Author Topic: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership  (Read 11722 times)

Lance B

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Back in late 2010 when I purchased my 300 f2.8 VRII for birding and wildlife, I was considering other lenses around this focal length in my purchase decision, like the 200-400 f4 VRII and the 400 f2.8G VRII. The 400 f2.8G VRII was quickly dismissed due to the weight, size, front heaviness, silly placement of the tripod mount and the two piece lenshood. It was down to the 200-400 and the 300 f2.8, the 300 f2.8 won out due to it being f2.8 and it's stunning IQ and sharpness. Part of the decision making process was that the lens needed to be easily portable and also it needed to be versatile, ie that it can use TC's to allow for different focal lengths. The 300 fitted the criteria perfectly and I couldn't have been happier with my decision.

After 18 months of use with the 300, I was lucky enough to be able to pick up a pristine condition 500 f4 VR for a very reasonable price from a friend that was getting too old to cart it around, he was 82 at the time! The 500 had better IQ than the 300 when the 300 was paired with either the 1.7x TCII or the 2x TCIII and the 500 was excellent with the 1.4x TCII for a very useable 700 f5.6 and thus became my preferred long birding lens. The 300 was still the king under 500mm even with the 1.4x TCIII attached to the 300. However, when Nikon introduced the new 400 f2.8E FL VR mid last year, they had fixed all the issues that I thought let it down on the original 400 VR, ie they made it lighter, it was now well balanced rather than front heavy, the tripod mount was moved to a more balanced position and it now has a one piece hood, making it a very portable lens. In fact, the new 400 was very similar in everyway to the 500 in size, weight, balance, handling, tripod mount position and lens hood. After a bit of consternation, saving money and talking to a few owners of this fabulous lens, I decided to take the plunge and I ended up getting the new 400 f2.8E FL VR. One of the people I had contacted in regards to this lens and helped talk me into it was Tony Oaten or Antonoat from this forum. Thank you Tony!  :)

All I can say is that this lens exceeded all my expectations as to how good a lens can be for overall IQ and performance. AF is super fast and accurate, it is just stupid sharp giving stunning detail and has outstanding bokeh. It takes all 3 TC's with minimal image quality loss, for a 400 f2.8 bare, a 560mm f4 with the 1.4x TCII or TCII, a 680mm f4.8 with the 1.7x TCII and an 800mm f5.6 with the 2x TCIII. As a guide for using TC's my rough guide for AF speed loss and IQ degredation would be about:
With the 1.4x TCIII, AF loses about 15% AF speed and about 10% in overall IQ.
With the 1.7x TCII, AF loses about 25% AF speed and about 20% in overall IQ.
With the 2x TCIII, AF loses about 35% AF speed and about 20% in overall IQ.
These are not measured quantities, just my seat of the pants thoughts after 3.5 months of use and probably close to about 10,000 photos!

I believe the 400 f2.8E FL VR is now the most versatile birding/wildlife lens in the Nikon lineup. Yes, the old 400 f2.8G was very versatile as well as it also took the 3 TC's probably just as well, but the fact that it was a bit unwieldy and front heavy, weighed almost a Kg more and the two piece lens hood made it less of a portable lens. I can fit the new 400 in my backpack with quite a few other lenses, this would not have been possible with the old 400. Just my opinion and my requirements.

Some may have seen these on other forums but for those that haven't, here are some examples. These are out in the field examples, so, real world photos as the lens would be used on a day to day basis:

Best viewed at their original 1800x1200 pixel size.

D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR, f3.5, 1/1600sec, ISO224, handheld.



100% crop of above:



The lens has beautiful bokeh
D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR bare, f4, 1/200sec, ISO449, handheld.



D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR, f8, 1/400sec, ISO449 handheld, cropped about 50%!



D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR + 1.4x TCIII (560mm f4), f8, 1/1250sec, ISO504 handheld, cropped about 15%



D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR + 1.7x TCII (680mm f4.8 ), f6.3, 1/3200sec, ISO898, handheld. Cropped about 25%



D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR + 1.7x TCII (680mm f4.8 ), f5.6, 1/800sec, ISO64, handheld cropped about 30%.



D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR + 2x TCIII (800mm f5.6), f8, 1/1600sec, ISO635, monopod. Cropped about 20% for compositional purposes



D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR + 2x TCIII (800mm f5.6), f8, 1/1600sec, ISO400, handheld.



Crop to what I was after:



100% crop showing the incredible detail even with the 2x TCIII hand held with AF tracking.



More examples at my site - with and without:
http://www.pbase.com/lance_b/nikon_400_f28

Jan Anne

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2015, 12:12:04 »
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and amazing images Lance, you and Tony are really killing me with this lens.

Must resist temptation, must save for new home :o :-\
Cheers,
Jan Anne Offereins

bobfriedman

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2015, 13:18:17 »
terrific shots.. and i am indeed jealous as that 400/2.8 appears to be an excellent performer.. you seem to be situated in a great location to use this lens

my personal issue is that the range of opportunities to use the 400 is quite limited and the local camera store considers it a "sports" lens and have told me that it is much harder to sell (used as well) than the 500 & 600.... and perhaps it is where i am located (wildlife on average is not as close as more tropical climates even during the summer)..  i tend to use the 500/4 and 600/4 most often.. and have stopped carrying the 300/2.8 with me...  additionally i own a TC2IIIE but almost never use it... albeit there is an occasion or two where i am forced due to distance (and in this case i always use it with the 600)..  however having said all this, Tony's locale is probably similar to mine and he has found quite many occasions to use this lens with excellent results.

regarding usage.. i always use the D810+500/4 handheld (or D4s) and i am wondering if you do the same.. especially for birds in flight..  the 400/2.8 is about the same weight (80 grams lighter) than the 500/4 so i would imagine it is also very usable handheld.... (the plover chicks i posted here were all handheld with the 500/4+TC1.4IIIE)
Robert L Friedman, Massachusetts, USA
www.pbase.com/bobfriedman

Lance B

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2015, 16:10:36 »
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and amazing images Lance, you and Tony are really killing me with this lens.

Must resist temptation, must save for new home :o :-\

Thank you for your kind comment, Jan.  :)

Lance B

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2015, 16:27:04 »
terrific shots.. and i am indeed jealous as that 400/2.8 appears to be an excellent performer.. you seem to be situated in a great location to use this lens

my personal issue is that the range of opportunities to use the 400 is quite limited and the local camera store considers it a "sports" lens and have told me that it is much harder to sell (used as well) than the 500 & 600.... and perhaps it is where i am located (wildlife on average is not as close as more tropical climates even during the summer)..  i tend to use the 500/4 and 600/4 most often.. and have stopped carrying the 300/2.8 with me...  additionally i own a TC2IIIE but almost never use it... albeit there is an occasion or two where i am forced due to distance (and in this case i always use it with the 600)..  however having said all this, Tony's locale is probably similar to mine and he has found quite many occasions to use this lens with excellent results.

regarding usage.. i always use the D810+500/4 handheld (or D4s) and i am wondering if you do the same.. especially for birds in flight..  the 400/2.8 is about the same weight (80 grams lighter) than the 500/4 so i would imagine it is also very usable handheld.... (the plover chicks i posted here were all handheld with the 500/4+TC1.4IIIE)

Thank you for your lovely comments, Bob.

I almost always use the 500 f4 VR and now my 400 f2.8E FL VR handheld, even with TC's. The 500 f4 VR was very much like the new 400f2.8E and quite manageable handheld, IMO. As much as they say the 400 f2.8 is a sports lens, with the TC's it is definitely as much a wildlife lens as the 500 and 600 as you can add TC's to suit. However, with the 400, you have 400 @ f2.8 and that is a real bonus. With the 2x TCIII attached and 800mm, this is about as long as I want to use anyway because the fact is, when you are at 800mm, you need to use high shutter speeds to stop bird movement and thus the high shutter speeds mean high ISO's and that starts to impact IQ. If you are dealing with BIF, then you are probably at even higher shutter speeds and higher ISO's. My philosophy now is to just get closer in order to get the best IQ and that involves studying and knowing bird behaviour and also getting out as much as I can to up the chances of snagging the best shot.


bobfriedman

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2015, 16:57:36 »
My philosophy now is to just get closer in order to get the best IQ and that involves studying and knowing bird behaviour and also getting out as much as I can to up the chances of snagging the best shot.

my choice as well... unfortunately i don't always get that opportunity unless i am under a sheet of camo!

if i lived in a place like Florida where the wildlife was more approachable the 400/2.8 would be a real nice lens to have.. my guess is that it is sharper than the 500/4 and the 500 is pretty darn sharp.. sharper in my mind than the 600/4.
Robert L Friedman, Massachusetts, USA
www.pbase.com/bobfriedman

Gary

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2015, 17:10:47 »
I'm not a birder. But I appreciate your write up and the images.
"Everywhere you look there are photographs, it is the call of photographers to see and capture them."- Gary Ayala
My snaps are here: www.garyayala.com
Critiquing my snaps are always welcomed and appreciated.

antonoat

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #7 on: June 22, 2015, 00:36:22 »
That was a very interesting read Lance and I have to concur it is a phenomenal
lens.
Your images show just what's possible, well taken, all of them.

I haven't got the best from this lens yet, been very busy with other things but I have some events coming up where
I'll be putting mine through it's paces.

Here's a photo of my baby, I've since bought her a complete lenscoat set to replace the temporary cover shown on the
ridiculously expensive lens hood  ;)
Although it's mounted here on my tripod I'm more than happy to shoot it hand held, even with my d4s attached!

Tony Oaten

Lance B

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2015, 01:35:27 »
I'm not a birder. But I appreciate your write up and the images.

Thank you very much, Gary.  :)

Lance B

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #9 on: June 22, 2015, 01:38:09 »
That was a very interesting read Lance and I have to concur it is a phenomenal
lens.
Your images show just what's possible, well taken, all of them.

I haven't got the best from this lens yet, been very busy with other things but I have some events coming up where
I'll be putting mine through it's paces.

Here's a photo of my baby, I've since bought her a complete lenscoat set to replace the temporary cover shown on the
ridiculously expensive lens hood  ;)
Although it's mounted here on my tripod I'm more than happy to shoot it hand held, even with my d4s attached!



Thank you for your kind comments, Tony. And thank you for your support and guidance throughout my evaluation of this lens, all very much appreciated. There is one fault with this lens, the ridiculous lens cover, it's quite uselss! I now have a Lenscoats cover as well.  :)

Lance B

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #10 on: June 22, 2015, 01:41:20 »
I have to make an apology. I doubled up the last/second last photo, it should have been this one. I wonder if the moderators will allow a change?

D810 + 400 f2.8E FL VR + 2x TCIII (800mm f5.6), f8, 1/1600sec, ISO400, handheld. 100% crop


Jan Anne

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2015, 05:21:39 »
I have to make an apology. I doubled up the last/second last photo, it should have been this one. I wonder if the moderators will allow a change?
I've updated your post by replacing the last image :)
Cheers,
Jan Anne Offereins

Lance B

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2015, 11:34:29 »
I have to make an apology. I doubled up the last/second last photo, it should have been this one. I wonder if the moderators will allow a change?
I've updated your post by replacing the last image :)

Thank you very much, Jan. If you want, you can now delete my last post with the single image, if that helps.

Frank Fremerey

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2015, 12:34:49 »
could you - for people with no ornithological knowledge put numbers on the pics?

Clumsy description of the illiterate: I love the pic with the hunterbird looking down for prey in full flight and the black and white bird with the yellow peak, blue sky and surf in the back. great moments in the life of these animals!
You are out there. You and your camera. You can shoot or not shoot as you please. Discover the world, Your world. Show it to us. Or we might never see it.

Lance B

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Re: The 400 f2.8E FL VR - my thoughts after 3 months of ownership
« Reply #14 on: June 23, 2015, 07:59:21 »
could you - for people with no ornithological knowledge put numbers on the pics?

Clumsy description of the illiterate: I love the pic with the hunterbird looking down for prey in full flight and the black and white bird with the yellow peak, blue sky and surf in the back. great moments in the life of these animals!

Thank you very much for the lovely comments, Frank.  :)

I am terribly sorry for not putting numbers to the photos and you are correct that it would make it much easier for those that do not know birds all that well. My humblest apologies, I will try to make sure I do that in the future.  :)