Review Nikon 400 mm f/2.8 AF-S FL ED VR @ DX
A whopper of a lens, this Nikon 400 mm f/2.8E AF-S FL ED VR! The name alone is a mouthful. The newest Nikon technology is inside: bright optics super-fast auto focus, nano coating against reflections, soil-resistant fluoride coating on the flat front lens, ED glass against chromatic aberration, fluorite glass prevents CA, but it also limits the weight. The vibration reduction must be good for about 4 stops. On an APS-C body like the D7100 that we used for this review, the focal distance is 600 mm. That's good for nature, bird and sports photography. You won't find better or more beautiful, or heavier, either (nearly 4 kilos). Is this masterpiece worth its price? The cheerful expression of our editor Ivo Freriks gives an indication...
Nikon AF-S 400 mm f/2.8E FL ED VR on APS-C
Pelicans in Artis ZOO. Shot at 1/2000 f/6.3
A Full-Frame Lens on an APS-C body?
Fixed-focal length telephoto lenses that are specifically suited for APS-C bodies (in Nikon terminology: for the DX format) are few in number. Because the size of the series of such lenses is not that great, the development costs would weigh heavily on the price of such a lens. Those who are looking for a 400 mm small-frame equivalent lens for an APS-C body can also look at a 300 mm full-frame lens. Because with the DX format you only use the middle of the image circle, edge faults are automatically eliminated. The image quality thus increases.
That does not take away from the fact that full-frame (FX) lenses can be used on APS-C bodies. For photographers who have both an APS-C body and a full-frame body, it is an advantage that the lenses are interchangeable.
Construction Nikon 400 mm f/2.8 AF-S FL ED VR
The lens is designed for professional use, and that means a solid build with little plastic and a great deal of metal. Nikon talks about 16 elements in 12 groups (including 2 fluorite and 2 ED glass elements) plus a protective, meniscus-shaped glass element and 2 aspherical lens elements with a nano coating. It has a very nice tripod collar, which is also handy as a handgrip for carrying it. There is even an eye for a carrying strap. The front lens is so large that there are few filters that fit; therefore, there is a filter holder mounted on the back, where you can screw in filters of 40.5 mm. If you do not use a filter, then a clear glass element sits in the holder. You can remove that, but then the focus is not correct. Nikon even delivers, upon request, a polarization filter that can be shifted with a knob that is integrated into the lens. The electronically driven aperture (the reason for the 'E' in the nomenclature; the electronic drive is intended to make the use of teleconverters possible) has 9 lamellae for a beautifully round opening. The lens has a carbon filter of gigantic dimensions, which you can mount backwards during transport. On the front, a textile protective bag can be fitted. The entire thing is delivered in a beautiful case, unfortunately without wheels.
When you use a tripod, you absolutely must place that under the tripod collar and not under the body. Many APS-C bodies are made of plastic, and that will certain deform under the influence of the enormous weight of this lens.
For the purpose for which this lens is build, lightning-fast auto focus is a 'must'. Fast, but also accurate; the focal depth is small at this focal distance, after all. On both points, this 400 mm scored flawlessly in the practice test. You do not notice or hear that you are focusing, and the accuracy is perfect. In order to eliminate 'walking', you can limit the range of the AF. If there are front-focus or back-focus deviations, then most bodies offer the option of correcting for that. There is an AF Lock and an AF Memory Recall button for fixing the focal point or to return to a previous focal point.
The vibration reduction, according to Nikon, is good for about 4 stops. There are two setting options: 'normal' and 'sport'. You use the latter setting when you are moving the camera itself in order to follow your subject, a sort of 'panning' setting. From our measurements, it appears that with a shutter time of 1/30 of a second, you still get a sharp picture if you make use of image stabilization. From a tripod, a shot made with the same shutter time is even sharper.
VR and Sports VR
Framing and focusing with a telephoto lens is difficult, because the smallest movement of the photographer causes an enormous shift in the image. Sports photographers usually use very short shutter times in order to freeze the image. At short shutter times, you make sharper photos without image stabilization than with it. You see that in many graphs of our test results for the effectiveness of image stabilization of lenses. Nikon has come up with a very elegant solution for this: Sports VR: During focusing, the image stabilization of the Nikon 400 mm f/2.8 is on, so that you get a very quiet viewfinder image. When taking an action photo with Sports VR on, the image stabilization is briefly switched off, so that you retain the maximal sharpness. Above you can see a video from Nikon Asia, in which the operation of Sports VR is illustrated. While taking practice shots (shown here), it was indeed refreshing to use the Sports VR.
A lens with an effective focal distance of 600 mm is not immediately an ideal macro-lens. But it can serve, as evidenced by this shot: which is cropped a bit. Full aperture, 1/1250 by hand, ISO 3200. The shortest distance setting of the lens is 2.6 meters.
Vignetting, distortion, flare and chromatic aberration
Due to the enormous amount of glass, extreme telephoto lenses are more sensitive to flare than a standard lens. For that reason, large telephoto lenses always come with large sun caps. With this 400 mm, you get a carbon fiber sun cap that you can screw onto the lens backwards when not using it. With this lens, you will also not soon have trouble from flare or ghosts. We can be brief about vignetting, distortion, flare and chromatic aberration: they are as good as completely absent! The optical qualities of this lens are really exceptional, whereby we naturally have to note that this is the best but also the most expensive that Nikon has to offer. The bar is thus set very high.
With 1/2000 at f/6.3. Sharp down to the pixel level.
Nikon 400 mm f/2.8 AF-S FL ED VR Sharpness
We express sharpness in our testing as resolution, the number of line pairs per image height. This is very high for a lens of this focal distance, even at full aperture, and in both the corners and in the middle. The highest values are measured with stopping down 1 stop (f/4), as seen in the picture shown here. The decrease at f/11 (and higher) is caused by diffraction. The light, as it were, curls around the aperture and causes some quality loss. This is a physical phenomenon that occurs with all lenses.
The Imatest results for this lens are the best that we have found for a telephoto lens of 400 mm or more. That the score for resolution does not come out to 9.9 is probably caused by the enormous column of air that is found between the test card and camera in the testing. The same test card that gives you a frame-filling image when photographing with 35 mm focal length from a distance of 1 meter you shoot from a distance of 30 meters with a large telephoto lens, so that the contrast—and a measurement of resolution is a measurement of contrast—decreases.
|Bokeh (the quality of the blur) is seldom a problem at long focal points for this lens. Below, you see beautifully blurred backgrounds without frayed edges. The 9 lamellae guarantee that. |
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you store the files in the camera as jpg, where you have all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".