Review Nikon 400mm f2.8 G ED VR AF-S Nikkor Lens

Joe T

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Now I know that not many people will need such a specialised lens, but I thought a brief review would be useful anyway! :p

Introduction

I bought this lens in December 2008, so I have been using it now for a few months. I purchased it from Warehouse Express (great service as always); unfortunately the recent price rises have made this lens even more expensive, and it's set to rise further next month.



The 400 is one of Nikon's supertelephoto lenses, which like the Canon equivalents, are truly legendary!

Rationale

I already owned a Sigma 120-300 2.8. This is a great lens for the money. However I found AF performance with the Sigma 1.4x teleconverter really rather slow. Also, 420mm at f4 was often too short for wildlife and sometimes too short also for motorsport.

I had been shooting more and more birdlife (of the feathered variety of course) and so I really needed something longer.

I spent a long time umming anr arring over the 400 2.8 / 500 f4 / 600 f4. The 200-400 f4 was also on my radar, but I discounted it on the basis that I needed more length than it could really offer. I knew that whichever lens I purchased I would need to use teleconverters, so performance with said items was a key factor. The 500 had the advantages of size and weight; however I decided that if I was going for a long prime it needed to be the biggest and best or I would regret it. Now, I have already said that I wanted to use it for both wildlife and motorsport. Also I often shoot in relatively low light conditions. Therefore I decided that the 400 was better for me over the 600 for the following reasons:

- closer focusing distance - c.3m rather than c.5m.
- 2.8 light-gathering capability
- 400 2.8, 560 f4, 680 f4.8 or 800 f5.6 with the various Nikon Tcs
- slightly less weight and cost than a 600 f4

I also decided to get the latest nano-coated, VR version, again on the basis of doing the job properly the first time!

Impressions so far

Image Quality - image quality from this lens eclipses the 120-300 2.8 by some margin. Some close up robin shots (utilising that 3m close-focus ability) showed excellent colour rendition and all the sharpness one could want!

Auto-focus - AF is as fast as one could ask for. I do not think I have used a long lens which focuses as quick. Performance is however significantly better on my D300 than on my D200. The hunting in low light on the D200 was occasionally a problem.

Weight - make no mistake, this is one heavy lens! It weighs in at 4,620g. As a result it requires a tripod of certain quality - see 'Accessories' below.

Use with teleconverters - I first tried this lens with the Sigma 1.4TC. I was not impressed with the AF performance. A Nikon 2x TC then became available on TP at a good price, so I snapped it up! It works with the 400 much better than the Sigma 1.4x. With the 2x the lens becomes an 800 f5.6 - excellent for bird photography. As with any lens of this length, finding the birds is the hardest part!

Build quality - build quality is superb! Coming from the Sigma 120-300 2.8 with its annoyingly-soft finish, I am very impressed with this lens!

Lens hood - the 400 2.8 has a 'two-stage' hood. To some this would be a problem as it means fiddling around with two hoods. I have come up with an arrangement whereby I leave the two hoods on all the time - see below.

Lens cap - the lens cap is one of the sleeve type that fit over the end of the lens and cover the reversed hood.

Accessories

Case - The lens comes in a rather impressive hard case which appears to be able to take a good few knocks! However, in practice it is next to useless. To fit the lens in the case one has to:

- reverse both hoods
- use the lens cap
- remove any additional tripod plates
- remove teleconverters
- remove the camera body.

Now this is fine to do at home very now and then, but out in the field is not really practical.

I have therefore purchased a Kinesis L622 (directly from Kinesis in the US). Now I didnt realise quite how big this bag is! It allows the 400 2.8 with both hoods in the shooting position, 2x TC + D300 to fit in the bag with an inch or two to spare! Now, bags like these are not cheap (mine came out at £280 and did not even include rucksack straps for that price!). However, the bag is well-made and is nicely lightweight.

Tripod - I previously had a Manfrotto 055MF4 with Manfrotto 393 head. The 055 is rated up to 7kg, which is slightly less than the total of lens, TC, body and head. It did not feel all that stable on it, even with the centre column not in use. I therefore looked to Gitzo for one of their 6X series tripods. These are PROPER tripods! These arent cheap, but I managed to find a ex-demo 3540L at ffordes for a reasonable price. This is a rock solid tripod, and does not weigh much more than the 055MF4. It has a centre column which occasionally I need - I am 6'2".

Tripod head - As stated, I use a Manfrotto 393. This is an excellent head, and only costs £100! A wimberley may be better, but not 4x or 5x better! It balances very well on the head, and the flexibility is great! I have even used this combination for panning at motorsport.

Tripod foot - the tripod foot supplied by Nikon is very high profile. It means when the lens is mounted on a gimbal or 393 head that the centre of the lens is not in line with the pivot point on the head. I have therefore replaced the standard foot with a Kirk one. Wimberley do a similar head, but from looking at the pictures the Kirk has a smoother finished which will be much nicer to hold when carrying the lens by the foot.

Strap - the 400 has a carry strap attached at each end of the lens. This allows the lens to easily slung over the shoulder. This is a very comfortable way of carrying such a beast!

Lenscoat - I have a Realtree lens coat which fits well and protects much of the lens from damage. The part of the outer hood is prone to come of when the lens comes in and out of the bag, so my plan is to tape it in place.

Conclusion

Pros:
- Very sharp, good colour rendition
- 2.8 @ 400mm
- 5.6 @ 800mm
- quick AF

Cons
- price (especially now)
- heavy
- requires further expenditure on tripod foot, tripod legs and head, bag, teleconverters

Overall I am very pleased with this lens, and I'm so glad I bought it when I did!



Useful links:
Official Nikon Product Info
Nikon 400 2.8 VR at Warehouse Express
Kirk replacement foot

For examples please search for threads started by me since December. :)

I hope this has been useful to someone! :)
 
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mel
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thanks for heads up, but i could never afford anything like that.
 

fracster

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Dammit Joe......:bat:


Fancy a meet up somewhere in the near future,would love 15 mins with that beast......;)
 
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Joe T

Joe T

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thanks for heads up, but i could never afford anything like that.
Thanks for the input

Dammit Joe......:bat:


Fancy a meet up somewhere in the near future,would love 15 mins with that beast......;)
Sure mate! And I'm sure it will be exactly the time the wildlife shows up! :LOL:
Exactly what i wanted to see, a write up of the 400 f2.8 now can you just do the same for the 500 f4 to help me decide.My pending redundancy money is looking a bit less than i thought ( well thats what i will tell the wife :shrug:)
Glad to help. I havent used a 500 f4 but I know plenty of people that do. It's significantly smaller and lighter. Good luck with the decision! :)
 
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Mark Molloy
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Joe do you have any pics side on showing the camera and lens toether or with something else in the pic to show size.

Nikon might end up pricing me out the market i the latest increase is anything to go by and with another impendin increase its getting to be a tougher decision that first thought.
 
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Joe T

Joe T

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I've always fancied having a go of the 400 but felt it was just too short for wildlife where every mm counts!! That said I'd be interested to see what the 400 + 2x is like compared to the 600 + 1.4x!!
Most of the bird shots I've posted on here recently have been 400 + 2x. I'm very impressed! Sure AF isnt as good as without, but its more than useable! :)
 
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Andy Drake
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I've been offered one of these at a decent price, and I'm getting it in about 2 weeks if all goes well.

Gonna have to sort out some serious tripod-age and I just don't use support for long stuff (I can handhold up to 500 no problem) but this is going to be too heavy for that!
 
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I've been offered one of these at a decent price, and I'm getting it in about 2 weeks if all goes well.

Gonna have to sort out some serious tripod-age and I just don't use support for long stuff (I can handhold up to 500 no problem) but this is going to be too heavy for that!
Good man! I thought you were always apposed to the big heavy stuff due to it being akward for lugging around, I reckon you'll love the 400! Handholding up to 500mm in a smaller lens isn't the same as handholding it in the bigger glasss though (although the 500 f4 isn't too much heavier than a 200-400 so if thats the 500 you handheld fair enough) so a decent tripod is a good move...I still need one of those myself actually :banghead:

Looking forward to seeing some images :D
 
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