The eagerly awaited update to Nikon's 80-400mm lens has finally arrived with a completely new optical and body design along with an impressive list of new features that will have long lens officionados drooling with envy. The older model was first introduced back in 2000 and was also the first lens to feature a VR (vibration reduction) system. A lot has happened to digital lens design in twelve years, and the new model comes with all the latest innovations. Of course this also means it comes in at with a heftier price tag, almost double the price of the earlier model. Naturally, this begs the question: What do you get for the additional price?
|The new Nikon 80-400mm G lens shown here at full 400mm extension on a Nikon D600 camera.|
The optical system has been completely redesigned and now includes four ED lens elements and one Super ED element along with Nano Chrystal Coating for added reduction of flare. We will see in some of the test images below just how impressive this new design really is.
The body of the lens has also been redesigned. Although a bit longer (8.1" vs 6.7" for the former model), the body is sleeker and doesn't have the pregnant guppy look of the older model. At full extension the lens measures 10.25" (26cm) without the massive lens hood, which adds another 3.75" to the overall package. The filter size is still 77mm in keeping with most Nikon pro lenses. A lock has been added to the lens body to keep it in the 80mm position and prevent it from sliding open when carried on your shoulder.
Interestingly, in closed position the new 80-400mm lens is similar in size and weight to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
|The lens set to its 80mm position is almost the same size and weight as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom shown lower right for comparison in the above photo.|
|Once the lens is fully extended to 400mm and a hood is added, its size increases from 8.1" to 14". Even so, it seems much less bulky than the older model 80-400mm.|
|This image of a terracotta detail on the Flat Iron Building was taken with a 1.4x Nikon tele-converter mounted on the 80-400mm lens resulting in a maximum aperture of f/8. The lens was hand held at 1/1000 second for this shot. You can download the full resolution version by clicking here.|
Below is a series of test images that illustrate the resolution of various focal lengths at their widest lens aperture. The bottom image has the Nikon 1.4x tele-converter attached to deliver 550mm. When you look at all these images, I feel confident that you will see what I saw, namely that considering the price and conveniences of this lens design, the results are very impressive, and probably best of class.
|185mm f/5.3 Download high res here.|
|270mm f/5.6 Download high res here.|
|400mm f/5.6 Download high res here.|
|550mm (with 1.4x tele-converter) Download high res here.|
While I wouldn't expect anyone to use a lens like this for close-ups, it is nice to know that it can auto focus closer than would be expected for this focal length 5.74' (1.75m) or 4,92' (1.5m) in manual focus mode with a reproduction ratio of about 0.2x.
|I took this photo to illustrate how close this lens can focus. While impressive, the close focus ability of this type of lens is not too important because there are far better and more convenient options available if you want to get this close.|
|This image of New York's finest wildlife is tack sharp with very quick autofocus and good tracking ability at 400mm despite the fact that the squirrel was moving very rapidly up the tree..|
|At a median focal length of 160mm the lens performance is excellent. Click here to download a high res version of this image.|
|This image taken at 400mm and wide open aperture of f/5.6 demonstrates the edge and corner sharpness of the lens. Look at the right side of the building only, as the left side is receding away from us and would never be in focus at this aperture. Check out the corners in particular to see just how good this lens is, even wide open. Stopping down by even one stop improves it further. Click here to download the high res image.|
|This is the building from the photo above shot with the zoom set to 80mm. I think you will agree that at its shortest focal length the performance of this lens is excellent. Click here to download a high res version.|
|This photo was shot hand held at 1/100 second, a very slow speed for a lens of this size and weight. Click here to download a high res version.|
I own the older version of this lens so I know where we are coming from. I own the Nikon 200-400mm lens so I know the standard to which we can aspire. Throughout these tests I could not help but compare the results I can achieve with the other two lenses. There is no question this lens is a giant leap forward from its predecessor in terms of resolution, build, autofocus, VR, and physical design. Coupled with the advances of the newer digital cameras this lens is a very convenient alternative to the huge, fast aperture teles and 200-400mm zoom. This is not to say the image quality is better than Nikon's largest glass, but it does mean that in practical uses the new 80-400mm provides an excellent alternative, particularly where portability, convenience, and spontaneity are taken into consideration. I am giving serious thought to whether I even need to keep the redundancy of my 200-400mm. Newer cameras with excellent results at higher ISO ranges, coupled with the improved VR technology of the latest lenses tend diminish the need for super fast aperture optics. Admittedly, faster apertures mean better selective focus, but at such long focal lengths even f/5.6 or f/8 tend to be sufficient.
This lens is nearly double the cost of its predecessor, but the improvements I have seen are well worth the extra cost, particularly when you consider that this lens can be a replacement for much more expensive telephoto optics. At 80-400mm full frame FX camera (120-600mm on a DX camera) with an ability to push out to 550mm (825mm on DX!) when coupled with the 1.4x tele-converter, this may be the only super tele anyone would ever need.
|At full focal length extension this is one impressive looking piece of glass.|
|Even at f/11 and full 400mm extension selective focus is achievable.|
|The Manhattan Bridge and Empire State Building at 400mm f/7.1|
|Topping off the new World Trade Center at 400mm and f/7/1. Click here to download the high res file.|