Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 G ED VR II N

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Nikon’s 80-400mm received a long-deserved update earlier in the year; it’s in fact had a complete overhaul and optical redesign. The original lens was Nikon’s very first VR lens, and body-driven to boot – the large front element had a reputation for pinching fingers between the protruding filter ring flange and the zoom ring (I fell victim to this on my first outing with it). It’s gone from being a 17/11 design to a more complex 20/12, gained Nano-Crystal coating, a shorter minimum focus distance (1.75m in AF and 1.5m in MF vs 2.3m), a silent wave motor and internal focusing, second-generation VR, and plethora of additional switches. Gone is the aperture ring, so you’re not going to be using this on a pre-command dial film body. The hood is also now a petal-type design with the same kind of locking catch as the 17-55, 24-70 and 70-200 hoods. It reverses for storage. Unlike the old lens, it’s also fully gasketed and weather sealed. It’s also more expensive; about $800 more, to be precise.

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A grower, and a shower.

The lens surprised me when I unpacked it from what must be Nikon’s largest-ever gold box; it came inside one of those ballistic-nylon zip cases with a shoulder strap, and with a hood. (I’m looking at you, Olympus.) The physical size is larger than you’d expect; it feels quite a bit more bulky than the 70-200/2.8 II, and is a good inch and a half longer than its predecessor, and ~200g heavier. This is not a trivial lens, especially with the hood on and extended to the 400mm position. It’s hand-holdable, but I highly recommend using support of some kind, especially if you’re shooting it with a high resolution body like the D800E. A monopod is fine, and will make a world of difference.

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Images in this review were shot at one of my favorite testing and workshop locations in Kuala Lumpur for long lenses – the KL Bird Park. It’s an enclosed free-flight aviary with captive birds, which takes the chance element out of whether you’re going to see any wildlife or not. I used a monopod for support, but did experiment with handholding the lens a few times. Click here for my article on long lens handling techniques.

Too bad the tripod collar is extremely poor, however. It’s flimsy, wobbly, and looks like it was made from two castings melted together, or injection moulded metal; there’s a visible seam line down the middle. It’s easily one of the cheapest-feeling tripod collars I’ve ever seen; unfortunately, it also performs like it – when the lens is mounted on a tripod, the collar doesn’t rotate smoothly at all (it judders) and there’s quite a bit of pitch wobble. This is visible in the form of double images from shutter vibration at marginal shutter speeds (1/125 and below, 400mm). VR helps but doesn’t eliminate it entirely. Fortunately it’s removable entirely, which opens things up to other third-party manufacturers to make a better alternative.

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That said, the latest generation of Nikon’s VR system is extremely effective, and is very, very stable once it’s locked in. It also locks in a bit faster than previous iterations and doesn’t seem to ‘jump’ between frames, either. It has automatic panning detection and an active mode that cancels it out. As usual, at high enough shutter speeds – I’d say 1/1000 and above – turn VR off, as you run the risk of double images as the system sometimes has trouble responding at that frequency.

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Needless to say, focusing is much, much faster than the old lens; subjectively, I’d say it’s not quite as fast as the 70-200/2.8 II through the full range, but it’s pretty close. (Needless to say, it didn’t even come close to the 400/2.8.) There’s also a two-position focus limiter that allows either the full range or 6m to infinity; this is a rather bizzare choice of distances, as the 6m near limit seems to be not quite close enough for birding, and not far enough to really speed things up if you’re shooting sport. A three position switch would be far more useful – full range, 4m to infinity, and 10m to infinity. There’s also a zoom lock at the bottom to keep the lens locked in the 80mm position, but in practice I found it to be stiff enough not to extend by itself even if carried pointing downwards.

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My experience with older lens was from many, many years ago on a D2H and D2x; I do recall that results on the D2x were highly dependent on focusing accuracy, and as with all body-driven lenses, small changes in focus distance were often lost in the backlash inherent in the system. However, it’s been so long that I borrowed something a bit more ambitious for a relative comparison: the AF-S 400/2.8 II. The optics are nearly identical to the current AF-S 400/2.8 G VR II, which is to say, excellent. I’ve shot the latter on several occasions and found it to be one of Nikon’s very best, and one of the best lenses I’ve used, period. It had better be for $9,000.

80-400 vs 400 2.8
Whole frame. Difference in rendering between f2.8 and f5.6 at 400mm. Note how the 80-400 also shows vignetting and a slightly different rendering style. I can’t help but wonder if the higher macrocontrast (not microcontrast) is due to the 80-400 having Nano-crystal coating, and the older 400/2.8 lacking it.

80-400 vs 400 2.8 crop
Against the 400/2.8, both wide open. Click here for a 100% crop.

The short of the matter is that the 80-400 compared surprisingly well to the 400/2.8; if you compare both wide open, resolution is similar, with the 400 having a touch more microcontrast bite; there’s really not a lot in it, though. Both are critically sharp at maximum aperture on the D800E, with the 400/2.8 improving to peak at f5.6, and the 80-400 improving to f8 and holding constant for a couple of stops as the resolution gains are cancelled out by the onset of diffraction. The 80-400 performed consistently well throughout the range, but being slightly stronger at the 80mm end. One thing I noticed was that the different ends of the zoom required different amounts of AF fine tune – +5 at 80mm, +10 at 400mm (I left it at +8 in the end) to deliver optimal results. No doubt this affected performance slightly, though the difference between a few points of AF fine tune was extremely minimal.

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Third leg. Some moments you don’t want to catch…

I found a tiny bit of lateral chromatic aberration, and almost no longitudinal chromatic aberration – a very good performance. If you enable CA removal in ACR, it goes away completely. Bokeh was clean and smooth, with no traces of spherochromatism or hard edges. I did see some very minor double-image effects if there happened to be tight repeating patterns in the scene, but it was never really distracting. Colors are neutral and saturated, with high macrocontrast and moderately high microcontrast; it’s not as good as a prime, but that’s to be expected given the complexity of the optical design. Overall, I’d rate optical performance as excellent – especially so given the lens’ range. It certainly earns a place on the ‘recommended lenses for D800E’ list.

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Parrot wing, whole frame – not a crop. This is almost maximum magnification at near minimum focusing distance and 400mm.

As with all of Nikon’s Nano-Crystal coated lenses, flare performance was excellent, maintaining good contrast even when shot into the sun. However, with this many elements, the coatings are only going to go so far in preserving transmission; compared to the 400/2.8 at any given aperture, it seems to lose 1/3-1/2 stop. There’s also some minor vignetting wide open, especially visible at 400mm. Overall though, the optics are surprisingly good: more than up to the task of matching the resolving power of the D800E. I’d be interested to try the lens with one of the 24MP DX bodies to get a better idea of resolving power at even higher pixel densities, but that will have to wait until I have a suitable camera.

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In my mind, the 80-400 has several alternatives in roughly the same range: the 70-200/2.8 II with 2x teleconverter; the 70-300/4.5-5.6 VR G; and finally, the 200-400/4. The first option is about the same size and weight (including the converter, smaller without) and gives you another two stops if you don’t need the reach; however, the optics are nowhere near as good as the 80-400. The second option is the lightest and cheapest of the lot, but it has a significantly slower T stop and experiences a noticeable drop in resolving power above 200mm. The final lens is even larger, heavier and more expensive; it’s a ‘proper’ supertele in the same all-magnesium, super-high end build and fast AF mould as the rest of the fast exotics (the 80-400 has a lot of plastics in its external components, presumably to keep weight and cost down); you gain a stop, but boy, does your back pay for it.

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One last note on focus breathing: the lens focuses much closer than its predecessor with seemingly not much penalty in size – this is because the lens also shortens its real focal length as it focuses closer, similar to the 70-200/2.8 II vs the original 70-200/2.8. Even at infinity, the true focal length seems closer to about 380-390mm than 400mm (as compared to the 400/2.8, which is 400mm everywhere). At minimum focus distance, I think it’s closer to 330mm; you can see this in the difference in magnification: the old lens gives you a maximum of about 1:4.8 at 2.5m, vs 1:5.7 at 1.7m for the new lens. This might be significant if you don’t want to get too close to whatever it is you’re photographing.

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The obvious question is who is this lens for? Indoor sport is out, for two reasons – firstly, the aperture is too slow to freeze action easily unless you’re willing to explore the H-settings on a D3s or D4; secondly, you’re probably going to be frustrated with the focus limits. Outdoor sport – motorsport, for instance – is a pretty good fit; if you’ve got moderately bright sunlight, you’ll get sufficient shutter speeds, and since everything happens further away than 6m, you’ll have extremely snappy focusing, too. What I haven’t mentioned up to this point is that although you should really be using a tripod or at least a monopod for optimal sharpness, you can handhold this lens quite effectively – unlike the 200-400/4 – if you have decent technique and breathing control (at least at 400mm); on a DX body this may be a little different as you’ve effectively got 600mm. Personally, I’d use it on a monopod.

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It certainly works for wildlife, as the images illustrating this article demonstrate; however, you’ll either have to use a DX body to get enough reach for birding (the D7100 with its wide-area 51-point coverage would be ideal, I think), DX crop mode, or use teleconverters. The 80-400 is compatible with all of the new TC-E models, though you’re going to lose AF once the working aperture gets smaller than f8. I have no idea what the optical quality of the results is going to be like, as I don’t have any teleconverters handy. I would imagine that it would work quite well with the 1.4x, acceptable with the 1.7x, and don’t bother with the 2x; the 2x takes you down to f11, and by that point you’re already diffraction limited on most of the new high resolution bodies. The naked lens would be just the ticket for a safari, however; decent flexibility, and reach in a pinch. Now, to find the time and money for a trip to Africa…MT

The Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 G ED VR II N is available here from B&H


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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  1. hermus dowers says:

    I have a AF VR Nikkor ED 80-400mm lens. I will to know if it will work on a D7200 & D7500 Nikon Body.

  2. Hi there, thanks for a very interesting review !
    Will the 80-400 bring me what I expect considering I am currently using the D300s with the 300/4 AF-S? I am an amateur fast jet photographer, shoot at 1/1000 preferably, and I am also considering the Sigma 300/2.8 with 1.4 TC as I do not need the zoom function.
    I don’t feel the need to upgrade to the D7100, as I feel that glass brings more than pixels.
    Good going with your website !

    • Not knowing what you expect…how do I answer that?

      • Ok, what I expect is can I get at least the sharpness from the new zoom at 400 mm that I currently get from my 300mm, and will the AF be as quick as that from the 300mm?
        Thanks for your reply!

        • Depends if you get a good sample of the 80-400 or not. Mine is excellent even at f5.6, but I’ve used rental copies that have been a disaster.

  3. Hi Ming, first thanks for sharing your knowledge, experience and thoughts so freely.

    Now the question, I shoot architecturals and want a medium-long tele zoom mainly for detail shots.
    As such I expect the frame to be full of near full of relevant subject.
    I can’t see any reference to edge to edge sharpness in your review, are you able to offer an opinion on edge to edge sharpness with this lens?



    • It’s fairly consistent across the frame. Another stop down for the edges to match the centre but that’s about it. However, it’s mostly academic as you’re almost never going to encounter a situation where you have the entire frame at the same subject distance or enough DOF to cover it.

  4. Hi,

    Have had the Nikon 1 Nikkor 70-300 VR for a few days now, and what a lens!

    Pitted against the 80-400 VR II (with the FT1 adapter), using the same camera on both lenses, the results are a toss-up! Just as big a difference between the 80-400 and the old AF-S 70-300, as it is between the new 70-300 and the old!

    And I didn’t notice any softening towards 300, as with the AF-S version ;-)!

    So we are ordering a second one, as soon as we can find the money (the first is my wife’s!).

  5. An aside, Ming!

    Recently my wife got herself the updated version of the DA55-300, called HD DA55-300, and that’s an impressive lens. Shooting side by side with my D600 and the 80-400, she using that and a K-30 (rather basic camera, but fast processor, and OK AF), I’ve been in for some surprises!

    The old version (she used to have that) is miles from the new version! Not least when it comes to flare, but the new is WR (water-resistant), dust-proof (within reason), and barely heavier than the old one!

    Image quality close to my 80-400, and not just in the short end! Beats my Nikon 70-300 by a mile, at least!

    And this is a really cheap lens! And much lighter than the Nikon rival! Or the Oly 75-300 (she used own one of those, too)!

    • The Oly 75-300 is inexplicably expensive. The Nikon 70-300 VR is good from 70-200, but 200-300 is emergency territory. The 80-400 is excellent, and the 70-200/4 is really superb – almost in prime land.

      Pentax seems to be hit and miss to me: they have some awesome stuff, and some total dogs. And it isn’t always clear what changes with each revision – D FA 25/4 to DA 25/4, for instance…

      • I do think Pentax have got their act together, since Ricoh stepped in, and things seems to have improved a lot. I gave up some years back, but the latest lenses (most new variants of old classics) seems to be quite an improvement. And the K-3 seems interesting as well. But most importantly, I must put that 70-200 on the ‘to get’ list ;-)!

        • The new lenses are hideously expensive, for 645 at least – the difference is an order of magnitude: a mint used 75/2.8 goes for $300ish. The 90/2.8 SR Macro is a whopping $5,000…

  6. I wonder what effect the new Tamron 150-600 will have on Nikon 80-400 sales. It has VR, is supposed to be almost as sharp, has had very good reviews on line, and is nearly $1000 cheaper. I don’t know if people have really had a chance to try the Nikon mount version in the real world yet.

    • With that kind of price difference, a different market perhaps? There’s a lot of difference between a 150mm wide end and an 80mm one. You could pair the 80-400 with a normal or even wide zoom only, but there’d be far too much of a hole between say a 16-35 and 150-600. Competition and choice definitely aren’t a bad thing though…

  7. Robert Snowden says:

    I have a D7100 and am very seriously thinking of upgrading to the new Nikon 80-400 lens. My main hobby is airshows where I have a number of issues. (1) speed, usually I use 1/250-1/320 for propeller aircraft [for blur] and 1/500+ for jets (2) shooting against a sunny or overcast sky causes exposure and focusing problems for me. I usually use the 51 point autofocus and standard exposure mode with maybe +1 to 3 stops if the sky is bright with mixed results. If I buy this lens could you please offer any suggestions on using it with the D7100 regarding setting speeds, autofocus and exposure for this lens?

    • It sounds to me like you already have your settings there. VR doesn’t freeze subject motion.

      • Robert Snowden says:

        Thank you for the prompt reply. I use pan (follow the aircraft round) and then expect VR to help with any shake! My only concern was that would it be better to use center weighted exposure centering on the body of the aircraft to get a better exposure of the aircraft’s fuselage, which in turn I would assume, would tone down a bright sky?

        • Michael Deeley says:

          I have found that since switching from my D700 to D7100 for birds in flight my capture rate has improved. AF-s contrast detection has improved with the D7100, very helpful when trying to lock-on to light coloured subjects against a bright sky. Switch off VR and use spot or centre weighted. Start panning as soon as possible after aircraft appears, lock on to the subject and then zoom in to take the picture.

        • Yes, if the fuselage is reflective/ brighter than the sky – and in the middle of the frame. Sorry for appearing vague; these are not easy questions to answer without knowing how you shoot/ frame/ use the camera.

    • Alex F. says:

      Hi Robert,

      I use the very same combo for aviation photography. All I can say is go ahead and get the new 80-400. You’re gonna love the results. Only problem is the small buffer of the D7100 (as you probably already know). It’s not for spray and pray. And use VR only when necessary (below 1/500 that is). Hope I’ve helped.



    • For exposure you might want to switch to full manual (don’t forget manual ISO).
      The sun brightness should not change much (we all hope) – just expose for a nice scene on the ground and fire away. If the aircraft are backlit, they will be black – so it will limit you to shooting aircraft that are sunlit – but those exposures will be 100%.

  8. Wandi Zeno says:

    just bought afs80-400g ed vr two month ago.. and im verry satisfied with the result.. im from sandakan-sabah-malaysia and spent most of my time birding at RDC-Sepilok-Sandakan-Sabah-Malaysia where most of the time shot birds in low light.. i recomended this lens for semi pro and new birder.. try it and you will satisfied.. have a look at my new birds images recently taken at RDC http://www.flickr.com/photos/jazeja

  9. Kuntal Samanta says:

    Hello thanks for your entire review but iam still confused wht lens should i get for my d700 body . Recently i hv used 70 -300 vr and it apears to be short in focal lenth for bird photography as well as got some problems to get subject in focus at 300 mm. please give me an idea for a best combination for my
    D700 body

    • For birding, the longest and fastest you can afford.

    • Michael Deeley says:

      I reply to Kuntal Samanta’s question, Ming is absolutely correct. There is no better answer. Regarding a lens for your full-frame D700, I have used the new version of the AF-s 80-400 for one year for birds, birds in flight, ducks, gulls and everything in between. It performs superbly. I know of no other lens in this price range that equals it’s all-round performance. For even more reach, and in good light, I can use the Tamron SP AF x1.4 Teleconverter for stationary shots wide open and one stop smaller when necessary and get acceptable results. As I typed this, I shot this combination through a double-pane glass window and through both sides of the netting on my patio gazebo to focus on a tree-house sign 20 meters distant without having to correct the AF by manual focusing. Frankly I did not expect that it could achieve focus with these obstacles and was surprised. Tripod mount is my only negative.

      • Kuntal Samanta says:

        Thanks Michael for your valuable opinion. I had used my d700 with 80-400 vr result i got acceptable but only disadvantage i found
        of that combination when i corps the image of distant photography sharpness lacks due to megapixel factor of d700 and that is why
        i upgraded my camera to d810 and result of that combination is excellent particularly for flying tinny birds like sun-bird etc. Awesome focusing ability of d810 helps me to capture moving bird perfectly. Now my expectation is rising to reach more closer
        of distant subject with my new combination, if i use a 1.4 x teleconverter with one stop further reduced f factor will it be a helpful for me?
        please give me a fruitful suggestion .

  10. Hello, and thanks for the very comprehensive review! Bought this lens two weeks ago, after reading all the positive feedback from almost everybody. I can say I am very pleased with the image quality and AF speed.
    There is something that troubles me, though. The VR, especially at 400mm and when following a moving subject (say, left to right), just jumps around the place, and it also shows on the photos taken. Very inconsistent! I have found this on two different copies, tried on two different D7000 bodies. Have you seen anything like this? Any ideas on how to face it?
    I replaced a Sigma 150-500 with the AF-S 80-400G and I must say that the Siggy’s VR was far better, even at 500mm. It would just lock on and never let go! I get many more blurred pics in the same settings that I am familiar with, than with the old Siggy.
    Any feedback would be appreciated!

    • Try setting VR to normal instead of active.

    • Michael Deeley says:

      Alex S. should switch VR off when panning. It’s not really needed. This is particularly true for BIF’s (birds in flight). AF works faster and more accurately without VR for these applications.

      • You can also go to active VR, which detects panning in either axis and disables the appropriate one.

        • Michael Deeley says:

          You are correct Ming, but for BIF”s particularly those with erratic flight, there is a slight delay in achieving AF with VR on, even in the active mode. Of course with gulls that’s not a big issue as they are circling around and provide additional opportunities to nail focus.

  11. Tord S Eriksson says:


    May I quote your review in a review at Birdforum?! And maybe borrow a photo, with credits?!

  12. Michael Deeley says:

    Ming. Having used this new lens for almost five months mainly for birding and nature, I thought your review was excellent, and I agree with your findings regarding the excellent image quality and your negative comments about the poor lens collar for tripod mounting. My only other concern is acquiring focus with my D700 (VR off) for BIF’s, as my success rate is poor compared to my AF-S 300 f4. i have tried different camera settings recommended by other birders but feel I am missing something in this respect. The relatively slow aperture of f5.6 may be a factor? Any recommendations will be appreciated,
    Thanks, Mike

    • I think it’s because the AF motor is slower, too.

      • Michael Deeley says:

        Thanks Mein,
        Slower than my afs300? I hope not after spending double the amount for the 80-400 vr11.
        Have not seen any specs about the Af motors used in the two lenses. I assumed perhaps wrongly that Af speed would be better than the 80-400 apart from the slower aperture?

        • Not necessarily. There are a lot of factors affecting AF speed. E.g. the same lens will focus at different speeds on consumer and pro bodies because the voltage is higher (and therefore the motor is faster) – on top of better sensors and algorithms…

  13. Hey Ming – thanks for your review. Based on it I’ve bought this lens and I can confirm this is one amazingly fast and easy to use lens. Here’s the results from my son (12) and I shooting on Sydney’s northern beaches on our first outing with it. I’d say about 1/2 are keepers and surfing is pretty action packed!


    Keep up the good work!

  14. Amit Kher says:

    Hi Ming, any take on how the performance with TCs would be as compared to that of AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II?

  15. Ming,

    You mentioned earlier that some of these shots were “sharpened for web”. Would you care to share your software/workflow?

    • Ignoring the downsizing sharpening that flickr applies, it really depends on the image. I do cover this in the PS workflow video…

  16. Hi Ming, as mentioned above, I purchased the new 80-400 mm lens and have had it for almost a month now and find it to be a joy to use. One intangible for me is the great balance of this lens as I mainly handhold. I know many complain about the plastic in the lens and esp. The cost, but my sense is the plastic holds the weight down a bit. I sold two d7000 bodies and 3 lenses to pay for mine. I also sold my 2x TCE iii converter and bought the 1.7 TC ii, a refurbished one from B+H. I am happy to say that this TC works much better with the 70-200 VR ii f 2.8 lens giving me 340 mm at f4.8.This TC also AF fines even in moderately low light, a very cloudy day in a shaded back yard with the 80-400 mm. This is at f9.5 on my d7100 which AF to f8. Personally tho I don’t care for the loss of detail, but it does give me the option. I hope this helps those of trying to decide on which way to reach 400 mm. To me you can go with the 300mm f4 with either TC, sharp. The 80-400 mm, sharp. The 70-200 mm,TC 1.7 for 340 mm, sharp. The 70-200mm with the TC 2x, NOT sharp and horrible bokeh etc. I have tried all these combos extensively and have to say that the VR on the new 80-400 esp. If you mainly handhold as I do,gives it win the overall number one spot in my view. The main negative is the tripod collar which is weak and unstable tho I have only used it on a monopod. It makes a great hook to loop the lens in your belt when you walk all day as I do. As I warped a d7000 body lens mount letting it hang free with a heavy lens, this is very important to me.

  17. Hi Ming! I am an amateur bird photographer from the Philippines. Currently, I use a Nikon D90 Body with a Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/4 with a TC14EII. So far I am happy with the results. But there are times that the subject is simply too far (and you can’t go nearer anymore) and you wish you had a longer reach. Will an 80-400 plus a 1.7 converter work with a D90? Or do I have to upgrade my body also to a D7000 or a D7100 or a full frame? Thank you – Chin Fernandez, Philippines

    • It’ll work, but f5.6 plus 1.5 stops is very dark – around f10 – you’ll have to work in bright daylight since the D90 isn’t the cleanest of the DX bodies. I’d suggest you’d be better off with a manual focus 500/4 AI-P and 1.4x; you get an effective 1050/5.6 on DX instead of 1020/10, and it’s cheaper than the 80-400 AFS/ 1.7x combination, too. I used this combination for a lot of my birding work in 2005-8 – not as difficult to focus as you’d think because the focal length means things snap into focus very easily.

  18. Hi Ming. I have the AF VR 80-400mm. I believe it is 13 years old and I have used it all over the world, mostly hand holding since I take it hiking through South America whenever I can go. It recently was dropped and will require up to half it’s value in repair. I was looking at repairing it or purchasing the new VR 80-400mm s. I have read of the positive upgrades and wondered if you tried hand holding both lenses for comparison. I know ypu recommend the monopod which I am able to take some times and other times I am not able to take. I always have binoculars with me as well. The weight is also a concern but not sure if it is enough of one. Please let me know your thoughts on the 2 lenses and the hand holding comparison. Bottom line is do I upgrade or repair?
    Thanks. Lcalz

    • The new one is much better simply because the VR is a lot more effective…I would upgrade, and gain better optics and faster AF in the process. Actually, if you use it that much, I’d think about upgrading anyway simply because there’s that much difference between the two versions – especially if you use it on a higher resolution body like the D7100 or D800E.

  19. Mac Walter says:

    Hi Ming, I have noticed on a few aerial handheld shots some slight blurring which I suspect is due to the VR , it almost looks like a double image overlay slightly off. I was shooting at or above 1/2000 of a second. Having had only the 300 mm f4 prime for years as my only bird lens, I have had little experience with VR. This could also explain my thinking the 300 mm was better at longer distances, not so sure now. They seem to be very close. I must say that the VR really helps in situations where I am only able to get a fraction of that speed. I was also thinking of a guy I met last month who had the d800e and this new lens and hated the camera, he sent it back but kept the lens for his d3x. I am happy to say my copy of the lens seems to be as sharp as the rental. I did notice the zoom ring to be a bit stiff, esp. at first. I will need some time to decide if fine timing the AF is necessary.

    • That’s consistent with my experience of VR at higher shutter speeds – turn it off above 1/1000s or so, or you get this double image ‘bounce’.

  20. Ming, you always post great shots. Really sharp and spot on exposure.

    I notice your comment in another great review… that you AF fine tuned this lens. Is there really a difference in your images by doing this AF fine tuning, at all distances you shoot? I haven’t. I tried a few times, and found it was hard to discern the target through the viewfinder, and even in LV, it was hard to see that small red dot to align. I think I was successful, but afterwards did not see much difference in my images, of course, wide open.

    And.. perhaps you can elaborate what the advantage is for using the 6m vs. full range for longer shooting than 6m? Is there a faster AF lock using the 6m?

    Also…I read with interest the note about not using VR over 1/1000th/sec. I did not realize this. Is it a standard rule of thumb for VR lenses, or VRII? I don’t remember this in the manual.

    I will say, when I tried out this lens, using a Carry Speed strap att. to its lens collar (probably the best use of the OEM collar), which the lens was upside down. I had OOF shots, hand held. Attributed to the switches changing position, must have clipped my pants as I had carried it upside down.

    Thanks, Sally

    • Yes, an enormous difference. You may be consistently focusing off all the time. You won’t see it in the VF, but if there’s a consistent difference between LV and AF then you’ll probably need to adjust. Of course adjustments have to be consistently and scientific applied: read: do it on a tripod.

      6m limiter stops the lens from moving through the whole range to find focus. It’s faster.

      VR: not a standard rule, empirical observation – the VR mechanism can only move so fast, and above a certain speed, I’ve seen it cause odd double-image blurring as the element moves into place.

      • I really don’t notice too many OOF. But, yours are considerably sharper. Perhaps you sharpen differently for the web?

        Which article, a few come up regarding tripods. Is there one on focus fine tuning? I am assuming you use lens align or green dot procedure?

  21. Interesting about the horrible results with the d800. In the above review the pictures look good to me and my results with the d7100 were very satisfying. I just got my copy today from B+ H and only took a couple shots. So far so good but my big fear is that my copy will be bad and not compare to the one I rented. I am also looking at buying an FX body and looking at the d600 and d800. I am wondering what your opinion on the d600 is. supposedly it has very good IQ but I worry about the AF. I welcome any advice.

  22. MIng,

    Great review but I myself am perplexed by your results. I was very excited when I heard this lens was being introduced. On an assignment to Anchorage for aviation photography I rented a new model from LensRentals. My results with my D800E were horrible. I was shooting 1/800-1//2000 in AF-C 9 points and nothing, I repeat, NOTHING was sharp. Everything lacked contrast and it was as thought the colors bled and just looked horrible. I contacted LensRentals suspecting I got a bad copy and they quickly FedEx’d me a replacement to my hotel in Anchorage (Many thanks to the fine folks at LensRentals for this). The second copy came and the results were identical. I noticed my D800E in AF-C with this lens would hunt and “click” over and over again trying to focus resulting in rubbish for results. I had my D700 body with me and tried the lens on that body with identical results. Very disappointed but wondering….what are the chances I got TWO lemons???

    • It’s possible: remember the D800E left focus fiasco. I tried a large number of bodies, all of which had problems. The only way to determine if it’s a lens or technique problem is lock the whole thing down on a tripod, use AF-S and mirror lockup (or live view + timer) and daylight with a high enough shutter speed to rule out vibration etc.

      • But interestingly, my 70-200/2.8 VRII is tack sharp and spot on. In fact, I tried the 70-200/2.8 VRII with the TC-17EIII today in Guangzhou and it was again…spot on.

  23. Ming, this question is not directly about the 80-400 mm lens but about the camera to pair it with, following some of the comments above. As mentioned many times, the D800 is very sensitive to any motion and as such has been recommended for use on a tripod. The D7100, which appears to be a good match for the above 80-400 mm for birding has more pixels per unit area on the sensor as compared to the D800. I read that if the D7100 DX 24 MP sensor were full frame it would equate to 52 MP. Could you explain why the D7100 does not have the same precautions about motion artifact as does the D800/E? Thank you.

    • I haven’t used one, but it’s to do with pixels per degree FOV: if the whole frame covers say 90deg, then the D800E is still putting more pixels per degree down than the D7100. The D7100’s shutter is also lower vibration, but the same general cautions apply: as your pixel density per degree FOV increases, shot discipline becomes increasingly important.

      • Dennis Ng says:

        I think D800E has less pixel per degree compared with D7100 and in turns D7100 has less cf with Nikon 1.


        If one calculate the pixel per degree using 400mm lens

        800e aov horizontally is 5.2 degree and its 7360 pixel gives you 1400 pixel per degree
        7100 aov horizontally is 3.4 degree and its 6000 pixel gives you 1750 pixel per degree
        n1 aov horizontally is 1.3 degree and its 3872 pixel gives you 2000 pixel per degree

        reflecting the demand on the lens getting higher and higher

        However, if one keep the angle a constant say 1 degree i.e. effective focal length at 2000mm for all format,

        800e give you 1400 pixel
        7100 give you 1750 pixel
        n1 give you 2000 pixel

        Hence, actually 800e is < 7100 < nikon 1; Kim question is still valid.


        BTW, just got a 70-200 for my nikon 1 instead of 80-400, plus an 1.7. The 2.8 is good for low light and help the focusing and it is up to the high density requirement. The extra 200mm (200mm vs 400mm) is good but the 2.8 is better.

        • You’re correct, but that’s not a like to like comparison – it should be 400mm equivalent field of view – so 400mm on the D800E, 266.7mm on the D7100, and 148mm on the 1. By your logic, compact cameras should be impossible to hold because you get 20MP on a 1/2.3″ sensor…this is clearly not right.

          • Dennis Ng says:

            what you said is based on another dim ie the no of pixel per subject length. imagine you project an 1 feet ruler lying horizontally onto 9 different camera, taken by the 3 camera above plus a 3 phone camera like camera (36 mp, 24mp and 10 mp; same conf just small sensor) and another 3 hasselblad camera with back size also 36, 24 and 10. if all project the same 1 feet ruler onto the full length of the sensor (as you adjust your focal length), they are all the same subject coverage. in other words the camera size is not important and only no of pixel per that 1 feet ruler.

            it does not make sense.

            • To do what you said you’d have to change subject distance, and thus magnification. Unless I’ve made a mistake somewhere, it’s a very different problem to what’s being discussed here.

              • Dennis Ng says:

                Same but boring problem. When you say 400 266.7 and 148 mm, you try maintain the same subject size effectively. Maintain same subject distance and imagine you photo the same ruler using the 9 camera but maintain that the ruler just fill your sensor using the equivalent focal length (400mm), you got the same pic and that is how you got the idea that 800e > 7100 > n1 as there is more pixel.

                But it does not make sense from a handling point of view.

                Anyway it is boring (but have some real life implication eg for wildlife esp bird photos which this 400mm lens fit.

  24. Hi Ming, first of all, it is clear you are a master. I love your work. I wanted to chime in and say I am a serious amateur photographer who does mainly birds. Currently I have the new d7100 with the 300 mm f4 prime and 1.4x TCii and the 2x TCiii which I can also use with the d7100. I also have the 70-200 mm f2.8 which by itself is fine but IMO does not compare to the 300 mm f4 when you use any kind of TC. I rented the new 80-400 mm for a week to try and took over 5000 shots of mainly birds, all types, flying, jumping around, still etc. I walk a lot and tho I have a monopod, I often handhold due to circumstance, warblers don’t sit long for instance. I found this lens to be an absolute joy to use, the AF was very fast, the VR made it easier to hold focus on small birds, birds in flight were easier to find and hold onto etc. having the capability to zoom is a huge advantage as there are times when things are too big or too close, also finding a fast moving bird then zooming in helps for me. I found I would get instead of one or two keepers in a set, I would get 8-10. I hook the tripod mount in a loop on my belt which takes the weight off my shoulder and is easy to reach. I found the weight no problem at all. It is no heavier than my other long lenses. My only negative is the odd 6m point for the AF switch. I wish it was as you say, at say 4m. This caused me some problems. At the long end I could say that maybe the 300mm f4 prime with the 1.4x tC is slightly sharper but for what you gain overall, cost aside, I can’t recommend this lens enough. I post photos on Flickr if you are curious about my skill level etc. I think the d7100 and this new 80-400 mm lens is a marriage made in heaven, at least for how I work.
    I am curious,What is OM-D, I am not familiar with this term and not sure what lens you mean by the 100-300.

    • Thanks for chipping in. Olympus OM-D, micro four thirds, 16MP and 9fps. Panasonic 100-300/4-5.6, with the 2x crop factor of M4/3 becomes 200-600mm equivalent. I’ve reviewed both on the site previously.

  25. Hi Ming,
    I always enjoy reading your reviews and now I’m convinced that the nikkor 80-400 is my next lens! Thanks!

  26. Hi there! Love your review 🙂
    Got a question though. Is this lens usable in a concert hall? You mentioned that it’s not so usuable for indoor sports. How about indoor performances?

  27. Hi Ming,
    This is the review which I was waiting for. I recently bought nikon d 7100 with kit lens and am on look out for appropriate lens. Am frandly confused between sigma 150-500mm and nikon 80-400 vr2.

    your views would be much appreciated.


  28. Halim H Din says:

    Hi Ming, a nice review. I bought this lens mainly for wildlife and currently testing it. I will be travelling next month with it but am undecided whether to use the 1.4 converter or simply use dx mode in the D800 for reach. I am not sure whether I have got it right with my tests which indicate that dx mode produces sharper images albeit lesser pixels. Best Regards. Halim

    • Hard to say. I think the TC might give you slightly more resolution, but at the cost of lens speed and needing to use a higher ISO which will in turn degrade image quality. If your shot discipline is sufficient then 15MP is more than enough for just about anything.

      • Halim H Din says:

        Hi Ming, thanks for your prompt response. With new technologies consumers are overwhelmed, more choices and at the same time more confusions. DX mode in a camera versus DX body like D7100, which one has the advantage, besides two in one and two bodies.

        • Yet another difficult question because it’s not clear what you want to use it for. If it’s mostly studio with a bit of birding, the the FX body wins and vice versa. User skill and composition will make a lot more difference than hardware. For example, I’d consider the D800E/ 80-400 combination interchangeable with the OM-D and 100-300 – same purpose, similar output at 600mm equivalent. There’s a reason I own a 100-300 and not the 80-400.

  29. Nimish says:

    Excellent pics, congrats for a very nice review.
    In your opinion would this be the lightest and the sharpest walk around lens for wildlife?

    • That’s a very vague question. It depends on system and how much magnification/ working distance you need: you could do birding effectively with a 100-300 and OM-D, which is a lot lighter/smaller/cheaper, but this would be overkill for large and relatively tame animals.

  30. Dennis Ng says:

    I saw in the email list that someone talked about Canon 100-400. On top of the 3 lens I talked about, a very drastic option as discussed about walk around birdy lens choice bythom is to buy a Canon! See http://www.bythom.com/dxlenssets.htm. The 100-400 is very good (except it is a Canon, push-pull, …) and Canon is much easier to be converted to do astro/uv/… etc.

  31. ARTURO V. RAMOS says:

    Mr Ming Thein your just like one of those people who has a ( i.e. Mr Westlake of DPReview) misundertanding/misconception about the word “REACH” as opposed to “FOV” (field of view) its not the same. (DX with smaller sensor gives you smaller picture area.)

    • The term ‘reach’ is used to describe longer focal lengths. Field of view is angle covered by a given focal length on a given sensor size. I think you’re confusing these concepts.

      • ARTURO V. RAMOS says:

        NO I do not or I am not confuse by the terminology. Yah I know when you said reach you are implying that the focal somehow gain distance but its not the case. The Lens does not grow or become longer by any means its just that the sensor like I said before (DX) has a small area of coverage than a bigger 35mm (FX) 24x36mm sensor (Oskar Barnack design). That’s why they say if you use a DX lens on an FX camera it does not vignette because of the small area of coverage thus only wasting part of the FX sensor.
        HAPPY SHOOTING !!!

  32. Jamie Turner says:

    Nice review Ming. Ignoring price, which lens would you recommend for small song birds (400/2.8; 500/4 or 80-400/4.5-5.6)? Can I get enough separation / subject isolation from the zoom at 400/5.6 with a working distance of about 5-6 meters? Is the transition from sharp focus to out-of-focus too gradual on the zoom? This might be personal taste but I prefer the crisp isolation effect from a shallow perceived dof. Thanks. I’m having a tough time deciding on a birding lens to go with a D800E.


    • Definitely the 500/4 – you could put a 1.4x on that, use the D7100 and not compromise on image quality at all, but have more than enough reach.

      Yes, you can get plenty of isolation at 5-6m and 400/5.6 – whether you get enough magnification is another thing. The transition with this zoom is pretty smooth.

  33. BRYANL says:

    Ming it seems that in your excellent review that the 80-400 is “quite” a lot better (optically) than the 70-200VR2 on a D800E..I know I have asked you about your thoughts on the 70-200VR2 before and you stated that you had “borrowed” a few times to use for different assignments..I guess what I am getting at is I “love” my (new 70-200VR2,,,that I just bought “finally” last month,on my D800E)..and now that this new 80-400 comes out and think very highly of it,,was hoping you would have said they were a lot “closer” optically then you mention in review..I know that with tele on 70-200 it suffers a little..but man it has to be one of “my” sharpest and well handling lenses on my D800e compared to my 105VRmacro and 85 1.4and 1.8g lenses..that I own..

    • Can’t say as I haven’t evaluated the 70-200VR2 properly on the D800E. Used casually yes, thoroughly examined, no. You can’t really compare the two as the 80-400 gives you double the long end…

  34. David Whistance says:

    I may be wrong but my understanding is that diffraction limiting happens at progressively higher f-stops as focal length increases so the comments about this lens being near the diffraction limits of the higher mpixel cameras may not be correct. Certainly I have found this to be true in my experience with large format lenses where you are often balancing depth of field vs diffraction induces image softness.

    • Not quite. Diffraction is a property of the pixel pitch of the sensor, so you become increasingly diffraction limited at smaller apertures – visible as edge softening at the pixel level – the higher the sensor density. This begins at around f8 for the D800.

      • David Whistance says:

        Yes, but the physical size of the aperture increases with focal length, ie the required size for f4 at 50mm is much smaller than for 300mm, so that whilst f8 may well be diffraction limiting at 50mm it won’t be at 300mm.

        • David Whistance says:

          PS – I wanted to say what a great website you have. Excellent images and sensible, well thought out comments and reviews. Quite rare on the internet today, I’m glad I came across it.

  35. I had the old 80-400 and sold it to buy the 300f/4 AF-S and 1.7TC. Nearly all the time I was using the 80-400 at the long end, for birds. The 300+tc is much better, and with fast shutter speeds for BIF and B-not-in-F that are moving around, it’s better not to have VR anyway, even hand held. The new 80-400VR2 is at least as big and heavy to carry around as the 300, I also use the EM5 and 100-300 but the one big disadvantage is that for BIF, especially flying fast against a clear sky, the auto-focus is just too slow and hunts too much to be useful. So often now if I’m birding I’ll use the D7000 with 300 f4 with 1.7tc for the birds and also have the EM5 for everything else. Or, if I’m going to be walking a long way,or flying with carry -on baggage, just the EM5 and 100-300. So I don’t see the need to spend another $2800 on the new 80-400VR2. Great review though! Richard

    • Agreed – the OM-D is not a BIF camera at all. AF-C is pretty much useless.

    • I enjoyed this review. I was proud to have f/2.8 zooms (14-24, 24-70, and 80-200 AF-D) but given that new cameras do very well in low light and I don’t shoot weddings, was flirting with getting a longer slower zoom. Before that, I tried using a Tamron SP 2x converter with the 80-200 but without VR, it was impossible to use handheld and even with a tripod, I felt that I was needing to switch between the teleconverter and bare quite often to get the sharpest result so finally this week, sold off my f/2.8 tele and am going to order this one while there is a rebate.

      It’s still a very big expense. In a perfect world, I’d get the 70-200 VRII plus 200-400 f/4 and a 600mm f4 but funds being limited, this seems to offer a lot of bang.

      Once I recover from this kick in the gut, I will be looking for a teleconverter too. I’ve read the 1.4x is not too bad and still retains AF (though sluggishly), but I’m really curious whether this autofocuses with the 1.7x on the D610 or D800.

  36. I used the 70-200mm + 1.7x TC in Florida on a FF body. I got pretty close to my subjects (alligators!) and this combo returned some decent results. 🙂


    • Denns Ng says:

      I like the old 80-400 with my d70 – go w me to Galapagos, Africa safari, and Swiss alps. No fast action but decent 300mm with some walk around flexibility (the 400 mm is a bit push it and not that close focus this old lens). Really want to like this new 80-400. Well your pics still reconfirm it should be 70-200 > d7.1k +50-500 > afs 80-400. Still thinking and have been struggled since it comes out.

      • Why does the 70-200 beat the 80-400?

        • Dennis Ng says:

          This 80-400 is really a lens I try to love. I even paid the life-long subs for Nikon Gear to see what nfoto would say.

          I like real world result and let me start with this Chinese forum post (just see the photos, taken with V1 + 50-500; if you read Chinese they said 5058 due to Chinese hundred sounded like 8; hence 684 is 600 f4 etc):


          This is my target; some static bird photos with feather.

          See this as well: http://www.dchome.net/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=1145811&highlight=5058

          Another one is d7100 with 50-500 (also the insect one; not sure about the camera of the birds in this page, but if you look at the bird one, you know why I say feather counting!)


          Hence, the 80-400 may not a value proposition unless it can be better than 50-500. But as the price would be AFS 80-400 = D7100+50-500, for a guy with a D600 and Nikon 1, it seems D7100+50-500 is better. Bif is not totally impossible and both need some light.

          In this regards, 70-200 can offer low light which other two cannot. Extender 1.7 and/or N1 is a way to extend a bit its reach. I am not sure to select D7100+50-500 or 70-200 but I may be incline to say both is better than 80-400.

    • Also used the 70-200mm+1.7xTC combo in a captive setting. 🙂


      Again, pleased with the results. Prefer shooting the subjects close-up and having decent isolation than shooting from a distance with a slower (albeit slightly) longer zoom and having more of the background in focus due to a narrower DOF. And I’m too lazy to lug a 400mm F/2.8 around. Just my 2 cents. 🙂

  37. Thanks for your interesting review, comments and pictures…. For me I have the Leica Apo-telyt/180 and the R-Apo extender 2X so it will give a 360 focal lens on a M 240. what is your opinion about the result, may i expect good contrast on a tripod?

    • No idea. Not used that lens…

    • It’s a very old lens constuction. At infinity it will be ok. However, you have f6.8!

      The newer APO 180s are much better even at a close range. I use the APO-Summicron-R 2/180 which is just incredible. You get a 2.8/280 with the 1.4x APO extender (but have to stop down if you are very critical) or 4/400 with the 2x APO extender (can be used wide open without any loss of quality). The results are outstanding.

      The APO-Elmarit-R is just as good, but lighter and one stop slower.

  38. Rudy Mareel says:

    Interesting article and indeed the bird shots are excellent! Cheers, Rudy.

  39. Dennis Ng says:

    I am comparing this with

    (A) d7100 + sigma 50-500 plus my d600 and n1+ft1 as my poor man birdy … In fact the 80-400 II was in the radar but it is not much value (same price) vs a new body and a reasonable lens

    (B) 2.0 ext is always not good. My alternative is 70-200 with 1.7. The 400 mm is not real and this is more flexible. Just no fund for an extra d7100

    (C) this afs 80-400

    I am geared towards a or b but not c. All c can take pics like yours based on actual user pic in Hk web site (Dchome)


    • a) Not used the 50-500, much less on a high res body like the D7100; my guess is it won’t do so well wide open. But it will be cheaper.
      b) Avoid the extenders.
      c) Well, I’m a real user, so I’m not sure what you mean by “All c can take pics like yours based on actual user pic in Hk web site” – the images in the review were shot with the lens.

      Not having any idea what you want to use it for, it’s difficult to make a recommendation…

      • Dennis Ng says:

        The 50-500 as being cheap was widely used in Hk and based on the 1xx page on this lens, it seems it is ok. Even 7100 is ok, just no bif and weather sealed. Of course it is a sigma and initially not firmware compatible. I try to convince myself for a general walk around lens (some birds id but like to count a bit feather from time to time). It should be an upgrade from my cheap 28-300. Plus a 24-85 it should be ok for a total travel package. However after going to nikon hk 2 time I still cannot convince it is a us$2k better than a 28-300. If as y recommend no extender, a 70-200 may still okish using also nikon 1 ft1 for counting feather of static birds. also, it would be a good lens for my d600. That would be d600+24-85 and n1+ft1+70-200 ie 24 f3.5-540 f2.8 (540 f5.6 in dof). However the us$2k can also give me a d7100 +50-500, d600+24-85 and n1+ft1+28-300, no need to switch lens from my small dslr av150 bag. 24-810 and up to 1350… In fact if only 1 lens the d600-50-500 a bit higher iso. No bif but cannot carry like those 600f4 if y give a free lens to me (and not allow to sell it but have to carry it). The 80-400 may give me a bit bif but it still a 5.6 lens. Seems 70-200 > d7.1k+50-500 > 80-400; all the same price at us$2k.

        • Andre NYC says:

          I have had the original Sigma 70-200 2.8 and it was a star performer*, at a great price too (and it was better than some of its more recent IS aka VR versions. Personally the Sigma 150mm 2.8 macro is on my buy list – and incredible performer and price wise remarkably inexpensive too. Couple that with an extender 1.4 or 2X and you are in ultimate territory.
          I wouldn’t bother with inferior lenses; higher quality lenses, even fixed focal ones will get you the same results with plain cropping. Better a good used Mercedes than a new Hyundai methink.
          PS. I may have overlooked something but it seems Ming you have never tested Sigma lenses. I know you do have limited time for these evaluations, but it would be nice to have a “best of the Nikon alternatives” ..

          (*) Sigma 70-200 non IS/ VR at 200mm f/4 1/1000 http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycandre/1576572937/in/set-72157627427641118/ – the model was moving and it was handheld

        • @dennis ng

          Whether a better lens is “worth it” is entirely up to you to judge. If you’re happy taking bird photos with a cell phone taped to a pair of binoculars (which I’m sure MT could produce great photos with) then why pay $2000 for a semi-pro telephoto?

          It’s a shame it’s not cheaper, but it seems like an excellent lens. I’d also question dismissal of it for indoor sports — f2.8 vs f5.6 isn’t the end of the world; lots of great sports shots were taken with the D300 which is at least 2 stops inferior to any current FX body pixel for pixel.

          • It’s not the end of the world for indoor sports if you have enough light, but given most of the action would be in the shorter range, why not just get a 70-200+TC for emergency reach, gain a couple of stops and not spend any more money? That would be a more sensible option in my mind.

          • Dennis Ng says:

            I am prepared to pay that us$2k and in fact even if y gave me the one cat above I would not take it . The point is which one. I am not alone and as quoted later on Thom it was all valid option including buying a canon!

  40. Arthur van Reijn says:

    Why buy a lens that is, wide open, already near the limit of the sensors diffraction limit?

  41. Nice work!! Still don’t think I’d trade in my 300f4+1.4TC for the added flexibility of this zoom, though…

    • If I were me, I’d consider it for the VR.

      • Guess it depends on subject: mostly use the combo as a walkabout for bif anyhow.

        • Definitely not walkabout. I’d use the OM-D and 100-300 for that and save my back.

          • Long time admirer of your blog, Ming! Coming from a long time Canon Rebel/Pana GH2 “relationship” and willing to move to Full-Frame with a Canon 6D, when you say “I’d use the OM-D…” makes me wonder if I would rather keep my MFT gear. You know, at this time I think that the OM-D images (and GH3 and E-PL5) are comparable to FF up to ISO 800, but every time I see your gorgeous pics, except for street shooting, you got them using the full frame big Nikons.

            Cheers from Rio de Janeiro!!!!

            • Thanks Edric. Actually, I could have done most of the work with either camera, but I use the Nikons because of client resolution requirements…

              • That answer made all the difference to me, Ming… <:ˆ)

                Congratulations for the outstanding talent and concern towards your admirers.

                All the best, Edric

                • That’s the problem with Ming Thein review, He can make awesome picture with anything and make you want to sell your Leica for an iPhone 🙂

                  • I actually did review the iPhone…4 and 5, here and here.

                    But my suggestion would be to go by what I say rather than the images. They’re there for eye candy (and I’m not going to post anything subpar in case a client sees them). If I don’t like something, there’s probably a very good reason for it. In general, nothing is perfect, so the question is whether the gear’s deficiencies will matter…

            • Actually Canon’s similar “old” by now 100-400L lens is a great performer. Probably a notch below that new Nikon 80-400. but no slouch by any means and half the price. You’d only have to look for a good copy -same as Nikon.
              This is 1/3 crop of the original http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycandre/3452707338/
              Lightly cropped, handheld http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycandre/5634034954/

              • Andre NYC says:

                Actually I take my comment back – that “old” Canon 100-400mm L lens might be just as good as that new Nikon lens, considering that Photozone.de figured it was way better than the old Nikon 80-400. ” .. From http://www.photozone.de/canon_eos_ff/609-canon100400f4556ff?start=2 : ” …The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM L IS is almost a boring lens but in a positive sense. It shows no extreme weaknesses nor strengths. You will find sharper lenses – primes that is – but it is very sharp for a zoom lens, especially considering its 400mm, and that’s throughout the range at all relevant aperture settings. As such it is e.g. far better than the corresponding Nikkor AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 ED “

                • You do realize that this review is of the new lens, and it has a completely different optical formula to the old one, right? The 100-400 also isn’t really an option if you’re already a Nikon system user.

                  • Andre NYC says:

                    Oh – yes – I know this is about the Nikon line, but I mentioned this here because Edric mentioned he’s a Canon Rebel user thinking of upgrading to the Canon 6D. I got the D700 a few years ago when I got tired of waiting for Canon to up its sensors low light performance, but have still kept my 5D precisely because I like that 100-400L so much. Interestingly its value has appreciated over time, well at least kept up with inflation.

                    • There hasn’t been a new version to replace it yet, so I can’t say I’m surprised. The 6D appears to be incredibly good value compared to the 5DIII…I may well land up having to buy one for an upcoming architectural job because Nikon doesn’t make a 17mm PCE..,

            • Hey Eric. I have the OMD 100-300 setup and it really does an excellent job for the price/weight. I also have a D600 and thinking of this 80-400. But considering i’m becoming less willing to lug the weight of the 70-200 ii already, I don’t know how much I’ll use the 80-400. If you don’t have an ego to want to use ‘big’ gear, no client requirements for highest resolution possible, don’t need continue auto focus, the OMD setup is a much better choice. In most cases it’ll get you 90% or greater IQ of the FX while giving you much more opportunity to capture more moments given the less weight to handle. Also, you save some $3000 or more as well…..

  42. Fish Yu says:

    Hi Ming, I just bought this lens today, I tested TC-20E III and TC-14E II both two converters, surprisingly X2 is better than X1.4, maybe version III is better than Version II.

  43. Wonderful Bird Shots and Review! I always enjoy your bird photos.

  44. DMPhoto says:

    For 1,500 dollars what is the performance difference of buying a 70-300 mm and sticking a 2 or 3 times teleconverter to extend the lens? Do you think you will notice a big difference in the performance?

    • Enormous. The 70-300 is already soft above 200mm on the 12MP bodies before adding a TC, with which it isn’t compatible anyway. You’ll also lose at least one stop. This isn’t to say the 80-400 isn’t expensive, it is.

      • The best way to boost the 70-300 is using it on a CX body! That equals a 2.7X TC, with none of the assossiated losses inherent with TCs. A lot of bird photographers use that combo with great success. The V2 works well with the 80-400, too!

        • Ah yes – and AF on those things is pretty fast too, I believe. Limited resolution though.

          • The addition of TCs to the 70-300 will further lower its resolution, which is only really good in the center, to begin with. It is, therefore, wise to use it on a V2, or a V1 (slightly lower resolution). The problem with these small sensors is a lack of dynamic range, so not ideal at sunset/sun rise! Or at night! The smaller sensor uses only the sharp center, thus excludes the fuzzier parts, to everyone’s gain. The pixel density of the V2 is so high that only really good lenses works well, so ndon’t add a TC to any lens you use, you’ll regret it!

            • Bad idea to put TCs on the 70-300 – it’s already slow enough as it is, and f8-11 is going to put you far beyond the diffraction limit for most sensors.


  1. […] set was shot with a Nikon D810, AFS 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR G and PCE 45/2.8 and processed with PS Workflow […]

  2. […] of the handgrip as much as anything. I can only imagine the 90-280 (apparently larger than the Nikon AFS 80-400G VR II) is going to be even more challenging; both really need tripod […]

  3. […] series was shot with a Nikon D810, D800E, 24-120/4 VR, 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR, Zeiss 2.8/21 Distagon, Zeiss 1.4/55 Otus, Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus, and Ricoh GR. Postprocessing was […]

  4. […] series was shot with a Nikon D810, D800E, 24-120/4 VR, 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR, Zeiss 2.8/21 Distagon, Zeiss 1.4/55 Otus, and Ricoh GR. Postprocessing was completed using the […]

  5. […] 24-70/2.8 II L was excellent, however, and the 70-300 L surprisingly very good – comparable to my Nikon AFS 80-400 VR and significantly smaller/lighter. The 17-40 and 70-300 DO were both a disaster, though I don’t […]

  6. […] MMJ when I need more reach than the 180 APO-Lanthar and less weight or more quality than the 80-400 AFS. Finally, 36 vs 50MP makes a difference when for large stitched Ultraprints: 7 vs 10 shots may be […]

  7. […] results from alck of stability or shutter speed. Here, I liked the 24-120/4 VR, 70-200/4 VR and 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR G. Regardless, it’s pretty punishing of poor shot […]

  8. […] the 85 behind and pair it with the 55. The 70-200/4 is large and heavy, though not as bad as the 80-400 AFS, which I really like for its flexibility and ability to provide a lot of frames for high resolution […]

  9. […] This set with shot with a Nikon D800E and AFS 24-120/4 VR, and D810 with AFS 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR. […]

  10. […] of time, in order to pick up a lens I needed for an upcoming helicopter-based assignment – an 80-400 AFS*. They had D750s, so in my usual curiosity, I asked to handle on. It turns out that was a mistake, […]

  11. […] price difference – 850g vs 1540g and $1000 – the lens is made of plastic (much like the 80-400 AFS) and there’s no tripod collar or hard pouch included. Plastic construction not necessarily a […]

  12. […] testes de campo, mas ja perguntei ao Flavio sobre a nova 80/400 e ele me deu os seguintes links Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 G ED VR II N ? Ming Thein | Photographer Nikon Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G review | Cameralabs Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G vs 80-400mm […]

  13. […] AFS 70-200/4 VR 7/10 – B&H Amazon Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 G ED VR II N 7/10 – review B&H Amazon Nikon AFS 24/1.4 G* 7/10 – B&H Amazon Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G** 6/10 – […]

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