I’ve been holding off writing a review of this lens until I really had a chance to use it…a lot. I’ve shot over 40,000 images with it over the last month, extensive shooting in Texas at bird blinds and just home from a bird photography workshop in Nome Alaska. Yes, this is one of the most expensive lenses Nikon makes ($14,000). But in our conversion to the Z mirrorless system, this was the big glass I needed for our wildlife trips. As you might expect at this price point, this is one of the best lenses I’ve ever used..sharper, faster, versatile and lightweight. Here are some details and experiences using this lens over the last few months.
I’ve been shooting my 600mm F4 E FL for years, and loved that lens. But it was heavier than I liked at over 8 pounds, and when paired with my D6 I couldn’t hand hold it for very long. Right out of the box the new 400mm felt much lighter, and better balanced. The lens weighs in just over 6 pounds, and this includes the built in 1.4x converter. I spent most of last week hand holding this lens on my Z9 and photographing birds on the tundra in Alaska. I used my tripod very little….this lens just felt so much easier to use hand held, better balanced and just not that heavy. VR was fantastic. Take a look at the bird (long tailed jaeger) above…hand held and tack sharp.
Next let’s talk about versatility. This lens is a 400mm F2.8 and with the built in converter engaged a 560mm F4. These are two very useful focal lengths and f stops. 400mm F2.8 at 2.8 on a full frame sensor can absolutely melt backgrounds into soft blur. And focusing in dark conditions at 2.8 is a huge advantage. But what if you want a longer lens. Just flip the converter on and you have a 560mm F4…almost a 600mm F4. I think of this lens at two lenses in one, both different and very useful depending on the situation. Look at this phalarope bird shot above…shot at 2.8 the background just melts away.
I had read one review that said with the converter there was a noticeable drop in sharpness. I found the opposite was true. I have shot thousands of images at 560mm at F5.6 and they are very sharp. I wouldn’t hesitate at all shooting this at 560mm, which I do more than half the time. Take a look at these courting terns…hand held at 560mm and tack sharp. Every lens loses sharpness with a teleconverter attached, but pairing a dedicated converter with a razor sharp lens to start with is yielding incredible acuity.
The 400mm was Nikon’s first lens using their new electro-magnetic motor system. Was it faster and more accurate than previous big telephotos? YES. I quickly noticed the jump in speed. Combined with the Z9’s amazing tracking this combo is a game changer for wildlife and sports shooters. They say not to use the lens near someone with a pace maker…hmmm…not planning to test that aspect in the field.
The lens has a new focus recall ring which is very handy to reset the lens to a set focus distance…ie. on a bird perch when shooting from blinds. The lens a has focus limiter switch which is always helpful to speed up autofocus. And a switch to turn off autofocus and turn on manual focus.
Is this lens for you? Well, the price will keep most folks away. But think of this lens as two lenses; a super fast bokeh inducing 400mm F2.8…or a classic F4 long lens at 560mm. If you hit the buy now button on this one you won’t be disappointed. And is it true the new 600mm F4Z will also have a teleconverter? Get ready!