Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S vs Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
The new Nikon 80-400mm VR is a much better lens than the old AF-D version of the 80-400mm. It has a very fast silent wave autofocus motor and its biggest advantage is versatility – being able to zoom from 80 to 400mm. On top of that, the Nikon 80-400mm VR can take teleconverters, as explained in my Nikon 80-400mm VR review.
Let’s take a look at how both lenses compare at 300mm first:
It is pretty clear that the Nikon 300mm f/4D is a sharper lens than the Nikon 80-400mm AF-S. The difference in center performance is not huge, but don’t forget that the Nikon 300mm f/4D is as old as the 80-400mm AF-D, roughly 13 years old. That’s why I have been waiting for an update to this lens – we need one designed for modern high-resolution sensors, which will surely be an extremely sharp lens. In this case, the 300mm f/4D is literally pushing the limits of its resolution on the Nikon D800E. But note how the 300mm f/4D performs in mid-frame and corners – it is much better in comparison, even wide open at f/4.
What happens if we attach the TC-14E II and compare the lens to the Nikon 80-400mm AF-S at 400mm? Here is the result:
At 420mm/400mm focal lengths, the Nikon 300mm f/4D is sharper at f/5.6 throughout the frame, but once stopped down to f/8 and smaller, both lenses are pretty close in sharpness. There is something important to note here though – the 300mm f/4D at 420mm provides a much narrower field of view, which is equivalent to roughly 500mm on the Nikon 80-400mm. So this is not an apples to apples comparison – the Nikon 300mm f/4D clearly gives you more reach with the TC-14E II at close distances.
The last case scenario is to compare both lenses with different teleconverters attached – TC-17E II on the 300mm f/4D and TC-14E II on the 80-400mm AF-S:
While both lenses take a serious hit in optical performance, the Nikon 300mm f/4D shows better overall sharpness at all apertures. The Nikon 300mm f/4D also starts out at a larger aperture of f/6.7 compared to f/8 on the 80-400mm.
I did not bother with testing the TC-20E III on the 300mm f/4 and 80-400mm VR, since AF is completely unusable and images are too soft on both.
Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S vs Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Conclusion
Although both lenses seem to perform well at 300mm and 420mm focal lengths when stopped down to f/8, as demonstrated in the above charts, I would still recommend the Nikon 300mm f/4D over the 80-400mm lens for two main reasons – autofocus performance/accuracy and better reach. Because of the lens breathing issue on the 80-400mm AF-S, the Nikon 300mm f/4D gives more reach with the TC-14E II attached, so 420mm on the 300mm f/4D is more like 500mm on the 80-400mm AF-S at short distances (this changes as the distance increases). Furthermore, the Nikon 300mm f/4D focuses instantly and accurately, with or without the TC-14E II teleconverter, whereas the Nikon 80-400mm hesitates and goes back and forth quite a bit, as explained earlier in this review.
I have been shooting with the 300mm f/4D for about 5 years now and having owned the lens for such a long time, I can say that I have never been disappointed with its optical or autofocus performance. It is a very lightweight lens that is easily hand-holdable and while its biggest weakness is lack of VR, it is still a phenomenal lens overall for photographing outdoor sports and wildlife. Just keep the shutter speed high and you will be in good shape! It does not have the versatility of a zoom lens like 80-400mm, but I personally don’t miss it, since I mostly use the longest end of the zoom range anyway, even with my Nikon 200-400mm VR lens.
Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR
The Nikon 200-400mm is another versatile Nikon zoom lens that many wildlife photographers love. I personally own one and it is a very sharp lens across its focal range, from center to corners. Just like the Nikon 80-400mm, it has a very effective VR system, Nano Coating and many other features found on professional Nikkor lenses. It goes really well with the Nikon TC-14E II, but I try to avoid other teleconverters, since its IQ is greatly affected by those.
Let’s take a look at how the two lenses compare at 400mm (420mm on the 300mm f/4D + TC-14E II):
The Nikon 200-400mm f/4G obviously outperforms the Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S + TC-14E II at 400mm throughout the frame. Center performance of the 200-400mm f/4G is excellent and reaches very high levels at f/5.6.
Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S vs Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR Conclusion
There is a reason why professional Nikkor lenses cost so much. The above comparison is an example of how a high-end professional lens typically performs when compared to enthusiast-level lenses. I did not bother comparing the two lenses with TC-14E and TC-17E II teleconverters attached, because the 200-400mm would look much better in comparison, considering how much the performance of the 300mm f/4 drops with the TC-17E II attached. Aside from heavy weight, the biggest downside of the 200-400mm is its autofocus accuracy problems at long ranges. It focuses amazingly fast and accurate at short ranges without any hesitation, but its AF accuracy can get tricky when photographing distant subjects.
Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S vs Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II + TC-20E III
Those that already own the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens might wonder how it would perform with the TC-20E II when compared to the Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S with the TC-17E II. The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II is a versatile lens and goes really well with the TC-14E II and TC-17E II teleconverters, maintaining fast autofocus speed and excellent AF accuracy. With the TC-20E III, the lens starts out soft wide open, but gets fairly sharp at f/8. However, keep in mind that there is a full stop difference between the two lenses, which will obviously affect the depth of field and subject isolation capabilities of the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II + TC-20E III combo.
If you want to get the best sharpness, the Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S will give much better results and maximum reach compared to the 70-200mm VR II.