Nikon’s NIKKOR Z 400mm F4.5 VR S is a reasonably lightweight long telephoto for Nikon’s mirrorless cameras. The lens is more compact, lighter and more affordable than the professional NIKKOR Z 400mm F2.8 TC VR S. It is also weatherproof and usable with teleconverters for extra reach.
TESTRESULTS Nikkor Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 VR S:
The Nikkor Z 400mm F4.5 VR S is a compact and lightweight supertele.
For professional sports photographers, a bright 400mm fixed focus is part of the basic equipment. For the Z system cameras, Nikon has the NIKKOR Z 400mm F2.8 TC VR S with built-in teleconverter. But this lens with a retail price of almost 15,000 euros is unaffordable for most photographers. As an alternative, Nikon now has the NIKKOR Z 400mm F4.5 VR S. The same focal length, but 1.3 stop less bright. The NIKKOR Z 400mm F4.5 VR S is a long telephoto where angle of view is concerned. With a 400mm, you get an angle of view of just over 6 degrees on full frame and exactly 4 degrees on an APS-C camera. This makes this lens very suitable for sports and nature photography where not-too-large distant subjects need to be brought a lot ‘closer’.
Where this Nikon differs from most comparable telephoto lenses is its size and weight. It is only 23.5 centimetres long and without a tripod nacelle it weighs only 1160 grams. It is even slightly lighter than the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR. That lens uses a PF (Phase Fresnel) element to save weight. The Z 400mm F4.5 VR S does not. As a result, you don’t have to worry about rings in bokeh balls, for example. The Z 400mm F4.5 VR S is of course weatherproof. The lens has a detachable tripod nacelle and, of course, the 400mm also has image stabilisation. Not only can the autofocus be locked, but there is also the option to set a certain distance in memory. For extra reach, the Z 400mm F4.5 VR S can be combined with a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter. Thanks to the lower brightness, the lens is only half as heavy and quite a bit more compact and – most importantly – costs only a quarter of the Z 400mm F2.8 TC VR S. It’s still a hefty amount, but for the features, the price is quite reasonable.
The Z 400mm F4.5 VR S is 23.5 centimetres long and it weighs just 1245 grams. It has a tripod gondola (unfortunately without the standardised Arca-Swiss coupling), which you can detach to save some more weight. The lens has a wide focus ring, four function buttons (L-Fn2) around the front of the lens and an L-Fn button at the back. The Memory Set button lets you store a certain focus distance in memory and then recall it instantly. This allows you to focus quickly, for example on the finish line or a target. There is also a multifunctional Control Ring that can be used to control aperture, exposure compensation or sensitivity; you can also deactivate it. There are also a switch for autofocus and manual focus and a focus range limiter with two positions: from 2.5m to infinity or 6m to infinity. The built-in optical image stabilisation is good for a gain of 5.5 stops, even 6 stops when combined with the Nikon Z 9. There is no physical switch, you turn stabilisation off and back on via the camera menu.
The lens got a weatherproof seal; so you don’t have to worry about some raindrops. However, Nikon does warn that weatherproofing is not guaranteed in all conditions. So if it rains long or hard, it is better to use a rain cover. A fluorine coating makes it easy to wipe the front lens element clean. The optical design has nineteen lens elements, including one ED and one SR 2 element and two Super ED elements, in thirteen groups. Because of its low weight, it was speculated that Nikon would use a PF (Phase Fresnel) element, as in the NIKKOR Z 800mm F6.3 VR S. However, this is not the case. This immediately removes a possible drawback of PF lenses: that you get ugly ‘onion rings’ in bokeh balls.
For even more range, the Z 400mm can be combined with a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter. The shortest focusing distance is 2.5m and the maximum magnification is 0.16x. That’s not very much and so for macro-like shooting this lens is less suitable. The lens uses large 95mm screw-in filters at the front and no small drop-in filters at the rear like the NIKKOR Z 400mm F2.8 TC VR S.
The Nikkor Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 VR S uses an STM stepper motor. These focus very smoothly and precisely, which is ideal for video, for example. For somewhat larger and heavier lenses, which this 400mm surely belongs to, stepper motors are not necessarily the fastest. In combination with the Z 9, however, focusing is very fast – certainly as fast as with the Z 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 VR S. The lens has a ring for manual focusing, of course, but there is another method of focusing. Namely, there is a button that lets you store a certain distance in memory. You can then recall that distance with a function button. So you can focus on the starting point, the finish line or that particular bend in the track in one go.
The shortest focusing distance is 2.5m and the maximum magnification is 0.16x. That’s not very much, so for macro-like shots, this lens is less suitable.
Even at full aperture, the Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 VR S scores very well across almost the entire field of view. The corners barely lag behind the centre at F4.5 and in practice you won’t see this difference, we think. Some people will wonder why you should choose this fixed-frame 400mm with a brightness of ‘only’ F4.5 when Nikon also offers the NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S. That zoom is only slightly less bright at 400mm, more flexible and cheaper. Therefore, for comparison, we give the MTF curve of the 100-400mm at 400mm. The Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S is already clearly better at full aperture, and once you start using teleconverters that difference will become even more visible.
Vignetting is very modest, even if you turn off the correction in the camera. Light points in the background are depicted (depending on distance and focus point) as ‘cat’s eyes’, which is not strange for this type of lens.
Due to the lower brightness, the blur in the background is a bit less attractive than with an F2.8, though; it very much depends on the background whether this really bothers. Anyone wanting to shoot at 400mm with a Nikon Z lens currently has three options: the overpriced but undoubtedly very good NIKKOR Z 400mm F2.8 TC VR S (we haven’t tested it yet), the new Z 400mm F4.5 VR S and the NIKKOR Z 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 VR. The latter has a longer range, but is less bright at 400mm. In terms of image quality, the Z 400mm F4.5 VR S has an edge over the zoom.
The low weight makes it easy to walk around with this lens and shoot out of hand; you don’t need a monopod to support the weight. The centre of gravity of the lens is close to the camera body, so it sits well in the hand when combined with a Nikon Z camera. You don’t feel the lens pulling down, which is sometimes the case with heavy telephoto lenses. The optical stabilisation works well, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds.
This lens is less bright than an F2.8, though, so your sensitivity has to go up a fat stop to achieve the same shutter speed. Fortunately, this is much less of a problem these days; even with a Z 9, we dare to go quite high in ISOs.
Nikkor Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 VR S
|image angle (diag)
|min. setting distance
|1245 gr (with tripod gondola)
Conclusion test Nikkor Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 VR S
Of course, a 400mm F2.8 is more impressive, but this Nikkor Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 VR S is much easier to use and carry around.
Many brands today only supply a fixed-frame 400mm with a brightness of F2.8. Then count on a weight and price three times higher than with this Nikkor Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 VR S. Of course, such a 400mm F2.8 is impressive. But working with such a lens for a day out of hand is almost impossible due to its weight, and taking it on a plane as hand luggage means leaving many other things at home. The Nikkor Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 VR S is much more practical. It is easier to walk around and shoot out of hand with this lens and it is easier to carry around. The brightness is slightly less so you might have to go up the sensitivity an extra stop sometimes ( although the good image stabilisation does help if your subject is not moving too fast) and the blur in the background is just a fraction less. In practice, however, these differences will be small. What is a bigger difference is the price. Of course, it remains a hefty sum, but for its capabilities, this is still very reasonable, which means that, unlike the NIKKOR Z 400mm F2.8 TC VR S, this lens is not an unattainable dream for many photographers.