Nikon Z 400mm f4.5 VR S review
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The Nikon Z 400mm f4.5 VR S is a telephoto prime lens which is relatively compact and comes at an unrivalled low weight of only 1.2kg. In my tests it turned out to be a very good performer: resolution across the full frame is very good even wide open from infinity down to minimum object distance 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 plus a dedicated memory set button to save focus positions, but no OLED display.

What’s not to like – apart from the flimsy lens pouch? Well, optically I have only three small issues: Focus breathing is not well controlled, minimum object distance of 2.4m only yields a meagre maximum magnification of 1:5.6, and when using the Z TC-2.0x center performance takes a visible hit. Finally regarding features: I’d love Nikon to make their tripod foots Arca Swiss compatible – or at least add the groove to their foot.

Let’s put this into perspective and have a closer look at how the Nikon Z 400mm f4.5 VR S compares to Nikon’s Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S, Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S, AF-S 500mm f2.8E PF VR, and Z 800mm f6.3 VR S.


Above from left to right: Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S, Nikon Z 400mm f4.5 VR S, Nikon AF-S 500mm f5.6E PF VR (on FTZ adapter)

Compared to Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S

Nikon’s Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S is their best iteration of a telephoto zoom lens so far. It produces very sharp images and comes in a package that is not much larger or heavier than the Z 400mm f4.5 VR S. When choosing between both lenses it ultimately comes down to flexibility (favoring the Z 100-400 zoom lens) versus +2/3 EV light gathering power and a bit better image quality (which favors the Z 400/4.5).

For more details see my Nikon Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S review where the lens came Highly Recommended.

Compared to Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S

Nikon’s Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S was introduced just a few months ago and it proved to be an excellent lens 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. My comparison showed that the Z 400/2.8 TC is clearly ahead optically of all the other lenses in this review with 400mm or 500mm focal length, but there’s a price to pay – literally and in weight: The Z400/2.8 is over 10k EUR/USD/GBP more expensive and 1.7kg heavier. So choices are pretty clear: If you need ultimate optical quality plus the incredible flexibility of a built-in teleconverter plus 4/3 EV brighter focal ratio get the Z 400/2.8 TC. If you prefer small and light (on your neck and your wallet) get the Z 400/4.5.

For more details see my Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S review where the lens came Highly Recommended.

Compared to Nikon AF-S 500mm f5.6E PF ED VR

When Nikon introduced their 500mm f5.6E PF VR in 2018 everyone was immediately impressed by how small and lightweight the lens was – facilitated by the use of an innovative Phase-Fresnel element. From my tests I can confirm that this lens performs comparably to the Z 400mm f4.5 VR S with a slight advantage in the center and a bit softer rendering in the corners. The Z 400/4.5 has the advantage of over 300g less weight (don’t forget the FTZ adapter), a one stop more effective image stabilization, and a 2/3 of a stop larger focal ratio. But then it’s only 400mm – a disadvantage of 20% in reach which nets the F 500/5.6 the full 45MP while the image of the Z 400/4.5 needs to be cropped down to 29MP to match the angle-of-view. With focus speed on a par and a closely matched price it’s a tough choice between both lenses.

For more details see my Nikon 500mm f5.6E PF VR review where the lens earned a Highly Recommended.

Compared to Nikon Z 800mm f6.3 VR S

Is this a relevant comparison? Well, when shooting long telephoto lenses sometimes 400mm or 500mm focal length is simply not enough – and 400mm with 1.4x TC only gets you to 560mm. So there’ll be situations which require slapping a 2x teleconverter on a 400mm lens – or getting an 800mm lens. As my tests have shown the Z 800mm f6.3 VR S is optically superior to the solution of using a Z 400/4.5 + Z TC-2.0x and has a one stop brigther focal ratio. But then the Z 800/6.3 is 120mm longer than the Z 400/4.5, 0.9kg heavier (don’t forget the TC needed for the Z 400/4.5) and over 3k EUR/USD/GBP more expensive – if you already own the TC for the Z 400/4.5. Choices, choices…

For more details see my Nikon Z 800mm f6.3 VR S review where the lens came Highly Recommended.

Final remarks

When looking through all the options that Nikon offers photographers on the long tele-photo lens range I’m quite impressed with what they already achieved four years after the introduction of their new Z system. Considering that (at least) another two lenses are already on the road-map (Z 600mm probably f4.0 and TC, and Z 200-600mm) and all lenses so far are of very good to excellent quality one have to give Nikon kudos for their achievement. Now that Nikon offers so many choices you might be well advised to think a bit about which photographic needs you really want/need to cover. All of these are very good lenses, so chose wisely.


Nikon Z 400mm f4.5 VR S final verdict

Nikon’s Z 400mm f4.5 VR S is a very good telephoto prime lens of an unrivalled low weight. The lens produces very sharp images with virtually no field-curvature or colour aberrations and can confidently be used wide open. Combined with Nikon’s Z TC-1.4x teleconverter it still delivers good image quality but using the TC-2.0x taxes the abilities of the lens a bit. Its Bokeh is very nice and the optical image stabilization of 5 stops proves really helpful with the challenges of hand-holding an 400mm lens. All this makes the Z 400mm f4.5 VR S Highly Recommended.

Good points:

  • Very light.
  • Very good resolution and contrast across the full frame.
  • Good image quality with Z TC-1.4x.
  • 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.
  • Practically no field-curvature.
  • Very nice Bokeh.
  • Weather sealing, multi function ring, function buttons, focus limiter.

Bad points:

  • Minimum object distance of 2.4m.
  • Focus breathing.
  • Tripod foot is not Arca Swiss compatible.
  • Flimsy lens pouch.
Check prices on the Nikon Z 400mm f4.5 VR S at B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!
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