I 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.
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.
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!
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%.
A 100% crop of the same image.
Looks sharp to me!
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.