Monday, June 22, 2009

Nikkor AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 ED VR D - Review / Lab Test Report


Released back in 2000 the Nikkor AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR was the first in a row of new Nikon lenses featuring a Vibration Reduction (VR) mechanism which is certainly one of the key selling arguments besides the very attractive zoom range of the lens. The VR has an efficiency equivalent to 3 f-stops (at cost of slow shutter speeds like all optical image stabilizers). Unlike its Canon counterpart the VR is capable to detect panning so it is not necessary to switch between two different modes for static and action scenes. The VR should be switched off when using the lens on a tripod - otherwise you risk added blur because the lens tries to find non-existing motion.

The AF 80-400mm VR is a gold ring lens indicating a professional grade Nikon lens for F-mount DSLRs. It's a full frame lens and there're no limitations regarding the usage on film and digital SLRs. On current APS-C DSLRs like the Nikon D200 (used for testing) the focal length is equivalent to 120-600mm (5x ratio).

The build quality of the lens is good but don't expect an all-metal tank - many parts are made of good quality plastic. The Nikkor has a conventional zoom ring making it quite convenient to set an exact focal length. The zoom action feels a little on the stiff side. As you can see in the product shots above the lens extends quite a bit when zooming towards the long end of the zoom range but this is typical for zoom lenses in this focal length class. The AF 80-400mm VR features a detachable tripod collar which is certainly needed regarding the weight class of the lens. Unfortunately it isn't exactly the best implementation around because turning the ring between horizontal and vertical layout is imprecise at best. Most users will probably prefer to take it off.

Thanks to an IF (internal focusing) design the front element does not rotate so using a polarizer is no problem. The lens has no internal AF motor and relies on a slotted drive screw operated by the camera. As a result AF operation will generate a moderate degree of noise. The AF speed is quite slow - one of the primary points of criticism with its the user community. Sports photography is not really a strong aspect of the 80-400mm VR but things aren't all that bad on the D200. The lens has a focus limiter which can be useful in low-light situations where the camera's AF may tend to hunt at times. If you deactivate AF on the camera you still need to turn an AF-MF ring on the lens in order to use the focus ring - otherwise it remains detached from the focus gears. Quite awkward compared to the recent AF-S designs.

Optical construction17 elements in 11 groups inc. 3 ED elements
Number of aperture blades9 (rounded)
min. focus distance2.3m @ 400mm (max. magnification ratio 1:4.8)
Filter size77mm (non-rotating)
HoodNikon HB-24 (supplied), barrel-shaped
Other featuresLens provides distance (D) information to the camera. Tripod collar. Vibration Reduction (VR).
Lens kindly provided by Horst Schneider!

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