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

1996NAS_180
Review Date: Mar 12, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,300.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Spectacular color and contrast. Maybe even a tad bit more color than the 300mm f4.0 AF-S. Very sharp. Suprisingly fast AF with Nikon D200.
Cons:
Stiff zoom ring takes getting used too. AF/MF lock switch a bit clumsy. Loud AF if it needs to rack fully in or out.

The best thing about this lens is the stellar optics. The VR system is just a bonus (more later). Colors are vibrant, pure and dynamic. In fact, between 80-350mm it will match the clarity and sharpness of any other Nikon AF-S zoom in their lineup; elbeit it a bit slower glass.

When matched to a hefty AF engine in the Nikon D200 or greater class, this lens will focus quickly and confidently even with a single table lamp lighting a full living room. Prepare for some AF focus hunting in low light with D70 class cameras. Suprisingly, this lens works very well in tracking movement (such as flying birds) while both continuous focus and VR switched on. Automatic VR panning also gets engaged and the results are quite good shooting birds in flight or animals in motion.

How well does the VR work? Trust me. It takes practice. Not all of your subjects will be shake free- even if they are stationary. I've taken shots at 350mm 1/30 second that are first rate. Conversely, I've done the same at 350mm 1/125 that were shaky. You will eventually learn the personality of the VR and begin to appreciate the benefit of it.

My advice with all VR lenses is to treat it first like a standard lens with the shutter speed at least matching the focal length. Then, if that is not possible, go ahead and stop down shutter speed and use the VR feature when you need it. Don't shoot low speed just because you can.

Nikon's tradeoffs work well here. The elimination of the AF-S feature and just a stop or two reduction in full focal length glass speed has saved the photographer thousands of dollars. Optically speaking, it is superb at least from 80-350mm and absolutely liveable at 400mm (especially at f11).

The only other zoom choice you have in a Nikon that covers this range is the $5000 200-400mm AF-S VR. In fact, the results of the 80-400mm VR here is markedly superior to that of a 80-200mm f2.8 ED used with the 1.4 or 1.7 extender. It's that good.

Practice with it and extract the best from it. It's Nikon's real value and I hope it stays in their line at this price. You may want to see some examples of this lens at http://www.pbase.com/clintthayer.

Definately thumbs up!