Friday, December 03, 2010

Nikon 80-400: First Impressions.

The Nikkor 80-400 f4.5-f5.6.
As part of my plans to travel to Goa and photograph wildlife over there, I decided to invest in a suitable telephoto lens. I would have ideally preferred something along the lines of Nikkor 200-400 f4 but obviously, that's way over my budget - and even if I could arrange the money, it would be very impractical to carry around on a trek (due to its size and weight).

After reading various reviews, I decided to finally settle for the aging Nikkor 80-400. When this lens is mounted on my D300 (which has a crop sensor of 1.5x), this lens effectively becomes 120mm-600mm - which is ideal range for shooting wild-life (or snooping into your neighbors house).

A brand new Nikkor 80-400 costs around $1,600. Considering that this lens has been out for more than 8 years (and probably due for a refresh), I decided to look at eBay for second hand alternatives. After bidding on a number of options (and losing), I finally figured out that they sell for around $1200. Finally, I managed to snag one for $1000, which I felt was a pretty decent deal. Shipping to Kuwait cost an additional $150.

I finally got the lens few days back and today was the first opportunity I had to try out the lens. The weather was nice (though hazy). To really understand what 600mm really means, the following series of photos will do a much better job of demonstrating the power of a quality telephoto lens.

Panoramic view of Kuwait City taken at 17mm.
The above shot is taken with my wide angle Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 (a lens that lives on my camera 90% of the time).

Since the image is 14 mega-pixel in size, there is plenty of room to crop. I took a 100% crop of the HSBC building.

100% crop of the image taken at 17mm.
Not bad. You can clearly see the HSBC logo on the building.

Now for the real test. I removed the wide angle lens and replaced it with the 80-400mm lens, and took a picture at 400mm.

Image taken using 80-400mm (full zoom at 400mm)
As you can see, the logo is now sharp and clear. Keep in mind that this lens is supposed to perform optimally up to 300 mm and then goes a bit soft.

What happens when we take a 100% crop of the above image?

100% crop of image taken @400mm

That is totally unbelievable!!

No wonder the Kuwait Government is mulling banning dSLR's in pubic. This building is over 3 kilometers from where I am standing and I can clearly read the tiny text below the logo.

Now I can't wait to land in Goa to try some wildlife or bird photography.

This is not to say that the lens is without its faults. First and foremost is that it lacks AF-S, which means focusing is slow and will not work for fast moving objects. Secondly, it is pretty slow at the telephoto end (f5.6) which means it needs lots of light for optimal performance and will likely give poor results in low-light situations.

You can read an expert review of this lens from Thom Hogan. To summarize Thom,
"Recommended; a decent telephoto zoom with a useful VR function; but not for action shooting, as the AF is too slow."


Bu Yousef said...

Nice review and congratulations on the new lens. Looking forward to seeing the wild lie shots. No one is mulling a ban - stop giving them ideas...

Great results for a lens that cost 1000 dollars. Well done.

Cajie said...

Thanks @Bu Yousef.
Lol. The "mulling" part was just a wry comment due to the headlines it created around the world.

I hope nothing like that ever becomes a reality in Kuwait.