Nikon 200-400 Review

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The Nikon 200-400mm is a perfectly versatile lens that can do just about anything you need!

Or rent it for a while from Borrowlenses.com

The Nikon 200-400 Lens

The full name of this lens is the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G AF-S SWM SIC ED IF VR II Nikkor Super Telephoto Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras. Who comes up with this stuff? It’s like War & Peace!

The lens is great, even though it pretty much only serves one purpose: An extreme zoom with a bit of flexibility.

Why I got it

I was going to Yellowstone and wanted to take tight photos of animals, birds, people, and other things at a great distance.

Getting close to animals is next to impossible, so it’s best to have something with some extreme zoom. The Nikon 200-400 will let you get good detail, even if the target is about a quarter mile away. That’s pretty extreme!

The lens is pretty useless if the subject is up close. The lower range of the 200mm means that your subject has to be about 20 feet away or more to be worth shooting.

Shooting Landscapes with the Nikon 200-400mm Lens

This is not thought of as a landscape lens. However, I do think if it as one that is flexible enough for certain landscape situations.

I’ve put a landscape photo below in the Sample Photos for you to see.

In landscape, sometimes there is a situation that called for “compression”. You can get this interesting “feel” to a photo with these wonderful zoom lenses. Often times, the most interesting bit of the landscape is quite small. That small bit can be lost in a wide-angle shot. The compressed view can be much more interesting and certainly makes for a unique take on the situation.

I appear to be holding this lens effortlessly.  But I am not.

The Downside

It’s huge!

It’s big and heavy and difficult to carry around. I’m in pretty decent shape, and I can only hand-hold it for about 4-5 minutes before I crumple and collapse.

I used a gimbal head to mount the lens on a tripod instead. That made it all quite a bit easier and more sane. Once all that is set up, you have a serious rig in action. It’s great and very effective, but there is no such thing as “popping out of your car to get a quick shot”. It’s a small production setting it all up.

While I was taking this photo, I was aiming at the forest scene below in the Sample Photos.

How it compares to the much cheaper Nikon 70-200mm Lens

I also have a Nikon 70-200 Review, which you might want to see. There are plenty of sample photos inside there and you can visually see the difference.

The 70-200 is also good for wildlife photography, but the animals/birds need to be pretty darned close. We’re talking “zoo close”. That distance rarely happens in nature unless you are set up inside a blind or something crazy like that.

The Nikon 200-400, on the other hand, can give you a lot more range. If a bison walks up right beside your car, then it is far too close to make this lens usable. Since this usually isn’t the case, you will find the lens useful for most distance situations.

The 70-200 is also great for people-photography. At 70mm, you can take a nice tight shot of someone across the room. You won’t be using the 200-400 for much of that, although you can use it to take photos of people outside with some very nice compression. You can see a photo of Ethan playing croquet below that was shot with the Nikon 200-400.

Sample Photos from the Nikon 200-400mm Lens

Here are a few quick photos that I have had time to process.  More will come in the future.

It’s almost impossible to get this kind of compression with a wide-angle lens

When shooting at f/4, subjects really pop off the page

The lens has very little vignetting, but I did add some in post-processing.  Dont’ let that throw you off.

Doesn’t Ethan look like he just stepped off a Ralph Lauren catalog?  Again, I added Vignetting in post.

I shot this one at f/5 from about 40 feet away.

Using this tight lens can help you re-compose scenes you stopped thinking about with the wide-angle lenses

Any questions about the nature of these reviews? Visit my Ethics Statement. It’s all quite simple!

  • http://www.nekphotography.blogspot.com Jen Hannux

    Your first sample photo is AMAZING and the last one is a close second! Now you have me debating between a good zoom lens and a wide angle (neither of which I have). And as if I could possibly afford this lens anyway… ha. I love how you shoot great photos even when they aren’t HDRs.

  • http://www.naturetraveladventures.com robert wicker

    Great work my friend. BTW I noticed that is not the flag of England on your coat.

  • http://www.flickr.com/kenkliu Ken Liu

    dude that thing is huge! cool review.

  • Ryan Siemers

    Wicked work!
    Imagine throwing that on a crop sensor body. Just a couple of questions.
    Did you play with VR on and off?
    Did you need to throw a ND on there for any shots at f/4?

    I love the shot of the waterfall with the winding river below. It’d be awesome to compare the same shot with a wide angle just to punch the comparison between them.

  • Jai

    good effort.

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Stuck In Customs

    thx

    Ryan – I kept the VR on in handheld. I turned it off on the tripod – I’ve read VR can cause issues ! And no ND filter

  • http://www.fenglongphoto.com Zachary Long

    Great inspirational shots, I have the Canon 100-400mm lens and never really thought to use it for landscapes. Maybe I’ll break it out and give it a few shots!

  • William Beem

    You are making me want expensive things. I think this one will be a rental lens for me, at least for a while.

  • http://tagchips.com/skunkworks.html DARYL BUTCHER

    I am enjoying the 70-200. Particularly at an air show. I have to get “grooved” to the continuous focus tracking capablity for moving objects. For 400mm (Fireworks show) I simply put the old f4 manual focus and 2X teleconverter on the camera on a tripod. Same would work with the 70-200 making it a 400 f-5.6. No VR but with a tripod that is OK. For fireworks f-16 kept the sky light lower so the faster lens was no advantage. Trade: maybe $300 vs approx. $7,000. Same result. But I am banging on a “customer” to reward me with a bonus of a longer lens. :-) :-)

    Your canyon picture was taken EXACTLY from the location where my wife (when we were first married) scooted under the guard rail to retrieve a chucnk of “Yellow-stone” while I clung to a solid support with acrophobia. Somewhere around here is a 2 1/4 inch Hasselblad slide from that location that is 44 years old.

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Stuck In Customs

    hehe thanks zach, william, and daryl !

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  • http://blogarithms.com Doug Kaye

    Great review, Trey. But here’s an alternative. Okay, maybe it’s not the same thing, but here’s how I got a 400mm f/4 that worked great for me in Kenya, and at a fraction of the cost: (1) use a 70-200mm f/2.8, (2) a DX (cropped) sensor body, and (3) a TC-14E II teleconverter. The net is the FX equivalent of a 150-420mm f/4 lens if my math is correct. Actually, I used a TC-20E II on a D90 body so I had the FX equivalent of a 210-600mm f/5.6, at a fraction of the cost of the 200-400mm monster. Other advantages: (1) you can hold it, (2) you can fit it in a mid-sized Lowepro, (3) you’ve got a 70-200mm f/2.8 when you want one.

  • Michael Petersheim

    Wow, that last shot is far and away my favorite! There are very few photos anywhere that I’d buy to hang on my wall, but that’s one of them! I shoot Canon, and I recently rented their 100-400 mm lens from BorrowLens (or maybe LensRentals, I don’t remember for sure), and loved it. It really opens your eyes to a different aspect of landscape photography, and I encourage anyone who’s remotely interested in it to rent one for a week…

  • http://JapanDave.com David LaSpina / JapanDave

    Wonderful review and sample shots, Trey! Especially that last one.

    I’d love to borrow some lenses, but unfortunately I don’t think they ship to Japan. Oh well. Fun reading this post, tho.

  • http://www.clarityphotos.com Eugene Stevens

    I am wondering about whether it is really better than my 80-400 VR 5.6 lens. With the D700, if I need the low light available for the F 4, I can go up a couple of film speeds and not have very much noise as long as I do not go near to the 6400. I took the 80-400 from the Med coast of France to Chamonix and the 80-400 which fit in my Thinktank rolling airport carry on with all my other lenses from the 2.8 14-24 and to my 2.8 80-200.

  • Teresa

    Did you fly on a small commuter plane? If yes, did you put the lens in overhead bin or check it? The overhead bin on small commuter plane is not very deep or tall. I am renting Nikon 500mm f/4G AF-S ED VR for Yellowstone and will fly into Jackson Hole Airport on a small commuter plane. Worried it won’t fit. Don’t want to check it. Any advice on how to take lens on plane?

  • http://photosbysusanc.aminus3.com susan

    That last shot just makes me drool with envy !!!! Someday…..sometime………

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Stuck In Customs

    Thanks all!

    Teresa – I rented from Borrowlenses and had them deliver it right to Bozeman… and then I sent back from there. I thought that was clever of me!

    Eugene – that is a goood question… it’s always a tough choice!

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/kazinvan/ Mike

    Trey, what about using a 70-200 with a TC versus the 200-400? Wouldn’t that give you a more versatile setup and provide similar range and speed? Great site, very informative.

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  • LOU

    Hi, Trey. Thanks for all you do, and being accessible with your knowledge. I think renting, or borrowing from a lucid friend, a great idea. However, I’ve always plunged in at my own peril/profit/loss.

    On the 200-400: I had a five-year love/hate (mostly lust) relationship with said lens. It travels well – for what it is. It seems practical on the one hand, and an egregious luxury on the other. So, why did I own and use one for five years? Because it presented the best Nikon alternative at the time – perhaps, it still does. It excels at portability and flexibility, and at closer range the optics really perform. But, I noted it is weakest where I needed its strength: At distance, and at 400mm. I moved on to the relatively overgrown 400 2.8, but most who would pursue the 200-400 probably should not. The 2.8 propels “egregious luxury” to another plane. Still, I wouldn’t go back to the 200-400.

    I think what most of us would like to see/would benefit most from an ice-age overdue 80-400 AF-S, and assorted alphabet soup redux – soon, sooner, or today!

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/shigzeo/ shigzeo

    That is NOT an English flag – it’s Norwegian. Lovely work, of course, as all of it is.

  • http://www.JandDImages.com David Fisher

    I absolutly love my Nikon 200-400 mm f4 and I comfortably carry it and us it routinely along with another camera and lens to maximize versitility. Many people have expressed that the 200-400 mm is heavy to carry and difficult to manage. I have not found that to be the case at all when I use the strap that you can see in a photo at the following link: https://picasaweb.google.com/JandDImages/Nikon200400MmAnd1424MmAtWork#5615297969700783730

  • Bozz

    I have rented this great Nikon lens on quite a few occasions with great results, I own a Nikon 80-400 VR lens which give me great results and is very portable and handles well but it does not have quite the quality that the Nikon 200-400 has, but maybe I will get myself one if my boat comes in.

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  • Sean Crane

    Just stumbled onto this old thread. I’ve been using the 200-400 for years and have taken it all over the world. To me it is the ultimate wildlife lens because I can be so stealth with it. I don’t like to shoot with a tripod when I am out hiking through the woods (too much time to set up and you lose the shot/also too bulky to hike with) and this lens is perfect. I replaced the smallish tripod foot with a much larger one from Really Right Stuff. I also replaced the neck strap on my camera to one with a bit more give. That way I can tuck the tripod foot into either my belt or, preferably, the waist belt of my backpack. That puts all the weight on my hip and I can hike all day comfortable. When a monkey all of a sudden jumps in front of me, I just pull the whole rig from my hip and shoot. The VR works great and I’m able to get sharp focus down to 1/15th of a second handheld (not all the time, but with proper technique my success rate is high). The lens does get heavy for prolonged shooting, but those are the tradeoffs. Just lower it every now and again to ease the strain on your arms. Check out http://www.seancrane.com (most of the frame filling wildlife shots in the wild are with this lens). 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000573956948 Austin Goldthorpe

    Sean,  just would like to say firstly – your photography is inspiring!
    I was just wondering, is the 200-400 the longest lens that you use, possibly with teleconverters?

  • Sean Crane

    Thanks Austin, yes, it’s the longest lens that I use. I sometimes use the 1.4 teleconverter with this lens but very rarely (I have a shot of a jaguar and another of three river otters on ice in my “favorites” gallery that was taken with this combination). I do use a cropped sensor camera (the Nikon D300) almost always with this lens  — which essentially has the same effect as using the teleconverter, getting me out to 600mm on the long end.

  • Alexis Coram

    Hey Trey – curious how often you’re using this lens now that you’re madly in love with the 28-300? I’m considering both lenses at the mo.

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