Nikkor AF-S 200–400mm f/4G ED VR II: Power Packed Zoom
Shridhar Kunte tests the Nikkor AF-S 200–400mm f/4G ED VR II, a telephoto zoom lens that rivals the performance of many prime lenses.
While the past few years have seen Nikon concentrating on the full frame market,2010 has been a differentstory, with the focus being on pro glass. The company has introduced as many as five new pro lenses in the past year—the Nikkor AF-S 200–400mm f/4GED VR II is the latest amongst them.
The company’s first 200–400mm f/4 lenswas a manual focus AI-S lens, way backin the early eighties. In those days, few people gave too much importance to a zoom lens as they believed that a telephoto zoom could not match the performance of a prime lens. However, things have changed in the recent years, especially with optical advancements.
This lens, too, has most of the features that Nikkor lenses have incorporated recently. Significantly, the 200–400mm continues to be the only telephoto zoomlens in the world that has a constant maximum aperture of f/4. This is a perfect zoom range for aspiring sports photography professionals. With an APS-C-sized sensor camera, the lens gives a field of view similar to a 300–600mm, which makes it an invaluable tool for a die-hard wildlife photographer. A Silent Wave Motor (SWM) rear focussystem helps facilitate quick, silent AF. You can fine tune AF by turning the focusing ring at any time. The lens also has an A/M focusing mode, which has been used insome of Nikon’s recent lenses. In this mode, autofocus is given priority—even if the focusing ring is touched accidentally, the focus is not changed. An optical structure of 24 elements in 17 elements may seem rather complex andsusceptible to flare, but this lens has been updated with the proprietary Nano Crystal coating, so it would be interesting to see its performance. It also has as many as four Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements.
I used this lens on a full frame NikonD700 and also on a D90, to shoot stageperformances, sporting activities andportraits. While it is heavy, the lensbalances extremely well. While shooting handheld, the center of gravity falls on the zoom ring, which means that the naturaltendency of a user would be to grip thezoom ring of the lens. However, I could hand hold the lens only for 4–5 minutes before it became extremely uncomfortable. While the lens gets easier to handle with practice, most people would be advised to use a lens like this with a monopod. The ergonomics of the lens are suited to this and you can shoot comfortably for longer durations too. The large tripod collar has a nice grip.It can be rotated by a knurled knob, and while it does not come off, you can use tools to remove the foot.
The switches on the lens barrel are easyto reach. If you can gauge the focusing distance from the subject in different situations, setting the focus limiter switch to the optimum setting improves the focusing speed and also saves your camera’s battery power.
Autofocus was extremely fast and accurateeven in low-lighting conditions. I testedthe lens at various apertures and atdifferent focal lengths—it gave excellent performance in all conditions. The images exhibit good contrast and colour balance,even when shot at the widest aperture setting of the lens.
Chromatic aberration may be visiblewhile shooting against contrasty light,but it is slight and well controlled. We did not find any traces of flare, which is exceptional for a super telephoto lensof this type. Bokeh is where the Nikkor200–400mm stands out. The lens renderspleasing, circular out-of-focus highlights because of the 9-blade circular diaphragm.Vignetting is present at the widest aperture, but it improves by stopping the lens down to f/8. The Vibration Reduction (VR) system ofthe lens has been updated. Nikon claims that VR II helps while shooting at a shutterspeed 4 stops slower than would otherwise be possible. This is handy, especially when using a handheld telephoto lens to shootin poorly-lit conditions. The VR II system performed so well that we found that atthe wide end of the zoom, some practiceallowed you to get an advantage of almostfive stops! If you are using a lens of this typefor sports or action photography,understanding your camera’s focusing system and choosing the appropriate focusing mode is paramount. In ourtests, while shooting a stage performance,the camera and lens tracked the movingdancers flawlessly.
There are a number of excellent prime lenses for telephoto users. However, if you want the convenience of zoom, youroptions are rather minimal, and the Nikkor200–400mm makes a rather compellingcase for itself. Its pricing of Rs. 5,00,670 is steep, no doubt. But for a sports and wildlifepro who may often be stuck at the same spotand would prefer a zoom lens over a prime lens, the Nikkor AF-S 200–400mm f/4G EDVR II is an excellent upgrade.
VR II, Full time focus, A/M mode
Sharpness, AF speed, VR II works really well
Weather sealing, metal barrel
Large manual focus ring, Non rotating front element
Warranty & Support
Two years warranty
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3 Stars
Tags: Shridhar Kunte, 200–400mm, nikon, Telephoto lens, Silent Wave Motor, VRII System, Nikkor AF-S 200–400mm f/4G ED VR II