Introduced in 2000 (according to this online source) and only recently been updated by an AF-S version, the Nikkor AF 80-400mm f4.5-5.6D is Nikon’s very first VR-equipped lens. Given its 5x zoom range and 400mm reach, it is a very compact lens, shorter in length than the AF 80-200mm f2.8D (Mk III) and only 60g heavier. The tripod collar of the lens is removable, making it much easier to be handheld (which is what this lens primarily designed for). It also fits much nicer without the collar into my Lowepro Lens Exchange Case 200AW and Toploader Zoom 55AW. The included hood is large and long (see figure below), adequately designed for its 400mm reach. Because of this, I can even shoot without a protective filter under most situations. Also, this lens has an aperture ring, making it compatible with almost all Nikon bodies from the earliest AI-capable ones, like the Nikkormat FT3 and the FM, to the latest DSLRs. Of course, an in-body AF motor is required for auto-focus and to benefit from VR, you need one of the late AF film bodies (e.g. F80, F100, etc.) or a DSLR (see this page for further details).
Personally, the only mechanical drawback of this lens (not the lack of AF-S, which I will talk about later) is at 400mm, the inner tube will extend all the way out (see figure above). This makes the lens much more vulnerable to impact when used outdoor. Also, since the lens is not weather-sealed and its zoom mechanism is not internal, though the focusing is, using a rain-cover will become difficult and even non-practical. The main reason is that most rain covers in the market are designed to be tied up by string(s) or Velcro(s) at the front of the lens (i.e. the hood). Because of this, when shooting under the rain, I would give up the longer reach of this lens and use the AF 80-200mm f2.8D (Mk III) with a rain-cover instead.
Some people complain about the lack of in-lens AF motor and hence the focusing speed of this lens. In fact, its AF speed is one of the slowest among all AF Nikkors. However, one need to understand that this lens was never designed to be used on fast moving objects (e.g. sport photography) although I have read some has successfully used it with pre-focus techniques in a motorcycle race. On the other hand, if you “know its limit and play within it”, this lens is more than capable to produce spectacular results. For example, it is pretty sharp wide-opened at its long end (at least on an APS-C sensor). This is quite important because most users of this lens picked it for its 400mm reach and in a lot of situations, even on a bright sunny day, it needs to be wide-opened to maintain a fast shutter speed (and low ISO). It is because although VR can give you an approximately 2-stops advantage during handheld, it cannot stop motion-blurs. Below is an image of a crane taken at 400mm and f5.6 (ISO200).
The example above also shows that this lens make a good and relatively affordable choice for occasional bird photography. Of course, you need a lot of learning and practices to compensate the shortcomings (such as its AF speed and the f/5.6 maximum aperture at 400mm) of the lens before you can get satisfactory results. Well, how about two more bird images from my limited experience in this field? Upper image was shot at 300mm and the lower one was at 400mm. Both have exposure settings at f/11, 1/1000 seconds, and ISO1600.
Another interesting aspect of a telephoto zoom with such long end is to see how far reach is 400mm. Combined with an APS-C sensor, the effective focal length is actually 600mm. This is about the same magnification as a 12X binoculars which should be able to reveal some of the larger craters on the moon. So, on a clear night with not much to do, I brought this lens out and gave it a try. Below is an image of the moon taken at 400mm with my D300 and its cropped frame that shows the craters.
Finally, let’s come to what this lens really designed for and good at, distant landscapes. Below are two images from my industrial landscape works taken with this lens.
Status : In Collection