Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S review
Written by Thomas
The Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S is a long telephoto lens with a large focal ratio of f2.8 and the unique feature of a built-in 1.4x teleconverter which can simply be activated with a switch resulting in a 560mm f4.0 lens. In my tests it turned out to be an excellent performer: contrast and resolution across the full frame are all on a very high level (even when used with teleconverter) with colour aberrations, coma, and field curvature practically non-existent. 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. It is also equipped with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a professional Z-Nikkor – apart from the OLED display.
But there is even more: Nikon made it the first lens to get the new meso amorphous coating for increased contrast in challenging backlight situations and there’s a new function ring for fast recall of a stored focus distance – so no need to find one of the four function buttons for that. A bonus is the ability to reach 1:4 magnification with very usable quality. Plus, Nikon finally delivers the lens with a case which is appropriate for such a high-end product. And more importantly, Nikon also managed to reduce the weight by 1kg over its predecessor – which is not a small feat. Plus they moved the center of gravity back towards the camera which certainly makes the new lens more nimble on a gimbal. But I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed the built-in teleconverter: It really makes this large aperture long telephoto prime lens a unique piece of optics!
What’s not to like? Optically I have only one small issues: focus breathing is on the very visible side which might annoy videographers. Regarding features: I’d love Nikon to make their tripod foots Arca Swiss compatible. Is price another issue? Well, it’s definitely an expensive lens, but comparatively speaking in a similar ball-park to rivals: both Sony and Canon charge around $12k for their respective 400mm f2.8 mirrorless lenses and while that makes them $2k cheaper than the Nikon at the time of writing, neither includes the convenience and flexibility of a built-in 1.4x tele-converter. The TC effectively gives you two lenses for the price of one: a 400mm f2.8 plus a 560mm f4.0 lens – with a flexibility in the field that two separate lenses could not match. That makes the asking price for Nikon’s Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S look more reasonable.
Let’s put this into perspective and have a closer look at how the Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S compares to its F-mount predecessor, the Nikon AF-S 400mm f2.8E FL ED VR, and the Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S zoom lens.
Compared to Nikon AF-S 400mm f2.8E FL ED VR
In 2014 Nikon introduced their best 400mm f2.8 lens so far. It set new benchmarks for optical performance and also came with a reduced weight over its predecessor. I didn’t have a chance to test the lens so I’m only inferring from reports/reviews I read and Nikon’s MTF-charts: It’s optical performance is still top notch and could even be a tiny bit better than from the new Z 400 TC. So if you already own the AF-S 400mm f2.8E FL ED VR you should be able to use it via FTZ adapter on a mirrorless Nikon Z body with excellent results. And as was reported elsewhere with focus speeds (on a Z9) to match the speed on an F-mount body. But imagine which shots you could get when a 1.4x teleconverter is only a switch away: No hassle with dismounting and mounting the lens and TC in the heat of the moment – or carrying a 600mm f4.0 with you. Plus the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S is 1kg lighter than the combination of F-Nikkor and FTZ adapter. And with 5+ stops of image stabilization you could even handhold the lens and shoot it at shutter speeds that are unrivalled by anything with an F-mount. And regarding price? Buying the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S gets you two lenses for the price and weight of one. Hard to refuse such an offer, isn’t it?
Compared to Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikon’s Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S 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. It’s almost on a par to the Z400 TC performance-wise but then it’s only f5.6 at 400mm focal length: A two-stop disadvantage in light-gathering power and Bokeh quality. But this also makes the Z 100-400 less than half as heavy and much less bulky than the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S – and much, much more affordable at a fifth of the price. Plus it has the flexibility to zoom back to 100mm. In the end both lenses are very different kinds of optics: The Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S simply reaches further with the flick of a switch and offers a two stops brighter focal ratio while the Z 100-400mm offers the flexibility of a 4x zoom in a relatively small, light and lower cost package.
For more details see my Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S review where the lens came Highly Recommend.
Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S final verdict
Nikon’s Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S is an excellent super-telephoto with one extremely compelling feature over rival systems: It has a built-in 1.4x teleconverter which changes it into a 560mm f4.0 lens at the flick of a switch. This makes the lens much more versatile and makes it a unique “two-for-the-price/weight-of-one” lens for sports and wild-life photography. The lens also produces very sharp images with virtually no field-curvature or colour aberrations and can confidently be used wide open and with the built-in 1.4x teleconverter or Nikon’s Z TC-2.0x. Its Bokeh is very nice and the optical image stabilization of over 5 stops proves really helpful with the challenges of hand-holding a 400mm lens. This is also helped by shaving almost 1 kg off the weight of its predecessor, the AF-S 400mm f2.8E FL ED VR. All this makes the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S rightfully earn a Highly Recommended – despite its high price.
- Excellent resolution and contrast across the full frame at 400mm focal length.
- Built in 1.4x teleconverter.
- Very good image quality with built-in 1.4x teleconverter or Z TC-2.0x.
- Very effective optical image stabilization.
- Very good close-up performance.
- Practically no longitudinal colour aberrations or purple fringing.
- Only little vignetting and no distortions – through lens-profile.
- Very little field-curvature.
- Reliable AF operation.
- Very nice Bokeh, although with the risk of double contours.
- Weather sealing, multi function ring, function buttons, focus limiter.
- Nice lens pouch – finally!
- Relatively strong focus breathing.
- Tripod foot is not Arca Swiss compatible..
- High price.