Review Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR (N APS-C)

AFS 80 400 ED VR detail

In 2000, the Nikon AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR was one of the first Nikon lenses featuring Vibration Reduction (VR). In April 2013, its successor, the Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, was introduced, with an improved version of the VR and a built-in AF motor. Also, the optical design of the lens has been redesigned. This lens now features 20 elements in 12 groups (formerly 17/11), including one Super ED Glass Element and four ED glass elements. These types of glass are used to minimize chromatic aberration, and that, together with the moderate AF speed, is one of the few criticisms of the previous version of this lens. It’s an FX-format telephoto zoom lens with a 5x zoom range, but on a camera with a DX sensor–such as our Nikon D5200 test camera–this lens is even more ideal for sports and nature photography or video.

AFS 80 400 ED VR detail

Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR review @ Nikon D5200

Nikon 80-4000 mm VR + Kenko 2x converter, @ 800 mm, f/13, 1/160 + VR (edited RAW image with increased contrast)
A focal length of 400 mm on a camera with a DX sensor has the same field of view as a 600mm telephoto lens on a camera with an FX sensor. When you need an even longer focal length, you can combine this lens with a teleconverter. The AF of the Nikon 80-400mm VR still works in conjunction with a 1.4x teleconverter. Combined with a 2x converter, you will have to focus manually or use Live View (which it is slow), but then you have a focal length range with a field of view equivalent to a 240 – 1200 mm lens on a camera with a full-frame/FX sensor. The smaller insert shows what we saw with our naked eyes.
Unfortunately we had bad weather when we wanted to test this lens for nature photography. In hazy weather (as in the picture above, without using a tripod shot at 1/160 @ 1200 mm FF equivalent), you get images with very little contrast. You will have to edit the image for a presentable result–and that’s because of the bad weather, not because of the teleconverter.



The Nikon AF-S 80-400 mm VR is a heavy (1.5 kg), well-built lens. The body is made of high quality plastic, and it has a metal mount. A rubber seal protects the lens from dust and splash water. The Nikon 80-400 mm comes with a lens hood, lens case and a tripod mount, which also makes it easier to change between portrait and landscape shots when the camera is attached to a tripod.

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Auto focus

Nikon has also improved the AF performance of the Nikon 80-400mm VR compared to its predecessor. The Nikon 80-400mm VR has a built-in Silent Wave Motor (SWM) and is suitable for use with camera bodies without an AF motor, such as the Nikon D3200. The AF of this lens is fast and–indeed–very quiet. We haven’t tested the previous version of this lens, but the AF speed of the previous version is one of the few cons in its reviews. The new Nikon AF-S 80-400 mm VR focuses quickly. By using the focus limit switch, the focus range will be limited to ∞-6m, so the AF time is further minimized. The lens uses Internal Focusing (IF), and therefore the front lens does not rotate during focusing.

Image stabilization/Vibration reduction

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR is equipped with the latest version of Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) system, giving you a profit of 4 stops (and that was 3 stops with its predecessor) in comparison with a hand-held shot. The system detects when it is placed on a tripod and then turns off. Also, panning of the camera with a moving subject is detected, and then the VR is turned off in 1 direction. You don’t need to adjust VR switches during action photography, which is very convenient.

We are working on a review of the Nikon AF-S 80-400 mm combined with a Nikon D800E. Here you see the results for the VR test of the Nikon VR 80-400mm on a Nikon D800E in our test lab. Using the VR, images shot at a 70mm focal length and a shutter speed of 1/200 and 1/25 second are equally sharp. With a shutter speed of 1/13 (4 stops difference) the image is somewhat less sharp, but much, much better than a hand-held shot without VR.

The sample image at the top of this page demonstrates that the image stabilization works well with longer focal lengths. An image shot without the use of a tripod, at a focal length of 800mm (1200mm = @ ff) and a shutter speed of 1/160 second without VR looks horrible because of camera shake.



To get the most out of the high resolution of the Nikon D5200 and Nikon 80-400mm VR, we shot a test chart of almost 2 meters wide. If you want a shot in which the test card fills the image, you stand at a distance of 35 meters.

The Nikon 80-400 mm VR shows a nice, constant sharpness across the entire range. The highest resolution for jpg files is 3000 LW/PH at 80mm to 2500 LW/PH at 400 mm. The sharpness in the corners usually lags–measurably, not visibly–slightly behind the sharpness in the center. Yet, thanks to the 24 megapixels of the Nikon D5200, the resolution in the corners is always at least 1500 LW/PH. There are many lenses that give that kind of resolution in the center when you use them on a camera with an APS-C sensor.

It seems the resolution performance of this lens is similar to the performance of its predecessor. Photozone published Nikon 80-400mm review of the previous version of this lens (with a center resolution of ~1900 LW/PH), using RAW files shot with a 10 megapixel Nikon D200 camera. When you extrapolate Photozone’s measurements, you would expect a resolution in the image center of ~3000 LW/PH for a RAW file shot with a 24 megapixel camera. Our 24-megapixel Nikon D5200 shot RAW files at f/8 and f/11 with a center resolution between 2930 and 3075 LW/PH for focal lengths from 80 to 267mm. At 400mm, we measured a center resolution of ~ 2500 LW/PH. Note: the numbers given here are for standardized sharpened RAW files, whereas the image above shows resolution measurement results for the jpg files.



The Nikon AF-S 80-400mm VR is designed for a camera with a full-frame sensor. The smaller size of a DX sensor uses only the center of the image. Therefore, this lens shows no visible vignetting at any aperture/focal length combination.



Despite the large (5x) zoom range, there is no focal length where you will encounter visible distortion. The measurement results for RAW files showed even slightly lower values than the jpg files. We have no explanation for that difference. We also don’t worry about it, since the distortion remains below 1% for both jpg and RAW files at all focal lengths. distortion

Nikon-80-400mm-VR-DXNikon 80-400mm VR @ 400mm, 6400 ISO, f5/6, 1/160 sec + VR

Bokeh Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

The bokeh is beautifully round and shows no circles–and not only at full aperture. Even at f/8 the bokeh still looked nice. bokeh



To prevent flare and ghosting, the lens elements are coated with Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coating. Also, a lens hood is supplied. During testing, we encountered no bright light source to test its resistance to flare.
In the studio, we found no flare or ghosting when the lens was aimed right next to a very bright light source. Only when the source was shining directly into the lens was there a region with reduced contrast and a barely perceptible ghost (near the white arrow). That’s a very good performance.


Chromatic aberration


Telephoto lenses may be sensitive to chromatic aberration. In their Nikon 80-400mm review, Photozone reported that the old version of the Nikon 80-400mm VR showed relatively pronounced lateral chromatic aberration, especially at a focal length of 80mm and aperture 4.5 to 5.6. In the new design, more ED glass is used, which reduces chromatic aberration. In addition, the Nikon D5200 performs in-camera correction of chromatic aberration in jpg files. Both RAW and JPG files show no visible chromatic aberration. Only when you zoom a RAW file image on your screen to 200% do the green and purple fringes become visible in the corners of the image.


Conclusion Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR review

Nikon-AFS 80 400 ED VR

See our list of tested lenses or the lenses with a Nikon mount tested by us to compare the performance of this lens to other lenses.

ECWYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens when you store the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: “What you see is what you get”. {insertgrid ID = 308}
ECPure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. {insertgrid ID = 309}



  • High image quality
  • Effective image stabilization
  • Large telephoto zoom range
  • Fast and quiet AF
  • Little affected by flare and ghosting
  • High price
  • Weight (1.5 kg)
The Nikon AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR is a lens with a high purchase price, and that makes the expectations for the image quality high as well. The build quality is good, but with a Nikon you expect that. The camera focuses quickly and accurately: the sharpness is high at all focal lengths, even in the corners. Vignetting and distortion are not visibly present at any focal length, and the chromatic aberration, even in RAW files without lens correction, is low. The main criticisms of the old version were the slow AF and high CA. On both points, the new version of the Nikon 80-400mm scores well in our test. The newer version of the image stabilization is extremely effective, even at longer focal lengths.
Nikon praises this lens as a reliable workhorse. The results of our short Nikon 80-400mm VR review support this claim.


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