AF VR-Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 Zoom lens...continued 2

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by rarmstrong, Mar 8, 2009.

  1. Since last Summer, I have been using this lens for many subjects, mostly wildlife, both handheld and on a tripod. There has been a lot of discussion on this site about this lens and it's use for wildlife and action photography. This is an update of the information covered in the following threads...
    This is meant for those who are trying to decide if purchasing this lens is a wise decision. There is also an excellent, balanced review of this lens by Thom Hogan here...
    Most photographers who are interested in this lens are looking for a telephoto zoom that will allow enough reach to get them into bird or wildlife photography without breaking the bank. The price is reasonable at about $1500 for a high quality, well built Nikkor lens. Compare this to about $5000 for the Nikkor 200-400 mm AF-S VR Zoom, or about $8000 for the 500 mm f4 VR prime. There are some third party alternatives(such as the new 120-400 from Sigma), but these have some drawbacks, although they are less expensive.
    So, if you are interested, it is fair to know the downsides of this lens. First, and most important, this is not an AF-S lens. That means that it does not have an internal focusing motor and therefore relies on the motor in the camera for autofocus. If your camera does not have an internal motor(like the D40 and D60) this lens will not autofocus on your camera.
    However, the lens does have a "work-around" in the form of a focus limiting switch, that allows you to select the full range of focus(7.5 feet to infinity) or limit it to about 13.5 feet to infinity. By using the limiting switch, you limit the travel of the screw drive and increase the speed of the autofocus. Also, if you have an idea where your subject will be, you can pre-focus on something at that distance. Then, the lens has a short travel distance to acquire focus and is actually quite quick.
    Second, since this lens' aperture ranges from f4.5-5.6, it is not a very fast lens. This will limit it's use in low light such as early mornings and dusk, when some of the best light for wildlife photography exists.
    Still, it is a very usable lens for good light and even for motion under the right circumstances. I believe that it still represents a reasonable choice for those who can get close to their subjects or are shooting large wildlife from a distance. It is really sharp stopped down to f8 and pulled back some from 400 mm as the following shot demonstrates.
    I should also mention that it is not intended for use with teleconverters. This information is provided to assist those who may be starting their search for a lens like this one, so as not to have to repeat the hours of research that I did before I decided to buy it.
  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I'll point out the obvious: a slow 400mm, f5.6 lens that you need to further stop down to get great results is a major limitation.
    And not all alternatives are over $5000. Personally, I prefer the 300mm/f4 AF-S with an optional TC-14E II any day. Unfortunately, as a result of recent price hikes, the 300mm/f4 AF-S is now a $1350 lens, while I paid $900 for a gray-market version a few years ago.
    And both the 80-400 non-AF-S VR and 300mm/f4 AF-S use the same poorly designed tripod collar from Nikon.
  3. Thom Hogans review of this lens leads me to believe it's less than tack sharp over 300mmm, but his review of the 70-300 vr (latest version) seems sharp enough at the long end to consider it... anyone have an opinion on this, or preferably some user experience to second that motion? Any insight appreciated. - Gary
  4. Shun, thank you for adding the information about the 300 mm f4 with a TC-14E II. I think that is a very good alternative if you don't want the zoom. The tripod collar may not be as robust as it could have been, but it is functional with the lens mounted on a D300.
    It will be interesting to see if Nikon releases an updated AF-S version of this lens anytime soon. If so, with a decent price, it would be a great option.
  5. The above comment is actually mine made on my daughter's page by accident.
  6. I agree with Shun, esp. with the smaller aperture requiring stopping down to as small as f/8 to get best IQ. However, I 'd say the above summary of the 80-400mm VR is a fair statement, particularly Richard's comment that "it is a very usable lens for good light".
    Nikon desperately needs to add the SWM to this lens or manufacture a larger aperture version (think of the cost..........) to make it appeal to the likes of me. I never got past testing one in store and opted for a second hand AF-S 300mm/4 prime to use with TC's. Yes, the tri-pod colar is less than adequate but can be partially stabilised using my own patented method discussed here or you can by-pass home made remedies and purchase an inexpensive aftermarket collar replacement like the Kirk unit.
  7. The 70-300 AF-S VR is quite soft at 300mm and I'd expect the 80-400 to be much better. Here is a comparison I found on the net:
    I didn't find the 70-300's long end useful for more than 4x6's. The VR does work very well in this lens and I got some nice results shooting from a boat, in this situation the lens excelled. At 70mm is quite good but it's one big f/4.5 70mm lens... so...
    or manufacture a larger aperture version
    They already do. The 70-200/2.8 is 1-2 stops faster, and the 200-400/4 is one stop faster than the 80-400. If you want a 400/4 it's going to be quite big and expensive, and as a zoom, still bigger; no way around this.
  8. Matthew, I like your $3.00 stabilizer! Thanks for sharing. And, that is a nice comparison, Ilkka.
  9. I have had the 80-400mm VR for a number of years now, and I would describe it as a good general purpose lens. I replaced the tripod collar with a much more solid one from Kirk. It made a noticeable difference in sharpness when lens is mounted to a tripod.
    Kent in SD
  10. I had the 80-400mm for one day, returned it for the 300mm F4 with TC1.4. I thought the focus was unacceptapable for birds, unless they were paid to model ... Ray.
  11. Ray, the Pine Siskin above is my highest paid model, so far:)
  12. Nice photo Richard, that pose is something you can't pay for.......
  13. 2 1/2 years ago, I opted for the 300/4 AF-S with TC-14E over the 80-400 VR - and a TC-17EII quickly followed (useful only in good light though). Luckily, about 1 1/2 years later I received a 80-400 as well - and I use both regularly and about equally.
    I wish Nikon had decided to put VR into the 300 and had upgraded the 80-400 to AF-S. If they ever get around doing so, the problem will be that the current versions will be worth next to nothing, and the new ones can be expected to cost a few hundred dollars more than the current versions new.
    I have been looking at the upgrade options a lot lately, and must say that because of cost, they are pretty much limited to the 300/2.8 and the 200-400/4 - and here I am stuck with a similar dilemma as previously with the choice between 300/4 AF-S and 80-400.
    The 300/2.8 will need the TC-14E attached all the time for my kind of shooting - and how does IQ compare then to the 200-400/4? In addition, the 300/2.8 should still work with the TC-17EII and can be expected to still be useable with the TC-20EII to produce a 600/5.6. As a zoom, the 200-400/4 may not take any TC as good as the prime lens does - so maybe the TC-14E is the limit here - resulting in a 280-560/5.6. Again, the question is, how will the IQ compare to the 300/2.8 with TC-17/20? And then there are the situations were a zoom definitely comes in handy...
    So which one?
    One lens I am waiting for from Nikon is a 400/5.6 AF-S VR - but even it would only partially solve my troubles. And since there is a 200-400/4, I doubt that Nikon would produce a 400/4...
  14. How about the current line up of these:
    I use the 80-400VR and on a D3 it handles BIF and posed birds but you need to know the lens. I like the zoom for small birds at feeders or on some surface that is in the sun light. Shuns right the 80-400 is surpassed by the larger heavier faster primes that maybe he can afford and by the 300 f4 if you want a fixed lens.
    I can hand hold the D3 and 80-400 following BIF but when you add the bulk of the larger primes it gets very difficult
  15. Dieter, you have posted some excellent shots with the 80-400. I was very impressed by your surfing shot. Could you comment on how you felt about and handled the AF for that shot?
    I'm at your place concerning the frustration about longer, sharper glass with AF-S. James mentioned the 500 f4 VR above which I would love to buy, but I keep reminding myself that this is a hobby. I feel the pull to get that lens every time I read about it, though.
  16. I don't think the 2nd hand cost of the 300/4 AF-S would drop all that much if a VR version comes out - in Canon's case the old non-IS version of the 300/4 was found (by several people) to be superior wide open compared to the IS version. I am sure the opposite could also happen but really, the 300/4 AF-S is a great lens and it'll have its users even in the future. Actually I see the value of VR going down due to improvements in high ISO performance. However, if you want the highest quality pictures you use a tripod if at all possible; VR merely improves odds for a "reasonably sharp" picture, but a "tripod sharp" picture is a whole another thing.
    On the other hand I do see value in the addition of AF-S to the 80-400, and would consider that purchase if such a thing comes out. I guess we all have our favorite and not so favorite features.
  17. The other frustration is that for the price of a Nikkor 500 mm, f4 VR (about $8000) you could buy a new Canon EOS 5D MK II with a Canon EF 500 mm f4L USM lens(actually about $8500 for the pair). I was just browsing through the Adorama store this morning and was a bit surprised to find that. Almost makes you wonder about the advisability of considering both systems...Nikon and Canon. I'm sure that someone has an opinion about that issue.
  18. If you have a Canon 500/4 and a body to match it, and then a Nikon body with shorter lenses, the two bodies won't work as backups for each other (technically you could use an adapter on the Canon body and use Nikkosr but that's not a solution for all situations). In other words you'd have to travel with four bodies to be covered for body failure. Anyway, you can buy a 2nd hand 500/4 AF-S or AF-S II pre-VR for less money. I don't think VR is a necessity in such a lens that you would normally use from a tripod (hopefully a robust one). I am sure there is some benefit to the VR when using TCs on a DX body or when using a less stable platform such as a monopod, bean bag, or a lightweight tripod but if you're on a budget you can make do without the VR feature.
    If you want high-end autofocus on a Canon, it has to be a big and expensive 1-series body whereas a relatively low-cost D300 has Nikon's top-of-the-line autofocus plus operation at up to 8fps, and a higher pixel density than any of Canon's 1-series bodies. Thus it may be better suited to e.g. wildlife photography than the 1D Mk III and cost less. The items from Canon and Nikon rarely match 1:1 in features or quality.
    Why the lenses are more expensive, it could be that Nikon makes these superteles in smaller volume; the 200-400/4 is according to some statistics the best selling of Nikon's long lens repertoire. This is a lens Canon doesn't have. The zoom may reduce the sales of the prime teles and this way the production volumes may be small which means a higher price is needed to justify production. Or maybe Nikon simply can sell them at a higher price because of the practical and moderate-cost DX bodies like the D300.
  19. Believe Richard is refering to this shot, taken with a D300, 80-400 at 400, f5/6, 1/800s, ISO710 (Auto ISO), VR on, hand held:
    AF-C, dynamic area AF, 21 AF points - if I recall correctly. Shot taken about 1/2 hour before sunset. No problems acquiring focus or tracking surfers with the 80-400.
    I feel the pull to get that lens (500/4) every time I read about it, though.​
    Same here - but $8000 provides a mighty push against it.
    Almost makes you wonder about the advisability of considering both systems...Nikon and Canon.​
    This thought has certainly crossed my mind. Didn't consider the 5D MKII but the 40D at that time - now the 50D would enter the equation too. Actually have been in a store to handle the 400/5.6L on a 40D. The 400/4 DO also holds a lot of appeal. With the price differential between Nikon and Canon, this almost is a no-brainer - if it wasn't for the Canon camera. I don't like the handling of them at all and am not sure I could overcome my aversion.
    Just saw Ilkka's post - some very valid points in there.
  20. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Canon first introduced their 500mm/f4 IS lens (along with the 400mm/f2.8 and 600mm/f4) back in 1999. All of those are now 10-year-old designes. For whatever reason, Nikon super teles have always be more expensive, and currently it is exaggerated by the new versions of the AF-S VR models and the recent price hike.
    However, there are many other Nikon alternatives if you are willing to consider used. The excellent 300mm/f2.8 AF-S version 1 is now in the $2000 range used, the 500mm/f4 AF-S version 1 and version 2 are in the $5000 range in the used market. While I bought those new some 11 years ago, I am still using them on the D300 and D700 today.
  21. Excellent points, Shun and Ilkka. I'm happy that Dieter posted his surfing shot with comments about the AF(although for some reason the image won't come up on my computer). And, I noticed that James mentioned that he uses the 80-400 on his D3 for birds in flight and he said..."but you need to know the lens".
    My point is that I think some individuals have been afraid to purchase the 80-400 because of the negative comments about it's slow AF. I concede that it is slower than an AF-S lens, but the AF is very usable and quite reliable as long as you know the lens, use the focus limiting option and practice pre-focusing at the distance you feel your subject will appear.
    This has also allowed me to get some nice hand-held shots of a Blue Angels air show and Eagles and Herons in flight. The positive side of the lens is that it will produce beautiful sharp images. Given the price point, I really think the only other option is the non-VR 300 f4 AF-S with a TC-14E II
  22. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Dick, I don't mean to trash the 80-400, but it is way beyond the slow AF. Several creditable sources have pointed out that it is not that great at 400mm and its construction quality is not good. Similar to the 18-200mm AF-S DX, the 80-400 extends out 2 to 3 times from its minimum length. That kind of design is great for convenience but it is hard to keep the barrel absolutely straight.
    If you look at high-quality zooms such as the 70-200mm/f2.8 and 200-400mm/f4 AF-S VR. The length of the barrel is fixed and the zoom is internal. That is a far more solid design but of course the lens is always long.
    I have a friend who took his 80-400 to Africa and he dropped it inside a Land Rover type vehicle when it went over a bump(I wasn't there); his 80-400 immediately split in halves and was beyond repair.
  23. Shun, your points are well taken, and in fact what I am trying to present here is a balanced view of this lens so that other amatuers, like me, can easily find information here about what this lens can and can't do. It is just not for some people. And if I had an AF-S version or if I decided to spend the dollars to get a longer fixed AF-S tele, I would probably not use my 80-400 very much, if at all. I am truly pleased to find others on here that have used it well and have been able to get pleasing shots.
    That is really my only point. The price differential to step up to a new AF-S telephoto with VR is huge. The selling point for me was the high quality glass. Compared to the third party offerings(which are cheaper), the 80-400 was an easy choice.
  24. I just wanted to toss in my 2 cents.

    I recently picked up a 300 f/4 AiS (with a nice Nikon protection filter on it) for $600 at my local camera shop. I haven't had much chance to use it yet, but when playing around with it, I have been pretty impressed. Even though it does not have AF-S, it is still very fast focusing, and is a very sharp lens.

    I wanted to mention this, because it is a good alternative for those on a tighter budget.

    Note: From what I have read, the AiS version will also auto focus with teleconverters if you get the right one.
  25. Keith, since there never has been a 300/4 manual focus lens and you are obviously talking about an AF lens, I assume you mean the 300/4 AF IF-ED:
    I have this lens too - AF is slow, maybe even slower than the 80-400. BUT, the excellent focus limiter ring on the 300/4 IF-ED comes in really handy - it can be used to limit the lower focus limit to almost anywhere you want (or the upper, if you choose so). And I have used it together with a Kenko 1.5x teleconverter as well.
  26. Keith, sounds like a good deal and a real viable alternative, thanks!
  27. There are a couple of alternatives that have not been discussed. One is the new Sigma optically stabilized (OS) lenses including the 120-400 and 150-500. I have the 150-500. I bought it because I hoped the OS would allow hand held shots at long focal lengths. It does to some extent, but my experience suggests that consistent acquisition of good pictures at focal lengths over 300mm requires a tripod. On a tripod, the 150-500 requires a sturdy head especially at longer focal lengths. As the barrel extends, it changes the lens/camera weight balance and can result in vibrations during image capture. Remote or cable shutter release is also required. The lens is slow and performs best in good light conditions. After a little practice, the lens produces razor sharp images out to 500mm especially on a crop sensor body. I have also used the lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. The tele eliminates autofocus, but I have achieved some good results with this setup. On a crop sensor you can get an effective focal length of 1050mm.
    Another option is a used Nikon 300mm f/2.8. I purchased one on e-bay. They are routinely available between $1,500 to $2,500 depending on condition, model, etc. I have the ED-AF version, which was the first AF version before AF-I. I paid $1,130 and my copy is used, but very good. There is no on-lens autofocus motor. Autofocus can be slow, but autofocus speed is improved by focus limiters. This lens performs flawlessly. It maintains autofocus with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters. It is razor sharp. With a 2x tele and crop sensor body you can achieve an effective focal length of 900mm.
    For people on a budget looking to get long focal lengths, I would recommend a used 300/2.8 plus teleconverter and crop sensor body.
  28. On one hand - I really like the lens - it is nice to get close that long distance wildlife....
    On the other hand - I tend to agree with the comment in the Hitler D3 rant regarding this lens - something about a "makeover" and Rosie.
    I have learned that it is not fast enough focusing for sports (at least the way I have my body set up) nor is it "fast" enough apperature wise to allow available light shooting in the venues I visit... so sadly - it gathers dust a lot of the time.
  29. Has anyone compared this to the new Sigma APO 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM? Does the HSM approach an AF-S in a Nikkor? Also, it apparently works with Sigma's optical 1.4x EX DG APO or 2x EX DG APO Tele Converters.
    Sigma also has an APO 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM for not much more. You give up some speed for length.
    I'm hoping someone has done a thorough pros and cons comparison of these to the AF VR-Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6. Also, is there ANY chance an AF-S version will be available any time soon?
  30. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    "I'm hoping someone has done a thorough pros and cons comparison of these to the AF VR-Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6."​
    We have done that quite a few times in this very forum, including in this thread. I have four different Nikon teles from 300mm and up, all AF-S, but there are good reasons that I don't have the 80-400.
  31. Patrick, there is a lot of information out there about the Sigma 120-400, but I am not aware of a head to head comparison with the Nikkor 80-400. For my needs at the time, after reading about both lenses, the Nikon was the better choice for me and my budget.

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