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  Reviews by: Brendan Getchel  

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Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR AF

Review Date: Jan 22, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $900.00 | Rating: 6 

Pros: Nikon's first stabilized (VR) SLR lens. Extremely wide, useful range. Twist zoom versus push/pull Canon style dust vacuum. Adequate sharpness at f/8 and smaller, VERY light and compact for focal range.
No AF-S!!! VR is "first generation" and engages slowly. Slow minimum aperture makes it useful only in daylight. Slightly disappointing wide-open -- it really needs f/8 - f/11 to sharpen up. No AF-S!!! (Gak!)

Having owned Canon's competing 100-400/IS lens and seeing what Nikon is capable of producing with their stellar 70-200/VR I have to say that I am modestly disappointed with their 80-400/VR offering. Most of this disappointment *could* have been easily averted had they remedied the very real "Achilles' Heel" before releasing this otherwise-respectable lens -- namely Nikon's failure to feature it their "Silent Wave" focus engine. The screw-driven "coffee grinder" autofocus is a decades-old Nikkor holdover that not only has no place on a 21st Century optic from a world leader, but it further demonstrates everything that is wrong with the dragging Nikon philosophy while perfectly illustrating why the bulk of working pros have bitterly abandoned them for Canon.

In a nutshell, this lens holds nothing over its Canon counterpart aside from the superior implementation of a zoom ring versus the dust-sucking trombone configuration of the Canon 100-400/IS. However, the Canon is slightly superior optically and vastly superior in both IS performance (time-to-engage) and AUTOFOCUS performance, considering the Canon variant has USM (AF-S). This is a further embarrassment to Nikon as the 80-400/VR is three YEARS newer! Shame on Nikon.

However, it performs admirably when stopped down and provides VR to mitigate the necessity for a tripod at longer focal lengths in spite of its slow maximum aperture. Bokeh performance is average but falls behind the Canon is this regard as well.

Overall, due in part to the fact that Nikon had YEARS to introduce a true competitor to Canon's aging 100-400/IS, I have to say that I am ultimately disappointed with lens. Seeing what they are truly able to do with their 70-200/VR when they put their heart into it I have to say that they could have done better -- much better. In the final analysis however, if you're a Nikon shooter, this is the only game in town. Sigma's 80-400/OS is inferior is every regard and is just as expensive and there is no way to fully adapt the Canon version to a Nikon mount. In this respect, as the only available option, I recommend it. Your only other options are the Sigma 50-500. which is kludgey and lacks stabilization, or the pie-in-the-sky Nikon 200-400/VR $5,000 Uber-lens.

As the only game in town, your options are begrudginly limited.

Nikon 200mm f/4D ED-IF AF Micro-Nikkor

Review Date: May 15, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,349.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: It's the whole package. The preeminent reference for all long macros. Image quality, contrast, color, and bokeh all combine to make this lens the legendary optic it has become. Build quality is exceptional. Nothing else even comes close.
Price. The $1,400 price tag eliminates all but the most serious Macrophiles. As with any macro, full-throw AF is excruciatingly slow. It's a precision tool that demands flawless technique, and makes you pay if you don't have it. A tripod is mandatory to extract every last ounce of image quality.

While you COULD use this lens for other-than macro photography, why would you? It's designed for one specific purpose, and it fulfills its intention with legendary results. As a Canon shooter I own the Canon 180/3.5L Macro, and it's a wonderful lens which is not one wit shy of the Nikkor, yet still I'd choose the Nikkor every time given the choice. The punch from the 200/4 renders a stunning image that is simply unmatched by any macro lens on the market today. The massive focus ring works as though it's an extension of your hand. The tripod ring is so incredibly fluid when changing to portrait framing it feels almost hydraulic, for lack of a better word. Bokeh is breathtaking and can isolate your subject perfectly on even the most chaotic backgrounds.

As is the case with every macro I've ever used -- including the "USM" 180/3.5L -- AF is a virtually useless tool. It's OK for using on non-macro subjects, especially when the limiter is engaged, but I'd suggest leaving it on MF for most shooting. The ring is THAT good!

If you're infatuated with macro photography, move right to the head of the class with this lens. Don't waste your time with anything else.