- It is comprised of 17 elements in 11 groups.
- It uses a 9-bladed diaphragm design with curved blades
- The front of the lens, which doesn’t rotate accepts 77mm filters.
- The AF mechanism is the old screwdriver type
- The close focusing capability is acceptable at 2.3m
- Thankfully, the tripod collar is removable
- The size is compact for such range at only 91mm x 170mm.
- And the weight is OK at 1,340g especially when compared to the heavier AFS 80-200mm.
80-300mm range: Between 80mm and 300mm this lens can produce very good results similar to but not better than the AFS 70-300mm VR, so if you are interested in this range, the much cheaper 70-300mm VR is the better choice. But most people will most probably be investing in the 80-400mm for its long reach.
400mm: At the long end, this zoom can deliver sharp results though at times it also seems to deliver some softness. This is because the area of softness surrounding the sharp center is quite large. So wide open its very sharp in the center with softer edges. Closing down a little to f/7.1 improves the sharpness and contrast while extending those characteristics over a much larger portion of the frame. At f/8 performance is excellent all over and at f/11 performance peaks. From there onwards, performance degrades fast and most probably should be avoided. The AF 80-400mm VR in most cases produces excellent results but it excels at shooting static subjects that are well lit and are close to the lens.
Ghosting and flaring: Shooting against the sun or other bright light sources seem to have little negative effect on this zoom. I don’t think you can find many zooms that would let you shoot against the sun with such performance. If you are getting flare with your copy, I would suggest you clean your lens and remove any unnecessary filters from the front of it.
Bokeh: Although complex designs such as this 17-element zoom don’t help in the bokeh department, the OOF (out-of-focus) areas of this zoom are too horrible and highlights are pleasant thanks in part to its incorporation of a rounded 9-bladed diaphragm. Overall, nothing special.
Distortion: Distortion is usually a problem with wide angle lenses or for photographers shooting architecture, so I don’t think anyone considering this lens should worry about distortion.
Vignetting: On the subject of vignetting, the 80-400mm is surprisingly good when compared to my old AF 80-200mm f/2.8D lens which had noticeable light fall off toward the edges of the frame wide open and at f4. And this observation is based on the results from a full frame camera, so on a DX format camera the vignetting is a non-issue.
Chromatic aberrations: At 400mm and on most DX format cameras some chromatic aberrations (usually purple fringing) are present but can be easily removed by Adobe Lightroom by selecting the "Remove Chromatic Aberration" option under the "Lens Correction" tab. Other software can remove this automatically also.
The VR technology is of little help for moving wildlife, though a welcome addition, especially for those trekking or traveling. The best way to get the most out of this lens is to forget about its VR capabilities. You are shooting at 400mm (600mm on DX) and so should be trying to maximize your yield by aiming for the highest shutter speeds possible. Let VR work in the background, and it will do its part. Some inexperienced photographers, buy this lens and expect to be shooting birds handheld with shutter speeds of 1/60 sec. - forget it!
Best way to get sharp results
If you want sharp results, you need to “continue” using long lens techniques, support yourself and camera as much as possible, aim for the highest speeds and just let the VR technology do its thing. This lens requires that you shoot 5-6 frames in succession so you can pick the best result. Some are usually blurred looking mostly due to micro vibrations, but then in the series you will find one or two that really pop. I sometimes fire off 5-6 frames and then refocus and shoot again (EDIT: This was before AF fine tune was available). Although I have some very sharp results at some insanely slow shutter speeds (eg: 1/60 @ 400mm with VR), I usually try to stick with speeds of 1/500sec or faster on a DX format camera. With a DX body the old rule of thumb says that a shutter close to 1/600sec is needed to get a chance at sharp results. Thankfully, most of the times, I end up with plenty of sharp results to choose from.
VR in action
| || |
MTF chart as published by Nikon