New Nikon 80-400mm AF-S VR Lens adds fast focus to arsenal

_djc6688 as smart object-1I’m continuing to enjoy shooting with the new Nikon 80-400mm AF-S VR Lens.  I’ve already written about how pleased I am with its sharpness, and how effective it is for capturing sports from the sidelines. To evaluate its focus capability further, I took it down to the Baylands – our local birding hotspot – and gave it a bit of a workout.

Once again, the new 80-400 exceeded my expectations. It focused incredibly fast, with speed similar to that of a pro-quality prime lens, let alone a zoom – even fully extended at 400mm where it has its minimum-size aperture of f/5.6. It was a pleasure to use, and its relatively small size (for a lens of its length) make it easy to hand hold. It might well be the best single flight lens in the Nikon arsenal, with more reach and flexibility than the Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S Lens and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S lens. I haven’t personally done the comparison, but at 400mm it has been tested to be at least as sharp as the 70-200 with a 2x teleconverter.

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American Avocet, Nikon D600 with Nikon 80-400mm AF-S VR Lens
1/3000s @ f/5.6, ISO 800

The combination of fast focus and great resolving power make the 80-400 a reasonable bird photo lens even on a full frame camera like the Nikon D600 that I was using at the Baylands. The above image is the full frame 400mm shot of a flying American Avocet that I took, with the image below being a more pleasing crop of the bird itself.

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While it would have been a better setup to have had my Nikon 200-400mm Lens and a Teleconverter, that’s a $7,000 lens combo that also requires a tripod (a 500mm f/4 or 600mm f/4 would be additional, but even more expensive options). Another possibility would have been to shoot with a DX-format camera like the new Nikon D7100 and essentially have the camera do the cropping before the shot is taken.

In short the Nikon 80-400mm AF-S VR Lens passed this test with flying colors. If you can get over the stiff price, then it is an amazing lens and a very major upgrade from the original version. Surprisingly, it also works well with the Nikon TC-14E (thanks to a sharp reader for pointing this out to me!) The lens is in stock now for $2695 at our partner, B&H.

For those looking to buy, or perhaps rent, a lens for bird photography, like our Rio Grande Valley bird photo safari and Hill Country bird photo safari in May, this lens would make a perfect choice.