Nikon 180-400mm f/4E VR vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR II
First, we will take a look at how the lens compares to its predecessor at the same focal lengths:
At 200mm, the new Nikon 180-400mm f/4E looks noticeably sharper compared to its predecessor, especially wide open. Note differences in corner performance as well, with the 180-400mm looking much better at all apertures.
Zoomed in to 300mm, the performance differences are there, but only wide open. Stopped down to f/5.6, the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G shows excellent sharpness that almost matches the sharpness of the 180-400mm f/4E lens. The only area where the 200-400mm f/4G cannot truly catch up is the corner sharpness.
Lastly, at 400mm, the Nikon 180-400mm f/4E once again shows better wide-open performance. However, the two lenses are nearly identical in center sharpness when stopped down to f/5.6. It is important to note that while the sharpness of the 200-400mm f/4G looks impressive, all images captured at maximum aperture (f/4) show visibly reduced contrast compared to f/5.6. The Nikon 180-400mm f/4E does not show the same problem – its contrast is very high, even at maximum aperture.
How do these lenses compare when using the 1.4x teleconverter?
Interestingly, my sample of the 200-400mm f/4G lens showed very similar performance degradation with the Nikon TC-14E III, as the Nikon 180-400mm f/4E lens did with its built-in teleconverter. I expected the sharpness difference to be bigger. Although I probably ended up with a very good copy of the TC-14E III that coupled extremely well with the 200-400mm lens, field use showed a different story in terms of autofocus performance. The inferior autofocus motor of the 200-400mm f/4G coupled with a full stop of light with the TC resulted in AF accuracy issues, whereas the 180-400mm did not seem to suffer as much in comparison.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E VR vs Nikon 400mm f/2.8E VR
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR compares to the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens at 400mm:
As expected, the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E VR is a significantly sharper lens when it is stopped down to f/4. Wide-open, both lenses are quite similar, but look at the difference at f/4 and f/5.6 apertures – it is a night and day difference in center sharpness.
Here are both lenses when using them with 1.4x teleconverters:
The differences are pretty clear – the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E VR is a much better candidate to shoot with when coupled with the 1.4x teleconverter. It is significantly sharper wide open, and even better when stopped down to f/5.6.
A similar sharpness comparison can be made with other Nikon super-telephoto primes like the 500mm f/4E FL ED VR or the 600mm f/4E FL ED VR, both of which offer better sharpness at all apertures and when used in combination with the TC-14E III teleconverter.
While it is expected that such prime lenses as the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E VR and 500mm f/4E VR are going to easily beat the 180-400mm f/4E VR zoom in sharpness, let’s not forget about the differences in versatility – the primes obviously cannot offer shorter focal lengths, so their use can be limiting in some situations.
As I have already pointed out earlier, there is always going to be a trade-off between versatility and sharpness when choosing between super-telephoto primes and zooms like the 180-400mm f/4E. So choose lenses according to your needs.
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