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Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S Lens Review

John Riley has been putting the Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S telephoto lens through its paces, capturing portraits and more, to find out how it performs.

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Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S Lens Review: Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S

The range of Nikon's mirrorless lenses for the Z system continues to grow and it would seem the pace of this growth is gaining momentum. The latest offering is the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6S VR zoom. Long telephoto zooms are of course the mainstay of wildlife and sports photography and most systems offer plenty of choices up to about 300mm. Stretching beyond that brings an increase in cost, but stretching to at least 400mm just makes the difference in bringing in those more distant subjects. The new Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S lens could be perfectly pitched in that balance between function and cost, so let's couple it up with the 45MP Nikon Z7 II body and put it through its paces.


Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S Handling and Features

Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S Lens Review: Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S

Weighing in at a fairly hefty 1435g (with tripod collar) or 1355g (without), balance on the Z7 II is excellent and the two work together well. It is of course possible to also use a crop sensor camera for a “35mm equivalent” field of view of 150-600mm, which is feasible but slightly disproportionate in terms of size.

Starting off with a tour of the lens and its features, there is a provided plastic petal-shaped lens hood that is generously sized, does the job perfectly well but clips on and off in a fairly fiddly way. This is particularly true when the hood is detached, which is not as smooth as it could be. Within the bayonet fit for the hood is a conventional 77mm filter thread.

The zoom ring comes up first, clearly and accurately marked at 100, 135, 200, 300 and 400mm. Zooming does extend the lens, but good balance is retained throughout the range. There is no tendency for the lens to creep when pointed either down or up, so this could be useful for close up shooting and for aircraft respectively.

The next control ring is for manual focus and between the two rings, we find four buttons spaced around the barrel for focus lock and also a designation of L-Fn2 that indicates various items may be programmed, depending on what a particular camera body offers. The default setting is focus lock. The manual focus ring is electronic in operation and utterly smooth. The minimum focusing distance varies with focal length, with a maximum magnification of 0.38x. 


100mm 0.75mm 2.46 feet
135mm 0.78mm 2.56 feet
200mm 0.80mm 2.63 feet
300mm 0.87mm 2.86 feet
400mm 0.98mm 3.22 feet


The manual focus ring is active during AF, so can be used to make any tweaks to the focus position. AF is driven by voice coil motors and is fast, accurate and virtually silent.

Closer to the camera body, we have the L-Fn button, just one this time, and this defaults to focus lock but can be programmed via the camera body. There is also a DISP button that switches on the small OLED display on the top of the lens. This briefly appears when the camera is switched on, indicating NIKKOR and then the focus distance, with a small moving bar that indicated depth of field. This is a nice idea but of limited practical use as there are few numbers displayed, so there is not much of a scale offered. Pressing the button again shows the exact focal length and a third press indicates the aperture value set. A fourth press switches the display off and we can start the cycle again if we wish. This feature could be dismissed as cosmetic rather than practical, but it is possible that it could have advantages when working at night, for example with astrophotography.

Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S Lens Review: Nikkor Z 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 S

There is a final thin silent control ring and as default, this offers silent aperture control. This will be welcomed by videographers as changing aperture will not be heard on the recording. The silent control ring can also be programmed for exposure compensation or ISO.

There is a substantial tripod collar that allows for rotation of the orientation of the lens on a tripod. This can be removed if desired, perhaps for using handheld, but for tripod use, it would seem sensible to reduce the leverage on the lens mount and use the collar as intended.

Closest to the lens mount is the A/M switch for selecting AF or MF, plus a focus limiter switch. The choices for this are full-range or 3m to infinity. This prevents the lens hunting for focus over the full range if this is not needed, but in fact, it locks on very reliably anyway.

Lens construction is a massive 25 elements in 20 groups, including 6 ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) and 2 Super ED. Excellent coating technique becomes essential with all these potential reflecting surfaces and Nikon uses their ARNEO coating, plus Nano Crystal coatings and a fluorine coat on the front element to help repel grease, moisture and dust. The lens has full weather sealing, with the usual caveat as stated on the Nikon website that this does not mean in all circumstances. It remains a real benefit, almost an essential that we have become used to having. The diaphragm comprises 9 blades, for improved, smoother bokeh. The lens is compatible with teleconverters Z TC-1.4x and Z-TC-2.0x.

The final feature is the built-in VR (Vibration Reduction) which Nikon claims gives a 5.5 stop advantage. This of course depends on the individual photographer and can vary day-to-day, and it also does nothing at all to prevent subject movement. So today, this reviewer found an advantage of 4.5 stops with critical sharpness and 5.5 stops with sharpness that was just off being the same standard of crispness.

Overall, using the lens is a very satisfactory experience and it is light enough to use handheld with confidence for long periods of shooting. Closest focus is close enough to be useful and this extends the use to tight portrait shots as well as even some studio shooting. The real forte though is wildlife, motorsports and sport in general; rather than using it to shoot at say 100mm. This of course works, but it makes a very cumbersome 100mm lens, rather than being a very compact and relatively light 400mm lens.

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25 Jan 2022 3:51PM
Wow! Another outstanding Z-mount lens from Nikon. While the price is high the performance would seem to justify it. Would be interesting to see the effect of the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters on performance and would be even nicer if you could actually buy the lens somewhere too! Well done Nikon anyway.
13 Nov 2022 12:08AM
Question, you show this lens to be its sharpest at 100-200mm at 5.6. Then 300-400 at f8 and f11. When using the 1.4 TC, would sharpest aperture as shown in the charts above stay the same?
13 Nov 2022 12:18AM
Without actually running a test it's impossible to say for sure, but we can surmise that performance might drop overall slightly when using a teleconverter. However, a 1.4x converter is relatively modest, so it could well still be worth using.

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