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Nikon Nikkor 400mm f/2.8D AF-S ED-IF II Test Review
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

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Nikon Nikkor 400mm f/2.8D AF-S ED-IF II
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Introduction

This lens is the current version of the 400mm f/2.8 AF-I. It offers similar optical quality with much less weight and size. It uses magnesium for the body to save weight.

It is still extraordinarily good and expensive.

It gives near perfect performance, as it had better for $7,800.

Specifications

It weighs just 9.7 lbs (4.4kg). Compare this to the 13.9 pound (6.3kg) 400mm f/2.8 AF-I!

It's 13.9" (353mm) long by 6.3"(160mm) diameter.

It has eleven elements in nine groups.

Close focus is specified as 3.5m or 11.4 feet. The older 400mm f/2.8 AF-I focusses closer to 10 feet, although the older lens is not marked that close.

It has a permanently attached tripod mount which also serves as a carrying handle.

The lens has rubber bumpers on the end of the lens and the hood.

It has a nine-bladed diaphragm stopping down to f/22.

It takes Nikon-brand 52mm filters in a special internal drawer. Nikon made sure that the slot on the lens through which this holder inserts is only wide enough to accept the good and thin Nikon brand filters. That means if you want to insert a Tiffen or B&W filter for some color Nikon does not make that you are on your own. You could have a machine shop turn down (shave off) the front threads of your off-brand filter and it ought to fit fine. By messing with the filter instead of the lens at worst you'll screw up a filter instead of your lens.

Performance

The performance is just about perfect.

Autofocus speed is so fast it's scary. On my D1H it racks out from 12' to infinity and back just about immediately! You have to try it to believe it. It is FASTER than all of my other telephotos. This lens is made for real pros who will not take anything slower for an answer!

I saw no distortion and no ghosts. Point it right at the sun at sunset; just watch your eyes.

If a well-know Canon-sponsored bird photographer used this lens and the TC-20E and TC-14E teleconverters he would save himself all the painful screwing around he does with extension tubes on his 600mm f/4 Canon lens that only focusses about to 20 feet.

Put the no-longer-available Nikon Lens Scope Converter on it for the sharpest 40 power telescope you've ever seen. If you're an astronomer you'll want to make a special adapter to allow you to mount a 20mm wide-field eyepiece to give you a 7mm exit pupil on a 20 power scope, heh heh.

Focus lock buttons

There are rubber-covered AF lock buttons towards the front of the lens. Hold one of them and it freezes the focus and keeps the camera meter on. This is how you should focus and recompose for still subjects, and a much handier feature than you think.

Auto/manual focus modes

Unlike the bogus Auto/Manual focus mode of the 400mm f/2.8 AF-I, this lens instantly lets you adjust focus manually by just touching the focus ring. There is no lag to swap modes as on the AF-I lens.

Use the "S" single focus mode and "[ ]" setting with the center sensor and focus lock button on an F100 for still subjects, and the "C" continuous AF mode with the "[+]" setting for moving animals. It works great with no need for manual fooling around.

Recommendations

Buy one if you think you need it. You won't be disappointed. It's main application is sports and film. With digital cameras you don't really need the f/2.8 speed, although you do need the almost instantaneous AF and do need the f/2.8 speed if you intend to use it with teleconverters. You do need the speed for use with the TC-14E and TC-20E teleconverters. It becomes a 600mm f/4 with the TC-14E and an 800mm f/5.6 with the TC-20E.

I was surprised at how easy this lens is to hand-hold compared to the older AF-I.

Put the shiny Nikon CT-402 coffin trunk case away until you sell this and get a good bag. I use my made-in-China Lowe Pro 600AW lens bag for my huge 400mm AF-I. You may be able to use a smaller bag for this AF-S II. I may have preferred the made-in-USA Tenba lens bag, except it was out of stock when I went to order it.

Try it first on a tripod with an amateur camera like the F100 without a mirror lock up. On my Gitzo carbon fiber pod with a Bogen gear-drive head I got bad results at some speeds with the heavier AF-I version, so this lighter version probably will be worse for mirror-slap induced image blur.

Plant your face to the back of the camera to help damp these vibrations, but at the lower speeds at which you really need the damping your facial movement will blur the image too.

You can spend about a thousand dollars for a tripod and head heavy enough to do this system justice, and that system still won't work with amateur cameras like the F100 at slow speeds.

I was tempted by the $500 Wimberly head. It sure looks nice and I've heard good things about it. Cheapskate that I am, I find that my Bogen 3047 head does the same thing, so long as you don't forget to lock it down when you want to walk away from it.

The smartest thing to use is a cheap monopod. I have a dinky Gitzo. That holds the lens up for me and provides plenty of support. You can see me with this arrangement back on this site's home page.

Buy a $30 monopod and you'll get the same results at the same speeds at which the other system works well, 1/60 and up. The only disadvantage with the monopod is that it doesn't support itself when you want to walk away from it.

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