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Nikon 80-400 VR
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Nikon 80-400 VR

Boy, does this lens get mixed reviews on the various photography websites.  This review will take a slightly different tack.  No, this lens is not the sharpest tool in my bag.  No, this lens is not the fastest to focus.  No, this lens does not have the best zoom range in its class (the Sigma 50-500 HSM does that). No, this lens does not always have enough focal length to take images of small birds. And, No, this lens is not the cheapest, nor is it the best at any one thing that it does.

You figured there must be a reason I’m writing this, right?  Well, yes indeed.  I think this is the best lens of its type on the market.  I’ve owned the Sigma 50-500 (previously mentioned), I’ve owned shorter zooms and have a faster one (70-200 AF-S VR Nikkor comes close in reach with a 1.7x, or matches the reach with a 2x teleconverter).  But, the 80-400 very often comes with me when I need a longer reach.

This lens is rather short, light, and compact for its range.  It is significantly shorter and lighter than my 70-200, MUCH shorter and lighter than the 50-500 Sigma I used to own, and MUCH more versatile than both, while costing somehwere in the middle between the two.

I realized one day how NICE it was that this lens is shorter than my 70-200 VR, especially with the 1.7x teleconverter.  My wife and I were kayaking and taking pictures of bald eagles and common mergansers.  My wife and I had our cameras around our necks.  My wife had the 70-200 with converter and I had the 80-400.  To my chagrin when I turned around from shooting some ducks my wife had her longish teleconverter / lens combination (worth over $2000!) with the front lens element dangling in the Delaware River!  Size matters.  Small size.  The larger combination is very unwieldy when shooting from a moving kayak.

The image below was taken with the 80-400 VR Nikkor and the Nikon D200.  The picture was taken from a canoe in our pond, hand held. This is a significant crop of the original image.

Eastern Phoebe taken with Nikon D200 and 80-400 VR Nikkor

Eastern Phoebe taken with Nikon D200 and 80-400 VR Nikkor

Now, the main concern with this lens is that it doesn’t focus “fast enough”, after all, this lens doesn’t have the nice Nikon AF-S silent wave drive focusing motor.

The image below was taken with the 80-400 VR lens while the tractor moved across my path.  The camera was able to lock an maintain focus even with this “slow” focusing lens.  This image was taken with the Nikon D300.

Hay Flying at Meyer Farm taken with Nikon D300 and 80-400 VR

Hay Flying at Meyer Farm taken with Nikon D300 and 80-400 VR

The last image I will post today shows that this lens is not “useless” for sports action, either.  This image was taken with a Nikon D200 at 200 ISO (not the optimal ISO for this camera, best performance is at ISO 100).   This image is a crop that comprises about 1/4 of the original APS-C sized frame.

Soccer at the Family Foundation School

Soccer at the Family Foundation School

My conclusion?  Of all of the available lenses in this focal length range the Nikkor 80-400 VR is the most useful.  The only other contender in this price and focal length range is the Sigma 80-400 OS, and this lens is significantly larger and heavier, performance is about the same.  To get better image quality you would need to purchase a larger, heavier lens that costs significantly more.  The vibration reduction feature has saved many an image for me.  I rarely use this lens on a tripod, and it is generally not necessary to do so to get a sharp image.  This is the reason I sold my Sigma 50-500 in favor of this lens.  Many more keepers with the Nikkor 80-400 VR.  This one’s a keeper!  It’s so good, as a matter of fact that I bought my wife one!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin O'Brien 08.31.12 at 5:41 am

I wish to thank all the negative reviewers of this lens, who enabled me to purchase a second hand 80-400 VR for a very attractive price. Before buying it, I downloaded and read the owner’s manual, which contained several points which many reviewers seem to have overlooked.

1. The manual says that, in VR mode 1 and 2, you need to partially depress the shutter release for at least one second before taking a picture. I assume this time is needed to allow the VR to do its work. Observing this rule makes a big difference.

2. The lens may be coupled with a TC-201 teleconverter.

With the TC, I now have the reach of an 800mm lens, or 1200mm if you consider the crop factor of the D7000 on which these lenses are mounted. It may not have the low light capabilities of faster lenses, but it every bit as sharp when the light is available.

Gerald Janauer 08.31.12 at 9:57 am

I love mine! Enjoy!
Gerald

Mark 03.07.13 at 6:25 pm

Hi there, great review! I find myself considering the 80-400 or the 70-200+x2 converter. Any chance you could provide shoots of the same subject using the same body but with the two different lens combinations ?

I’ve tried the Sigma 150-500 and the 70-200+x2 and the sigma seemed to provide a sharper Image at 400mm, maybe slightly softened at 500mm. So would be great to see what the image quality the 80-400 vs 70-200+x2 is like.

Any comments on the focusing speed of the 80-400 compared to the 70-200+x2??

I hope you can help with some advice.
Regards
Mark

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