80-400 AF-S Walk Around Lens

Nikon 80-400 AF-S VRI just got a new “walk around” wildlife lens that I’m pretty excited about. It’s the brand new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR.


Back when I was shooting with a D200 or D300 crop-sensor DX camera, I used my 70-200 f/2.8 lens for “walk around” duty. It worked ok on my DX cameras because it was effectively a 105-300mm lens. Sometimes I’d use a 1.4x teleconverter so I ended up with essentially a 150-420mm f/4 lens. Now that I’m shooting with D700 and D800 full-frame FX cameras, I need more reach. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the old Nikon 80-400 lens. It’s a very useful range but, the old lens is dog-slow focusing. That’s a problem when shooting birds in flight or other fast moving wildlife.

Nikon 80-400 AF-S VR MTF Chart


As soon as the new lens was announced and became available, I immediately bought one. The MTF chart convinced me that it would be a fantastic lens.

I was not disappointed!




What I wanted was a reasonably light and compact zoom lens that I could easily hand hold. It had to provide 400mm of reach and be sharp…especially on the long end. Good vibration reduction would be important. I’ve already got a 300 f/2.8 and a 500 f/4 as my “big guns”. What this new zoom gives me is versatility. I can hold it in my lap while driving around national parks or take it with me while walking and scouting out new areas.

Wood Duck - Little Mulberry Park, GA


As soon as I got the new 80-400 lens, I took it out to Little Mulberry Park to test it out. This Wood Duck image was shot hand held at 400mm. Not bad!



American Goldfinch - Johns Creek, GA


Next, I had to try it out at our backyard bird feeder using a tripod. This American Goldfinch was shot with my D800 at 400mm. The image has been cropped about 50%.



American Goldfinch (100% Crop) - Johns Creek, GA


A 100% crop of the same image.

Looks sharp to me!


Gray Catbird - Johns Creek, GA



Here’s a Gray Catbird also shot with my D800 at 400mm. This image has only been cropped about 35%.

That’s some serious detail!



Overall, the 80-400 is perfect for my needs but, it’s not perfect…

  • the tripod collar is bad. (RRS will likely make a good one)
  • teleconverters work but, they are too soft for critical work. My lens requires zero AF-fine tune adjustment until I mount my 1.4x teleconverter. Then +20 is not enough to keep it from front-focusing. My 1.7x teleconverter calibrates ok but, sometimes it refuses to auto focus.
  • the lens may be 400mm at infinity but, it’s closer to 300mm at 10ft.
  • it comes with the same case as the 70-200 f/2.8 which is snug. The lens won’t fit in the case if an arca plate is mounted on the tripod collar.
  • it’s a bit expensive at $2,700 but, good glass is not cheap.

On the plus side…

  • very sharp, bright and contrasty.  (As MTF chart predicts)
  • beautiful bokeh. (As MTF chart predicts)
  • very fast AF.
  • excellent VR.
  • pro build quality. Smooth zoom & focus.
  • compact and light (as compared to the 200-400)
  • it’s a zoom so it’s flexible.
  • works fantastic hand held.
  • it appears to be optimized for the long end but, it’s very good on the wide end, too.
  • very good IQ even in the corners.

Bottom line, I LOVE IT! It’s a keeper.

Nuff said…

16 thoughts on “80-400 AF-S Walk Around Lens

  1. I just fell in love, or lust, with this gem of a lens and I concur exactly with your findings. After my very first test shots of a friends lens, I was startled by the in your face contrast, vibrant living colors and flat out best sharpness I had ever seen in any lens, let alone a lowly six blade do it all in a small package “ZOOM” lens. Are you kidding me? I’ve been shooting nikon for over 40 years…never even dreaming this “jack of all trades, and master of ALL” could ever be a reality except in daydreams.

    Well. I HAD to have one of course, it was a one lens solution to all the photographic challenges I’ve delt with in my life. I remember telling my friend that he had a “one in a million” lens, now after testing FIVE samples from my trusty, but tired Samy’s camera dealer, Perhaps I may have been right. For one reason or another I have not found another lens that matches his devine copy. They have problems with VR consistancy ( a good one is unbelievable-you can easily hand hold the lens at 650mm with a TC 1.7 and get SUPERSHARP results) and they really vary with TC usefullness. My friends worked flawlessly with the TC 1.4 and 1.7 at all zoom ranges whereas my latest example only works with the top zoom setting (550mm and 650mm) of each TC and just completely goes soft at any settings below the highest mm setting. I refuse to submit to defeat and will continue to seach for the holy grail, because I’ve seen it and I know it can or does exist. I’ve actually tried buying my friends perfect copy, for even far more than he paid for it, but he witnessed my emotions over his find and that just ain’t gonna happen. I don’t know how much longer my dealer can take this, but I must keep trying…THATS how good it can be if your lucky.

    • Mine is pretty sharp with the 1.7 but, not the 1.4. I don’t plan to use this lens with teleconverters anyway. Using teleconverters on a zoom is usually a recipe for marginal images in my experience.

      The VR works flawlessly on my copy.

      • Hi Bill,

        When I first tried to use a TC 1.4 on my D800, I had the same problem. I ran out of + digits in the AF tune-up for it to work. I had heard that an update to the firmware just came out for the D800 so I updated and guess what, then I could use the TC 1.4, but it was at about + 19. Is your D800 up to date with the firmware? If not-try updating and then the TC 1.4 again.

        • Yes, I’ve got the latest firmware on my D800.
          I rented a D800E for a recent trip and found it worked fine with the 1.4. Go figure…

  2. I have just ordered this lens and cannot wait to get it! I am mainly a sports and wildlife photographer so this lens sounds perfect. Thanks for the info!

    • Thanks, you’ll love it.
      I doubt it’s the best choice for shooting high school football games at night but, for wildlife photography it’s tough to beat.

      I’ll be headed out to Yellowstone and the Tetons in September. This lens will be perfect for shooting from the car. Can’t wait!

  3. Hi Sophie, Bill,

    I agree, what a lens. Sophie I didn’t see where you mentioned the Nikon camera that you were using your new lens with, but I can pass on my experiences with the TC1.4 and the TC1.7. I’m not kidding when I say my lens is absolutely razor bitingly sharp with both, handheld to boot, as long as I have a high enough shutterspeed ( around 1500th of sec or higher). An important note is that you must have the D4 or D800(E), because they are(or were) the only nikon cameras that can autofocus with a TC1.7 on a F4 lens. The other really important thing is you must have the very latest firmware for both because it corrects some auto focus issue with using both the TC1.4 and TC1.7, and yes, my 80-400 has full range of accurate auto focus with both TC’s. I tried about 4 different copies before I found this beauty. They would all autofocus fine, accurate and sharp when using the lens alone, however, I ran into the same problem you mentioned where when using the TC(s) I would only get about half of the zoom range accurate and the rest would just be out, even if I manually focus. It must have been some critical misalignment of an element in the lens itself. However, I so loved this lens that I was about to quit the search for one that would work perfectly with the two TC’s and just really enjoy the versatilty, high contrast, unbelievable VR, and downright scary sharpness of the lens itself. I am lucky because here in Santa Barbara we have a Samy’s Camera and they always let me try out new copies till I find a good one. I hope this helps you find out why your TC 1.4 isn’t focusing accuratly, that one should for sure. Like I said, right camera body, and updated firmware hopefully will enable you to use the TC1.4. Just to let you know, when using my lens alone, I don’t have to adjust lens focus, but with my TC1.4, I have to adjust it the same amount as you to get correct autofocus.

    Enjoy that beauty,

    Steve Bissell

    • The Lens arrived today! It was like christmas had come early. I did some test shoots from my balcony and WOW. the image quality is sharp, fast to focus. This may become one of my most used favourite lens! Downside is that it is heavy but I will just have to get used to that! 🙂

  4. Hi,
    Just returned from a safari trip back home in Durban, KZN, Natal, South Africa.
    I concur with all the comments, this is a superb wildlife lens. Have placed an order for one and can’t wait for mine to arrive. had a loan unit from Nikon, alas reluctantly had to send it back.
    Have a look at the images here

    It performed flawlessly and the handling was superb. I shot with an “old” D700 and even the night time images of the lions came out superb. Handholding the lens was easy and maneuverability was a breeze, you could follow the action and the VR2 works well… See cheetah cub running. The web images are downsampled. This lens has a really nice contrast bite and vibrancy that bring out the colours in the image really well. I can thoroughly recomend this lens for wildlife photography.

  5. Very nice Prakash!
    Look forward to testing out my new 80-400AF-S to accompany my 500VR in Selous & Ruaha- Tanz next month.
    How did you find AF & AF tracking on BIF?


  6. Nice review…..one of the better ones. Simple, but with all that is needed.

    I ordered one and tested it for about 2 weeks. The company agreed to send me another copy so that I could eliminate or support my suspicion that this first copy is not quite as sharp as this new 80-400 has been for others. I will see this week because I will be testing both new 80-400’s side by side…….with a rented D800E, a D610 and a D7100. I am a pixel-peeper but mostly shoot offhand. Everything immediately goes directly onto ViewNX2 at 100%. I have learned this: It has paid me to have that very high shutter speed when using this lens (or maybe any tele lens) on the D800E. When I say high…..I mean 1/1600 and up. I like 1/3200 second. Maybe I am making a mistake, because I still have the VR set to Normal when shooting offhand at these high speeds. I do not know. Again, nice review. Love that American Goldfinch!

  7. I shoot mostly birds/wildlife. I’ve been shooting w/ a Sigma 150-500 on my D7100, have had pretty good results. However, I’m interested if the 80-400 can offer enough additional sharpness to warrant the price. Renting one for a road trip next week!

    • Hi
      I have used this lens now since October 2013 on a D7100 and it is awesome. Sharp, good colour and light enough to carry around. However you must “calibrate” or AF fine tune your copy of the lens, as I found out that two same lenses, I had to set different AF fine tune settings. I shoot most of my wildlife and birds in flight with this lens. As per previous comment u need to have a high shutter speed with this lens, I typically shoot above 1/1200 with a high ISO like5000 at f8…
      And process all my images through Capture NXD…. It has the camera and lens profile….

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