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Shooting with the Nikon AF-S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR lens

Nikon-AF-S-Nikkor-400mm-f2.8G-ED-VR-lens
My name is Villager Jim, I'm a wildlife photographer with a slant on street photography or life photography, and I like to call my style "country lane photography"! Thought I would write a short review on my long term thoughts of owning and using daily the amazing 400mm Nikon 2.8 lens. What I am not going to do here is put the usual techie stuff, what I'm going to do is tell you my feelings on its daily use in the field and how it performs. Why? Simply because I haven't a clue about the techie side of stuff, I'm not a camera buff, what I am though is a wildlife fanatic and country lane photographer here in the UK. I post all my daily adventures on Facebook at www.facebook.com/villagerjim so if anyone would like to follow and track my adventures be my guest, don't forget to say hi as your another Nikon Rumors fan!

Chatsworth In The Mist - Peaky Views Range
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 1

The 400mm lens was the only lens I was unable to get past the wife using the old " it just a new lens hood dear" when purchasing new equipment, it kind of stands out at 2 feet long, so with baited breath it was revealed to the other half as a fabulous new item at the incredible price of 300 Pounds (500 dollars) , which I still managed to get a roasting for (my goodness if only she knew, and I bet I'm not alone with that am I readers??). It's a colossus of a lens and very very heavy, but you learn to live with that fact and I could swear over time my wrists have got stronger! What a lot of people are surprised about is I never ever use a tripod so carrying this thing around alters only slightly when I hand hold the thing to my face, having learned some breathing techniques to get a few shots out before allowing myself some breath.

Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 7
PV14 Barn Flag
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 16
But lets get to the point! This lens is totally awe inspiring , its beyond suitable praise, its just the business. The speed of focus for such a lump is up there with the best, only slightly slower than my 70-200 which I think is lightning fast. But where it takes the competition and knock them on the head is its depth of field and bokeh qualities, giving what I can only describe as creaminess to the subjects backgrounds beyond anything I have ever owned, making the subject stand out and hit the viewer right on the end of their eyeballs.

Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 14
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 13
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 2
I have on the end of it more often that not a D4 which I wrote about in a previous post, but I have started to chop and change between this and a D800. The D800 seems so sluggish compared to the D4 but the crop factor sometimes helps with my subjects (see one of the owl shots I have posted). But this isn't about the cameras, its about the lens, and what a lens. Nikon I think created their best ever lens in producing this monster and I forgive them ever time I trudge through a field holding god knows how many pounds in weight (non techie language for bloody heavy). Its when the moment arises after the 4am starts when your out in the field waiting an watching the world that most people don't realize is right on their doorstep and going on around them as they sleep. Its those moments that arise on a split second basis that suddenly erupt the beast into life as it cracks off 3 perfectly in focus shots of a Little Owl or a hare scampering by before settling again into being just a heavy lump of metal, knowing that its ready to come alive again, track, and focus at blistering speed for another burst at a moments notice, again delivering perfect calm focus in a way that has me smiling time and time again at what a great investment this lens is to have in your arsenal.

L2 Best Mates
SC5 Rude Cow
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 12
What is also clear to me over the 3 years I've owned the 400mm is how amazingly well its built, a true professional piece of kit, taking so many knocks and bangs without so much as a whimper, its hood bordering on comical carefully shading its oh so expensive front glass that would scare be if I knew how much one would be to replace considering the hood itself is 300 Pounds (500 dollars) alone to replace (strangely the same figure my wife thinks the whole thing cost.....) The heavy metal of the framework of the lens designed to have near battle ready strength and endurance, always giving you the feeling that you could drop the thing and all would be ok (touch wood I haven't as yet but at some point it will happen I'm sure as I often hold it with 1 finger as I'm opening my car door or front door, with that oh so dangerous thought "it will be ok just this once" confidence that gets you into deep trouble at some point when you least expect.

FA7 Some Growing To Do To Fit Those Feet
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 8
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 11
But over all I consider this to be the king of all kings of lenses, and it is one of my most precious of all things I own, and i simply had to share this with anyone who has considered or being close to spending that small fortune and then stopped themselves because of not being able to justify its cost, I say to you GO FOR IT! There will be so many times where you are glad you did, even if some of those times are balanced out with receiving that credit card statement or bank balance :)

Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 18
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 19
Nikon 400mm f-2.8 lens photos 17
I hope you have enjoyed the images, please don't hesitate to come join me on my adventures to see this amazing lens at work every single day, come rain or shine, out here in the Peak District National Park in the UK.

You can visit Villager Jim's website at www.villagerjim.com.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • Plug

    Great article, I am so envious of your lifestyle. You are so right about the bokeh.

  • BONETTI

    Nice work Is the vignette added in Post?

  • Eric Duminil

    300 Pounds. Good joke! :D

    • Global

      Haha, i wonder if some are still scratching their heads as to where they can get it at that price. Its very subtle, but i dont think its so subtle that if the wife reads this she wont immediately grab a frying pan. :p

    • AM I Am

      I’d wish I could pull the same trick off, but unfortunately my wife knows about something called Google.

  • fjfjjj

    The majority of these photographs are absolutely impeccable. Congratulations on your talent and your accomplishment.

  • Nikonviking

    Beautiful pictures. I particularly like the two first ones. Very well done, and your 400 mm lens must be extremely good.

  • http://inthemistphoto.com/ InTheMist

    Fantastic review and imagery. Thanks for posting it!

  • Kynikos

    This is major-league stuff.

    You must work very hard to get results this good. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your work.

  • saywhatuwill

    Thank you for the great article, the wonderful pictures, and the fantastic insight of owning such a lens.

    One thing you might want to do is proof-read your review. There are 3 things you’d probably want to fix.

    • Global

      Ill take the bait… so are you going to list them, or what? It read smoothly enough to me.

      Pretty pictures by the way — i can really feel that this guy loves making pictures and not obsessing over tech crap. Although we all know that feeling of the lens you love and pride the most, they truly become gems to us!

      • saywhatuwill

        I purposely didn’t put the errors in the post as I didn’t want to point out everything publicly. I just wanted to see if the author would go back and correct the mistakes.

        • Ken Chillwell

          Dude, chill.

          • saywhatuwill

            It’s responses like yours that make me mad. I’ll do what I want and if someone is going to post an article to the public they should at least proof read their work before publishing. It makes them look bad if there are numerous mistakes, such as “its” that should be “it’s.”

            • Fly Moon

              @saywhatuwill I agree with you. People like Ken above are annoying! Also, the punctuations should be re-visited! I like the article though. Thanks for sharing!

            • David Cannon

              His use of “its” is correct. If you’re going to give a critique, at least be correct in your critiquing.

            • saywhatuwill

              Better look again. Quite a few its were wrong. However, it wasn’t just “its” but there were quite a few other mistakes.

              Look, I didn’t want to point out anything publicly but someone asked and then…

  • Guy With-camera

    Beautiful!!! Never thought partial cutting the head off a cock would make a great pic.

    • Uh-oh

      :O

  • psv

    congratulation, i hunderstand you perfectly, i own on of the oldest 400 mm f2.8 with no AF :(, but has you said it is my precious item i own lol.
    Your photos are jus amazing .

  • Neopulse

    Thanks for sharing these, love’em especially the 2nd, 3rd and 14th ones

  • Keith

    Beautiful pictures! I’m jealous if your skill. Small snipy comments by the peanut gallery. Sorry about that. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, criticize

  • Nikon

    Great article… I’m amazed you can handhold this lens with your shooting. I have the older Nikon 400mm f2.8 AFi version with a D4s & D800 among other lenses and I’m lucky if I can handhold this lens for more than 2 seconds before having to let it down due to muscle fatigue…LOL. Mind you, add another 4lbs to the weight with my version… A CF tripod + gimbal is my best friend here. Combined weight for my camera body, this lens, tripod and accessories is approx 20lbs when I’m out in the field…and I’m usually out from anywhere from 4 to 10hrs at a time. I’ve gotten use to the weight but it still can be very tiring. All the more power to you (pun intended) with your hand holding technique.

    I also agree the bokeh is to die for…my other lenses can’t even compare for separating the subject from the background…even with teleconverters attached this lens is simply awesome. The depth of field is razor thin especially shooting with FX bodies so it took a while to get use to that. I shoot mainly birds…but other subjects manage to get in front of my lens at times. If you want to see how the AFi version performs here is my Filckr photo stream below. I don’t use flash, so many times I’m at the mercy of available light and high(er) ISO when needed. The D4s with this lens is a match made in heaven.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/16978626@N08/

  • Photohiker

    What do you mean “crop factor” between the D4 and the D800?

    • Scott M.

      The D800 is 36mp. D4 is 16mp. You can take a small crop from the center of the D800 shot and it will look as good as the full frame D4. Especially with a 400mm 2.8 Nikkor.

    • Nikon

      The D4 being 16mp and D800 being 36mp means more cropping ability with the D800. You can crop into a shot 2.25 times on a D800 and that result will be the same as if you took the shot with the D4 pixel count wise. If you crop that amount on a D4 you would end up with a very small shot with less details than desired. It would end up being about 6mp…still enough for a great print but if you enlarge the shot for printing at a significantly larger format…that will reveal the flaws of doing so. Not so with the D800…unless you crop to that same 6mp size.

      • lord eels

        but beyond simple pixels, a cropped d800 image also exposes lens flaws by the same crop factor and erodes SNR by the same crop factor, not to mention focus and technique issues. this is all well covered by the internet gurus like mr. thom hogan. beyond the issues listed, I can’t get used to the slower, less accurate focus and joke FPS/buffer of that camera. I think 24mp is the complete max I’d ever want on FX.

  • http://www.tomgrill.com Tom Grill

    Excellent examples on the best way to use a fast aperture long telephoto. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mansgame

    Living the dream my friend. Living the dream.

  • PhotoPete

    Amazing work and great commentary. I especially like the owl on the rock wall with the shallow DOF; great lead lines to such an interesting subject.

  • Jhonnie Walker

    I actually have a service from “SafeKidZone” that helps me protect my kids anytime and anywhere. It’s a panic button alert installed on their cell phones that in just a press of it, it simultaneously notifies their select group of friends and family members that they are in danger. If they are in a serious problem and their safety network people cannot handle that, the incident will be redirected to the nearest 911 forwarding complete vital information. This is a great tool in keeping my children safe at all times because it also features registered sex offenders, threat levels and danger zones. I am glad this kind of service was being created and I hope that you guys would take a look on this site http://safekidzone.com/?a_aid=52f12fafd5de8

  • jp

    Great article, can only dream of owning a lens like that. How about I ask your wife to sell it to me for £600? ;-)

  • Sreekrishna

    Such a well written article! Thanks Villager Jim for sharing your thoughts and photographs!

  • zoetmb

    Incredibly beautiful photos, but there was one thing that puzzled me:

    “The D800 seems so sluggish compared to the D4 but the crop factor sometimes helps with my subjects (see one of the owl shots I have posted).”

    What crop factor? While you can use DX lenses on the D800 in crop mode, it’s a full frame camera.

  • SPKar

    Looks like you dont like editing photos much such as bumping contrast and color saturation etc…is my understanding right?

  • Lindz

    Lovely shots. I owned this lens for a couple of years and used it for field sports, but eventually sold it again as I just wasn’t getting the use out of it demanded by its price. I too used it with a D4 and D800 combo. I still miss it. I’m in awe that you can hand-hold it and still get great shots. While I could hold it OK, I was never steady enough and needed a mono or tripod to get consistently sharp images. I’m so tempted to go out and re-buy it after seeing your results.

  • Photobug

    Great pictures and comments on the 400mm lens. They are right, the brokeh is so smooth.

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