Shooting handheld with the Nikkor AF-S 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens

Shooting handheld with the Nikkor AF-S 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens by Arturo Cocchi:

I'm an Italian journalist and in the same time a photo-enthusiast who has the opportunity to use the best photo equipments available to ''help'' my work. My name is Arturo Cocchi. I'm the editor of the travel and art sites in La Repubblica, which is currently the n# 1 news Internet site and the n#1/2 newspaper in my country.

Anyway, since my job - the one i'm paid for by my company - is about writing/editing articles, putting them into my site with good headlines, photos and so on, I've always loved photography and I sometimes use my pictures to illustrate articles. This is a sort of excuse for me to collect a pro-like equipment: at the moment i've got D4s, D810 and 13 lenses, including 200 f/2 VR II, 300 f/2.8 VR II, 600 f/4 VR (which I'll probably sell) and the two new entries - the 800 f/5.6 and the 400 f/2.8 FL.

In the last couple of months, I've shot a lot - I had a 3 weeks free period, exactly from the moment I bought the two monsters. I used everything, but I quickly fell in love with the new 400 f/2.8, which I handheld the whole time (RRS doesn't have the foot replacement yet). Since I have a good practice in hand-holding both the 200 f/2 and the 300 f/2.8, and I love the sharpness and the dynamic range of a 36MP camera can produce at base ISO, the challenge is doing every shoot at 64 ISO hand holding, and possibly with no VR.

I first spent some days in Bourgogne, France) to take photos of foliage in vineyards, then I spent few days in my home town (Genoa) and the local villages.

Finally, in my days off, I spent some hours in Rome Piazza Navona to take portrait of the fountains statues and then, in Milano, same thing with the statues of the Gothic Cathedral. I've tried these last subjects many time both with 200 f/2 and 300 f/2.8. I would like to share my experience with the new beast which I find fantastic. I'm not good enough to do laboratory comparison but I can say the new 400mm lens is incredibly sharp, the best up to now (800 is also fantastic but a bit difficult to have a perfect picture at 64 ISO even with a Gitzo 5 series tripod and the Wimberley head). In the same time, it is more than a step forward in the hand-holding usability - I've practically had all last Nikon super telephoto, except for the old 400mm and I can say that the new 400 FL is much easier to hand hold than the old 500mm f/4 and paradoxically slightly better than both 300 f/2.8 and 200 f/2 even though the lens is 1.8 pounds heavier because of the weight balance on the back, due to the fluorite lens lightness and to their position on the front.

Thank you very much and best regards,
Arturo Cocchi

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  • FountainHead

    I don’t get the point of the third image. (Am I alone? Fill me in?)

    • James Heskin

      Foreground bokeh test is my guess.

      • FountainHead


        • Spy Black

          …and the fourth one shows that anyone can be shìt on…

          • janet.tovar


    • Ron DeOrzio

      @ 400 mm hand held that would be one pretty tight focus point (the statue’s eye) also.

    • Carleton Foxx

      It’s called framing your subject using foreground objects. It’s one of those techniques that goes in and out of fashion and Italians are always, always at the forefront of fashion, so that means that it’s time to start doing it again which is cool because it’s one of my favorites… Very cool

      • FountainHead

        I’m going to go look for proper examples.

        • art17

          I think some replies are necessary. First of all i wrote the post in early october, so the lens was brand new, and it was the first nikon supertelephoto ‘so light’. I wrote is to nikon rumors as a ‘suggestion’, like ‘are you interested in something like it as a first example or so of hand-holding the lens?’. For some reasons nikon rumors lost the post, which reappears recently, anyway this – as you can read the ‘best regards’ was an article suggestion, if i had a ‘yes’ reply, i would probably send different and better pictures. Anyway any of the four pictures is a good example of how easy is to hand-hold the lens. The burgundy winery is centered and doesn’t lean; the fisherman is caught in the moment (using a single shot) but it means that i had to wait at least 30 seconds from the first time he threw the water from the boat to the sea – which i missed – to the second, pointing the lens to him; the foreground boheh picture was shot to one of the Milan Cathedral statue which standed 10-15 meters above me, while the closee was only 5 meters above me, which means that i had a very narrow space to focus on the further statue’s eye, and with the combo lens-camera pointed 60-70 degrees upwards, in fact the camera base was my nouse; the lates statue is shot very close to the minumu focus distance – 4-5 metri and the focus is pretty properly on her closest eye…

          • art17

            I mean, they had not to be fantastic pictures, only good examples to share my experience

            • art17

              this is probably a better picture, the latter one was a better hand-holdable example

  • Tadao_Isogai

    Thanks, Arturo, for the post and example shots. Like you, I find the 400 2.8E generates great images, even when handheld; it’s a great lens, arguably the best Nikkor. In contrast to you, though, I find the 300 2.8G and 200 2G Nikkors easier to handhold, given the lighter weight. Nevertheless, all three lenses generate outstanding images. A small postscript: Really Right Stuff has a foot for the 400 2.8E; it’s here: . I bought it on first release by RRS; it’s a great product.

  • ZoetMB

    Is that first image heavily post-processed? It’s looks like it was either heavily sharpened and/or had some kind of pencil effect added.

    • AYWY

      I’ll also prefer shadows in pic #2 to be pulled up to see the person. Unless of course, this is for a publication and you have all kinds of privacy/usage rights problems.

      • art17

        Consider that the face was nothing special… My thought anyway was to stop the water on the air. I had the face be cause even in this case i was shooting flat -3 64 ISO D810, but i prefer this version and anyway i shot for this One (but maybe i am wrong)

    • art17

      It’s sharpened but not heavily post processed (simply shot in raw on a flat -3 and then turned somewhere in the landscape range increasing saturation, contrast, sharpness and clarity in view-capture

  • Beso

    As the author states this lens can relatively easily be hand held, although you probably wouldn’t want to do that all day long. The VR enhances hand holding to a remarkable degree and it is the fastest focusing lens I have ever used. It is an expensive piece of glass but it may be the best Nikon currently makes, and far superior to most of the Nikkor line.

  • whisky

    what a wonderful treat. thanks for sharing with us Arturo. 🙂

  • Carleton Foxx

    Grazie tante! Beautiful pictures.

  • Frank Capra

    Come on Nikon. Let’s see an f/4.0 800mm.

  • John Westnedge

    Nice comments Arturo. I agree on the weight reduction and balance of the new 400FL, so much easier to hand-hold now. I am writing this to let you know that RRS does have the foot replacement now: I use it with their monopod set-up and also with the gitzo 5 (awesome tripod). But, I do find the RRS pano-qimbal set-up of the RRS PG-02 FG to be quite nice when doing portraits and landscape shots.

    All the Best and Happy Shooting,


  • All that gear! … and Im not sure those 4 images stand for the results one can get with a 400mm f2.8

    • S Cargill

      I second that. These are the only images from a multithousand dollar lens he cared to post?

      • art17

        As i wrote above, my post was something like (‘are you interested in something like this? with few examples’). I sent it on early october, i had no reply i simply guessed nikon rumors wasn’t interested (after all, i’m not a pro photographer but a travel journalist who takes picture). The post appeared after months, appearently it went on wrong nikon rumors folder. If i had a reply, i woud have sent much more pictures, probably some of them better, and written something more. Anyway the meaning of the post wasn’t to show that the 25 per cent less weight and the different balance, with the front lens very light, is very helpful in hand hold use, because i’ve had old generation lenses, lighter at shorter, which work worse. Statue picture, expecially the navona square one, were caught at a less than 12-15 feet distance. Telling all the story when the 400 was almost brand new (bought it 25 september, used it a lot until mid october) was in my opinion of some interest for somebody. Now a bit less, even if the same story may be told by someone else with the new 500 or 600 fluorite lenses

        • Carleton Foxx

          I apologize on behalf of all Americans; when you meet us in person we are a kind and generous people and would never dream of saying anything so awful as these two did.
          Ma tristamente, on the internet we turn into coglioni.
          Your photos are beautiful, and again siamo molto dispiaciuti.

          • art17

            Don’t worry, i’ve met lots of americans and had Great time with most of them. And i work for a big italian internet news site, so i know how things works on the web all over the world… Thanks

          • I must admit it was not the very best & constructive intervention from my end … but saying those images are beautiful is not constructive either!

  • art17

    Hi, for some reasons (Nikon rumors wrote me my post got lost for some reasons, and reappeared recently). The shots were made in late september-early october 2014, the article was written soon later. At that moment there was not foot replacement, and my post was probably more interesting because it was one of the first intensive new 400mm fluorite hand-hold experiences. Now I’m fine with tripod for landscape or so but i found very useful my autumn training and i still go arorund hand holding it when i take people pictures around rome, people with umbrellas or so

  • art17

    Hi Tadao, thank you for suggestion. As I replied somewhere below to John, my post is old. Now i’m fine. Curiously the foot is the same as the 800mm one, so that if i had the chance to know it soon when i went to Burgundy i would have used it, but in the same time i really enjoyed my autumn hand-hold practice, now i know i can do many things even without tripod. And when I wrote the article i think this point was even more interesting, because 400 fl was the brand new fluorite super telephoto generation, and that was the huge difference – even if even now, with the new 500 4 and 600 4 it should be interesting, some way

  • taildraggin

    Practical notes. I’ve messed around with the 300 PF and it’s quite good handheld, too. Nice idea about photos in piazza navona. Need to see leri, oggi, domain, again…

    • art17

      300 Pf must be incredibily hand-holdable, Lot of fun in piazza navona, you know that many Times vigili urbani (urban police) won’t let you use the tripod… (theoretically public ground occupation or so…)?

      • taildraggin

        Arturo: It is! Very versatile and ‘handy’ – a great walk-around lens. I believe hit rate on AF is highest I’ve used, too.

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