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

AFS 80 400 ED VR detail

April 2013, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR was introduced. A few weeks ago we published our Nikon 80-400mm VR review with a Nikon D5200. Especially for wildlife or birding, this lens forms a nice couple with a Nikon DX camera, like the Nikon D5200, With DX cameras, the field of view extends the maximum reach to 120-600mm (35mm equivalent).

In comparison with the previous version of this lens, the optical design has been changed and now features 20 elements in 12 groups, including one Super ED Glass Element and four ED glass elements. It also has a built-in SWF AF motor, which means you will still have AF with Nikon camera’s that don’t have an AF motor, like the Nikon D3200 or Nikon D5200.

Still, this lens is designed for a FX-format camera as a telephoto zoom lens with a 5x zoom range, which make it also for an FX camera ideal for sports and nature photography or video. Let’s see how well this lens performs when you use it as an FX lens on a Nikon D800E.

AFS 80 400 ED VR detail

Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR review @ Nikon D800E

Nikon AF-S 80-400mm @ 400mm, f/5.6, 1600 ISO

The Nikon 80-400mm VR II is a telephoto zoom lens with a 5x zoom range, which make it an ideal lens for sports and nature photography or video.

Construction and autofocus

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. A tripod mount, a “Ballistic Nylon” Lens Case and a Lens hood are included.

Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR lenses feature Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM), which uses ultrasonic vibrations—rather than a gear system—to focus the lens. This results in smooth, fast, silent and precise autofocus. The lens body features a switch for the two focusing modes:  M/A (AF with manual override) and M (manual).  It also has a Focus limiter switch to limit the AF time even more.

Image Stabilization

The Nikon 80-400mm VR II is equipped with the latest version of Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) system, which features Auto tripod detection. Here you see the results for the VR test of the Nikon 80-400mm VR II 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 sec (4 stops difference) the image is somewhat less sharp, but much, much better than a hand held shot image at 1/13 sec without VR.

Although the pigeon didn’t sit still, the effect of the image stabilization is also illustrated by the sample image below.



At its short end of the focal length range, this lens delivers excellent sharpness in the image center and very good border and corner resolution. The more you increase the focal length, especially above 200mm, the resolution drops. At its longest focal length, the image center reaches 3500 LW/PH in the center, which is visibly lower than the center resolution at the lower focal lengths, but with 3000 LW/PH in the center still very high thanks to the 36 megapixels of the Nikon D800E sensor, which is illustrated in the image below.



The RAW files demonstrate that the amount of vignetting is no more than 1 stop. In the image to the right you see the worst case. I would not bother about it, some visible vignetting can be seen with almost any FX lens under such critical circumstances. Sometimes vignetting gives the image some extra atmosphere, and it is easily corrected with software, if necessary.
Due to in-camera correction for vignetting (set at “Normal”), the jpg files showed lower vignetting. Not surprisingly, the Nikon 80-400mm showed a better performance for vignetting in our review usin a camera with a DX sensor. The Nikon AF-S 80-400mm VR is designed for a camera with a full frame sensor and the smaller size of a DX sensor uses only the center of the image.


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. For that difference we have no explanation. We also do not bother about this amount of distortion, since the distortion remains below 1% for both jpg and RAW files at all focal lengths. Not many photographers will use this lens for architecture photography, either.

D800E400mm56Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR @ 6400 ISO, 400mm, 1/320 sec

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

The bokeh, both in the images shot in the studio and our images shot outdoors, looked nice round. I had the impression that the bokeh was less impressive, less creamy than the bokeh shown by the Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8.Bokeh


To prevent flare and ghosting, the individual 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 it’s resistance towards 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 is shining directly into the lens, there’s a region with reduced contrast and a barely perceptible ghost. That’s a 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 a 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 D800E corrected for lateral 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%, the green and purple fringing become visible in high contrast transitions in the corners of the image.

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


  • 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 you expect that for every Nikon, cheap or expensive. The camera focuses quickly and accurately: the sharpness is high at all focal lengths. Also in the corners. At the higher focal lengths, the resolution is lower than at the shorter focal lengths, but due to the 36 megapixels of the Nikon D800E sensor still very high. Vignetting and distortion are at any focal length almost absent and the chromatic aberration, even in RAW files without lens correction, is low. The main criticism of the old version had the slow AF and high CA. On both points the new version of this new Nikon scores well in our Nikon 80-400mm VR II review. 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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