Ever since Nikon released their updated super-telephoto zoom earlier this year, I’ve been waiting for a reason to test this lens out, and a few weekends ago, I found the perfect opportunity, when I was shooting the Canadian University Ultimate Championships. Fast moving subjects at changing distances were the perfect test subjects to get a feel for the lens and provide my first impressions for this Nikon 80-400mm review. You won’t find hardcore technical details in this review or any scientific proofs about what makes this lens awesome, just real-world evidence that I gathered after using it for about 12-15 hours over a weekend and having taken over 4000 frames.
As soon as I pulled the lens out of the cover the first thing that I noticed was the weight. There is a lot of glass in that metal casing and it’s HEAVY, but after mounting it to my D600 (with a battery grip), the whole kit balanced fairly well.
I attached the BlackRapid strap to the lens’ tripod collar and it felt great on my hip. After adjusting the tension on the tripod collar, I was able to switch from landscape to portrait orientation fairly easily. It also has clicks at certain increments, which was nice.
I really liked the size of the lens hood and how it clicks into place. I didn’t shoot without the hood, but I’m sure it helped as there were many scenarios where I was shooting in the direction of the sun.
The auto focus speed is amazing. It can sweep from the shortest focusing distance to infinity and back very quickly, but the weakest link in my setup was probably the D600; which is not known for it’s focusing and tracking. I tried using Continuous Focus with a single point, as well as the 3D tracking, and the results were hit or miss in either mode. I’m going to chalk this one down to the camera and not the lens.
Unlike the Nikon 70-200mm f4, who’s zoom ring is closer to the camera body, the zoom ring for this lens is at the front of the lens – for good reason. When hand-holding it, it provides good support for the entire kit. I can respect the amount of glass that has to move for this lens to work, but I’m sure the zoom ring can be made looser. While hand-holding the entire setup, it’s not easy to zoom with just your thumb and forefingers. At times, I found myself using my wrist and elbow to get enough torque to rotate the ring.
Lets once again, talk about the weight:
- D600 w/ battery grip = 1.7kg
- 80-400mm lens = 1.5kg
- Total weight = 3.2kg (7lbs)
That’s a good deal of weight that I was lifting up and down, hundreds of times, throughout the weekend and by the end of the day, my shoulders and arms were a bit sore. So keep that in mind if you’re taking this lens on a hike.
The weather sealing information regarding this lens was pretty sparse when I did a quick few searches, so I was taking a chance when I shot through a wet and rainy Saturday afternoon. I kept it protected under my rain jacket when I wasn’t shooting, but inevitably water got onto the lens as well as the barrel that retracts into the lens body when you’re at 80mm. After the first 20 minutes of rain, I was a little afraid since it was a rental, so I rushed to my car to my car to slip on a shopping bag held at either ends with rubber bands. This did the trick for the rest of the day. Suffice to say, there was no problems with the bit of water that the lens did see.
The VR on this lens is helpful when zoomed in at 400mm as it stabilizes the shot very well which aids focus and composition.
I’m not one for pixel peeping, so I’ve included a few 100% crops so that you can judge the image quality for yourself. From my point of view, the images are gorgeous and when the focus was spot on, the sharpness of this lens is wicked awesome.
Vignetting wasn’t very apparent, but then again, I was shooting sports with a lot of things happening in the background and a little vignetting to draw attention to the centre of the frame is welcome. If it does bother you, most post-processing softwares will reverse that without a fuss.
Bokeh on this lens is hit or miss. On some shots it looks awesome but on others, it’s a little harsh. I didn’t have the time to play around with different settings to determine best bokek.
Next Time Around
One test I wish I had had time to do was mount this lens to my D300. That would have given me an effective focal length of 120-600mm – sweet! I could have also ruled out the focus accuracy issue because I know my D300s does an amazing job at that.
Shooting outdoor sports, with the shutter speed no less than 1/1000s, I didn’t really use the VR to it’s full potential. So next time, I’ll play with a few darker situations and slow shutter speeds.
This is the first lens I’ve used that has over a 200mm focal length, therefore I’m not in a position to compare it to any of the other Nikon super-telephoto lenses.
I did not use a tripod or mono-pod because of the dynamic nature of this shoot. While shooting birds or other wildlife, I would definitely suggest using a stabilizing device and also to save your shoulder and back from repetitive stress.