The Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S is a long telephoto zoom lens which finally allows full-frame Nikon Z cameras to reach beyond 200mm without relying on older F-mount lenses. Using Nikon’s Z teleconverters you can even extend the reach of the lens to 560mm or 800mm. In my tests it turned out to be an excellent all-round performer: contrast and resolution across the full zoom range and the full frame, focus speed and reliability are all on a very high level with colour aberrations, coma, field curvature, and focus-breathing absent or at least very well controlled. And its optical image stabilization working together with the IBIS of any full-frame Z camera body proved to be very effective giving the lens a 5 stop boost in handhold-ability – which is a boon when shooting focal lengths beyond 200mm. It is also equipped with a useful OLED display, a dedicated focus ring (in addition to the multi-function ring), and customizable function buttons. Plus the lens is weather-sealed including a fluorine coating against moisture and dust on the front element and comes with a lockable lens hood. A bonus is the ability to reach 1:2.5 magnification with a very useful working distance – albeit this is better be used with the lens stopped down to f8.0 or further. And the very stable detachable tripod foot which is identical to the foot of the Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S and compatible to third party solutions.
What’s not to like – apart from the flimsy lens pouch? Well, optically I have only three small issues: Dampening of flare and glare could be better plus the lens is not perfectly parfocal and shows a bit of focus shift when stopping down. So it’s always better to re-focus after changing focal length or aperture. Regarding features: I’d love Nikon to make their tripod foots Arca Swiss compatible. And finally there’s the price: Especially in Europe the recommended retail price of 3000 EUR (including VAT) seems a bit on the high side with street prices of the (older) Sony FE, Canon EF, and Nikon F-mount versions being between 2000 and 2300 EUR.
Let’s put this into perspective and have a closer look at how the Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S compares to its F-mount predecessor, the Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR, and the alternative of using the Nikon Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S with Nikon Z TC-2.0x which makes it a 140-400mm f5.6 zoom lens.
Compared to Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR
In 2013 the AF-S Nikkor set a new benchmark for long telephoto zoom lenses. Its good points then were “excellent image quality across a 36Mp full-frame sensor even wide open; excellent image stabilization; weather sealing; quiet, fast, and precise AF operation; maximum magnification of 1:5.1; relatively light weight”. As bad points I only listed the flimsy tripod collar and the high price. Comparing its optical performance with Nikon’s latest Z 100-400mm zoom lens shows why the F-Nikkor rightly had earned high praise. Sure, the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S is better optically especially outside the center and at long distances but the differences are not huge. And then there is the issue of the missing 20mm at the short end: Pairing the Z 100-400 with a 24-70mm lens leaves a gap of 30mm while the gap is only 10mm between a 24-70mm and the F-Nikkor. So if you already own the AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR you can continue to use it via FTZ adapter on a mirrorless Nikon Z body with good results. But if you don’t already own the legacy lens I’d rather recommend getting the new Z-Nikkor: It is optically superior, has much better image stabilization, a better tripod foot, plus all the bells and whistles of Nikon’s professional Z lenses. And it is 300g lighter than the combination of F-Nikkor and FTZ adapter.
For more details see my Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR review where it earned a Highly Recommended in 2014.
Compared to Nikon Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S plus teleconverter
The Nikon Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S is an excellent lens and it works like a charm with Nikon’s Z teleconverters: They magnify the image by 1.4x or 2.0x in exchange for a 1 or 2 stop slower focal ratio and translate all EXIF data plus retain every function of the mounted lens. If you already own the Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S Nikon’s teleconverters are much cheaper, smaller, and lighter than getting the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S plus they give the Z 70-200 a boost in close-up capabilities up to 1:2.4. Optically the results from using the Z TC-1.4x are very good but it only gives you a 98-280mm f4.0 lens. The TC-2.0x results in a 140-400mm f5.6 lens but is taxing the optical abilities of the Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S: as you can see from the comparisons that combination does not deliver the same sharpness as the Z 100-400. And it starts only at 140mm – a serious disadvantage if you have no time to swap out the teleconverter. So if you already own the Nikon Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S getting one or both teleconverters gives you added flexibility – and very satisfying optical results with the TC-1.4x. But if you want to reach 400mm focal length the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S simply gives you the better optical quality and the more flexible 4x zoom range – in a package that is 270g lighter than the combination of Z 70-200 and TC-2.0x.
Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S final verdict
Nikon’s Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S is a worthy successor to the venerable AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR which the new lens surpasses in almost every aspect. It produces very sharp images with almost no field-curvature or colour aberrations and can confidently be used wide open and with a 1.4x teleconverter. Its Bokeh is quite nice and the optical image stabilization of over 5 stops should prove helpful with the challenges of hand-holding a 400mm lens. It may lack the ability of its predecessor to zoom back to 80mm but all-in-all the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S certainly earns a Highly Recommended.
- Very good resolution and contrast at all focal lengths across the full frame.
- Very effective optical image stabilization.
- Very usable close-up performance at a good working distance from f8.0 onwards.
- Almost no longitudinal colour aberrations or purple fringing.
- Only little vignetting and no distortions – through lens-profile.
- Very little field-curvature.
- Fast and reliable AF operation and extremely low focus breathing.
- Nice (although not great) Bokeh.
- Weather sealing, multi function ring, OLED display, function buttons, focus limiter.
- Not perfectly parfocal.
- A bit of focus shift.
- Dampening of flare and glare could be better.
- Tripod foot is not Arca Swiss compatible.
- Wide end starts at 100mm focal length, not 80mm.
- High price.
- Flimsy lens pouch.