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Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR ED

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Poll: Rate this lens (44 member(s) have cast votes)

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#1 Dallas


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Posted 23 October 2007 - 16:18

If you have used this lens please let others know your thoughts by posting about your experiences in this thread.

Please keep your comments in line with the guidelines for this board. OT comments will be removed without notice.

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#2 davepaterson



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Posted 10 December 2007 - 21:07

I find this a difficult lens to use successfully, especially towards 400mm. This may well be (© Bjørn) at least partly due to the weak and flexible tripod mounting, but I can't swear to that. I've tried it on the tripod with VR off and everything locked; on the tripod with VR on and everything left loose; and on a bean-bag with VR on and off. Nothing seems to guarantee success, though sharpness is there if you can get everything just right. It's a lot easier towards the 80mm end, of course, but that's not why we have long zooms; we have long zooms to use them LONG.

Maybe I just need more practise; I'm a wide-angle man, really.
Dave Paterson

#3 Tom


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Posted 22 December 2007 - 20:34

Resume: clearly sharper  ;D than the 3rd-partxy lenses I tested it against, but the rest is so outdated :(
Nikon needs to update this with proper AF/MF-switching and the latest VRII(I)!
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#4 Tom


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Posted 22 December 2007 - 20:56

Ok, I 'fess up: I had not read Dallas' sticky post first! So here are my answers to Dallas' Qs:
How long have you used the item? 1 week!
What did you specifically buy it for? I wanted something with long reach without making me change lenses all the time. It also should work with a future FX-body. I was looking for sharpness, contrast and good IS and perhaps (if possible) a magnification below 1:5.
Has the lens lived up to your expectations? Only in the sharpness/contrast-department. VR + AF/MF-switch were outdated. Focussing was slooow.
Would you recommend the item to others? Nope! I gave the lens back and am eagerly awaiting the revised version coming soon ;D ;D ;D...
You can find more detailed information and sample images via my signature.

Thomas (moderator and lens-tester at Camera Labs)
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#5 PaulDRobertson


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Posted 31 December 2007 - 16:53

I've had this lens since just after it came out.  I bought it to shoot wildlife, mostly birds.  I got a fairly good deal on a used sample at a local camera store.  I shot a lot with the lens when I first got it because it had 100mm more reach than the 300/4 I was shooting with at the time.  The lens isn't as sharp as competitive lenses from other manufacturers.  It has nice contrast and is capable of salable images, but it's not as sharp at 400mm as my copy of the Sigma 50-500mm is at 500mm.  It hunts less on a D2x than it does on an S2Pro or D70s.  The D2's stronger focus motor makes it more usable too.  I almost always shoot long glass off a tripod, so I'm talking sharpness under ideal conditions.

I don't recommend this lens, as I feel the sharpness is sub-par for a Nikkor, and for less money the Sigma 50-500 is clearly superior in reach and sharpness though not contrast.


#6 MJR

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Posted 27 January 2008 - 23:57

I bought this lens new in Jan 01 and still have it. I think the VR in this lens is the best of all Nikon VR lenses. I have them all except the 200-400 which I have shot with. I bought this lens with handholding in mind and do not use it on a pod so the reported collar limitations have not affected me. One thing I believe that has not been mentioned is the lag time it takes for the VR to activate. A lot of shooters in the heat of the moment do not allow the time for the VR to activate and as a result get OOF or unsharp images. As Dallas pointed out 2 other things are needed to get the best performance from this lens. One is use the limit focus when you can. This will cut down on hunting. Second prefocus help quite a bit. What I do is after every shooting sequence, refocus on infinity for the next sequence. You can see your subject better and place the focus point on it. I deactivate the shutter focus and use the AF button for focus acquisition. Just prior to shooting I activate VR with the shutter and seeing the VR settling down I then shoot. I refined this technique shooting Air Shows. Never missed a shot this way. I also shoot Birds and for BIF I would only use this lens for large slow birds like Pelicans. Smaller faster birds will drive you crazy trying to use this lens. After trying this with Birds, Jets seem to move slowly. I think the image quality is fine with this lens if you have proper focus and exposure. As Dallas also pointed out the focus ring is stiff. When I first got this lens I checked out a lot of lenses from other shooters 80-400 and all seem to be too stiff. I know this is because a lot of glass has to be moved, still it would be nice to be able to move it with one finger or thumb without taking your hand away while handholding. This lens is fairly compact and makes a versatile travel lens. Would I recommend this lens..yes if one is willing to learn how to use it getting around its "limitations", otherwise if you think you shouldn't have to get around the limitations then no.

#7 PaulDRobertson


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Posted 29 January 2008 - 22:07

The lens will be at its sharpest with VR off on a stable tripod.  With VR off, locked down on a tripod that easily handles my 400mm f/2.8 AFS-II it lacks critical sharpness.

In those conditions, it simply isn't nearly as sharp at 400mm as the Sigma 50-500mm lens is at 500mm.  You can compare the MTF charts from both manufacturers to verify this and you will see that the 80-400 simply doesn't perform exceptionally well at 400mm.  It's not a bad lens, it simply isn't a great lens.  Since those lenses are both from the same era, many bird and airshow shooters on budgets had one or both and compared them- and the Nikkor always lost.

When I talk about limitations in quality, they're simply not things you can "work around-" because they're inherent in the physics and the optical design of the lens.  For a pro-sumer Nikkor, this lens is sub-par at 400mm, and that's a pity because most of us would use the lens out at 400mm most of the time.


#8 Murph


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Posted 04 February 2008 - 01:33

I have a love hate relationship with this lens.  My problem is I compare it to the 70-200mm VR, and its nowhere in that class. 

#9 Derrel


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Posted 08 February 2008 - 23:55

I bought mine in the fall of 2002 and have used it on D1-D1h-D2x and S2 Pro and Nikon D70 bodies. Autofocus on the consumer-level S2 and D70 AF modules is not very reliable or especially fast. The max aperture is slow and the lower-tech bodies do not drive the lens with the authority/surety of the pro bodies. The D2x handles this lens reasonably well. The VR system is good in this lens and with practice it's able to stabilize the lens racked all the way out at slow speeds like 1/20 to 1/40 second zones with good technique on the shooter's part. The image is a bit jumpier than the 70-200 or the 200/2 VR's new Gen II VR,but the lens has been used aboard small boats and for some shooting from a car going 55-65 MPH on freeways, and this VR is quite good. It's nothing to sneer at. It has two modes of VR,and I use the forward-most position at all times. Using the limiter keeps the focus from 15 feet to Infinity,and it helps somewhat, but this lens can get,well 'confused' quite easily. I have owned the 70-200 VR since its premier,and the 200/VR since early 2006 and feel that the VR of the old stovepipe is quite good--the maligning of the 1st Gen VR in the 80-400 is undeserved. Shoot it aboard a boat or train--the VR's quite good for what it was meant for.

The lockable and non-lockable M-A switch was,AFAIK, premiered on the 80-400VR. With this switch,you are not required to LOCK into either the M or into A focus, but can set the switch to allow button-free switching between M and A modes,and you'll usually,but not always, want to set the lens to that mode, so you can shift between MF and AF without need of pressing the small chrome release button in order to turn the selector ring. Alternately, I sometimes lock it to Manual-Only focusing. This lens's focusing slicks up after a couple years of heavy use. The focusing is GOOD in manual focusing mode,throughout much of the range,and the pitch of the focusing is not so hair-trigger that you get a lot of mis-focusing when focusing by hand. It has a lot of marked focusing distances,with Infinity, 40 ft,20 ft, 15 ft, 12 ft, 10 ft, 9 ft, 8 ft all separated by a goodly number of degrees. This lens is very usable in manual focusing mode between 40 feet and 8 feet with repeatable manual focus,in decent light. In good light, it's easy to manually focus this lens,especially at longer FL's.

For stadium use like on American football played during the daylight hours,with the AF action far away and without much change in distance, this lens is good.But on the sidelines, where focus range shifts with each snap of the ball, this lens is horrible. For soccer at field level,it is usable,but frustrating and limiting. In a boat on ocean or big lake, this lens is a good performer due to VR stabilizing pretty much better than ANY non-VR lens. You can do some pseudo-macro with it using a Canon 500D filter or a Kenko 20mm extension tube and the expansive zoom range to shoot hand-held small scenes at botanical gardens,etc,with VR and autofocus and ttl flash and all that. I've shot the Sigma 80-400 OS on a D200 a little bit; the Sigma is a much better AF lens in terms of AF,and handling and design. The 80-400 demands a D1 or D2 camera for fast-action sports like soccer, where it is only marginally competent. It has good reach,for when you are confined to one location,and need stabilization. It's not super-sharp above 340mm or so, but it is a "real" 400mm. Its best use is when you need VR,like in a boat,or when you're huffing and puffing a bit but still need long-range views. If you need to stand in ONE place, like at a zoo railing, or a botanical garden,or are stuck in a stadium seat or aboard a train or boat, you have a long range zoom and VR. Going whale-watching? Going salmon fishing? VR is a huge bonus there,aboard watercraft on ocean swells. It's kind of clunky,but it is useful for when you need just one,long zoom and when stabilization can make a difference. For scenic type shots,or when you want to isolate things at quite some distance,and when AF speed and AF sureness is not a make or break deal, this lens is useful. If you can manually focus well, that is a plus with the 80-400. I often pre-establish the general focus in MF, and then nudge the ring into AF. I think the VR works better with AF system engaged. NO doubt the 80-400's AF performance is sub-optimal on D70-type bodies.

This lens demands a pro-grade AF system to be called "good" at AF. It has a lot of AF quirks and limitations,and you need to understand its area is slow-speed,small-f/stop work,where focus stays in one zone, OR when you need VR to counteract wind or boat/car motion. At some windsurfing places for example,and at many salmon fishing places, the LENS's sharpness isn't all that critical, but VR can be a huge boost to counteract all the inherent instability of the shooting platform. Used ones cost $900-$950, the Sigma 80-400 is priced similarly,and my initial try of the Sigma was BIF on ospreys,and I felt that the Sigma focused a lot more surely, and just better, on a D200 than the 80-400 could do. I've shot 30,000 frames + on the 80-400 over five full years,on multiple bodies. It has its place. It's quirky. It's long. It's portable. It will work with Kenko AF tubes. It's got VR,and many times VR is far,far more important than optical sharpness,which is overrated sometimes.
Happy Shooting!

#10 JayKay


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Posted 02 May 2008 - 07:02

I used this lens with a D70 initially. The focusing was so-so. I then tried it on a friend's D2X and was impressed with the improvement. It seemed to lock on much faster. My next camera was the D200 (could not afford the D2X). Tracking seemed to have improved as did focusing when I added the battery grip to the D200. Not as good as the D2X though.

I now have both the D300 and D3 and can see very little difference between the two when using the 80-400VR apart from the crop factor. Does this mean that the D3 and D300 have the same motor? The D3 does not seem to have as much 'grip' on the lens as the D2X had.

Strangely enough, I find that the D50 and the 80-400VR work very well together. It is a bit slow, but the images are great.

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#11 Ard Jongsma

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 12:26

I know this is old but I think this lens has been flamed at too much. I  must own the best specimen ever made, reading all the reviews around on the net.

Even at 400mm my lens is a good performer, but it tops just below that. It has brilliant sharpness and saturation. I am extremely critical on sharpness, using a fixed focus 500 for long-lens nature photography and being spoilt by splendid lenses such as the 200mm micro, but this lens has given me most bang for the buck on assignment, particularly shooting events where it is a fantastic lens for shooting portraits (across long distances) of people who are unaware that they are beoing photographed, and travelling, where it can replace a hell of a lot of glass. (I only take a a D300 plus backup, a 17-55, my 80-400, a 105mm micro and a 50mm 1.4 when shooting travel assignments).

Yes, the slow AF is annoying and birds in flight are not an option, but any attacks on this lens should focus on just that. The rest works, the range is lovely, the portability very good, it's as unobtrusive as a lens of this calibre can get, and image quality is - I'm sorry - brilliant. Where it wasn't, I have always been able to trace back my steps and found out what I had done wrong. I have many tack sharp shots taken at 400mm (600mm on a D300) hand-held (!!!) to prove it.

#12 Michael Erlewine

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 07:24

A big disappointment for me, this lens. I tried and tried to like it, but it was never sharp enough or whatever to make me keep it. I did not purchases a third-party collar for it (Kirk Enterprises), which I probably should have. That might have saved the day.

I would like something at this length, but not without solid results, so I gave up on the 80-400mm and sold it. I now use the 300 F/4 and teleconverters, as needed.

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#13 vivionm


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Posted 02 March 2010 - 12:28

I use this lens hand-held for aviation photography. At apertures smaller than f/4 it is sharp, even at 400 mm.

The autofocus could be faster, but it is ok.

#14 Ard Jongsma

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Posted 02 March 2010 - 13:45

I really think there is considerable sample variation, because people's experiences with this lens are so different. Except for the autofocus that is. I wouldn't trade it for its original value :) Sad though, that you cannot be certain even when you hear raving or wrecking test reports. And great that people DO report their experiences, good and bad. We'd never find out otherwise.

#15 Longhiker


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Posted 02 March 2010 - 16:22

I've had good and mediocre results with this lens. To get good results, it took more work than other lenses I've used like the 70-200. The autofocus was a problem. It's a "good" lens, but takes thought and effort.
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#16 gsabbio



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Posted 22 April 2010 - 15:39

I bought mine one in 2002, to substitute a whole gear of lenses for sport and outdoor purposes.

Indeed I found it a very good lens, with good results along all the focal excursion and an overall professional quality.

I shot a lot of good images with it, always handheld, and even using it meanwhile I was flying on my paraglider.
Yes, it was big, heavy and slow focusing, but the VR was really effective (it was the first Nikon VR) and the final results worth the effort, meanwhile the sharpness was good even if fully opened.

Basically I have no issue on this lens, In my opinion it has a visible better contrast than the NK 70-300VR, but after some years of hard usage I had some trouble with the stabilization optical group (the images became blurred).
I repaired it (very expensive... 495 euro) then, after two years I saw the defect was slightly coming back, as at 400 the quality was degrading compared to those images I shot when the lens was new. So, I changed it with the lighter and less expensive Nk 70-300VR. All this story is creating in me the suspect that this lens is sensible to hard outdoor usage/conditions 

But... I still do believe the 80-400 is widely better than the 70-300.

If somebody is going to buy it on the second hand market: I do suggest to deeply test it, if you see blurred and unsharp images, this means that there's something wrong inside, probably in the VR group, because this lens, if perfectly working is flawless.

If and when, Nikon will build an AFS VR 80-400 I will buy it for sure 


#17 simato73


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Posted 22 April 2010 - 20:51

I have had this lens for 6 years (Feb 2004 - Mar 2010). I have used it on a F80 and from 2005 on a D200.

I originally bought it 2nd hand to shoot wildlife, especially large mammals. The intention was to bring it on hikes when I was living in Alberta and it served well its purpose.
I shot mainly handheld but on the tripod I soon found out (right after changing my first newby cr@ppy tripod for a CF one) that indeed the collar is horrible, so I fixed the problem with a used Kirk replacement collar. The improvement is astounding.
I also used it to shoot marine wildlife from boats and it worked OK but I did suffer from the slow AF. No matter how much you factor in the slowness, you at least occasionally loose some shots, even with the D200.
I have also used it for occasional close-ups with a Canon 500D diopter and was satisfied with the results - it can actually get pretty close to 1:1. I did not notice particular image degradation with this combo.
Despite all sensible doubts it does accept the better type of Kenko or Tamron 1.4X TC (it seems they are the same optics). I had the Tamron SP AF 1.4X. The good news is VR is retained. All the rest is bad news. IQ is horrible, forget AF as the motor will just wander aimlessly. So I'd avoid this combo at all costs.

Leaving the 1.4X aside, I never had to complain about optical quality, most of the times imperfection in my pictures was caused by an unsteady hand.
VR was moderately good, not nearly as good as the VR II, and as mentioned before I too had the impression that its effectiveness decreased in time (or maybe I have this impression because in the meantime I bought lenses with the newer VR II).

In terms of reach and range it was excellent and preferable compared to the 70-300VR that I now own.
However the VR in the 70-300 is better and the optics are better too (not by a very large margin). Please note this is subjective - not at all based on data collected in controlled conditions! I prefer the 70-300 mainly for its lower weight (excellent for long hikes) and much faster AF. I do miss a tripod collar though, but for tripod work I have the Sigma 120-300 (clearly not a lens for hikes!)

The 80-400 VR has been sold recently at the same price I bought it for - this means during these years I only paid its maintenance.
This tells a lot about how much Nikkors keep their value.
I am sorry for letting it go :'( but I wasn't using it much since the 70-300 came along, so better use the money to fund the purchase of a D700.
The Kirk collar was sold for 50% more that what I bought it for  >:D
If a new version with better AF, tripod collar and VR came along, I would consider it, even if there would be a lot of overlap with my current telephoto zooms

#18 Jason Ross

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Posted 30 April 2010 - 08:32

On my DX Nikon bodies the 80-400 focuse in a very sluggish way, this is not the case on the Nikon D3s, I have started to use the Auto Focus much more now I have the D3s.

#19 risling


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Posted 29 December 2011 - 11:53

I have had this lens since first announcement and have used it with F5, D100, D2Xs, D90, and D3s. IMHO the pros are: colour, contrast, build quality (not tripod collar, though). Cons: noisy VR, slow AF.

Still, a solid performer, with good sharpness when stopped down. Nothing for sports photography - much too slow. Not fast moving birds either.

#20 JohnBrew


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Posted 20 March 2014 - 12:14

I used the first version of this lens last week at White Sands, NM. I tried a focus-stacking shot (two images) and got obvious banding in the sky. I've attached the image. I'm certain someone knows what this is and I would like hear about it.

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