less so edge) at 300mm.
The 400mm results (without converter) show a significant centre and edge fall compared to 180mm of over 20% at around 3600.
At 560mm with converter (a key area of interest for many) the drop is a modest 5% to about 3200, though from a not very high base.
When you tested the 400mm FL prime you did not quote the actual MTF readings but described it a excellent based on Imatest. The implication is around 4500 with the prime if similarly tested on a D850.
Assuming other tests of other specimens record similar results then at 400mm without a converter or 560, 680mm and 800mm equivalent angles of view with converters the prime seems a "head and shoulders" winner.
Interesting :Smile
Digressing I wish you would consider a second stage test!
Just MTF and a few images likely taken on a tripod are not a complete review.
How about commenting on other areas of interest such as AF speed without and with converter.
25 Mar 2018 9:54AM
Static images were shot using a tripod, but the wildlife ones were hand held, supported on alternative surfaces where available. So, for example, the shelf at a hide window makes a useful steadying support. Apart from anything else, heavy lenses are hard work to use if totally hand held.

AF speed with and without the converter were fast, accurate and zippy, certainly up to the requirements of the bird photography.

Hope that helps!
LenShepherd 10 3.7k United Kingdom
26 Mar 2018 7:59AM
Thanks for the information about AF speed, which should IMO most definitely have been included in the original review.
Any comments on the effectiveness of the VR? I presume you tested it.
26 Mar 2018 9:24AM
I always test the VR and this one was up to spec, which I thought I had mentioned, but maybe it got missed. Some lenses exceed spec, but it's rare that they miss it. Not unknown though!
26 Mar 2018 10:44AM
Have you got the figures right for the 560mm focal length? You have a figure for f4 which I would suggest would be f5.6 wide open with the TC in place? Or is there some magic been done that doesn't affect the maximum aperture with the TC in place?
26 Mar 2018 11:46AM
Thank you Lance_B. The figures are correct but the labels were not changed, so I'm preparing corrected graphs now. Hopefully they will replace the incorrectly labelled ones as soon as possible. Thanks again for pointing it out.
joshwa Plus
8 852 United Kingdom
26 Mar 2018 12:48PM
This has been corrected, thanks
Cynog 5 United Kingdom
28 Mar 2018 11:29PM
The price is eye-watering, not mouth-watering!
ElSid 10 8 United Kingdom
10 May 2018 5:01PM

Quote:AF speed with and without the converter were fast, accurate and zippy, certainly up to the requirements of the bird photography


How do you account for the sheep and the bird feeding being so out of focus then. With the sheep the grass beyond the sheep is sharp but the sheep itself is most certainly not, similarly the point of focus with the feeding bird is on the seeds not the bird...
10 May 2018 5:20PM
The sheep was shot in the most atrocious weather, so likely as not the general wet haze has reduced any chance of sharpness. The bird feeding is actually very sharp and prints well at A3. Don't forget the images are all unsharpened so that they can be downloaded and put through whatever process is normally followed by a photographer. It might be an idea to include a fully rpocessed shot or two with the reviews, something I've been thinking about including. Is that a good idea or superfluous?
LenShepherd 10 3.7k United Kingdom
11 May 2018 9:21AM


Quote:The sheep was shot in the most atrocious weather, so likely as not the general wet haze has reduced any chance of sharpness. The bird feeding is actually very sharp and prints well at A3. (snipped) It might be an idea to include a fully rpocessed shot or two with the reviews, something I've been thinking about including. Is that a good idea or superfluous?

On your first area of comment I consider most of the images you post to support lens tests are of too low a standard relative to the price point of the equipment and are inadequate, even if downloaded by a viewer, for close examination analysis.

You have shot yourself in the foot once in this reply by saying weather conditions were so atrocious as to make a sharp shot of the ewe likely, yet you still post a picture which is NAFF for close evaluation Sad

You seem to have shot yourself in the foot a second time in your response by implying you seem proud that one image prints well at A3 print sizeSad

If you want your tests to be taken seriously maybe it is time you realised many photographers have been taking images to a good A3 standard for a number of years with, on paper at least, inferior equipment to that you tested.

With modern high resolution cameras and 10,000 lenses the target is a file which prints well at at least A2 size.

Sorry to sound harsh but until ephotozine realises it seems incapable of doing little more than making an Imatest imagine in double quick timed then providing a few supporting images of a lower standard than readers expect; your tests will continue to be widely regarded as a joke when it comes to in-depth equipment testing.

While it is reasonable to provide full size images for download (several other sites do this) I would not bother downloading images which are not of a high enough standard to help evaluate the equipment.

Unfortunately your camera body tests are little better. When did you last provide results about focus ability with moving targets?

There seems little point in often being first to publish a review if speed of publication is offset by a failure to test to a good in-depth standard and to provide good high quality images in support your findings.

11 May 2018 9:57AM
Harsh, maybe, but we have all been pulling reviews to pieces for a long time, me included no doubt. I can say that pride doesn't come into it, it's just a matter of making the best assessment possible in the time allowed. If this means being out in lashing rain then so be it. Fortunately not everyone feels negative about what we do, but however the reader does feel, the thing I like about an internet based magazine is that a response and indeed a discussion is possible. Prior to that even if a negative letter managed to get into print on a Letters Page of a magazine, then more often than not a dismissive reply would then be the end of it.
LenShepherd 10 3.7k United Kingdom
11 May 2018 10:16PM
Ff you have a lens for perhaps no more than a day and access to Imatest and the associated work takes more half a day it would perhaps be better to say something along the lines of "We were only loaned the lens for 2 hours equivalent field testing after the laboratory tests, the weather was atrocious and high quality test shots outside of a studio environment were not practicable".

If I could raise 10,000 plus price I could arrange a couple of hours test shooting with the local Nikon rep via my local retailer.
I might have to wait a few weeks to get a slot (though I got a D850 pre release test session at 1 days notice). I would then know much more about a 10,00 lens ability than provided in your test report.

On a separate "testing topic" some are aware many so called "equipment previews" involve up to 45 trade invitees sharing perhaps 3 copies between them for perhaps no more than an hour in total - about 4 minutes each!


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