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Nikon 400mm f/2.8E ED VR FL Review
TrueToad / Tuesday, March 7, 2017 / Categories: Reviews

Nikon 400mm f/2.8E ED VR FL Review

Precision - Extraordinaire

New On the Trail Series: Here

2017 Update: I still love with this lens. I keep saying this one theme when people ask me about the lens when I am out shooting, it is the finest 400mm Nikon has ever produced to date - It is fast and sharp with a reasonable weight and excellent balance, has excellent weather sealing and fluorine coatings that make crap fall off the glass. The lens is a pleasure to use, carry and has the speed of a cheetah. This 400mm ED FL excels at anything you put in front of it in almost any lighting.  What is your favorite lens? This is your favorite lens at 400mm! I find no flaws in design, quality, or build. If you can afford it, this is the lens you need in your kit for a number or photography reason, and you know who you are - you are reading this. Many of you as well as I pondered about 400 vs 500 vs 600, agreed it is a hard difficult and expensive decision, regardless of your choice, the 400 is a remarkable lens you have to use it to understand.

2016 Update:  Nikon established the benchmark for super telephotos. The Nikkor 400mm FL continues a fine heritage and simply put, the most versatile long lens Nikon offers due to the flexibility with all Nikkor teleconverters. 

The question was if, If I had to sell every lens but one which would I keep?  Wow! The Nikkor 400mm is my answer, what a beautiful lens optically and versatility speaking. The Nikkor 400mm is the sharpest & fastest Super Nikkor lens available (spooky sharp as Moose says). If you are here for the bottom line, here it is Sports shooters - STOP! go - buy one and enjoy! Wildlife Shooters, this is more complicated, so read through. Regardless, with the Nikkor 400 you will have the finest super telephoto on the market, and when you arm yourself with the 3 Nikon teleconverters, you have amazing capabilities to cover out to 800mm and  beyond if shooting a DX crop mode camera body ( 4oo x 2.0(TC) x 1.5(dx) = 1,200mm).  YES, I love my 400mm for close in work I can do the local areas and the ability for low light sports fields events. I never regret this purchase, especially when I am out shooting with this fine lens; This lens is simply the best Super Telephotos Nikon has ever produced. If you have a dual shooting life such as sports and wildlife, this is an awesome lens.  If you are a primary wildlife shooter in open areas I believe the new FL 600mm would be a better lens choice out in the wild. While the 400 FL easily takes all the teleconverters and is one reason why I love it.  Best use is for close in wildlife, and the late afternoon work and you find yourself owning the low light game.

400MM ed fl

400MM ed fl

One Plus Year Anniversary: September marks my one year with the exceptional FL 400 lens and I think I owe everyone an update at this point. Today I share one new photo as our summer draws down in the Northen Hemisphere, the fabulous Hummingbird; 

Let me say this new 400mm is the finest 400mm Nikkor has ever released and I have many years using earlier Nikkor 400mm lens and this new version performs fantastic, sharpness, speed, and Vibration Reduction are all top notch. If you read nothing below this paragraph, please take this message home; This is one beautiful lens all around, and the question is would I buy it again - Yes.  

Now that the new 600mm ED FL lens is out how do you choose between two of the finest supers on the market? Not easily done. I used the 600 and 400 and this is a decision based on speed or reach.  I hate to be so common in my remarks of other reviewers.  Now that the 600 is as light as the 400, one really needs to consider the NEW 600 as the go-to nature lens. With three new killer Nikon's the D500, D5, and D850 all with so many focusing points and higher dynamic range the new 600 works exceptionally well with TC extenders (1.4 & 1.7) good with 2.0. Consider using the 600 with a D500 and 1/4 TC = 1200mm that is awesome!! Using the same setup the 400mm will be an 840mm but a stop faster. Is question -  hat do you need fast or reach?  Both are expensive to the point of being painful, but if you want the best it cost.

My Earlier postings on this lens.

May 2015 - I took time this past weekend to shoot with the finest 400mm on the market. This is one super lens, with clarity, contrast, and a super VR system - It even makes me look good! See the photos in the gallery. After  8 months of use, I can not find any fault in this lens, this is the BEST Nikkor Telephoto lens I have ever used.

Update: April 2015.  Portable, and Sharp 400mm Nikkors ever. 7 months of use representing the best of Nikon. A wonderful lens.

Color & Contrast

Color & Contrast

The 400mm renders beautiful Boken, color and contrast, that make shots like this wonderful to look at.
You can read technical details on other sites I don't do that here. – I am not about counting pixels on a technical level or trying to explain how much better one manufacturer is over the next. If you're shooting Canon 400 you have a fine lens. Both Nikon users and Canon users browse and say - wow I wish I had that. This review is how well this lens delivers images using the camera body you have and my impressions as compared to other earlier versions. I can say my latest VRII version was a stellar performer which I simply loved with images so sharp it was uncanny if this lens is anywhere near that at almost 2 lbs. lighter I will be one happy person.

I will start by saying – I buy my own gear - have no handouts. My next major purchase will be a D5. but just recently updated my D800 to the D810. For a second mirrorless body, i went with a Nikon V3 - another review.

Anyway, what are the different features on this newer Nikkor 400MM 2.8E VR FL lens? There were several key features that made me want to switch out my current 400mm 2.8.

1. The lens is more compact and lighter, compact in length by about 1 inch and the weight of this new lens is 8.37 pounds or 3800g for you metric folks, the older 400mm VRII is 10.1 pounds or 4,620g. for a realistic weight difference of 1.8 pounds, and yes I can tell the difference when lifting it. The weight bias is still on the front but balances nicely on my tripod and shoulder.  Once you get accustomed to it.

2.You actually have a usable custom-fitted hard shell case similar to an airline carry-on but I am not certain if the dimensions are ok for carrying the so be it – and looks to be. So, the "hard" case is better suited for travel.

3.Nikon states this lens has extreme weather resistant and seals, to me, it looks as good and the VRII lens but not any better I can tell.

4. Fluorite Lens coating – watch the youtube video to see the benefits, the coatings make crap come off real easy. Note: I normally never clean my glass unless I have a large amount of debris present.

5. Fluorite lens elements x 2 to reduce weight and improve the lens optically (this is probably where most of the added cost comes from)

6. A new panning mode VR setting - sports mode. I am a nature shooter, but I am sure the sports shooters can attest to the benefits, and I can use it in my panning shots.

7.An electronic diaphragm for more consistency during exposure shots, more for the continuous shooter high FPS (not sure how this feature impacts battery life). Glad Nikon added it, I use PCE lens and appreciate this feature.

8. better lens ergonomics (debatable); not too sure it matters overall.

9. Increased sharpness – To Be determined – really, how much sharper can a Nikkor 400mm get? 

That is pretty much it. So do the enhancements really make this lens worth the cost over the other Nikkor version? Hard to say, but if you’re a 400 fan who uses the lens often then I suspect yes.

Cardinal Portiature

Cardinal Portiature

The 400 is a fantastic portiature lens, why not for wildlife? Sharpness and Clarity.
Before I forget the “Really Right Stuff” lens foot replacement from my old 400mm VRII will technically fit, but will not allow the lens hood to attach for storage, the Really Right Stuff foot replacement is too long now that the carbon fiber hood is a single piece. The New Really Right Stuff Arca Foot Replacement is here.

** UPDATE: Really Right Stuff just released a new lens foot for this new Nikkor 400mm FL lens.  Also, various lens coats are now available in different colors.

Here are some “snapshots” taken – Keep in mind the outing was not all that exciting and subjects during this time of year limited. 

The butterfly was taken from about 50 feet @ 60% crop. The dogs on the beach was taken at extreme distance, they were so far away I could not make out any detailed features with eyesight, I could see and hear the dogs in the water frolicking, I literally rotated the camera and hit the shutter – 90% crop 1.7 tc used. The guys fishing were taken with a Nikkor 1.7TC II as well and were sitting out on the river a very good distance from me, shooting conditions that day were not all that good, many know on the east coast haze is most often present The yellow flowers were taken from a wooden platform Tripoded about 50 feet away, the insect is a 50% crop showing how much detail and clarity this lens can capture. I will not try to comment on the geese landings, my first attempt and I was not prepared – but got a few other bird in flight shots off anyway – better luck in the spring next year - can't wait. Who needs Macro - the Spider was shot at about 30 feet and you can see the details- the wind was a factor here so not all too sharp but what was was.

Mounted on my a D810 for the first week was new to me even though I had been using a D800 for two years, it was enough of difference to make me pause due to trying different focus settings.

To Note: The performance with the TCs ( I tried all three), but not the new 1.4 III version, just the older 1.4 version. Very responsive with all three TCs. The lens would snap to attention when I touched the release and with the D810 on the back end, this is one awesome setup.  I have high confidence with this setup and my TCs. The reason I bought a 400mm 2.8 in the first place.

**UPDATE: I recently purchased the new 1.4 III TC and it is an awesome combination! The two together with my D810 seems to act as one instrument, with no noticeable loss of IQ or focusing speed.

Weight, Today I was out for about 6 hours, this lens wore on me and took a few hours to adjust my shoulder technique for carrying. I am still working the lens to rest on my shoulder in the sweet spot and once I figure it out should be fine. Let us face it, you need padding, camera, tripod, the lens is heavy.

My final thoughts (2017), See all above, This newer Nikkor 400 is by far the finest Nikkor 400mm ever produced!  Having owned three previous 400s this incarnation is the best yet. Lighter, and much better balance along with the great image and build quality makes it a standout. With a f/2.8 aperture, the light gathering capability is excellent and usable in many situations. This lens is a near perfect tool for wildlife in difficult lighting conditions, excels when used with a teleconverter, especially the TC14III. If you are looking for a wide range/versatile super telephoto lens and have the cash or trade up,  the 400 just might be your perfect answer.

The 400mm lens is a super champion and I am looking forward to more use in the near future and updating this as a part 2 with more experience.  Help This Site: Buy a Nikkor 400

 

The main Image is the reason as to why the 400 rules all super telephotos!

 

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Photographer's Notes
All photos taken using the Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 ed VR FL lens. Some photos were acquired using Nikon's Tele-convertors  TC 1.4 II, TC 1.4 III, TC 1.7II and TC 2.0 III . Overall image quality is excellent especially with the 1.7 TC II (believe it or not) with minimal loss of focus speed / image quality.  The lens excels especially with a great camera body DX or FX, Go for it.


Buy your Nikkor 400mm through Amazon

Lens
  • Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 ED FL VR
Camera Body
  • Nikon D500
  • Nikon D810
Accessories Used
  • TC-14E III
  • TC-17 II
  • TC-20 III
  • WR-A10 Wireless Adapter
  • MB-D12 Power Pack
Original Date3/7/2016 12:01:00 AM

TrueToadTrueToad

I live at the edge of the forest in semi-moist locations, I enjoy larva, and other delights. Although I am toothless and mostly warty, I am a sight to see.

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4 comments on article "Nikon 400mm f/2.8E ED VR FL Review"

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Q8mc

thank you very much for your review it help me. i hope you can upload more photos especially birds.

thanks


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Bill

Thanks for taking time to post the images and review of the 400mm. I am considering one and this helps me decided.


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Robert Daniels

What is the best way to save and get this lens in 1 years time


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TrueToad

Robert, I will provide you my strategy for the expensive camera bodies and lens purchases.

1. what other interest are you NO longer actively engaged in that could possibly provide revenue? I had three APO telescopes I hardly used and sold for a few grand.+ an older 400mm, thus I recovered a majority of the expense for the new 400 lens.

2. Start saving now! I have no idea of your budget so I can not recommend how much, but one thing is clear - you will never get there unless you start.

Most of all: Owning the lens may not necessarily bring you all the benefits over your cost outlay you may be hoping for if your photography does not demand a fast 400 mm. 80% solution Might make your photography just as rewarding! Such as using the Nikkor 200-500, or the fantastic 300mm PF with a 1.4 tc. both at a fraction of the cost.

Finally, the used lens market may be a cheaper option.

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