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Review by Markus Stamm, published April 2011
Released back in 2000 the Nikkor AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR was the first Nikon lens featuring a Vibration Reduction (VR) mechanism. More than 10 years later this, combined with the attractive zoom range, is still one of the key selling arguments, even though the lens lacks some features of more modern designs (especially an AF-S drive).
Some years ago we already reviewed this lens on a DX camera (see here). In this review, let's find out how the lens performs on our FX test camera, the Nikon D3x.
The AF 80-400mm VR carries a golden ring, usually indicating a professional grade Nikon lens. Consequently, the build quality of the lens is good, but don't expect an all-metal tank - many parts are made of good quality plastic. Unlike Canon's counterpart, the lens features a conventional zoom ring, which unfortunately is a bit on the stiff side.
A removable tripod collar is part of the lens. Unfortunately, it is not on the same quality level as the rest of the lens and does not offer sufficient stability for serious tripod work (a fate this lens shares with the AF-S 300/4 and the AF-S 80-200/2.8). Anyone planning to use this lens on a tripod should seriously consider to invest in a third-party collar for tremendously increased stability. In addition, these replacement collars usually also feature an Arca Swiss compatible mount.
The lens features first generation optical stabilization, which Nikon claims allows for up to 3 stops slower shutter speeds. VR can be switched on and off on the lens, in addition the 80-400 VR offers a mode where VR is only enabled when the shutter button is fully pressed. Until then, the VR remains inactive, which also means one has to deal with a rather shaky viewfinder image. That's probably the reason why this special mode was only available on Nikon's first VR lens and dropped from any later VR implementation.
As you can see in the product shots above the lens extends quite a bit when zooming towards the long end of the zoom range.
The lens has no internal AF motor and relies on a slotted drive screw operated by the camera. Consequently, on entry level Nikon DSLRs, which do not feature such a camera driven screw drive anymore, the lens does not offer AF and can be focussed manually only.
On those cameras that still feature the screw drive, the AF speed is quite slow - one of the primary points of criticism with its the user community. Sports photography is not really a strong aspect of the 80-400mm VR, but the lens features a focus limiter which helps to ease the pain at least a little bit. In addition, it can be useful in low-light situations where the camera's AF may tend to hunt at times.
Thanks to an IF (internal focusing) design the front element does not rotate so using a polarizer is no problem, unless one mounts the rather long and thus quite effective hood.
|Optical construction||17 elements in 11 groups inc. 3 ED elements|
|Number of aperture blades||9 (rounded)|
|min. focus distance||2.3 m @ 400 mm (max. magnification ratio 1:4.8)|
|Dimensions||91 x 171 mm|
|Filter size||77 mm (non-rotating)|
|Hood||Nikon HB-24, barrel shaped, bayonet mount, supplied|
|Other features||Lens provides distance (D) information. Tripod collar. Vibration reduction (VR).|