Nikon 80-400mm/f4.5-5.6 AF-S VR, Early Impressions

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by shuncheung, Jul 4, 2013.

  1. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    It took them quite a while, but Nikon USA finally shipped me a 80-400mm AF-S VR for testing. As people know, I think its $2700 price tag is very high. Hopefully it will gradually drift down to the low $2000 range.
    Otherwise, I am very happy with it after a couple of days. Sharpness is excellent at 400mm, f5.6, on the D7100 and D800E. Like the 70-200mm/f4 AF-S VR, VR works great and I can get quite sharp images at 400mm and down to 1/60 sec hand held (provided that there is no subject motion, of course).
    I intend to compare it against the 200-400mm/f4 AF-S VR, 300mm/f4 AF-S with the TC-14E and 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S VR with the TC-20E III.
    00bnh5-541171184.jpg
     
  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Nikon picks a very strange location to put the serial number. It is hard to find.
    Also, this lens is made in Japan.
    00bnh6-541171284.jpg
     
  3. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Pixel-level crop at 400mm, f5.6 and 1/60 sec with VR, D7100 @ ISO 100.
    Chromatic aberration is very well controlled. There is no bleeding from the red area to the white area.
    00bnh8-541171384.jpg
     
  4. after using this lens on a trip to the hills, my 200-400 is going down the road. But then again, we all have different needs and purposes. Mine right now is weight and size - subject matter is irrelevant.
     
  5. Shun, how is the max length compare between 80-400 and 200-400....using a tripod and faster shutter ? Just curious. Thanks for the comparison photo.
    Les
     
  6. looking forward to the review
     
  7. So am I! My current "usual" lens is the 70-300 VR. It's served me very well--and I can get sharp photos with it using my D7100--but I could use the extra reach for small birds and would like to own a lens that's a step up in quality from my current batch.
    I've read other reviews of the 80-400, but I am very curious about your take on it, Shun, especially before I seriously consider plunking down that much money. (If the lens were $2k, I would not be hesitating nearly as much as I am now.)
     
  8. Also looking forward to the review.
    Nothing seems to be getting cheaper, at least not very quickly.
     
  9. If this lens was $2,000, I wouldn't need a review. I would have already bought it.
    Kent in SD
     
  10. I have to say that I am surprised that there are so many complaints on the price. If the AF-S 80-400 had come with an initial price of $1999.99, it might still have AF-S but then the optics would be so-so and give a lot of room for complaints. I think the lens is priced fairly relative to other lenses on the market, according to its features and quality. The initial price will be reduced by e.g. 10-15% over the first year or so, as does the price of pretty much every new and much awaited Nikkor for which there has been built up demand. That doesn't mean it is overpriced. If it had been overpriced, the copies in the stores would not be moving, and every indication that I've seen suggests that they're moving very well for a lens of this price class.
     
  11. Ilkka - it is much more expensive than, say, the Sigma 150-500, which could be seen as a competitor. Now, I've got that lens (because I've not sold it yet), and there's a reason I'm interested in reading this thread. But still, there's a big price gap.

    Shun: Very much looking forward to the review as well. I'd be interested if you could make a point of testing with a relatively distant subject, atmospheric conditions permitting; this is, allegedly, a (relative) weakness of the 200-400, and I'm curious how they compare.
     
  12. Andrew; yes, but from what I've understood (from user reports) the Nikon AF-S 80-400 has better autofocus than the (1)50-500mm Sigma zooms. Also, the Nikkor is lighter weight which makes it more practical for some things such as travel photography (at least for me) and I imagine the combination of fast AF (for an f/4.5-5.6 lens) and light weight make the 80-400 a good option for photographing things that fly. If Shun can give his assessment of the 80-400 as a bird-in-flight lens, this will be very interesting. If the real world results in these action situations from the Nikkor are better than from the Sigma or if the probability of in-focus frames is higher then obviously the price should reflect that. The whole optical system has been designed for fast autofocus in mind. Scott Kelby tested the 80-400 with a D4 and D7100 for ice hockey and he seemed to be very impressed. I would like to see how people handle indoor sports like hockey with the (1)50-500mm Sigmas. No, on second thought, I don't want to see the results of that. ;-)
    For me, I'm interested in the 80-400 for large outdoor concerts where 280mm is not sufficient sometimes (especially for performers towards the back of the stage), and the lighter weight (especially over my 200/2II+2X setup) is highly desirable for a long all day concert. For me, an aperture of f/4 in a 300mm - 400mm is close to ideal from the visual point of view (to reduce stage clutter) and f/5.6 is acceptable though not ideal; f/6.3 of the Sigma is clearly on the slow side. I cannot hand-hold a 200-400/4 for more than a minute, but I can easily hand-hold a 80-400/4.5-5.6 as long as I need to. Its vibration reduction seemed to work well for the kind of shutter speeds I would be using in this application (1/200s to 1/400s). I haven't purchased the 80-400 yet as I have had other, more pressing investments and the Kirk collar which I ordered in the beginning of june hasn't arrived yet.
    Brad Hill has been testing the 80-400 at various distances against e.g. the 400/2.8, 200-400/4 and so on, you may want to read his comments on his blog; from what I understood he concluded the 200-400/4 and AF-S 80-400 are about the same quality optically, and the 70-200/2.8 + 2X and f/4 + 2X are clearly behind both the 200-400 and 80-400 at 400mm. However, the 400/2.8 was clearly better at long distances than any of the other 400mm options he tested. In my opinion, the 400mm prime is a good lens for sports photographers who don't have to move about much during the action but who want ideal subject isolation, but for just about anything else it is probably too hard to lug around. ;-) But clearly Brad Hill, Thom Hogan and others do lug it around sometimes! ;-)
     
  13. "the Sigma 150-500, which could be seen as a competitor"

    Not many would consider the Sigma 150-500 a competitor to any Nikon lens.
     
  14. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Around year 2000/2001 when the first version of the 80-400 VR was first available at my local camera store, I played around with it on an F100, which had the best AF module at that time. Within 30 seconds I knew its AF was essentially useless. Fortunately, the new AF-S has very fast AF, at least under good light.
    I used it quite a bit yesterday afternoon after I had started this thread. So far evernthing has checked out very well. It is a slow, f5.6 super tele so that I am sure it has its limitations indoors, at night, or inside a dense forest. Otherwise, it is excellent for its design. This lens is very hand holdable for birds in flight images (again, when lighting is good). It is similar in size as the 70-200mm/f2.8 and 300mm/f4 AF-S; all three use 77mm filters and all come with the CL-M2 soft case. Nikon pads that case with some round soft foam discs to adjust for the slightly different lengths among those lenses. However, the 80-400 AF-S has a wider barrel so that it is harder to hold (at least for me to hold), like the previous 80-200mm/f2.8 AF-S.
    Since this is a 5x zoom, the barrel expands and contracts as you soom. My first image above shows this lens fully extends at 400mm and the second image shows it at 80mm. The physical external length for the other three lenses in the first image does not change with zooming or focusing. Not sure that answers Leszek Vogt's question.
    Concerning prices, a lot of recently introduced super teles, from both Canon and Nikon, are very expensive compared to similar lenses introduced 5+ years earlier. This new 80-400 AF-S is essentially twice as expensive as the older 80-400 VR, which of course has not been one of the Nikon's best. Nikon's 800mm/f5.6 AF-S VR is like $4600 (about 35%) more expensive than Canon's while Canon's 200-400mm/f4 is almost twice as expensive than Nikon's.
    Reportedly, the cost for this 80-400mm AF-S has dropped quite a bit in the UK recently. Hopefully with a depreciating yen, we'll all see lower prices.
    BTW, one negative is that this lens has a completely removeable lens mount, similar to the one on the 300mm/f4 AF-S. While it has improved a bit, rotation is still rough. I still have not seen a really good, completely removeable tripod collar from Nikon, but I was quite happy with the one on the Sigma 70-200mm/f2.8 OS. Therefore, we know that is doable.
     
  15. I was waiting for this lens. I expected a price comparible to the 70-200 2.8 VR (as similar size glass)
    80-400: 20 elements in 12 groups, 4 ED glass and one Super ED glass
    70-200: 21 elements in 16 groups, 7 elements ED glass

    In UK we have the the 80-400 selling at ~1.5x the 70-200 price (£2400/£1600) although it's getting a bit lower this week with some outlets selling at ~£2200 (still $3300!)
    US looks like 1.125x ($2700/$2400)
    I think it's overpriced in UK. I can't think why it should cost way more than the 70-200. Just supply and demand?
     
  16. Ilkka: I'm not suggesting that the 150-500 is a viable competitor for the new 80-400, though arguably it (and its 120-400 little brother) were competing with the old one. Some people have been very happy with their 150-500, and I've found the focus speed to be okay (though not in the pro class), but I'm not going to discuss the aperture at the long end because I don't consider my 150-500 to produce acceptable images at 500mm until it's stopped down to f/11, which kind of removes any benefit from the OS (other than that I can see where I'm pointing it). The unfortunate thing is that the price of the new 80-400 currently means there is still no affordable way to get to 400mm cheaply - the 300mm + TC14E being the nearest option. Hopefully the price will drop further - I miss the "find the subject at a moderate telephoto, then zoom in" strategy from my 150-500, but £2400 is a big chunk of saving up for a 400 f/2.8... (I actually saw an AF-I 400 f/2.8 go for roughly this price only a few weeks ago.)

    Elliot: Some people, and multiple reviews (especially when it first appeared), where quite complimentary about the image quality of the 150-500. Since I got mine, I've seen multiple reviews and multiple owners be less happy. I have to assume a combination of sample variation and different testing, but I certainly wouldn't compare it favourably knowing what I know now. (But then, there are a lot of people who are happy with the 80-200 f/2.8 AF-D, and with the 135 f/2 DC, both of which have given me a lot of trouble. It's hard to say what makes a "bad lens"! Though I have to say I wasn't blown away by the images from the 200-500 f/2.8 Sigma...)
     
  17. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I bought my 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S VR II for about $1800 or so, back in late 2010. Back then Nikon USA had not implemented the policy to fix its price at $2400 (or $2396.95 or something like that) so that the street price was like $2150. At that time Nikon USA was giving a $400 rebate if you also buy a camera body, so I bought the 70-200 with the D7000, which was brand new with some mild shortage.
    In these days Nikon USA has some occasional rebates for those lenses, sometimes with a DSLR purchase and sometimes without. We probably need to wait for the end of a quarter to get the best rebates, i.e. March, June, September and December.
    I may be in the minority, but I am sure part of the high cost is labor in Japan. Personally, I wish this lens were made in Thailand or China instead of Japan and we could have saved a couple hundred dollars. (And please don't start another silly "made in Japan" implies quality debate.)
     
  18. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Attached is a pixel-level crop from a D7100 image, with the 80-400mm AF-S VR @ 400mm, wide open at f5.6. Perhaps a 400mm/f2.8 AF-S stopped down by 2 stops to f5.6 can produce sligtly better results, but I really can't complain about this optical performance.
    I hand held the camera and lens, but at 1/800 sec with VR on, I am sure camera shake is minimal.
    Please keep in mind that this is a fairly large 900K-byte image that may take a little while to download.
    00bnxH-541195584.jpg
     
  19. Shun does the Egret/Heron image have any sharpening applied? Nice shot...
     
  20. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Keith, the original is a RAW file (D7100, 14-bit lossy compressed capture to reduce file size). For the pixel-level crop, it is just a straight crop in PhotoShop with no sharpening or any other post processing (i.e. no tonal curve, etc.). I added the inset to show the entire frame and the caption.
    As an image, it is not particularly a special composition or IMO has no particular artistic value. However, it shows the details of the orange rope, the seaweed, and of course the long bill and feather of the egret. I think sharpness is very good for a zoom at 400mm, wide open at f5.6. Of course, this lens only goes up to f5.6 and it'd better be excellent wide open. To me, a long lens that is only good at f8 is next to useless.
    I have no access to any 400mm/f2.8 AF-S, but I would imagine that would produce slightly better results if you stop down to f5.6. I do have the 200-400mm/f4 AF-S VR, and I plan to compare those two. Personally, I think the 80-400 AF-S is in no way of replacing the 200-400. Having f4 on a long tele will give you a distinct advantage. So as long as I can hike with the 200-400mm/f4 and its tripod, I am going to prefer that. The 80-400 AF-S is much better for hand held birds in flight and perhaps those long, difficult hikes.
     
  21. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Here is another test shot. The subject is just a boring sign at a neighborhood playground, but there is no shortage of fine details in the sand grains, spider web, etc. The sign is about 20 feet/6 meters from the camera.
    This time I mounted the 80-400mm AF-S VR on a Wimbeley gimbal head and a large series 5 Gitzo tripod so that I switched VR off. The camera is a D800E at ISO 100 with a 2-second exposure delay; therefore, you can check out the quality into the corners of the FX frame. Once again, it is 400mm, wide open @ f5.6.
    Please keep in mind that this is a large, 1.7M JPEG.
    00bo3T-541209684.jpg
     
  22. Shun, thanks for the clarification. Both shots show very impressive sharpness, especially for extremes of aperture and focal length.
     
  23. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    As I said, I don't particularly like max f5.6 super teles. The smaller aperture means less light entering the camera; typically that means slower, less accurate AF, especially under dimmer light. It also means you need to compromise a little more with shutter speed or, nowadays, with slightly higher ISO. Only in rare occasions when I need more depth of field that I would use f8 or f11 with 400mm, typically because I have multiple animals within the image and need to get all of them sharp.
    But I think we have established that the 80-400mm AF-S VR is really good at 400mm, f5.6, which is probably where it is used most.
    I also tried my 200-400mm/f4 AF-S VR in that same setting, and I realized that my 200-400 needs some AF fine tune on the D800E, maybe -3 or so. However, one thing is clear: the 80-400 has some non-trivial focus breathing. With the 200-400 @ 400mm, all that spider web stuffs is not even in the frame. Keep in mind that the sign is about 20 feet/6 meters away from the camera. By definition, a lens' focal length is measured when focused to infinity.
    I happen to think that all this focus breathing discussion is tempest in a tea cup. It is not a big deal, but some people like to discuss it and I think I should point it out.
    00bo8N-541214984.jpg
     
  24. I happen to think that all this focus breathing discussion is tempest in a tea cup. It is not a big deal, but some people like to discuss it and I think I should point it out.
    I think it is worth mentioning as it could be a factor for people who want to use this lens to photograph small subjects with good working distance. For example I would not be surprised if the 300/4 gave significantly better results at close focus (it goes to 1:4 on its own and gives excellent quality at close focus, provided a solid replacement tripod mount) than the AF-S 80-400, partly due to the latter losing so much magnification at close focus (compared to a unit focusing lens). The 300/4 AF-S has been used as a lens preferred by some dragonfly photographers, with and without extension tubes. I found it gave excellent close-ups of ice details as I was photographing them under or near bridges. For more distant subjects, as my concert performers, I have no doubt the 80-400 at 400mm, f/5.6 will be the winner of the two. I completely agree with Shun that the usefulness of the 80-400 is largely created by the 400mm wide open performance, without good image quality at 400mm, f/5.6 (which it has) I would not be interested in this lens. At 400mm and f/8 the combination of perspective compression and depth of field would make for really cluttered images of concerts (microphones, stands, amps, backgrounds would all be too much in focus along with the main subjcet). f/5.6 is acceptable, f/4 would be fantastic but is not hand-holdable by me in a 400mm lens, unless implemented with the aid of diffractive optics like Canon's 400/4.
    It looks like DHL is finally bringing me the Kirk collar to the 80-400 on Monday, so now I have to start thinking about actually buying the lens. ;-) Unfortunately, it so happened that 1.5 weeks ago, my 24-70 exited my camera backpack without asking for my permission, and it made an attempt at piercing a hole through my floor. The floor remained without a mark that I can find, but the repair bill for the lens was 1100€, with 4+ week wait for parts from Japan. :-( This means I will have to put off the 80-400 purchase by some time. It also means I have to fight the impulse of hitting my head against that same floor (so far resisted). ;-)
     
  25. Shun, here's an example of close focusing with the 80-400 AFS, about 7 ft. Taken this AM handheld at 800 ISO. EXIF data is in the posted image. I love this lens, what a difference from it's predecessor!
    00boA9-541217984.jpg
     
  26. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Don, that is a very fine dragonfly image; congratulations. I am sure the better high/mid ISO capability from the D7000 helps.
    Incidentally, the 80-400 AF-S can focus down to a very short 1.5 meters, about 5 feet. The 200-400mm/f4 AF-S can go down to about 9 feet, which I find quite convenient already.
    To sum up, I don't think there are any major disappointments for this lens. Obviouly it is not an f2.8 super tele (e.g. the 400mm/f2.8 or 300mm/f2.8) or even f4, so there is definitely limitations under dimmer light, but it is also much easier to hand hold and carry around. Optically, it is approaching the very best long teles. For those who are familiar with the popular 70-300mm AF-S VR (which I have access to but my one attempt to purchase a referb was not successful), this 80-400mm AF-S belongs to a different class but, naturally, is also priced accordingly.
    A few of the drawbacks include:
    • A somewhat poor tripod collar, Nikon simply does not have a tradition to make good tripod collars that are completely removeable. I like the one on the 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S VR, versions 1 and 2, but only the "foot" part is removeable.
    • The barrel is kind of wide, harder for me to hold than the 300mm/f4 AF-S or 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S VR.
    • Focus breathing: not a big deal to me but the amount is quite serious
    • Cost: the price is rather high for a slow zoom, although a very good one. Whether it is "worth it" has to be up to each individual to decide. The value of the yen is once again coming down, back to the US$1 for 100 yen level. Whether that will or will not affect future Nikon prices is up to you to determine.
    To me, the 80-400mm AF-S will mainly be an outdoor, hand held sports lens or wildlife lens, where shutter speed will be at least 1/500 sec and perhaps more like 1/1000 sec or faster. Therefore, while this lens has very good VR, we probably won't need it as much. I think it is ideal for birds in flight. In that sense I probably won't be using it on a tripod that often. However, at least in my case, it won't replace the 200-400mm/f4 AF-S and the longer constant f4 super teles.
    BTW, I also checked out the other lesnes with teleconverter:
    • The 300mm/f4 AF-S with TC-14E: That is optically a fine combo, @ 420mm/f5.6, it is comparable to the new lens at 400mm, f5.6. However, I never like the AF speed on the 300mm/f4.
    • 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S VR II with TC-20e III: I would say forget it. The combined cost for those two is almost $3000 and it is a lot worse than the new lens at 400mm, f5.6. I see no point to ruin the excellent 70-200 VR II that way.
    • The 80-400mm AF-S VR @ 400mm + TC-14e: I need to use it some more. So far it seems to be better than I expected, but it is still a very slow, 550mm f8 lens with lots of limitations.
    There are clearly some members who have had this lens for much longer than I have. I highly encourage them to post their experience, probably different from mine, as well as some sample images. In the mean time, I'll continue to use it in the coming few weeks.
    00boDj-541223284.jpg
     
  27. The 300mm/f4 AF-S with TC-14E: That is optically a fine combo, @ 420mm/f5.6, it is comparable to the new lens at 400mm, f5.6. However, I never like the AF speed on the 300mm/f4.​
    So Shun, you are saying that the new zoom focuses faster than the 300 with the TC? I have the 300 but would likely sell it when I get the 80-400.
    The focus breathing is kind of obvious - seeing that the specs from the Nikon USA website give a 1:5 magnification ratio for the zoom vs 1:4 for the 300/4 - but it's also at 1.75m vs 1.45m for the prime. Incidentally, the 200-400 is listed as 6.6ft with a max ratio of 1:4 as well - is that because it's the newer version?
     
  28. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Dieter, I haven't tried them side by side, but at least under sunlight, I am confident that the 80-400 AF-S AF faster than the 300mm/f4 AF-S. Adding the TC-14E will only slow the 300mm/f4 further down.
    However, I haven't used the 300mm/f4 AF-S all that much in the last two years, with the new generation of DSLRs such as the D800 and D7100. AF from those two bodies are clearly better than even the entire D3 series. In that sense, my familiarity with the 300mm/f4 AF-S is out of date. Optically, it is still very fine with the D800, but my experience with its AF performance is mainly based on the D100, D2X, and D300. My older, first generation 300mm/f2.8 AF-S has much faster AF than the f4.
    Please keep in mind that I have only used the 80-400 AF-S for a few days. While I have checked out most of the important issues, more details have to come from experience using that lens for an extended period.
     
  29. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    BTW, both versions 1 and 2 of the 200-400mm/f4 AF-S VR can focus down to 2 meters, about 6.5 feet. Somehow I remembered that it was 9 feet, as that become an issue back in April when I was photographing hummingbirds. They were quite tolerant to a degree that my 500mm/f4 AF-S version 1 could not focus close enough, while the 200-400 had no problems.
     
  30. Attached is a pixel-level crop from a D7100 image, with the 80-400mm AF-S VR @ 400mm, wide open at f5.6. Perhaps a 400mm/f2.8 AF-S stopped down by 2 stops to f5.6 can produce sligtly better results, but I really can't complain about this optical performance.​
    Thats for sure
     
  31. I just find it hard to believe that the old version of the 70-200 VR was $1999 and the new version is $2399, while the old version of this lens is $1675 and the new version is $2700. That's a 20% increase on the 70-200, but a 61% increase on the 80-400. I've said this before, but there must really be some secret sauce in this lens to get to that kind of price point, unless this is all about marketing (Nikon positioning this as a true "specialty" lens rather than a simple extended range telephoto). Using the 20% increase on the 70-200, this lens price should have come in around $2010 or so (let's just round up to $2100). I know...70-200 to 80-400 is an apples to oranges comparison.
    Perhaps Nikon didn't want the 70-200 and the 80-400 so close in price, which is why I say it's all about marketing. But even this is a little silly...if I'm a birder looking to get into digital, I could buy a Canon 70D crop body for $1200 and the 100-400 for $1500 - total cost is equal to this Nikon 80-400 lens (sans body).
    But, as others have said, this lens (like other products and services priced high) has its buyers. I have a buddy who shoots weddings and says he has a $20K option package...not because the photo package is worth it, but because there are always one or two people who buy it every year.
     
  32. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    The Canon 100-400 was introduced back in 1998. The following year, in 1999, I went to Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico with Arthur Morris, who was using that lens and praised it to no end. Of course he was sponsored by Canon and was paid to advertise for them, and we were all using 35mm film back then. In other words, the Canon is a 15-year-old design, even older than Nikon's 80-400 version 1 (introduced in 2000). I seriously doubt that either one of those two old lenses is nearly as good as the new 80-400 AF-S.
    I am certainly not desperate for another tele. Hopefully we'll see some price drop and/or rebate after a few more months.
     
  33. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Here is one more example at 400mm, f5.6 with the D7100 @ ISO 400, 1/1600. Check out the duck's eye and feather.
    00bode-541267684.jpg
     
  34. Very impressive!

    It can resolve detail alright!
     
  35. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I saw this mallard duck family at the Antonelli Pond in Santa Cruz a few days ago. With multiple animals, I stopped the lens down to f8.
    And there is a related discussion on the 300mm/f4 AF-S, compared to the 80-400: http://www.photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00bqfr
    00bqqQ-541521584.jpg
     
  36. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

Share This Page

1111