The Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S is a compact super-telephoto built for handheld shooting
Nikon's latest lens is aimed at bird photographers, photojournalists, and anyone wanting a lightweight super-telephoto.
Super-telephoto lenses tend to be large and heavy. But, with the launch of the new Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S, Nikon is adding an another lightweight super-telephoto to its S-line of mirrorless full-frame glass. It slots in alongside the recently-launched Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S, another far-reaching prime that Nikon hopes won’t break your back (or piggy bank).
Unlike some of the brand’s other compact/lightweight super-telephotos, like the 300mm f/4 PF ED VR, this one doesn’t use Phase Fresnel optics, rather it relies on a relatively simple lens design to keep the size and cost down. And at 2.55-pounds, it’s the lightest 400mm in its class.
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Who’s the Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 for?
Nikon shooters looking for an ergonomic and agile super-telephoto lens may be interested in the Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5. Its compact and lightweight design makes it ideal for handheld shooters pulling long nights courtside or days chasing wildlife. Aviation and train spotters, plus bird, landscape, and the occasional documentary photographers and photojournalists will also benefit from the lens’ long reach and fairly fast aperture, which will allow the subject to pop from the background.
Plus, the Nikon Z 400mm is compatible with the Z teleconverters TC-1.4x and TC-2.0x, providing photographers the ability to shoot at focal lengths of 560mm and 800mm, respectively, with no impact on the final resolution.
Compared to the Nikon 400mm f/2.8 and 500mm f/5.6 (both DSLR mounts), the Z 400mm f/4.5 beats both in price, size, and weight. The 400mm f/2.8, with its low aperture, commands a hefty $11,000 and clocks in at about 8.3 pounds and 14 inches long. Meanwhile, the 500mm f/5.6 retails for $3,300—just slightly more than the Z 400mm f/4.5—and is a hair longer and heavier at 9.3 inches and 3.2 pounds.
Of course, there’s also the recently-launched Nikon Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S (for mirrorless), which is not only faster than the Z 400mm f/4.5 but sports a built-in 1.4x teleconverter. So it should come as no surprise that it’s larger, at 15-inches in length, and heavier, at 6.5 pounds. It’s also priced at $14,000.
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Build quality & optical design
The lens consists of one ED (extra-low dispersion glass) element, two Super ED glass elements, and one SR lens element (Short-wavelength Refractive). Fewer elements allow the lens a more compact build. Nikon engineers also concentrated the majority of the elements toward the rear of the lens, which keeps the center of gravity closer to the camera body for better balance. Additionally, the SR element refracts short-wavelength light, further reducing chromatic aberration.
The Z 400mm f/4.5 also features Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat, which aids in producing clearer images and sharper details by reducing ghost and flare effects. The lens is weather-sealed, dust- and drip-resistant, and comes with a fluorine coat to combat smudges and grime. Should the photographer wish to shoot on a tripod, there is a built-in, detachable turning tripod shoe. Notably, there is also a memory recall function, allowing the photographer to recall previous focus positions at the touch of a button. This feature is normally reserved for higher-end lenses.
Finally, the lens’ built-in vibration reduction permits shooting at up to 5.5 stops faster—the highest of the Z lens line. Those using a Nikon Z9 can make that six by enabling the Synchro VR mode.
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The Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 has a minimum focusing distance of 8.2 feet and uses a single stepping motor (STM) that should allow for fast and precise autofocus—even when dealing with capricious subjects like birds and athletes.
If for some reason one finds themselves shooting video at a 400mm focal length, they will appreciate the well-controlled focus-breathing, which ensures minimal shifting in the viewing angle while filming.
Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 price and availability
Available beginning July 2022, the lens has a suggested retail price of $3,249.95.