1. Welcome to NikonCafe.com—a friendly Nikon camera & photography discussion forum!

    If you are thinking of buying a camera or need help with your photos, you will find our forum members full of advice! Click here to join for free!

Your thoughts on 80-400VR? pros and cons

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by Cschend, Apr 2, 2007.

  1. Cschend


    Apr 1, 2007
    SLC, Utah
    I am currently shooting with the 70-200VR + 1.7tc which gives me a range of 320mm - but I need(want) more range. I would really love to get the 200-400VR but the strings on my wallet are saying NO. So my next alternative to satisfy my need for instant gratification would be the 80-400VR. Would this be a worthwhile purchase? Or should I be happy with my current setup and wait till some $$$ comes knocking on my door? Is there another less expensive (than the 200-400) alternative which will give me more range? Can I use the TC with it? How will that affect my images?
    I want to shoot mainly wildlife and birds with it, with the occasional sports shots of my kids. I am a newbie, serious amature, but aspire to something more.
    Thanks for yor input!
  2. I've owned the 80-400 for several years - I would have to be in pretty bad shape to get rid of it as it works very well for longer landscape shots. The truth is that it just isn't a lens built for wildlife or anything that moves at any considerable distance. It focuses pretty slowly compared to the AF-S lenses as well. When I shoot in Yellowstone, I usually have the 80-400 on one body for shooting grazing bison and distant landscapes, and the 400 2.8 handles anything else that is moving or in low light. It's a sharp and fairly distortion-free lens, but for what you're describing I think you'd be a bit frustrated with it.

  3. snownow


    Jul 13, 2006
    so cal
    Try looking at the 300 f4 and a 1.4 Tc. It seems that most people love this lens and set up and a pretty fast focus. Its also in the same price range your looking at.
  4. I had an 80-400mm VR for about 6 months. While I had it I loved the length but loathed the focus speed. I ended up with a 70-200mm VR + 2x TC (later replaced w/ a Sigma 70-200mm EX HSM for financial and weight reasons). While the CA was worse and the sharpness a tad worse also I was able to actually get the shots... most could be fixed in post... where as with the 80-400mm VR there were alot of shots I missed because of the slow focus. Keep in mind this was Nikon's VERY FIRST VR lens and technology (especially AF-S) has come a long way since then.

    An inexpensive way to see how you like 400mm along w/ keeping the speed of AFS and VR is to pick up a Kenko Pro 300 DG 2x TC. It may not be as sharp as the 80-400mm VR but it will likely be much less frustrating for what you're shooting.
  5. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Christine :

    Well, I've shot a fair bit with the 80-400mm VR lens, and it's fine lens for many things. You've asked for strengths and weaknesses to be addressed, so I'll try to oblige.

    The 80-400mm VR zoom range is extensive, the VR function works very well, and it's very much a "handholdable" lens for shooting. In terms of versatility, if you have this lens, and maybe the 18-70mm kit lens, you're covered for almost any focal range of interest (unless you need super telephoto distances or extremely wide angle). The VR function really does work neatly, and it compensates to a limited degree for shooting in low light, although the minimum aperture of the lens will have a specific limitation on shutter speeds for a given ISO setting.

    The downsides are that the lens isn't AFS, that is, one of the super fast focusing lenses, and that it's not "fast glass", that is, a fairly wide aperture lens (such as an f/2.8). In low light conditions, the 80-400mm is not a great lens for action shooting without higher ISO settings.

    Shooting with the 80-400mm lens requires planning and anticipation. It's not a lens for a person who wants to machine-gun shoot and let the camera and lens make-up for the photographer's lack of thinking or where the situation simply won't allow for planning the photograph. If a photographer needs a system where they require machine gun shooting, the 80-400mm VR just isn't the lens for them (and they may also want a camera body like the D2Hs - a possible additional expense).

    The balance on this is that where I've done some planning, a little thinking about where the bird would fly or how the person will move, I've had good results with the 80-400mm. Even shooting at evening or dawn has been quite possible, and the lens delivered good results. The zoom function and relatively light weight (compared with lenses like the 200-400mm and the 300mm f/2.8) has meant that I could walk around with the lens, and shoot varied subjects and conditions with success.

    The 80-400mm lens, IMO, gets a bad rap compared with certain fast primes or with much higher cost zooms. When the lens is considered on its own merits, it's actually a very capable and versatile lens. I'm not the only one to make this comment - no less than Bjørn Rørslett give the lens a high rating (Bjørn's Take), although he's not happy with the tripod mount (a common comment from Bjørn on many Nikon tele-lenses). In essence, I've found that the 80-400mm lens requires that a photographer learn the specific capabilities of the lens, and work through those for successful shooting.

    If you're dead-set on having the "best" wildlife shooting Nikon lens, this may not be the lens for you, although you'll spend roughly four times as much for a lens such as the 200-400mm f/4 VR/AFS, or for a prime like the 300mm f/2.8 and a TC. The 300mm f/4 and a TC are closer to the price of the 80-400mm, but you'll lose the zoom function, and gain only a stop in glass speed, although the AFS function will be much faster.

    And those people who claim that the 80-400mm VR lens can't be used for wildlife photography are recommended to look at Janet Zinn's website (Janet Zinn Photography). Janet's one of the more talented bird photographers around, and she's shot extensively and successfully with the 80-400mm.


    The net discussion, IMO, on the 80-400mm VR is that you'd have a very flexible zoom lens with Vibration Reduction that's relatively handholdable at a price point of $1,200-$1,400, which will have some limitations on focus speed and very low light condition shooting. The alternatives in a similar focus length that definitively address those limitations will run substantially more money, and will not, in most cases, be handheld alternatives. There are some intermediate alternatives (e.g., the 70-200mm AFS/VR f/2.8 with TC17EII that you have) that will partially address the issues at hand, at a somewhat increased cost, but will not yield the results of the much more expensive alternatives.

    If the focus speed or a "fast glass" (low f/stop) lens are critical deciding factors, the 80-400mm is likely not the lens to choose. If price is a critical factor and you're willing to learn the idiosyncracies of the lens, the 80-400mm VR lens can be an extremely satisfying lens to own.

    I hope that this helps.

    John P.


    Nov 29, 2006
    I owned the 80-400 for a few months and it was a nice lens for static or slow subjects. I wanted something a little faster for wildlife and sports. I just picked up the 300 f/4 AF-S and so far I love it. I haven't had a chance to use it with the 1.7 yet but I've seen posts here with that combination and they looked very nice.
  7. Dayo


    May 1, 2006
    Thanks for that detailed write up John. Looking at it makes me wonder whether the equally slow but cheaper VRless Tamron 200-500 may be an alternative. I used one handheld on a KM 7D but then, VR was the least of my worries with the KM setup.
  8. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Dayo :

    Good to hear from you, sir. Thanks for the kind words. When someone asks about a lens' "strengths and weaknesses", I think that it's reasonable to offer a few cogent remarks with some personal experience.

    That said, I have no personal knowledge of the Tamron 200-500.

    It's worth noting, however, that many "consumer" lenses have pretty solid performance stopped down a bit. The area where many "professional" lenses shine is wide-open or close to wide-open, hence the higher prices on lenses like the 28mm f/1.4 compared with a 28mm f/2.8, for example.

    For me, a lot of my photography has been to learn the capabilities of the gear in my hands, and less about just getting the most expensive gizmo (although I've been lucky enough to get a few nice gizmos at good prices... :wink: ). The 80-400mm VR is a nice lens to shoot with, but it did take me a little while to gain some knowledge of how to get the lens to perform. :rolleyes: 

    If you get the chance to test a Tamron 200-500, I'd be keenly interested in your results, even a few test shots, if you have the time and inclination. Thanks.

    John P.
  9. Cschend


    Apr 1, 2007
    SLC, Utah
    Wow! This is great info! Thanks to everyone!
    I did run across the Tamron 200-500 and it sounded intriguing. Perhaps another thread should be started.
    I really like the idea of having a lighter lens that I can easily handhold and have a large zoom range at the same time, but it sounds like I'll be disappointed with the slow focus. I did test it out for a few hours last summer (Just as I got my camera, so I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing), and liked it then, but it was a very bright, overcast day - so the shooting conditions were quite optimal. Plus I only took shots of my kids - and not birds or furry animals. I'm still on the fence......
  10. Pixelographer


    Dec 22, 2006
    It's a matter of deciding what quality of picture you want for the time you've got to take it - then the money comes into play. You COULD get high quality pictures of flitting birds with little cash, but you'd have to be very close, the light would need to be perfect, the bird would need to stop moving for longer than normal, etc. Even then, you'd have to take MANY shots to get one that is well exposed, focused, and large enough to post with pride. Money gets you results in less time, as in most things, so be honest with yourself before plunking down cash for a compromise. I made this mistake with the 80-400mm - just not good enough for small birds as often as I'd like. Bit the bullet and bought a 400/2.8/af-i. Old school lens and heavy as Hades but great results. Even with it, I still need a tripod, the right light, etc., but I get many more keepers. So, you're wise to be asking these questions, but you also decide what quality you consider acceptable.
    Good Luck
  11. Howzabout the Sigma 80-400mm OS? Is the focusing any faster, even without HSM?
  12. Cschend


    Apr 1, 2007
    SLC, Utah
    Good point Dave - I really do like taking great quality photos (lots of them), and am developing a keener and more discerning eye in my photography. I do hope (and expect) to reach a level of professional results sooner, rather than later. I suppose deep down inside I know that to get the images I am expecting from myself I need to part with some serious cash. It just took someone to tell me that it was so. You often hear that it's not the equipment, it's the person behind the camera that gets the great shots. But IMHO equipment DOES make a difference (if you are talented to begin with). Obviously if you cant take good pix with basic equipment, you won't get any better with expensive gear. BUT, if you are proficient with basic equipment, then the pro gear will help your photos really shine. Yes???

    I've been in Denial..... I think I know my answer.... I better start saving.....:669: :Wink:
  13. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Christine :

    The issue of handheld vs. tripod shooting is one to consider. While, as others so correctly comment, the "keeper" rate with the big glass is higher, the question comes up whether you'll bring that glass with you as often. Now, I shoot the 200-400mm handheld, but in all truth, few people are comfortable with that kind of weight. I do get shots like :




    but I'm a very squarely built guy who lifts weights, and I make no bones about one of the reasons that I lift weights - so that I can heft big lenses and camera bodies in my photography. I let TOLady (Sandi) try shooting handheld with the 200-400mm; she found it ungainly, and went with the 80-400mm VR (but note that she also shoots extensively from a kayak which is far more difficult than landbound shooting).

    The "keeper rate" is also dependable on the "shooting rate", and if you can't bring the camera body and lens around with you, the percentage of great shots may be higher, but the overall number of great shots will be lower. :rolleyes: 

    In all honesty, the 80-400mm can deliver an acceptable "keeper rate" if you learn to use the lens to best advantage. No, you won't be shooting much in deep sunset, but then, you would have a highly portable lens for other shooting in the daytime. And, FWIW, I've very successfully shot roosting small birds in low light with the 80-400mm, and couldn't have done this with my 200-400mm - the brush thicket I was in was simply too dense to have poked around with the big lens ! I've shot flying hummingbirds with the 80-400mm - I just had to plan a bit for where the hummers would be in flight, and then shoot accordingly.

    Sports shooting with the 200-400mm or one of the other big guns means setting up a tripod and shooting from one or maybe two spots. It's just not as portable, and if that's important for you, it's another consideration.

    My advice would be to rent an 80-400mm for an afternoon and shoot like the dickens with it to see how it works for you. Then try one of the "big guns" like the 200-400mm and compare the experience. All of this discussion of what's "best" can miss the point of what works for you. It's like my picking the prescription glasses off of another person, placing them over your eyes, and insisting that your sight should be just nifty because those glasses work for the other person!!! :Confused: :Alien: :eek: 

    If you were local to me, I'd arrange to meet and let you try both lenses, but I somehow doubt that you're down in NM looking at your location (Utah?).

    Anyway, let us know how this works out, eh ?

    John P.
  14. Pixelographer


    Dec 22, 2006
    I wouldn't carry the 13lb 400/af-i if I didn't have to use it to get the results I expect. Would love it if the 80-400 had been more productive, or if my 70-200 + 1.7TC had the reach for birds, or if I could afford a D2xs and a 200-400vr. For now, I'll tote the 15 year old boat anchor and get in position as best I can. BTW, I used a blind (hide) this weekend for the first time- big help, as there's no substitute for getting close.
    Here's a link to one example from the boat anchor...you can click on it to see a larger version.


    Please let us know what you decide and best of luck.
  15. MJAM


    Feb 20, 2006
    Juneau, Alaska
    Excellent write-up of this lens, John, Mike

  16. TimK


    Apr 17, 2006
    Hong Kong, China
    Christine, I've been using the 80-400VR for a long time and it remains to be my major tele zoom for trips when I cannot carry my 400 f2.8 AFS-2.

    I am 100% agree with John - this is a lens you need to practice to use. When you get used to it you'll get very good quality photos at f8 to f11. IMO at f11 it is as sharp as my 428 at f4, but CA is a bit higher when shooting high contrast backlight subjects.

    I think the focusing speed is acceptable with my F6 and D200. It is quite a bit slower with the D70.

    Another good thing of this lens is that it is really handheldable. Its light weight and VR works quite well. Here is an example :


    Anticipation of where the action is would be quite important :

    NIKON D200    ---    400mm    f/8.0    1/750s    ISO 200

    and you can capture small flying objects with it too!


    Oh, byw, I have used the Kenko Pro 1.4 TC with it and it works well under good lighting condition. The CA is a tag higher, but sharpness is acceptable at f11-16.
  17. Gale


    Jan 26, 2005
    Viera Fl
    I would be out of luck for anything without the 80-400 VR
    Works real well on the D2 cameras. for action and machine gunning:) )
    I shoot sports sequences with it and other things.
    Most everthing in my gallerys is with the 80-400.
    I have a 300 f4 (now)and need a 1.4 tc and it is a super fast lens.
    I love both.
    Would never give up the versitality of the 80-400 though..Have also shot more than 50% of my images with the Kenko pro 300 1.4 tc and been darn glad I had the extra reach.
  18. yifeng


    Jan 23, 2007
    I've used the 80-400VR for about a month and sold it for a 300mm F4 plus TC14 and 17. The 80-400VR can generate very sharp images, but just can't get used to its slow focus for birding. Been very happy with the 300mm / TC combo.
  19. Francis


    May 7, 2005
    I just bought the Sigma 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 second hands for $600, 1.5 years old. All these pictures are taken with this lens in combination with the Fuji S5 Pro. The webalbum can be seen here : http://www.fotokine.be/olmensezoo/

    FinePix S5Pro    ---    400mm    f/5.6    1/250s    ISO 400

    FinePix S5Pro    ---    400mm    f/5.6    1/200s    ISO 200

    FinePix S5Pro    ---    280mm    f/5.6    1/180s    ISO 100

    FinePix S5Pro    ---    280mm    f/5.6    1/115s    ISO 200

    FinePix S5Pro    ---    200mm    f/5.3    1/115s    ISO 100

    FinePix S5Pro    ---    400mm    f/5.6    1/640s    ISO 200
  20. Gale


    Jan 26, 2005
    Viera Fl
    One of the things folks don't realize with that lens for birds and distance is to put the lens on LIMIT..
    Take off limit for shorter distance:>))))))
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.