400mm f/3.5 AI-s on modern DSLRs

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by fluppeteer, Sep 13, 2010.

  1. Hi all. I'm curious about how the 400 f/3.5 behaves on a modern DSLR. Specifically, Bjørn raises concerns about chromatic aberration on a D200/D2x, but I'm unclear whether this refers to lateral chromatic aberrations (which a more modern body would fix automagically, and which is trivial to correct in post) or longitudinal chromatic aberration (which is harder to hide - I consider the bokeh to matter for a lens of this specification).

    Anyone tried such a combination? It may be the nearest to a 400 f/2.8 I'd be able to afford in the forseeable future - not that I'm shopping just yet - and for portraits and some wildlife I might get away without needing AF and VR. I'm thinking mostly full-frame (D700), if that makes a difference. I'm not expecting sharpness to match the 400 f/2.8 VR, but I'll take what I can afford. Or at least, not afford, but by less. Thanks in advance.
  2. Just to clarify, if the "AI-s" wasn't sufficient: I'm talking about the ED-IF version. I'd expect trouble from the pre-ED lens.
  3. I bought a 500 f4 P a few years ago. It wasn't much more than the 400 f3.5 and it had better reviews and meters with cheap cameras.
  4. Thanks, Walt - I'll watch the market prices. I'd been thinking I'd prefer the speed to the length (and I'd prefer a new 400 f/2.8 to a 500 f/4), but maybe once I'm down to f/3.5 I'd rather have the physical aperture. Besides, I'm already looking at a 200 f/2 + teleconverter combo, so a separate 500mm may be better than an alternative 400mm. Can you comment on the bokeh and whether the chromatic aberrations are primarily lateral or whether there's any detectable longitudinal (colour bokeh fringing)? Bjørn seems to suggest the former by claiming they're correctable.
  5. I own this lens, but do not use it very often with my D 300 and D 300s. I will be glad to post a JPEG taken with the lens at f 3.5 or whatever f stop you want if that will help you. Just so you know my raw processor is Nikon capture NX2 and it might automatically correct for the aberrations you were referring to. When I used this lens a lot in my film days it was a very sharp lens.
    Joe smith
  6. I normally don't shoot objects on white backgrounds where I might see purple fringing so honestly I don't worry about CA that much. Maybe I should test it and try to correct for the minor amount that Bjorn says is there but I've never bothered. I am concerned about bokeh and I think the 500 f4 P is pretty good in that regard. I'll post a few images.
    Have you looked at KEH? I just checked the manual focus inventory and they have bargain grade versions of the 400 f2.8, 400 f3.5, 500 f4, and 600 f4 all for under $2000. I'm actually kind of tempted to pick up a 400 f2.8 but I bought a 200-400 f4 VR last year so my 500 f4 doesn't get as much use these days.
  7. a second image, not sure why I was shooting at f13 but the bokeh still looks good
  8. I have used this lens on the D200 and D300.Over the years I've been tempted to sell it but then I take a few images with it and fall in love with it all over again. The image quality and sharpness is outstanding. I also have an AF ED 300 2.8 and with a lot of comparision testing I struggle to find any difference in the images. I highly recommend it.
    I have had it serviced recently so this may have a lot to do with the perfect condition of the glass. I think it's the Ai version. I will attach an image of the lens and some samples.
    Gary Naka likes this.
  9. Here is a picture of my neighbour's tree in the afternoon sun. Taken with the D200.
  10. Opps better resize...
  11. Also no tripod was used with any of the above shots...I was lazy that day.
  12. Found this one as well taken on the same day. Sadly the old girl passed away 2 months ago.
    See the granny hairs under her chin....he he.
  13. Of course the images look a lot sharper BEFORE I down sized them. It truly is a lovely lens.
  14. at....Laguna Seca
    My 400mm F3.5 AIS works great with either my D200 (here) or D700...have to disagree with Bjorn on this one.
  15. Asking both for the original poster and out of curiousity--would any AI-s lens autocorrect CA? I was thinking that only newer chipped glass that can identify itself to the body would gain that feature.
  16. Wow - thanks, everyone. Neither lens seems to have the visible LoCA of the 135 DC, which saves one concern. Not that I'm ready to go shopping yet, but I'll keep an eye out for both the 400 f/3.5 and 500 f/4.

    Walt - I'd not checked KEH; good thought. (I tend not to think of them because I'm in the UK, but I'll bear them in mind.) I certainly don't care about the cosmetics of the lens - in fact, both my 135 f/2.8 AI and my F5 are deliberately beaten-up, in the hopes nobody would try to steal them - so maybe I can reach to an f/2.8 after all.

    Kelly: sweet picture of Ellie May. Sorry for your loss.

    Andrew: that's a good point. I'd been thinking that the newer cameras autodetect lateral chromatic aberration, but you're quite right that they may just have a list of corrections to apply. Actually, I usually shoot raw, so my concern is whether any chromatic aberration is lateral and therefore can be automatically corrected, as opposed to longitudinal (which can't), rather than whether the camera will do it for me. I assume the 500 f/4 P would be corrected in-camera, but you're probably right about the 400 f/3.5 - the problem with posting after a long day is that I tend to talk gibberish. Still, I'd like to know the answer to what I meant, if not what I asked! (To an extent, the posted images tell me what I need to know, although if anyone's got a crop lying around...)
  17. As an aside, can anyone tell me whether I'd be right in suspecting that trap focus on the current DSLR range would work with a 500 f/4 P because it's chipped, but not with a 400 f/3.5? (I know it works with AF-s lenses and not with my 135 f/2.8 AI, but I've not heard a conclusion about P lenses.) It might be a deciding factor between options. Cheers.
  18. Good contributions so far, I see.
    I concur with Bjorn Rorslett: I am not happy with my 400/3.5 on the D200. Green left, Magenta right.. Overall softness results - but that happens with many older lenses on that camera. D300 is much better already. Still love the lens, though..
  19. Albin - thank you, that does sound like a lateral chromatic aberration, which ought to be relatively easy to fix in the lens correction filter of Photoshop. That alleviates my primary worry with any big and fast glass.
  20. ..And now that the D7000 is announced with full AI compatibility, there's one more camera body to consider using on the old tele's. Another thing to consider though, is the small viewfinder. Not always easy to judge your manual focusing.
  21. One more picture with my 400mm f3.5 AI-S lens and D300 (wide open). I´m very very pleased with picture result. A grate lens!
  22. Here is the full frame of a shot taken with a D90 and the 400mm. It's shot wide open with 2x TC (i.e. 800mm f7), which is how I typically use this lens. Focussing is not easy at 800mm; I think the tail is in focus.
  23. Sometimes I use my TC14B and result is grate too. With the TC301 2X is more difficult to achieve focus and tripod is allways very important. Any way it is an excelent lens!
  24. 400mm f3.5 edif ais with TC 300 on D3, monopod with ISO 800 and lots of sun, 800mm total FL, this is a crop
    [​IMG] and the full frame [​IMG]
  25. Hi. This is nearly a year later but I notice that it's still the first thread that appears in search engine lists, so having spent a lot of time behind the 400 f3.5 I thought I'd clarify a few points. Sorry about the no formatting, but it just refuses to happen.

    The report by Bjorn Rorslett is technically correct but overstates things in the reading by most people. The problematic fringing is not lateral in the normal sense of an out-of-register colour shift that can be rectified by rescaling one channel. It is the 'longitudinal' that causes magenta-green fringing of high contrast highlights, both in and out of focus. I find it insignificant or invisible with my D300s.

    I also use the lens with the Canon 5D2, and the weaker anti-aliasing filter and larger file on that camera shows up the colour fringing to a noticable extent, eg. when shooting through foliage to a white sky. It is absent or nearly so with the 500mm f4 P.

    It is removed in PS by selecting the relevant areas of the image and applying strong colour noise reduction combined with no luminance noise reduction and a small amount (25%-ish) of detail enhancement. It's important to select the offending areas only, as strong CNR won't distinguish fringing from any small colour details. Red stems of eucalypt leaves tend to go grey!

    So why use an old manual focus 400mm f3.5? The reason is that it has a unique suite of attributes and although it was a tragedy that Nikon didn't produce an AF version, it's viewfinder image is so bright and sharp that you can see the critical point of focus for manual focus. I've found no statistically significant difference between the success rates with this lens and current AF Nikon and Canon teles on AF. MF is unreliable on lesser lenses with today's high res sensors. Trying to snag that exact point of focus by MF on even a good slower lens like the 400 f5.6 IFED, or by AF on slow tele zooms produces a lower success rate.

    The lens is fast, compact, relatively lightweight (certainly lighter than the f2.8) and phenominally sharp. It is noticably sharper than the 500mm f4 P in the centre, and is in a different universe in the periphery, and without any darkening. It's also short enough and fast enough to be used effectively with the TC16AF, giving a relatively compact 640mm f5.6 approx with as fast an AF-with-manual-overide as you'll probably ever experience.

    I get a much better batting average (strike rate for you baseball fans!) with this lens than any tele zoom with AF and VR/IS. Why is such speed and sharpness useful?

    1.For fast shutter speeds, obviously. This makes for very sharp detail - you can see the difference with high res sensors between 1/1000 and 1/2000th. VR can never achieve that level of sharpness, and what if the subject moves?

    2.And fast ISO. The lens is so sharp that the texture of fur or feathers masks the grain of the D300 at 3200ISO, and it's a simple matter of selecting the out of focus areas in PS and applying NR to those, to produce wildlife shots with a three dimensional clarity. With a lens this sharp, you can routinely shoot at 1600ISO on DX, giving you high shutter speeds in even nice subdued light that produce the sharpness needed to mask that noise.

    3. To use teleconverters. As noted, the lens has the reserve of sharpness to produce finely detailed files with the TC14b that compare with longer primes. The 400mm f3.5 with a TC300 (800mm f6.3-ish) is sharper than the 500mm f4 P with TC14b (700mm f5.6-ish). It is sharp enough to produce sharp images with the otherwise lacklustre TC16AF. I've tried that converter on a host of top class lenses and the only two with the extra bite to get nicely sharp images with it were the 400mm f3.5 and the Carl Zeiss (Blad) 250mm Sonnar (but the latter is too slow for reliable AF).

    These were not run of the mill lenses in their time. Based on annual salaries, mine cost me about $28000 second hand in today's money. Now you can buy these lenses for about the same as a new Bigma or 80-400 or whatever, but anyone who thinks small-aperture AF and VR will deliver images as powerful should try one of these old gems.
    Gary Naka likes this.
  26. I will be using the 400/3.5 extensively on DX or FX
    during the next 11 months in Africa - I will report
    back later.
  27. I'm jealous already, Albin. Be very careful to nail the focus. It's easy to think it's in focus because it looks nice, but get into the habit of really looking hard to percieve that extra little bit of perfection, because when you view on the computer, that is focus. It's easy to be disappointed, especially hand holding.
    You probably know, but bracketting focus is not a bad technique:
    1. Focus as best you can
    2. Note the amount you can shift focus without the image going soft
    3. With the fastest setting, press off a burst of frames while tweaking the focus just that amount, without straying out of that range of apparent focus.
    At least one of those shots will be sharp! (And something interesting might happen during the burst anyway.)
    Focus is much more critical with today's high res cameras. I can see perfect focus on a Nikon D300 focusing screen when I concentrate hard, iffy on Canon 5d2, and not at all on Olympus E520.
    Stopping down a bit gives you a tiny margin for error but don't rely on it.
    Anyway, I just came back in case someone had a question. Have a great trip and make some great images.
  28. Thank you for your reaction and advice, Wayne. I
    will try your trick. Am looking forward using the old
    favorite again!
  29. Another improvement is to fit an eyepiece magnifier - the little ones that enlarge the view but you can still see the whole screen (not the telescope-style one that magnifies only the centre). That helped me more than a Katzeye.
    Nikon make one that should fit the Fuji (but check). Mine says DK21M. Or Tenpa make a couple, one at 1.22x and one at 1.36x. I'd say the stronger for DX. They're inexpensive by photography standards.
    I might add this to the forum, as it really helps manual focus with the modern cameras. Good luck at 800mm - that's pushing things! I prefer a modified TC16AF - faster, easier to handle, a tad sharper, good quick AF, and 640mm compared with 800mm is not a lot of cropping.
    But if it works, good for you!
  30. With my particular 400mm f3.5 and teleconverters (TC14, 300, 200, 16) I do not get great shots at long distances, they are good shots but not great. At short distances I get fantastic shots!. Here is the Lens with a TC 300 and with 100% crop samples, on a D3, seems equally sharp on DX. These are focused by eye on the focus screen, at this focal length 800mm it is obvious when you are in focus. Also this posting reduces photo sizes, click through to the originals on flickr.
  31. I just ordered a "bargain" 400 / 3.5 from KEH and will be trying it on a M4/3's Panasonic G1. It will be interesting to see how it performs. The 400 will be effectively 800 with no TC. Also picked up a Kirk King Cobra gimble to try out. I currently have a Canon FD 300mm 2.8 that works well.
  32. well I have a few shots from the 400 on my GH1....... monopod so a little shaky.....
    Think that I'll keep it and test against my Canon FD 300 2.8
  33. See this sample with the tc16A modified electronically to work on a D800 and the 400mm 3.5
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
  34. So the Old Thread has be re-awakened! :)
    As announced somewhere up in this thread, I have been travelling for 10+ months in Africa 2011-2012 and have indeed used the 400/3.5 extensively, always on D300. Because the D200 didn't do well generally on older lenses (lateral CA green/magenta and focusing issues).

    Conclusions? The old 400 is certainly useable on the D300 and can produce very satisfying results. For many 'safari' purposes (animal photography from a car) it was often too long on the DX sensor. For birds is was good.
    BUT.. Focusing the lens manually is hard work. So much so that it often distracts from the image making. And although I am rather good at MF, I missed many a shot because of it. Autofocus certainly got higher marks on my overall wish list, during the trip!
    BUT.. the lens has been a travel companion for many (15) years now and is dear to me..
    Impala in Vwaza NP Malawi with Nikkor 400/3.5 - all copyrights Albin Hunia
  35. Yesterday I took the 'trouble' (tells you something about my current photography intensity) to put the 400/3.5 on the D800. I wasn't disappointed. Focusing was relatively easy (after the D300). Image sharpness and contrast were pleasant using f8. F11 was slightly softer. No results at open apertures and with teleconverters yet.
    Color fringing was acceptable to me. All-in-all, the lens might see some serious future use on full-frame!
  36. Image added - should tell us more than just words.
    Casual image of a Great Tit with D800 (ISO 400) 400/3.5 + TC300 2x teleconverter.
    No additional sharpening.
    Focusing is do-able, but requires attention, just as with the D300 (smaller viewfinder and sensor).
  37. Thanks for these posts, Albin. As cameras get better, lenses of the finest calibre just keep getting better results with them!
    While you're going up in sensor size and focal length, I've been using the 400mm f3.5 in the other direction. When I need longer focal lengths, I've found I'm just as well off using the same lens and a smaller, denser sensor.
    I now use the Nikon 1 V1 with FT-1 adapter in preference to really long lenses on bigger cameras. I've found by testing, that the little V1 actually records more detail in a subject that you can't get any closer to.
    I should clarify, though, that this is the only scenario in which the V1 betters a bigger camera. If you can fill the bigger frame, of course it will be better.
    A 300mm lens gives the same angle of view on CX as a 800mm lens does on FX. The 400mm is just over 1000mm equivalent. I have a few big lenses and teleconverters, and have tried them all, but for the best balance of reach/detail and handling, I've found the 400mm f3.5 with a TC14b is the best (not quite 1500mm).
    So the old girl lives on, in fact more useful than ever. And yes, I can reliably manually focus her on the EVF of the Nikon V1, which still surprises me. I don't even need the magnified view.
    Nikon got something right with that EVF. I also have a NEX-7, and while the 400 is razor sharp on that camera, I need the magnified view to confirm focus.
    Will post a V1 example when I make one I own copyright to. Meanwhile, keep shooting with that fine old lens.
  38. WOW, incredible. I have a superb, near mint condition 400mm f3.5 in my t-shirt drawer, lol. I use it when I need to and
    after seeing these shots with the D800, unbelievable detail from that old dog! Thanks for posting this.
  39. Ominous image, Rafael Batlle - please give us some technical details to learn from!
  40. It is just the demolition of the Chula Vista Power plant near San Diego California, it was imploded early in 2013, you could not be very close to the explosions, so I had the 400mm on a D3 on a Tripod, there was enough light so it was taken at f8 for depth of field.
  41. Nice ones, Ram. The iguana is impressive.
    I promised in May that I'd post examples (but I haven't figured out quite how to do it!) of the 400mm f3.5 IFED with the little Nikon V1 CX camera, with its 2.7x crop factor, and FT-1 lens adapter.
    Exposure and diaphragm work fine with the FT-1.
    Note that this is using a tiny, very dense sensor, demanding very high resolution from the centre of the image.
    It's also increasing magnification, so image stability is critical, as is focus. These were focussed by the EVF, which is difficult to use on flighty subjects. Setup was on a tripod in a hide.
    As stated previously, this camera only has an advantage if you can't get any closer to fill a bigger frame. At 10mp, it's about like a 34mp DX camera cropped, or I'd guess about a 70mp full frame camera cropped.
    With that comes grain and lower dynamic range, but not quite as bad as digiscoping with a point and shoot.
    You can say the 35mm equivalent is 1080mm, but that's a bit misleading, because it's really still a 400mm lens. A 1080mm lens of the same sharpness on a D800 would give a rather higher fidelity image!
    Depth of field is also still of a 400mm lens. However, effective speed is much slower than f3.5, considering that the little V1 maxes out at 400ISO, and you really need to keep it down to 100ISO for crisp results.
    But the images are fine to at least A4 on paper and any electronic display. It has its uses when you really can't get any closer, and that 1000mm lens doesn't happen to be in your backpack!
    Apologies for nonworking links. I'm not a photo.net expert.
  42. I just made the "FIRST" video about this lens. I was using it some 15 years ago
    now i own one
    "must own" GIANT NIKKOR. 400mm f3.5 First Video of this lens!
  43. Thought I'd give a little update to this thread for 2016. The 400mm f3.5 IFED remains an excellent tool on modern cameras. In fact I haven't found a better wildlife lens under about five grand. The lens keeps getting better with the new technology:
    1. Fast frame rates of 8fps+ allow for focus bracketing on the fly. I get more keepers manually focusing this way on small woodland birds than with my $3000 autofocus lens, which often gets tricked by contrasty foregrounds and backgrounds. Mirrorless bodies have even faster frame rates, but more difficult manual focusing on the fly (better manual focus for set up shots, though);
    2. High resolution, giving the prime a zoom potential. I mean that on a 24mp camera, one can crop to 6mp and still have a fine image for publication or a normal-sized print, making the lens a 400-800mm zoom (this only works with very sharp lenses);
    3. Auto chromatic aberration correction in camera, and/or in software on the computer, which removes normal CA - it just disappears. The magenta/green thing on highlighted out of focus objects remains, and sometimes needs handwork;
    4. In-body image stabilisation (IBIS), which brings that wonderful IS technology to this and other older lenses. True, Nikon bodies don't have IBIS, but Pentax bodies do, as well as many mirrorless cameras.
    I'm currently using a Nikon D7100 and a Pentax K20D with my 400mm f3.5 IFED for small birds and am pleased with the results. The Pentax is a 2008 model, bought cheap as an experiment, so it’s by no means the latest tech. A K3 or K3 II would be better, with resolution and frame rate comparable to Nikon, and a claimed improved SR (Shake Reduction - Pentax's IBIS).
    I mount the lens on the Pentax with an adapter that has lens elements (for infinity focus). They have no effect on optical quality - sharpness or any other aspect, which surprised me. They do have an unexpected effect, though - the adapter acts like a 1.4x teleconverter! And a good one! On the Pentax, the 400mm becomes more like a 560mm f4.5 lens - hardly a disadvantage for bird photography.
    I put a 70-300 VR or 120-300 f2.8 OS on whatever body I'm not using with the 400mm at the time, and have most situations covered – 70mm to 300mm and 400mm f3.5 (more often set to f4) on the D7100, and around 560mm f4.5 on the Pentax. Slower lens speed, but with IBIS allowing reliable hand holding down to 1/250th or slower with a bit of luck (not bad considering it’s over 800mm full frame equivalent angle of view/magnification). That's about two stops better than the unstabilised Nikon, which is a stop faster (because of the adapter on the Pentax).
    So all up, a one stop advantage to the Pentax for handholding, which is significant given shake can appear at 1/500th without it, but the birds can often be stopped at 1/250th. Image quality (feather detail) is identical with the two bodies, because while the image is bigger on the Pentax, the D7100 has higher resolution. If the Nikon image is cropped down to match, it is 15.3 megapixels, roughly matching the Pentax's 14.5mp. Native noise levels at 800iso (in raw) are also identical. I use a preset in ACDSee which cuts the noise but retains sharpness and detail – I can’t use it with lesser lenses because the NR algorithm can’t find enough edge to leave alone, resulting in the usual watercolour mush.
    To summarise, the Nikon body has the higher resolution and frame rate, and auto diaphragm, and the Pentax has longer focal length and image stabilisation (and better light metering, by the way). Now that I know it works so well, I may jump to a K3 to take full advantage of the SR and focal length, only losing the auto diaphragm, which is unimportant when shooting wide open or at f4.
    I've tried many solutions for wildlife photography (which I do full time), but keep coming back to my old 400mm f3.5 IFED, purchased in the 1980's. It performs better now than it ever did on the film bodies for which it was made. Like all genuinely fine things, it just keeps getting better.
    1. Nikon lens, Pentax body – yellow robin nice and sharp at 800iso.
    2. Virtually identical image detail between the D7100 and Pentax K20D at 800iso, same lens and distance, with the Nikon image strongly cropped. A K3 with the adapter would have an advantage.
    3. 400mm with Pentax and adapter, compared to a 500mm f4 that gives a wider field of view on the Nikon body, and is a cumbersome beast. The 400/Pentax combo makes for a compact, hand-holdable, stabilised, fast long tele rig.
    4. Closer of the adapter (a very cheap and good 1.4x teleconverter!).
    Brendan Bell likes this.
  44. The Pentax combi stabilised mmm? That is a
    remarkable asset.
  45. Allow me to correct something I wrote earlier:
    "3 Auto chromatic aberration correction in camera, and/or in software on the computer, which removes normal [lateral] CA - it just disappears. The magenta/green thing on highlighted out of focus objects remains, and sometimes needs handwork."
    NX-D has an "Axial Colour Aberration" control, and that magenta-green thing also just disappears, but with a slight cost in overall saturation.
    So the line should read, "Auto chromatic aberration correction in camera, and/or in software on the computer, which removes all CA - it just disappears."
    Technology marches on and the result is that the old 400mm f3.5 IFED keeps marching in step with it!

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