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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews the new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR telephoto lens.


|  Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Nikon AF S NIKKOR 400mm F2

Have you recently won the lottery? Do you like to shoot sports? Nikon's latest flagship 400mm f/2.8 may be for you then. The price of over £10,000 means only lottery winners and large news agencies may be able to justify the cost. As you might expect from a super-telephoto lens intended for daily professional use, it sports weather sealing and Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology, which now includes a 'sports' mode that will detect panning. Nikon's Nano-Crystal coatings have also been applied to lens surfaces to help suppress flare and ghosting along with a fluorine coating to the front element, which is designed to repel dirt and water. Those with a keen eye will also notice that the denomination for the mount isn't a 'D', or a 'G' as found on other Nikon autofocus lenses, but instead this is an 'E' lens. This is because this lens sports an electronic diaphragm, which should retain accurate exposures when shooting at high frame rates. In this review, we'll see how this lens performs.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Handling and Features

Nikon AF S NIKKOR 400mm F2

The weight of 3.8kg may seem like a lot, but really it isn't for a lens of this type. In fact, it is really quite lightweight for a 400mm f/2.8, which will save those who have to lug it around all day from the usual back problems that go with carting large glass around events. In fact, it's really quite easily hand-holdable, making a well balanced combination with the diminutive Nikon D600 body used for testing. Even so, loops for a heavy duty strap are also provided on the collar, which will allow the lens to be slung over one shoulder, ready for when it's needed.

Auto focus is powered by a silent wave motor, and autofocus speeds are almost instant. Manual adjustments can be applied at any time via the wide rubberised focusing ring, which only takes a light touch to operate, but is smooth and well damped, making applying fine adjustments a pleasure. Four buttons are provided just beyond the focusing ring, which can be configured to serve as AF-ON, AF lock, or focus memory recall buttons.

Nikon AF S NIKKOR 400mm F2

Closest focus distance is 2.6m, and focusing is performed internally. The front element is too large to accept filters and there is no thread to attach them with. Nikon 40.5mm filters can be used via an internal filter carrier.

The Vibration Reduction system this lens is equipped with promises sharp hand held shooting at shutter speeds up to four times slower than would be possible without the technology. Even though the system steadies the viewfinder image almost instantly, care still needs to be exercised. Hand-held shots at 1/25sec are possible around three quarters of the time, which is around four stops slower than the usual rule of thumb would normally recommend. 

Nikon AF S NIKKOR 400mm F2

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Performance

During testing, this lens produced outstanding sharpness from maximum aperture, improving a little when stopped down to f/4.


 

 
MTF
MTF

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.

 

Levels of chromatic aberrations are virtually non-existent, which is quite incredible for a super-telephoto lens, only just reaching 0.5 pixel widths towards the edges of the frame when stopped down to f/22. This low level of fringing should be pretty much impossible to spot in normal image taking, even with areas of high contrast towards the edges of the frame.


 

 
CA
CA

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 well controlled for a lens of this type. At f/2.8 the corners are 2.13 stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination is achieved with the aperture stopped down to f/5.6.

Distortion is extremely well controlled with Imatest only being able to detect 0.515% pincushion distortion. This low level will be difficult to spot in normal photographs, but if you require absolutely straight lines, you'll be glad to find that the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame. This should make applying any corrections in image editing software reasonably straightforward.

Thanks to Nikon's Nano-crystal coating, this lens is pretty much immune to flare and contrast holds up incredibly well, even when shooting into the light at maximum aperture. A tube-like circular hood with a carbon-fibre effect finish comes supplied with the lens, which does a superb job of shading the lens from extraneous light that may cause issues. The lens comes supplied in its very own flight case, which provides ample protection against bumps and knocks.


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Sample Photos

Value For Money

I don’t think value for money was really at the forefront of Nikon's thoughts when this lens was conceived. It's more like a demonstration of what Nikon are capable of, rather than a mainstream product, especially with the price tag of around £10,400. That's a lot of money.

Bargain hunters may prefer to stick to the older AF-S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens, which is available for a measly £6600. That's pocket money, by comparison.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Verdict

It is almost as if with this lens, Nikon wanted to prove what they can do, if money were no object. This lens performs so well that it is very difficult to find fault with anything aspect of the lens, except for the price. It is amazingly sharp from maximum aperture, focuses extremely quickly, and is relatively lightweight for a lens of this focal length and aperture. If you have the need for a 400mm, and have a spare £10k knocking about under your mattress, or can find this available for hire, then you'll simply not find a better 400mm lens.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Pros

Outstanding optical quality
Super fast focusing
Virtually no CA
Virtually no distortion
Excellent build quality
Light weight for 400mm f/2.8
Effective VR system
Weather sealing
Customisable buttons on lens
Comes with its own flight case
Fluorine coating on lens to repel dirt and moisture

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR  Cons

It costs a lot of money

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

The Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR delivers outstanding optical quality and is as faultless as they come.

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Specifications

ManufacturerNikon
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon AF
Lens
Focal Length400mm
Angle of View6.1
Max Aperturef/2.8
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size40.5mm
StabilisedYes
35mm equivalent400mm
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Focusing
Min Focus260cm
Construction
Blades9
Elements16
Groups12
Box Contents
Box ContentsSlip-on front lens cap, LF-4 Rear Lens Cap, HK-38 Lens Hood, 40.5 mm screw-in NC filter, CT-405 Lens Case, LN-2 Strap, Monopod collar
Dimensions
Weight3800g
Height358mm

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