Nikon 80-400mm VR Review

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On March 5 of 2013, Nikon released the AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR, the long awaited update to the 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR that was released over 13 years ago as Nikon’s first lens to sport image stabilization (Vibration Reduction) technology. I have been impatiently waiting for this lens update for quite some time now for a number of reasons. First, it is the only Nikon budget lens that can reach 400mm focal length without teleconverters. Second, it is a very versatile lens with a huge zoom range, which can be quite useful for outdoor sports and wildlife photography. Third, it is a relatively lightweight lens one could hand-hold for extended periods of time, especially when compared to any of the Nikon super telephoto lenses. And lastly, the old Nikon 80-400mm VR had a very slow autofocus motor and it was almost unusable for anything that moves, making the Nikon 300mm f/4D pretty much the only “budget” telephoto choice. So this much-needed, long overdue update was certainly welcomed by many of us Nikon shooters.

Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

I did not want to rush with this Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR review, because I wanted to make sure that I test every aspect of the lens and fully understand its advantages and disadvantages, especially when compared its older sibling. Personally, I never liked the old Nikon 80-400mm lens (more on this below), so aside from finding out how it fared optically, my main goal was to evaluate the new 80-400mm for serious wildlife work. My Nikon 300mm f/4D is also long overdue for a replacement and its lack of VR makes it tough to use it in low-light conditions. The new 80-400mm looked very promising when I looked at its impressive MTF charts, so my first objective was to see if the 80-400mm could replace my aged 300mm f/4D lens (which I love and use all the time when travelling). I also wanted to compare the lens against my Nikon 200-400mm f/4G, with and without teleconverters. The ability to use teleconverters on the new 80-400mm sounded quite intriguing.

Nikon 80-400mm AF-S Sample

NIKON D7100 + 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 550mm, ISO 720, 1/1000, f/10.0

By now, I am happy to say that I have thoroughly examined this lens in various conditions and having spent close to three months with two separate lens samples, I now have a pretty good idea about its performance characteristics. In this review, I will be comparing the Nikon 80-400mm VR to the older AF-D version, as well as other lenses like Nikon 300mm f/4D, Sigma 50-500mm OS and Nikon 200-400mm VR.

1) Lens Specifications

Main Features:

  1. Up to 4 stops of image stabilization compensation with the Vibration Reduction II technology
  2. The ultimate medium to super-telephoto zoom lens with a versatile zoom range of 80-400mm
  3. 4 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass elements for maximum sharpness and minimum chromatic aberration
  4. Nano Crystal Coat (N) reduces ghosting and lens flare
  5. Silent Wave Motor (SWM) provides ultra-fast, ultra-quiet autofocusing with seamless manual focus override
  6. Internal Focusing (IF) lens construction, which means that the lens does not change in size during AF operation
Nikon 80-400mm Sample (10)

NIKON D800E + 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 120mm, ISO 220, 1/250, f/5.6

Technical Specifications:

  1. Focal length: 80-400mm
  2. Maximum aperture: f/4.5-5.6
  3. Minimum aperture: f/32-40
  4. Lens construction: 20 elements in 12 groups (with 4 ED and Nano Crystal Coat-deposited lens elements)
  5. Picture angle: 30°10′ – 6°10′ (20° – 4° with Nikon DX format)
  6. Closest focusing distance: 5.74 ft. (1.75m)
  7. No. of diaphragm blades: 9
  8. Filter/attachment size: 77mm
  9. Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): Approximately 95.5 x 203mm
  10. Weight: Approximately 1570g

Nikon 80-400mm AF-S VR Sample

Detailed specifications for the lens, along with MTF charts and other useful data can be found in our lens database.

Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G VR Sample

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