First Impressions: Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 AF-S VR

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm product photos (1 of 5)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 5.0

Nikon’s new 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 AF-S VR lens is one heck of an optic. When I was first reaching for it, I expected to need to use more strength than I really needed. But when I picked it up, my jaw dropped. In all seriousness: where the hell was this lens when I was a paparazzi? This refresh of the older lens is smaller, lighter, and focuses ridiculously fast. To be very honest, I haven’t seen a DSLR lens focus this fast–ever! The closest thing might be Canon’s 85mm f1.8 on a 1D X or a 5D Mk III, but even then this latest offering from Nikon wiped the floor with them.

Granted, you’re surely paying for everything you get in this lens.

Tech Specs

Taken from the B&H Photo Video Pro Audio listing.

Performance
Focal Length 80 – 400 mm
Comparable DX Focal Length: 120 – 600 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/4.5 – 5.6
Minimum: f/32 – 40
Camera Mount Type Nikon F
Format Compatibility Nikon FX/35mm Film
Nikon DX
FX in DX Crop Mode
Angle of View 30.3° – 6.2°
DX Picture Angle: 20° – 4°
Minimum Focus Distance 5.74′ (1.75 m)
Magnification 0.2x
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:5
Groups/Elements 12/20
Diaphragm Blades 9
Features
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 77 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.8 x 8.0″ (9.65 x 20.32 cm)
Weight 3.5 lb (1.59 kg)

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm product photos (2 of 5)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 5.0

As stated in our opening paragraph, the new Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 AF-S VR isn’t that large of a lens. I’m used to holding 70-200mm f2.8 lenses that feel larger, but in comparison, this lens felt pretty darned light and extremely compact for what it is–a superzoom.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm product photos (3 of 5)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 5.0

 The lens is characterized by the two main controls that everyone knows and loves: a zoom ring (front) and focusing ring (back.)  The lens has the feel of a Nikon–meaning that the finish is slightly textured to give almost a finely sanded feel to the exterior casing. Both rings feel big and beefy–just the way I like them when working seriously.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm product photos (4 of 5)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 5.0

The lens is an external zoom and therefore also extends out to around 1/3rd of its original size. Unless you’re shooting in an extremely crowded pit (think Fashion Week or something similar) you probably won’t have a problem with this.

Also note that in the last two photos, the lens hood has been removed. The hood makes the lens look that much more intimidating and fierce.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm product photos (5 of 5)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 5.0

 On the side of this lens are where a lot more of the controls are located. There is the autofocus/manual focus/combo switch, focusing range switch, VR on/off followed by whether you want it to be active all the time or only when focusing/shooting, and then a locking switch.

The lens also comes with a tripod collar.

Build Quality

What else can you expect from Nikon at this price point? It’s solid all around. Nothing about it feels cheap and only feels like some of their creme-de-la-creme products that we’ve been used to.

Ease of Use

Point, focus, shoot–as always that’s really all there is to it. For the most part I tended to keep the focusing range through the entire area, the VR on, and the focus in automatic. This lens can focus throughout a long range though, so if anything the focusing ring on the back may need a bit of getting used to.

Autofocus

We tested this camera on the D800 in a dimly lit environment. This lens is once again, one of the fastest focusing lenses on a DSLR that we’ve seen.

If I were to go back into being a professional paparazzi again, this is the lens that I’d spring for knowing fully well that the investment would be worth it and I’d be making the money back.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm lens samples (2 of 4)ISO 40001-50 sec at f - 5.6

Unfortunately, we needed to crank the ISO up due to the low lit environment. But for what it is worth, the optics are darned sharp. The images here have been resized for the web, but are otherwise straight out of the camera JPEGs.

Please note that we tested a production version of the lens.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm lens samples (3 of 4)ISO 40001-50 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm lens samples (4 of 4)ISO 40001-50 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Nikon 80-400mm lens samples (1 of 4)ISO 40001-50 sec at f - 4.5

First Impressions

Guess who is extremely psyched about this lens? We are!

Not only is it compact and offering an extremely fast aperture range for the zooming power that it is, but it is light, sharp, and focuses extremely fast. Granted, it’s not cheap–but if you’re in the market for a killer superzoom lens then this is the one to spring for. Wildlife photographers, sports photographers, and adventure photographers can surely utilize this lens to the max. You won’t have any trouble toting it around from sideline to sideline or mountain to open plains.

Combined with just how tack sharp the images are, you can also confidently rely on it to get a running back or running wolves totally in focus when combined with good exposure methods.

We’ll be calling in a review unit soon–and so far we have to really hand it to Nikon with this lens.

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