Gear Review: Nikon Z 400 f/4.5 S

In Gear Review by Patrick

General Overview

The Z 400mm f4.5 VR S is Nikon’s second 400mm telephoto prime lens for Z-mount after the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S.  Nikon as the the smallest and lightest 400mm lens that the company has ever created.  Unlike the Z 800mm f6.3 VR S the new lens does not sport a Phase-Fresnel (PF) element but remains shorter than the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S when it’s extended to the 400mm focal length and at only 1245g, it’s lighter too.  The Z 400mm f4.5 VR S is corrected for full-frame cameras and is compatible for use with Nikon’s Z-mount teleconverters TC-1.4x and TC-2.0x. This allows it to be converted into a 560mm f6.3 or even 800mm f9 lens. Used on a cropped body like the Z fc or Z50 (or in DX-mode on any full-frame Z camera) it delivers a field of view equivalent to 600mm, 840mm or even 1200mm focal length (depending on the use of TCs)

It’s equipped with an optical vibration reduction system that offers 5.5 stops of built-in stabilisation and has a dust and drip resistant design.   An internal focusing mechanism means the lens barrel doesn’t move, and it offers a minimum focusing distance of 2.5 m (8.21 ft) and a maximum magnification ratio of 0.16x, whilst using front screw-in 95mm filters.  There’s a configurable ring on the lens barrel which allows you to control either aperture, exposure compensation or ISO speed.

In my humble opinion, it does feel rather unbalanced when using it with a smaller sized camera body like the Nikon Z6 II or the Nkon Z7II  in the photo.  It is much more at home mounted on the larger Z9 camera  with its integrated grip or on the Nikon Z6II and Z7II with the MB-N11 battery grip.  Build quality is outstanding for what is after all a professional-level lens. With a mostly metal construction, the Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S feels very solid in your hand, and it commendably has a metal mount. Note that this lens also has a weather-resistant design to help protect it against dust and moisture.  

There are three switches on the left hand side of the Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S lens.  The top one is the first of two L-Fn customisable function buttons. In the main camera menu, you can assign one of 21 different functions to this button, including AF lock, metering, subject tracking, framing grid display and so on.  The middle one is a switch for choosing between auto-focusing and manual focusing.  The bottom one is a focus range limiter switch with two settings, Full (Infinity-2.5 m) and Infinity-6m.  The focusing ring is ridged and the control ring is knurled, helping you differentiate between them by touch when shooting through the viewfinder.

This lens has been designed to be as quick and quiet as possible when autofocusing. That makes it ideally placed for both stills shooting and video.  Shooting with the lens proves it to have almost unerringly accurate and rapid autofocus in the majority of situations, with barely any hunting at all. It’s also impressively quiet, too.  A removable tripod collar is included, towards the lens mount end of the lens. You can position it anywhere you like around the Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S lens, allowing you to attach the camera to your tripod or monopod in whatever position you need it

 

Specifications

Type Nikon Z mount
Format FX
Focal length 400 mm
Maximum aperture f/4.5
Minimum aperture f/32
Lens construction 19 elements in 13 groups (including 1 ED element, 2 super-ED elements, 1 SR element, elements with a Nano Crystal coat, and a fluorine-coated front lens element)
Angle of view FX format: 6° 10′, DX format: 4°
Focusing system Internal focusing system
Minimum focus distance 2.5 m (8.21 ft)
Maximum reproduction ratio 0.16x
Vibration reduction Lens shift using voice coil motors (VCMs)
No. of diaphragm blades 9 (rounded diaphragm opening)
Aperture range f/4.5 to 32
Coating Nano Crystal Coat, Fluorine coat
Filter attachment size 95 mm (P = 1.0 mm)
Diameter x length (extension from lens mount) Approx. 104 mm x 234.5 mm (4.1 in. x 9.3 in.) (maximum diameter × distance to end of lens from camera lens mount flange)
Weight Approx. 1245 g (2 lb 12 oz) (with tripod collar); Approx. 1160 g (2 lb 9 oz) (without tripod collar)
Autofocus Yes
Internal focusing Yes
Focusing Auto, Manual
Focus limit switch Two positions: Two positions: FULL (∞ to 2.5 m) and ∞ to 6 m

Overall Impressions:

The Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S is a superb super-telephoto prime lens for Nikon full-frame mirrorless cameras, offering a compelling mix of low weight and compactness, a rich feature-set and impeccable image quality.   The 400mm is a popular prime focal length for wildlife, sports and aviation photographers.  This lens offers an excellent degree of sharpness throughout virtually the entire aperture range, even wide-open, plus super-fast autofocusing, in-built vibration reduction and the possibility to shoot at even longer focal lengths by attaching one of Nikon’s 1.4x or 2x teleconverters.  

It’s also built to withstand all the knocks and inclement weather conditions that it will inevitably be exposed to, along with having all the bells and whistles in terms of its control layout, with the one notable exception of an OLED display as used by several other Nikkor Z lenses.    This lens’ main rivals are the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S and the Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S. The former zoom lens is obviously more versatile but is much slower at 400mm, whilst the latter costs well over 4x as much as the F4.5 version, which puts it well out of reach of all but the lucky few.  If you are in the market for a well priced super-telephoto lens, I highly recommend this lens.

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