10 out of 10 points and recommendedExtreme sharpness, fantastic VR functionBigger and heavier than I'd like (but this is the real world)
This may be the best lens I have ever tested, used, or owned. It's sharpness throughout almost its entire focal length is unsurpassed, even by prime lenses. The VR function is intelligent - it automatically detects if you're using a tripod and adjusts itself accordingly. Its two VR modes (normal and active) give tremendous flexibility and utility. Coupled with a DX-format Nikon DSLR (and thus with an effective focal length range of 300-600mm), this may be the most useful wildlife lens ever produced (at least to this date).reviewed November 5th, 2005 (purchased for $6,199)
In a perfect world I'd like to see the lens smaller and lighter, but laws of physics do prevail.
Nikon: please give us a 400 to 600 or a 300 to 600 in this same quality and with the VR function!
10 out of 10 points and recommendedExceptional sharpness; lightning fast focus; tremendous bokeh; VR performanceWeight; bulk, tripod foot , flaring lens hood
Arolfe's review is absolutely spot on for this stunning lens. And...this is also my absolutely favourite lens. I will add a few additional points:reviewed July 17th, 2007 (purchased for $4,120)
1. Performance with teleconverters: I'm not normally a fan (at all) of teleconverters. That being said, this lens provides stellar performance when paired with Nikon's TC-14EII (1.4x) teleconverter; very good performance with Nikon's TC-17EII (1.7x) teleconverter; and even very acceptable performance with the TC-20E (2x). I actually prefer the performance of this lens with the TC-14EII teleconverter to that of the 300 mm f2.8 VR, even when shot wide open (really!).
2. The autofocus speed of this lens is phenomenal. It focuses faster than any telephoto lens I have ever tested, period.
This lens defines sharpness. However, I would suggest that anyone considering purchasing it test it first. It IS very bulky and very heavy - it will take a determined and disciplined photographer to get the most out of this lens simply because its weight and size makes it easy to leave behind...
This lens makes me want to re-shoot everything I ever shot with my 70-200 (when shot at 200 mm).
Do NOT test this lens unless you are prepared to buy it.
10 out of 10 points and recommendedSharpness; long working distanceAF performance
The sharpness of this lens is well-known, and I find it to be one of my sharpest lenses (though not as sharp as the amazing 200 f2 VR). However, I find its longish working distance (especially when paired with a camera with a DX sensor) when working with many macro subjects to be of even higher importance.reviewed October 30th, 2007 (purchased for $1,800)
I agree with almost everyone's view that the AF performance on this lens is poor. However, this is a MICRO/MACRO lens and, as such, I believe that AF performance is pretty much irrelevant to its intended use. If anyone is looking for a good macro lens with a good autofocus system, they should probably look at the Nikkor 105 f2.8 VR.
9 out of 10 points and recommendedExcellent VR performance, excellent image quality and excellent autofocus performanceStock tripod foot excessively massive
This lens is a truly professional instrument. I have been shooting with it extensively for the past 3 months on both a D3 and a D700 and, once I learned how to truly "play" this instrument, it has produced stellar results.reviewed October 18th, 2008 (purchased for $7,865)
1. Image quality: Only my Nikon 200 f2 is sharper - you can't expect anything better from this lens. The "N" coating is effective - even strongly back-lit scenes exhibit good contrast. Bokeh is buttery smooth and exquisite.
2. Autofocus performance: Exceeded my expectations by a significant margin. I expected it would be fast enough to capture slow-moving birds in flight (e.g., eagles at moderate distances) but I never expected I could use this lens to capture swallows in flight (which I have successfully done). Initial acquisition of focus considerably faster than on the 200-400 VR and appears almost as quick as on the 300 f2.8 VR. Definitely impressive for a lens this big.
3. Teleconverter performance: I have found very few lens/TC combinations that please me enough to permit me to regularly use TC's, but I have achieved professionally sharp results using the TC-14EII (1.4x TC) and 600 VR even when shot wide open. With the TC-17EII (1.7x TC) I have needed only to stop down about one stop to achieve professionally sharp results. In terms of colour and contrast - with the 1.4x TC I noticed no degradation of these variables, but there was a noticeable loss of colour and contrast (and autofocus performance) when I used the 1.7x TC - but all these degradations are easily handled in post-processing.
4. VR Performance: My experience with the VR differs dramatically from that of sylvaticus. I find that the VR function significantly extends the range of usefulness of this lens - whether on or off a tripod. When shooting using a tripod (moderately large Gitzo with Wimberley head) I ALWAYS use "tripod mode" except when panning birds. I have run numerous tests and have found that I virtually always get sharper results with VR on (tripod mode) than when the VR is off. When shooting off a monopod or hand-holding the lens (yes, you CAN hand-hold this lens, but not for long!) I use "normal" VR mode and have captured sharp images down to 1/100s. Note that one moose-like Nikon sponsored photographer states that the "tripod mode" of the VR should only be used when you're "absolutely locked down" - my experience is that this is NOT correct. Use Tripod mode whenever on a firm tripod (unless you're panning). Using "Normal" VR on a firm tripod CAN degrade image quality. Sorry moose - in my experience the manual IS right (and the info on your website misleading).
Numerous images captured with the 600 VR are in (and likely will always be in) my gallery of latest additions here:
I hope to have a full review of this lens posted on my website before the end of December 2008. Once I have posted the review I will update this entry with a link to the review
9 out of 10 points and recommendedBlazingly fast autofocus, effective VR performance, great bokeh, great contrastLarge and heavy, only moderate performance with TC's, not quite as sharp as other fast primes from Nikon
This is a lens that was built from the ground up for capturing action. Despite being large and heavy (due to its large aperture) the VR function on this lens works well enough that the lens begs to be hand-held. Some specifics about this lens:reviewed October 25th, 2008 (purchased for $3,520)
1. Image Quality: Sort of a Jekyll and Hyde thing: This lens exhibits wonderful bokeh characteristics, great contrast (even, thanks to the N coating, when shooting backlit subjects) and colour, but is slightly less sharp than other professional quality Nikon super-telephotos (such as the 200 f2 VR). But...shoot this lens wide open and the bokeh is so wonderful (buttery smooth) that your subject will be so well isolated from the background that it will APPEAR to be tack sharp.
2. Autofocus Performance: Absolutely stellar. Blazingly fast and accurate. If I'm shooting action that requires moderate levels of magnification this is THE lens of choice.
3. VR Performance: Excellent - does exactly what it's supposed to do - gives you 3+ stops advantage. Note that this lens does not do well (images soft) with the VR function turned on when shooting from a tripod.
4. Performance with Teleconverters: Moderately good at best. Prepare to stop down to the f8 or so range to get professionally sharp images with the TC-14EII (1.4x) TC and even further with the TC-17EII (1.7x) TC. This is not necessarily a problem on Nikon's high ISO performers (at the time of writing this would include the D3 and D700).
As a nature photographer, I turn to this lens commonly to shoot birds in flight (often paired with the TC-14EII when using my D3).
An example of this combination (Bald Eagle in flight) can be found here:
Shooting backlit action? Grab this lens FIRST. Example (Orcas surfacing) here:
I can wholeheartedly recommend this lens to nature photographers or to sports photographers.
One final comment: If you're considering buying this lens, I would suggest also checking out the wonderful Nikon 200 mm f2 VR. The 200 f2 absolutely LOVES TC's - pair the 200 f2 with the TC-14Eii and you only lose 20 mm to the 300 f2.8 (with comparable image quality) and you save a bundle of bucks.
7 out of 10 points and recommendedSmall size, light weight, and effective VR function combine to make this a very portable and very versatile lens. Factor in low price and you have good value.Optical performance issues produce many compromises when in the field, VR button too easily bumped to "Off" position
My review of this lens should be viewed in a "relative" sense - I use some of Nikon's top quality pro lenses on a day-to-day basis. Thus I can really only rate/review this lens in terms of how it compares to the "other" Nikon lenses I use. So my comments may seem harsher than many of the other reviewers comments. I acquired this lens only as a temporary "stop-gap" to fill the focal range gap produced when I sold my Nikon 70-200 mm f2.8 VR due to its substandard performance on the FX bodies.reviewed January 12th, 2009 (purchased for $418)
Executive Summary: If you are upgrading to this lens from a Nikon kit lens (and have not had much or any experience with Nikon's best lenses), you will probably love this lens. It is small, light, easy-to-use, and will produce acceptably sharp images over a variety of situations and with many subject types. Combine this with it's low price and you'll likely feel this lens offers great value! But...if you are accustomed to using some of Nikon's best lenses you will probably immediately notice this lens's optical limitations and the compromises you have to make to squeeze acceptable image quality out of it. But it's still cheap! And, I will continue to use this lens as an acceptable "walking around" lens - it's just SO convenient!
1. Image quality: Acceptable sharpness in 70-200 mm range with increasing softness after about 230 mm. Best results over 200 mm when stopped down to f8 or smaller. Chromatic aberration (both yellow and purple fringing) fairly pronounced towards the long end of the focal range. Bokeh only fair at best. No problems detected on FX bodies - no vignetting and no easily noticeable softening at image edges.
2. Autofocus performance: Acceptable speed and accuracy when in used in warm environment (but not nearly as fast as Nikon's pro-level primes or zooms). But...when used at or below the freezing point, this lens slows down dramatically (this review coming to you from the great white north).
3. VR performance: As advertised. Extends the usability of this lens dramatically (compared to non-VR version). VR button always seem to end up in "Off" position every time I yank this lens out of my sling bag (could use a lock on this toggle switch).
4. Build quality: Acceptable but not stellar. No zoom creep experienced to date, like the rubber O-ring seal around the mounting plate. Lens hood effective at blocking light but easily knocked off with slight bumps only.
An acceptable product as a walkaround lens - overall very convenient and covers a very nice focal range. Optical compromises (only "acceptable/OK" sharpness at shorter and real softness at longer focal lengths plus significant chromatic aberration at longer focal lengths) make me turn away from this lens for any "serious" work.
A more thorough discussion of the pros/cons of this lens (and justification for my "downgrading" of its rating) can be found here:
9 out of 10 points and recommendedOverall image quality, bokeh, autofocus speed, improved performance on FX bodiesMinor (and controllable) sharpness fall-off in corners/edges at 200 mm
In summary, if there was ever a single "must-have" lens for ME (and I think many Nikon-using nature photographers), this lens would likely be it. Here's the slightly longer "Executive Summary" that I posted today on my website:reviewed December 4th, 2009 (purchased for $2,130)
5 December 2009 UPDATE: I have updated my "Executive Summary" immediately below - and the more detailed review on my website (link below) - to include the "Mysterious Shrinking Focal Length" (when focusing on near subjects) issue...
The Executive Summary: This lens is a very, very solid performer that I will be using a LOT! It is VERY sharp at all normally-used apertures (which means f2.8 thru f11 for me) though not quite as sharp when shot wide open. The bokeh (quality of the out-of-focus zones) is superb and at f2.8 rivals that of the venerable (and amazing) Nikon AFS 200mm f2 VR. The autofocus is blazingly fast. The VR works as advertised (which means very, very well!). Teleconverter performance (with the 1.4x TC-14EII) exceeded my expectations dramatically. BUT, the lens is NOT completely perfect - edge-to-edge sharpness is not stellar at 200 mm at larger apertures, though this limitation can be overcome by stopping down to only "reasonably small" apertures. Plus, some users will find the reduction in focal length when focusing the lens on very close subjects troublesome. But, in my opinion there are enough subtle improvements (and some not-so-subtle improvements) in this lens that combine to make the "whole package" markedly better than its precursor. For me, and I suspect many FX body owners, this lens is as close to a "must-have" lens as any on the market. DX body owners who don't already own the previous iteration of this lens will love it (and I highly recommend it for them). For DX body owners who already own the previous version - you know, that "old" (but nearly legendary) lens works so well on DX bodies already that I couldn't really recommend swapping your current lens for this one (unless, of course, you have money to burn).
A far more detailed account of my findings on this lens, and selected sample images, can be found here:
A final word regarding my rating of this lens. In my opinion the best telephoto zoom I have ever used is the 200-400mm f4 VR - which I would give a rating of 10. If the 70-200mm f2.8 VR didn't show slight sharpness fall-off in the extreme corners/edges, it too would rate as a 10 in my eyes. It's very, very good, but not quite perfect!
9 out of 10 points and recommendedDramatically improved image qualityMakes me wish for a new TC-14EIII and TC-17EIII
I recently completed field testing the "new" TC-20EIII 2x teleconverter. I have never been a fan of Nikon's TC's, but have to acknowledge when someone improves a product (and improves it this dramatically). Nikon is going to make a LOT of photographers happy with this product. Here's my "Executive Summary" of what I found and a link to my full field test:reviewed February 22nd, 2010 (purchased for $500)
25 March 2010 Update: I have added my results of testing the TC-20EIII with the 400mm f2.8 VR to both the Executive Summary below and the longer review found on my website.
The Executive Summary:
My copy of the "new" 2x teleconverter from Nikon (the TC-20EIII) represents a dramatic improvement over its "Series II" predecessor (the TC-20EII). This means that the output using the two TC's went from virtually unacceptable (with the TC-20EII) to completely acceptable (with the TC-20EIII) for virtually any use. With all lenses tested with the new TC images were visually slightly less sharp when shot wide open (at maximum aperture size) compared to when stopped down by a single f-stop. In most cases, and with most lenses tested, stopping the aperture down further resulted in only very, very minor increases in sharpness. Both image contrast and colour saturation shot with images using the TC-20EIII showed only marginal reductions compared to when NOT using the teleconverter (while the previous model of reduced image contrast and saturation quite dramatically). I experienced the best image quality, and highest overall "usability" of the lens/TC combinations when pairing the TC-20EIII with "f2.x" lenses (the 70-200mm f2.8 VRII, the 200mm f2 VR, the 300mm f2.8 VR, and the 400mm f2.8 VR). However, I was able to produce very acceptable results when using the new TC with selected f4 lenses (the 200-400mm f4 VR and 600mm f4 VR). Autofocus speed (including initial focus acquisition and focus-tracking on moving subjects) was only slightly impaired on the f2.x lenses. Despite Nikon's claim that autofocus does NOT work with f4 lenses, I found that autofocus did work (albeit in a reduced capacity) on both f4 lenses tested (but was accurate and efficient only using the more central of the D700's 51-focus brackets, i.e., autofocus with extreme outer focus brackets was completely inefficient or failed outright).
In summary - and to be brutally honest - I found the best use of the "old" TC-20EII was as a paperweight. In stark contrast, the new TC-20EIII is a useful photographic tool that has earned a permanent space in my gear bag.
My full report on my field tests, and about a dozen or so sample images, may be found here:
9 out of 10 points and recommendedSolid optical quality throughout the entire focal range; very "hand-holdable"Just acceptable build quality, horrendous tripod collar, poorly designed hood
I've just completed my full field test of this lens. Here's the "Executive Summary":reviewed January 27th, 2014 (purchased for $2,500)
The AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR is a significant and worthwhile upgrade from its predecessor. It's an incredibly versatile lens that will meet most of the needs for many, many nature and wildlife photographers. The build quality doesn't match Nikon's best and most expensive lenses, but for most uses it's simply good enough - and it stood up to a full field season of rugged field use with nary a problem. The autofocus system proved to be accurate and fast enough to capture any action - from birds-in-flight through to running mammals. The Vibration Reduction technology permitted me to effectively hand-hold the lens at manageable "real-world" shutter speeds (1/focal length and often slower) for all focal lengths. Optical quality? While one can find a Nikon lens that's sharper at virtually every focal length, this is a solid performer over its entire focal range and it produces images sharp enough to please most any user. Image sharpness was comparable to the almost legendary 200-400mm f4 VR at all overlapping focal lengths. The size and weight of the lens makes it extremely portable - whether in a backpack, waist-mounted holster system, or in your carry-on luggage on a plane. Taken as a whole, and for almost any nature or wildlife photographer, this is as close to a "must-have" lens as you can get.
The full field test may be found here:
Cheers and enjoy!