On The Trail With a Nikon 400mm
Keeps the pace
Vacation is near and I can not wait to explore mid summer areas for nature and wildlife. Life is good! Enjoy it!
I waited until the heat of August to take a few days off work to explore deeper into my photography using this fantastic lens, the Nikon 400. Here are my thoughts and on the trail experience.
August was a mixed bag of results for my outdoor wildlife & nature photography mostly due to the season is almost is past peek of the migrations, thus some birds have taken off while a few new ones are starting to appear like the Green Heron. It is hit or miss in my area and with the heat of the day, you got to get up early or suffer the consensuses.
Also to note is the extreme temperatures and humidly during this time of the year on the East Coast, which normally starts out in the low 70's but soars to the upper 90's with humidity at 80% normally within a few hours after 09:00. This means in order to get better results you need to be up and on the trail by 06:00.
So how did the Nikkor 400MM ED FL hold up? Exceptional! Nikon makes the best 400mm on the market in my opinion - period. Carrying the newer designed lens was noticeably easier due to lighter weight and better front to rear lens balance. Through the early morning light rain and then into the very humid days that followed I had no issues along the way with the lens, it was ready to perform when I needed it to, no moister problems at all - even at 80+% humidy. I normally carry a lens rain jacket but on at least one day I forgot and left it in the car and continued to shoot in the light rain, I also carry a microfiber cloth to wipe up any build up of water, nothing stopped this lens - but for a disclaimer, I wipe it off as rain builds up. Let me give accolades to Nikon for adding Fluorite coatings, they work - really work. Water beads up on the lens element, and dust can be blown off with ease, and if the need arises for you to wipe the front glass, no streaks are left behind.
This new Nikkor 400mm FL lens performs exceptionally well just as a 400mm with super stunning sharpness and Bokeh, one added benefit is the reduced weight of the lens, and out on the trail walking miles I can tell a big difference from my older 400mm and 600mm. With this lighter lens I don't dread the thought of walking and carrying the lens for a few miles even on the warmer humid days because I know it will deliver results I can appreciate. This is called the ROC = Return on Carry :)
Out in the field I shot with this lens using all three Nikon Teleconvertors - the new and old 1.4x, 1.7x and 2.0x. With the 1.4 the lens simply performs as if nothing is attached - I really mean perfection!, I was totally surprised because the lens excels at sharpness with all TCs delivering great contrast with extreme sharpness at center with a very minimal falloff at the far edges of the image. With the 1.7, I noticed a slight focus acquisition, the overall sharpness amazed me considering the 1.7x factor, but to say this, it performs very well together, in fact my expectations was not too high, but after using the TC1.7 the results are excellent on par with any 600mm lens. On some cluttered backgrounds the lens did hunt to focus when using the TC1.7 or TC2.0 and in those situations I switch to single focus point, which helps tremendously, but this is more of a restriction of the camera more so than the lens.
With the TC 2.0x attached you will notice an overall slower focusing lens which provides a 800mm on a FX body, you need to consider all things such as solid shooting platform and fast exposure speeds, even the slightest vibration will make your images suffer. In good lighting the 400mm with a 2.0 performs very well. I do notice it is harder to keep the main subject in the focus area causing the lens will go hunt and I have missed a few birds in flight when the bird is low flying in front of trees, birds in flight at 800mm takes practice to maintain lock. The 400 works well with a 2x tc in the right conditions and produces very sharp images. I use the TC20 normally on bright sunny days with I am perched in a bush stalking stationary wildlife from a distance.
Vibration Reduction: Works. Overall it works exceptionally well when you do need it. Some of these images were taken at 800mm as low as 1/120s and still got usable results. When i need to use slower shutter speeds I always engage the VR mode, Nikon added two modes - normal and sport. Nikon claims sport is used for erratic subjects, or in a boat / pier when you yourself are moving up, down, sideways. When I engage the sport mode, I dont notice much difference. I will say this, unless I REALLY need VR I leave it off, why? When you have the shutter speed up, and in good lighting the results will normally be sharper with the VR off + you will not get lazy in your shooting technique, and then when you do engage it your lens holding memory muscles will continue to work.
Weather Seals: The lens got wet and wetter, and everything kept working! I had no issues in a light mist / rain for several hours. I do use a micro drying towel to prevent any build up of water around seals, that is just common sense. I recommend you buy a pack of good micro towels and carry a couple with you at all times.
Fluorite coatings as mentioned makes "stuff" easy to remove from the front glass, In one area I was shooting in it was very dusty and at the end of the day, I simply used a blower to remove the dust for the front glass without the need to touch it. The fluorite coatings work.
Taking photos with this lens is a wonderful experience, no matter what I pointed to I was normally able to get at least one usable image, with exceptionally fast focus, nothing escapes the Nikkor 400mm. When I get home and begin to process the images, I at times found myself amazed at how sharp and beautiful the results are. The images posted are downsized and compressed to enable faster rendering on mobile devices, so some fine details are lost in these JPGS. When shooting at f/2.8, the subject is in sharp focus contrasted against a background of wonderful mix of bokeh colors, this lens would also be a great portraiture lens if needed.
Final Thoughts: This is my third year with this wonderful lens, and I love this lens, and do not ever see myself without a 400mm f2.8 in my must have lens bag. Although expensive this lens makes me look good. For now this lens is my KING of 400!
-- Stay on the Trail and shoot your favorite lens and camera - let me know your favorite combos using the comments!!