8 out of 10 points and recommendedversatile, good optics, relatively light weightAF speed
A lot has been said and written about Nikon’s AF 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 ED VR. There are several conflicting opinions about this lens in its overall performance. And like so many others I too was in a real dilemma trying to figure out what’s best for me? I therefore spent a lot of time reading reviews, talking to photographers and a regular visit to various forums to try and see what actual users’ experience with this lens is.reviewed January 7th, 2007 (purchased for $1,300)
One thing that came out clearly is that this lens has very good optics. So after much debating I finally pulled the trigger and coughed up the cash. I will try and summarize my findings which will hopefully help others
• As a start you must ask yourself the purpose of using this lens. What kind of photography do you do? I mainly shoot wildlife and landscapes. So for a starter 300mm is often a minimum for most mammals, however for most birds 400mm is the starting point!!
• Next comes the “budget” options available – i) Nikon AF-S 70-200mm F2.8 VR with tele convectors ii) Nikon AFS 300mm F4 – excellent optically but lacks VR and of course no flexibility of a zoom iii) third party lens like Sigma 80-400mm F 4.5-5.6 OS iv) Sigma 135-400mm F4.5-5.6 v) Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3
• Many of the above lenses lack VR, which is almost a necessity with longer lenses. Alos other options are not as good optically. Due to the fact of good optics with VR this package really is very attractive
• The other big glass (like the legendary 200-400) costs at least 3-5 times more and IMO are really meant for the pro or the well endowed. As your skills improve one can upgrade to these big lenses
For a lens covering a 5X range the 80-400 VR is an extremely versatile compact and a good lens delivering the best bang for the buck. IMO the 70-200 with a 1.4X converter will produce better IQ. With the 1.7X IQ still remains good with many preferring this option to the 80-400 VR. The reach is 340mm, so it’s still lagging and if reach is important then 80-400 VR is the way to go. But things start to deteriorate rapidly with a 2X converter on the 70-200 VR. Several users and even pros have echoed this.
Typically in lab tests the 80-400 VR’s performance is not exceptional but in real world shooting conditions this lens with the right technique will produce very good results
ISSUES: Nothings perfect right! – There are certain well documented problems that you will encounter when using this lens so lets try to find a way around them. The first and probably the most criticized is that of AF speed. Since this is an AF type lens focus speed is noticeably slower than AF-S lenses. So what does it mean in real world working situations. In bright light one doesn’t need to worry but when light levels drop or contrast is low then locking focus and hunting can be a problem. So to help matters the use of the focus limiter is essential and helps to reduce hunting and attaining focus faster. AF speed is also dependent on the body. With D80 upwards the AF speed is much better than with D70 or the D50.
Second issue is the tripod collar – where the design has been poorly implemented. Many 3rd party designs have been implemented that are improvements and solve the problem. Moreover Nikon themselves have improved the design over the years.
In summary this really is a versatile lens which goes up to 400mm has good optics for real world shooting and still remains relatively “affordable”. Sure it has it has its limitations and knowing them is important and seeing if you can work around them will be the deciding factor. What one needs to remember that it’s not the lens alone that will make great photographs. Learn to use your equipment well and as you become experienced with it then most certainly buy the expensive stuff.
5 out of 10 points and recommendedCheap, good focal range, recommended only if you're on a budgetFocus speed and huntinf, zoom creep
Sigma 135-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG APO – This lens had the potential to be a winner. The zoom range is just under 3X which means the compromises in lens design are to the minimum. I had the non DG version of this lens. Unfortunately the optics are not great; though for the price it is OK. The lens tends to get soft at 400mm and max aperture. On DSLR’s the optics are better, especially cropped sensors. The construction is fairly light weight and compact. Lack of image stabilization is felt at longer focal lengths making hand-holding very difficult. Besides a noisy focus motor, focus speed is slow and hunt prone. No focus limit switch is provided to help matters.reviewed January 10th, 2007 (purchased for $450)
Overall this lens is recommended only for those on a budget. The optics are OK and you can get to 400mm at a fraction of the cost spent for other lenses. There are better options but have to spend 2-3 times more. You get what you pay for.