Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor

 
Lens Reviews / Nikon Lenses i Not yet tested
180-400mm $12,397
average price
image of Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor

Updates:
: Field Test & Gallery Images posted

 

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Field Test

An excellent telephoto zoom lens, but is it worth the high price?

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 04/27/2018

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 2200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Whereas it was easy to understand that 200-400mm f/4 VR II was a direct successor to original 200-400mm, the new Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 lens is a totally different beast, both in terms of features and also in terms of price. Let's get the latter bit out of the way right off the bat: the Nikon 180-400mm f/4 is very expensive, selling for a whopping $12,400! This is considerably more than the 200-400mm f/4 VRII. With that said, it's only $1,400 more than the similar Canon 200-400mm f/4 IS lens, which also has its own built-in teleconverter.

The questions are then, is the new Nikon 180-400mm f/4 TC1.4 lens fantastic and well-built? And if so, is it worth its high price tag? Let's find out.

Key Features and Specifications

  • 180-400mm full-frame telephoto zoom lens
  • Built-in 1.4x teleconverter
  • VR image stabilization up to 4 stops
  • Weather-sealed
  • 40.5mm drop-in filter slot
  • Close focus distance of 6.6 feet (2 meters)
  • 27 elements across 19 groups
  • Costs US$12,400

Design and Handling

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review -- Product Image

Unsurprisingly, the Nikon 180-400mm f/4E lens is quite large and heavy. It can certainly be handheld for a considerable length of time, but it's far from compact and lightweight. The lens is 14.2 inches long (362.5 millimeters) with a maximum diameter of 5 inches (128 millimeters) and weighs 7.7 pounds (3.5 kilograms). Compared to the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II lens, the 180-400mm f/4E is roughly the same size, being only a bit shorter and a little heavier. Of course, the 180-400mm also has more zoom and the built-in teleconverter.

While similar in stature to 200-400mm f/4 VR II, there are numerous changes to the body design and construction of the 180-400mm that are worth looking at more closely. One of the biggest changes is, of course, the new built-in 1.4x teleconverter. This addition results in a slightly bulbous protrusion on the side of the lens near the mount, but the lens looks nice nonetheless. There is a locking switch to enable or disable the teleconverter, which has a proper amount of resistance. It's nearly impossible to accidentally flip the switch, but the locking dial is a good extra bit of security. The mechanism certainly feels rugged.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review -- Product Image

The lens has a drop-in 40.5mm filter slot towards the back, and the lens comes with a clear Nikon NC filter. While I am generally not a proponent of using clear filters, I do not (nor does Nikon) recommend removing the NC filter from the drop-in filter slot -- unless you are replacing it with a polarizing filter for a specific shooting situation -- because the lens was designed around the filter being in place (it's a line of defense against dirt ingress when removing the lens, as there's a pretty big open area between the mount and rearmost optical element).

Just beyond the teleconverter switch is a Memory Set button. Turning our attention to the other side of the lens barrel, there are five switches: autofocus mode, autofocus range, VR mode, memory recall setting and whether you want the lens' AF beeps to be muted. The next significant area is the removable tripod collar. There have been changes here as well, with the tripod collar gaining new ball bearings for smoother rotation compared to the one on 200-400 VR II. The tripod collar feels fantastic, it rotates very smoothly and has markings every 90 degrees. Further, there is a rubberized grip surface on the inside of the foot, which feels just like the grip material on high-end Nikon DSLR cameras such as the D500, D850 and D5. This is an nice, little addition and makes carrying the lens by the tripod foot -- my preferred method of carrying this kind of gear -- more comfortable and secure.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review -- Product Image

Just beyond the tripod collar is the focus ring, which has a good amount of resistance and a focus scale. The ring has a nice rubberized surface and is around 1.5 inches wide (just under 40 millimeters). Next is the zoom ring, which is much wider and has a more aggressive grip texture. The zoom ring is a bit over 3 inches (85 millimeters) wide and goes from 180mm to 400mm in less than a quarter turn. The zoom mechanism has a bit less resistance than the focus ring but is still difficult to accidentally rotate. It has engraved markings at 180, 200, 250, 300, 350 and 400mm, and I love how quickly you can go from 180mm to 400mm.

There are four focus recall buttons spaced at 90-degree intervals just beyond the zoom ring, and then there's another gripped surface for you to hold the lens by the end of its barrel. Then there's the lens hood, which has Nikon's standard carbon fiber pattern and screw-knob to attach it. The lens hood adds around 4.5 inches (120 millimeters) of length to the lens and does a great job of limiting lens flare.

Overall, the Nikon 180-400mm f/4 lens has fantastic build quality. Everything about the lens feels very well-designed and professional, which, given the price, is to be expected. The new built-in teleconverter may add a somewhat unusual bulge to the lens, but the switch mechanism feels great, and the lens looks quite nice. It is well-balanced on a large DSLR although it is still heavy. I recommend a monopod, at least, for extended shooting.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review -- Product Image

Optics and Image Quality

Sharpness

The Nikon 180-400mm f/4E features 27 elements in 19 groups, including a fluorite element and eight ED elements. There is also Nano Crystal Coating, Super Integrated Coating and Fluorine coating on the front element. Looking at the built-in teleconverter specifically, there are eight elements in five groups, which is one more element and group than in Nikon's standalone TC-14E III 1.4x teleconverter. When compared to the 200-400mm f/4 VR II, the new lens has three more elements, a pair of additional groups and four more ED elements.

Note: For the sharpness analysis below, I will be referring mostly to test shots I captured using the Nikon D850. For the crops, I have taken them from RAW files, which were processed using the "Adobe Standard" profile in Adobe Camera Raw with default sharpening applied. You can also view the original RAW and JPEG files in the gallery if you'd like.

When looking at images captured at 180mm, the lens is very impressive across the frame. Wide open, there is a lot of fine detail captured by the lens. Even as you move toward the extreme corners of the frame, performance remains good. Stopping down to f/5.6 improves sharpness and contrast throughout the image and improves corner sharpness a bit. It also improves the performance with respect to vignette (more on that in the next section). Around f/8, we start to see a very slight decrease in detail, although consistency across the frame might be a bit better. At f/11, the image gets softer and continues to get blurrier until it becomes very soft at f/22. The image quality at the minimum aperture of f/32 is unsurprisingly very poor.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 180mm, f/4, 1/400s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 180mm, f/4, 1/400s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% center crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 180mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% center crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 180mm, f/4, 1/400s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% bottom left corner crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 180mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% bottom left corner crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

At 300mm, performance is very good in the center when shooting wide open. There is some softening as you move toward the corners, but detail is still quite good. Stopping down to f/5.6 brings out excellent central sharpness and good corner sharpness. Much like it was at 180mm, stopping down to f/8 at 300mm leads to a marginal reduction in central sharpness but a bit more consistency across the frame and at f/11, the image is noticeably softer.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 300mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 300mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% center crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% center crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 300mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% bottom left corner crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image

Nikon D850, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% bottom left corner crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

400mm is a very important focal length for the 180-400mm f/4 lens. The longest focal length for a telephoto zoom is the setting at which many photographers will most often use the lens, particularly if you are photographing wildlife. There were not many times when I didn't want to shoot this lens at 400mm. So how does it do at 400mm? Very well in the center at f/4 and pretty good in the corners when wide open. Stopping the lens down to f/5.6 brings out a bit more fine detail and contrast and sharpens up the corners a bit too.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% center crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% center crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% bottom left corner crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% bottom left corner crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

With its built-in 1.4x teleconverter, the 180-400mm can easily become a 250-550mm f/5.6 lens. Note that technically, the lens becomes a 252-560mm lens, but EXIF data lists it as a 250-550mm lens, including in the camera itself. At 550mm f/5.6, the lens delivers impressive performance. Sure, it's noticeably less sharp than it is at 400mm f/4 (and much less sharp than 400mm f/5.6), but it is still very good. I didn't hesitate whatsoever to utilize the teleconverter when I wanted more reach. For me, it's far better than cropping the image because I still get a full-size file while maintaining good background separation and good sharpness in the central portion of the frame. Stopping down to f/8 or f/11 will allow for better sharpness, but it's not often when I want to sacrifice background separation and light-gathering ability with a telephoto lens for the sake of a bit more sharpness.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% center crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% center crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% bottom left corner crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 100.
Sharpness test image, 100% bottom left corner crop.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Overall, the Nikon 180-400mm f/4 (or 250-550mm f/5.6 if you're using the teleconverter) is a very sharp lens. The lens may be a bit more impressive in the middle of its range, but it still remains superbly sharp at 400mm and very good at 180mm. For Nikon shooters who want the versatility of a zoom but don't want to sacrifice sharpness, the 180-400mm is a very attractive option. Further, the engineering involved with the built-in teleconverter is impressive. Its performance is more impressive than lenses I've used with a separate 1.4x teleconverter attached and a heck of a lot more convenient thanks to the simple switch mechanism.

Vignette

If there's an optical weakness with the 180-400mm f/4 lens, it's the vignette. When used on the Nikon D500, the vignette performance is pretty good wide open at 180mm and noticeably poorer but still fair at 400mm, with similar performance at 550mm f/5.6 (wide open with the teleconverter engaged).

Note: The test images below were processed as RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw using ACR default settings and no lens corrections.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 180mm (270mm equiv.), f/4, 1/20s, ISO 100.
Vignette test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 400mm (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/20s, ISO 100.
Vignette test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm (825mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/20s, ISO 100.
Vignette test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

When paired with a full-frame camera such as the Nikon D850, the vignette is considerably more noticeable. At 180mm f/4, the lens exhibits significant corner darkening. At 400mm, the extreme edges improve slightly, but the area of gradation expands, so it's better in some ways, poorer in others. With the teleconverter engaged and with the lens extended to its maximum focal length, the vignette is slightly more apparent than it is at 400mm. There were situations when the vignette was visually distracting with real-world shooting situations, which is fairly unusual with high-end lenses and surprised me quite a bit. It's certainly not a deal breaker, of course, as you can simply correct the vignette in post-processing.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 180mm, f/4, 1/25s, ISO 100.
Vignette test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Note: The blurred object at the top of the frame is a quarter I had been using for close focus testing, not any issue with the lens.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4, 1/20s, ISO 100.
Vignette test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/13s, ISO 100.
Vignette test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 330mm, f/4, 1/500s, ISO 720.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
In this real-world sample image, which is a resized JPEG straight from the camera, you can see significant vignette as you move toward the corners.

Stopping the lens down does help reduce vignette, but at that point, you're losing light-gathering ability and reducing the very nice background blur you get with a telephoto lens, so it's an undesirable trade-off in many normal shooting situations. The 180-400mm is optically excellent; we've seen that it is sharp and in the next section we'll see how it handles aberrations, so its vignette issues are an anomaly.

Aberrations

Nikon's optical expertise is fully on display with the 180-400mm and its handling of chromatic aberrations. Even in challenging situations, it made no difference what focal length or aperture I used, the lens had absolutely no noticeable issues with chromatic aberrations or fringing whatsoever. High-contrast edges and fine details are incredibly clean with no color issues or oddities.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 320mm (480mm equiv.), f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 1600.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 320mm (480mm equiv.), f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 1600.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 320mm (480mm equiv.), f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 1600.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

While the vignette performance proved underwhelming, the 180-400mm's ability to shoot with clean, accurate color is overwhelmingly good. An excellent job here by Nikon.

In the Field

Overall, the Nikon 180-400mm f/4 TC lens is a joy to use in the field in most situations. The vibration reduction is excellent, the lens is well-designed and autofocus performance is very good.

Autofocus

The Nikon 180-400mm f/4E lens has excellent autofocus performance throughout its zoom range. On both the Nikon D500 and D850 cameras, autofocus speed was high and accuracy was good. With that said, I did need to perform autofocus fine-tune with the D850 to +5, which isn't too bad. With Auto AF Fine-Tune, it was a simple process, thankfully.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 250.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
This is a very difficult scene and while some credit should go to the D850's autofocus system, it's important to note that the depth of field is so shallow at 550mm and f/5.6 that the lens needs to be spot-on to be able to contend with this scenario.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 250.
100% crop of the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

If you are exclusively shooting distant objects, the AF limiter switch can be useful, although I had no issues using the lens with the full range. Continuous autofocus performance proved impressive as well, slowing down only slightly when shooting a close subject.

When using the teleconverter, autofocus speeds remain very strong, although AF performance does decrease slightly in lower light, likely due to the teleconverter limiting the maximum aperture to f/5.6.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 380mm (570mm equiv.), f/4, 1/400s, ISO 1250.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 380mm (570mm equiv.), f/4, 1/400s, ISO 1250.
100 percent crop of the above image. This image has been modified.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Overall, the 180-400mm f/4E TC 1.4 lens delivers fantastic autofocus performance from 180mm to 400mm and continues to impress, although slightly less so, with the teleconverter enabled. The lens is fast and decisive and certainly up to the task of shooting challenging subjects such as wildlife.

As a side note, I did have to perform AF fine-tune with the 180-400mm f/4 lens on both the Nikon D500 and D850 cameras, although it didn't require much adjustment to dial in the focus. It is worth noting that if you do need to fine-tune the lens, you should do it with the teleconverter engaged and disengaged as they report as different optics to the camera.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200.
100 percent crop of the above image. This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200.
100 percent crop of the above image. This image has been modified.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Close Focus

The 180-400mm f/4 can focus as close as 6.6 feet (2 meters), which is very good for a lens this long although not quite as close as the 200-400mm lens. The 180-400mm has a maximum reproduction of 0.25x (1:4) whereas the 200-400mm f/4 VR II could deliver 0.27x. With that said, the 180-400mm can still focus plenty close enough for nearly all wildlife and sports situations and can even produce some nice macro-like images.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500. Click here for 550mm (825mm equiv.) image.
Close focus test image. Click for full-size 400mm (600mm equiv.) image. Click here for the 400mm (600mm equiv.) RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850. Click here for 550mm image.
Close focus test image. Click for full-size 400mm image. Click here for the 400mm RAW file.

Burst exposure consistency

An advantage of the electromagnetic diaphragm in the 180-400mm lens is that it allows for better exposure consistency when shooting bursts of images. In my experience shooting bursts at fast continuous shooting speeds, the lens lived up to its promise and exposures were consistent from frame-to-frame.

Vibration Reduction

The vibration reduction system in the 180-400mm f/4 lens has two modes, "normal' and 'sports', with the latter mode offering a steadier viewfinder image. The system is rated to provide up to four stops of vibration compensation, and it works very well in practice. No complaints here, the system is great and allows for easier handheld shooting despite the lens' heavy weight.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4 1/50s, ISO 450.
Vibration reduction test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4 1/50s, ISO 450.
100 percent crop of the above image. Vibration reduction test image. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Real-world Images

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4, 1/640s, ISO 500.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 800.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
This pair of images shows off the real-world effect of the 1.4x teleconverter. Being able to flip a switch to enable the teleconverter is very convenient and much better in the real-world than needing to attach a teleconverter to the lens. Wildlife often won't stick around long enough for that to work.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/5, 1/800s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 1250.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 1250.
100 percent crop of the above image. This image has been modified.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 460mm (690mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 125.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm (825mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 2500.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 400mm (600mm equiv.), f/4, 1/2000s, ISO 220.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 440mm (660mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/2500s, ISO 1800.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO 320.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO 320.
100 percent crop from the above image. This image has been modified.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 320mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO 220.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 320mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO 220.
100 percent crop from the above image. This image has been modified.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
We can see in this 100 percent crop that the lens is a bit sharper at 320mm than it is at 400mm, which jives with my findings in the dedicated sharpness section up above.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 360.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 360.
100 percent crop of the above image. This image has been modified.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 220mm, f/4, 1/250s, ISO 1600.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file. Even at 220mm and with the background very close to the subject, the Nikon 180-400mm can produce some nice bokeh.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 320.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
With the teleconverter engaged, the 180-400mm can easily throw the background into a lovely blur as well.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm (825mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm (825mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 220.
Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm (825mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 640.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 360mm (540mm equiv.), f/4, 1/2000s, ISO 220.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Field Test Summary

A fantastic and versatile telephoto zoom lens

What I liked:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Short rotation distance to go from 180mm to 400mm
  • Built-in 1.4x teleconverter
  • Very good sharpness throughout the range, even wide open
  • Fast and responsive autofocus

What I disliked:

  • Fairly big and heavy
  • Considerable vignette on full-frame
  • Expensive
  • In my case, I needed to perform AF fine-tune on both the D500 and D850

The Nikon 180-400mm f/4 TC lens is an excellent lens and exudes professional quality. The lens is very well built and rugged, and every aspect of the lens appears well-designed. Optically, the lens is superb not only for a zoom, but in general, throughout its entire focal length range. At 400mm, arguably the most important focal length, the lens delivers great central sharpness on full-frame even at f/4. The sharpness is great, but the lens does exhibit some vignetting on full-frame (the issue is unsurprisingly less evident on DX cameras). However, chromatic aberration is very well-controlled and color rendition and contrast are great.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 550mm (825mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

A zoom lens like this is already versatile, but by adding the built-in 1.4x teleconverter, Nikon has created possibly their best all-in-one lens for sports and wildlife photographers. You can go from a 180-400mm to a 250-550mm lens with a simple flick of a switch and still have very good image quality, albeit now with a maximum aperture of f/5.6.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D500, 1.4x teleconverter engaged - 400mm (600mm equiv.), f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 2000.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file. While flipping a switch for the built-in teleconverter is great, it also creates a moderate amount of noise, so I was hesitant to disable it in this situation; herons are very skittish around here. There's something to be said about my not hesitating to shoot with the teleconverter even when it wasn't necessary for the desired framing, the teleconverter is just that good.

Top-notch performance, build quality and versatility don't come cheap, however. The Nikon 180-400mm f/4 TC lens costs just under $12,400 USD before tax. At that price, you're looking at lens which is $100 more expensive than a 600mm f/4E FL lens, $1,200 more than a 400mm f/2.8E FL and around $2,000 more expensive than a 500mm f/4E FL. While not in the same league optically or with respect to build quality and autofocus, it's worth noting that the 200-500mm f/5.6E lens (which is quite good, by the way), costs $11,000 less than the 180-400mm f/4. If you look beyond Nikon, the new Sigma 500mm f/4 is less than half the price of the 180-400mm.

You can see, then, that the versatility and high quality of this zoom lens comes at a steep cost. Is it worth it? That depends on your individual situation and telephoto needs. If you have the money and are comfortable spending this amount on a lens, you are getting an excellent lens. The Nikon 180-400mm f/4 TC lens is the new standard-bearer for Nikon telephoto zoom lenses and would be a fantastic addition to any sport or wildlife photographer's kit.

Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR AF-S Nikkor Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon D850, 400mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO 320.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Photographing loons has always been an interesting benchmark for me because I've done it so frequently, and the situation is challenging for many reasons. Shooting from a kayak is not easy, especially not with a big lens, and not only is the subject moving, but so am I. Further, the patterns on the bird and in the feathers can easily throw off an autofocus system. The 180-400mm was challenging to use in that it's large and heavy, but it handled the situation very well and focusing was excellent.

 

• • •

 

Product Overview

(From Nikon lens literature) Nikon Inc. has announced the new AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR super-telephoto zoom lens, which is ideally suited for photographing sports and wildlife with astounding speed and clarity. This professional level FX-format lens is more versatile than ever, and has been updated with the newest NIKKOR lens technologies including Nikon's first ever built-in teleconverter and an advanced optical formula to enhance performance and minimize weight.

"This lens is a great example of how Nikon continues to push the boundaries of innovation and what's possible with pro-level optics and high-end imaging equipment," said Kosuke Kawaura, Director of Marketing and Planning, Nikon Inc.

Popular Pro-Level Lens Gets Even More Versatile
This new NIKKOR lens is a professional super-telephoto zoom lens, which is even more versatile with an extended wide range of 180-400mm, and a constant f/4 aperture to easily isolate a subject from the sidelines, even in challenging light. This is also the first NIKKOR lens to include a built-in 1.4X teleconverter, allowing photographers to seamlessly swap to a 252-560mm1 (FX-format) focal range. The teleconverter is engaged at the flick of a switch, and is easily operated with a single finger while looking through the viewfinder. When used on the Nikon D500 and other DX-format DSLRs, the focal length is the equivalent of 270-600mm (378-840mm with teleconverter engaged).

Whether capturing fast-moving winter sports on the slopes or elusive wildlife at a distance, photographers can shoot with confidence from this high performance NIKKOR lens. The new 180-400mm f/4 is optimized for high-speed capture, and features an electromagnetic diaphragm, helping to create smooth and consistent exposures while shooting high-speed bursts of images. What's more, the AF tracking algorithm controlling the motor drive has been enhanced to increase tracking performance of fast moving subjects. When using cameras equipped with Nikon's advanced 153-point AF system (D5, D500, D850), the outer row of AF points are activated as cross-type sensors to significantly enhance the AF coverage throughout the frame.2

Enhanced Performance with the Addition of New Technology
The lens now uses a fluorite element, which contributes to improved balance while minimizing weight. To further enhance handling and agility, the lens has adopted a new ball-bearing tripod collar ring to create a seamless transition from shooting horizontal to vertical composition. The VR mechanism offers a normal and sports mode, with up to four stops3 of compensation to help create sharp images, even when handheld.

The lens construction includes the use of durable magnesium alloy for weight reduction, while the lens is also sealed against dust and moisture. A fluorine coating is also used to help repel water droplets and dirt.

The optical formula of the lens uses eight Extra Low Dispersion (ED) elements, doubling the amount of ED elements used by its predecessor, the NIKKOR 200-400mm. These help to provide extremely sharp and detailed images and 4K UHD / 1080p video, and is ideally mated to high resolution Nikon DSLR cameras. Nikon's exclusive Nano Crystal Coat is used to effectively suppress instances of ghosting and flare.

Price and Availability
The AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR lens will be available in March 2018 for a suggested retail price of $12,399.954.

[Purchasing this lens from Adorama via our site gets you the same low price,
and allows us to keep bringing review content your way!]

Notes:

  1. When the built-in or an external teleconverter is used, the focal length may not be displayed correctly in shooting information / Image data.
  2. This feature will be available with a firmware upgrade for the D5, D850 and D500 as of March 2018.
  3. Based on CIPA Standard. This value is achieved when FX-format compatible lenses are attached to a FX-format digital SLR camera and zoom lenses are set at the maximum telephoto position.
  4. SRP (Suggested Retail Price) listed only as a suggestion. Actual prices are set by dealers and are subject to change at any time.

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