- Nikkor AF-S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens is only a viable piece of equipment for a small sliver of the photography community. Weighing 10 pounds (4,620g) and costing approximately $9,000, it is not only a beast to carry, but also you must have either very deep pockets or a specific professional purpose for this lens, such as sports photography or to capture rare animals in their habitats from a great distance. You can still dream, however, of becoming the digital photographer that would need to include this lens among your gear.
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Some of the features of the Nikkor AF-S 400mm lens will only be important to that small cadre of photographers who would dare consider buying this lens. For everyone else, however, it is interesting and enlightening to understand a bit about how this lens functions. Another often overlooked benefit is that when a company is capable of manufacturing such an extreme lens, its design and technological expertise generally has a positive effect on its mainstream products.
Although they’re tucked into the body of this lens, its 14 glass elements in 11 lens groups are a rather sure sign of the serious nature of this piece of equipment. Three of the elements are ED, or extra-low dispersion, which controls chromatic aberrations; and all the elements have Nano coating to improve contrast and SIC, or super integrated coating. The enormous, six-inch front element is designed for protection and not optics. It’s what called a meniscus glass element. It’s curved design retards flare from bouncing within the lens. The Nikkor AF-S 400mm also has internal focus.
Photographers are able to pair this lens with DX and FX-format cameras. For DX, it provides a four-degree angle of view and approximately a six-degree angle for FX. The close focus is 9.5 feet (2.9m), and maximum magnification is 1:6:25. With Nikon’s advanced VR II (Vibration Reduction) technology, the lens is supposed to be four stops better than hand-held.
To operate this lens to its full potential requires an excellent tripod or monopod with a good gimbal on sturdy legs. Plus, the tripod collar lock needs to be tightened as much as possible, which ensures maximum sharpness, but that will cause you to spend more time to change from a horizontal to vertical format. Control of the Nikkor AF-S 400mm lens is via a wide and easy-to-grasp focus ring, with three focus buttons (lock/recall/AF-On) at the front. The VR on/off switch rotates at the back of the lens with five additional switches on the other side of the lens. The focus limiter switch is particularly useful, as it constrains the lens to 6m to infinity. It’s important to understand the top four buttons because they can be customized.
There is little doubt that Nikon’s Nikkor AF-S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens represents the pinnacle of the lens-making arts, especially for lenses of this size. As incredible as it is, what leaves many photographers incredulous is that it also exhibits some flaws. The quality of the tripod collar doesn’t match the quality of the lens and the positions of some of the controls are rather puzzling. Plus, one would expect to be able to check VR status on the camera.
Another important variable is the need to check the alignment regularly by running AF Fine Tune, with the assistance of Lens Align, for example. Only then, can you expect the lens to perform to its specifications.
Of course, there are many other details of the Nikkor AF-S 400mm that should be thoroughly investigated and studied before making a purchase. In addition, no serious photographer (which are just about the only people that would buy this lens) would make such a decision without spending approximately $500 for a one-week rental to help determine if he or she truly needs it for the type of photography he or she shoots. Another option is to attend a Nikon workshop where loaner lenses of this kind are occasionally made available.
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