Nikon AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens tested at DxOMark

DxOMark published their review of the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens ($11,996.95) that includes comparisons to the previous 400mm f/2.8G version ($9,699.99) and the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM ($9,999):

DxOMark's conclusion:

"Nikon’s decision to switch from over several decades of ED glass in telephoto lenses to that of fluorite is intriguing initially, particularly as the use of fluorite in this type of lens is mostly associated with its archival Canon. However, as the results reveal, the decision appears to prioritize weight savings while mostly maintaining the optical quality of its predecessor. The new model is lighter overall than the Canon equivalent, yet it retains the meniscus protective lens. That’s a highly attractive feature, potentially protecting that expensive front fluorite element from damage. Whether all that is worth the initial premium over its predecessor (or the Canon offering) is arguable, however, prices are likely to fall over time and few professionals would argue that a lens like this isn’t well worth the investment in the long term."

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  • AlphaTed

    A dentist would probably like to shoot with this in the safari.

    • nwcs

      And bring back the head of a Canon camera? No thanks!

    • ZoetMB

      That’s what the dentist (or anyone with his proclivities) SHOULD be using on safari. What is this need to kill a beautiful, living creature? If the idiot had gone on safari with a camera instead of an arrow and later, a gun, everyone, including the dentist, would be a lot better off.

      • T.I.M

        with his face all over the internet, I doubt that this dentist will see any patient in his office for a long time…..

        • ZoetMB

          You’d be surprised. I bet there are plenty of people who have no problem with what he did. The only reason why more people haven’t done it is because of the cost. On the other hand, there’s talk about him being prosecuted in the U.S., so it’s remotely possible he’ll wind up in jail for a bit.

          • Nikon1isAwesome!

            You’ll fine little support for poaching from anyone. It’s senseless to suggest that cost is the reason hunters don’t poach.

        • Spy Black

          Sure they will. They’ll arrive at his office with confederate flags on their pickup trucks…

          • Funny but true. But more of the rich will also embrace his selfish indulgence.

        • UnknownTransit

          If he offers better pricing over other dentists, he’ll have his business back.

      • verytoxic

        Why suddenly are lions so beautiful and innocent? If you people would have reacted to the latest Planned Parenthood news the way you react to a dead lion, the world would be better.

  • Eric Calabros

    Transmssion 3.2 vs. 3.1? so you dont get more light with f/2.8 version? Can someone explain this to me?

    • Andrea

      The transmission value is the difference between the declared value and the measured value

      • T.I.M

        That’s why zoom lenses sucks.
        Imagine the light after crossing 15-20 glass elements

        • BVS

          This lens appears to have 15+ elements. Does that mean is sucks too?

          • T.I.M

            my 400mm f.2.8, have only 10 elements, including 4 ED

            • BVS

              You must be using the AF-I version then. Do you think that version performs better than the newer ones because it only has 10 elements instead of 14 or 16?

            • T.I.M

              no, I can tell that the AF-I 400mm f/2.8 is very sharp because I compare the picture with my AF-S 200mm f/2.0 VR (sharpest Nikon lense tested so far)

            • Nikon

              There is no difference in sharpness btwn the AFi and the AFS VR. AFS handles BIF shots more gracefully… VR turned on with the AFS VR slows things down a bit though…but only affecting FPS.

            • Virindi

              My 400mm F2.8 has 0 elements.

            • T.I.M

              Yes I know, some people call it a hood.

    • Will

      Transmission is different from aperture, many factors can affect transmission such as coating for instance

      Also what are you comparing to when you say you don’t get more light with F2.8 version? What other versions are there? The F4 version? This definitely lets in more light than the F4 version which will have a T-value of greater than 4

      • Eric Calabros

        I mean with this new f/4 lens, same amount of light will hit the sensor as if you would use the f/2.8 version? I know DxO considers sensor performance in its Transmission score, but here both tested on same sensor, D810.

        • Will

          i don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no F/4 lens here, they’re all F2.8

          • Eric Calabros

            Oh sorry, I was comparing the wrong lens with this 🙂

        • T.I.M

          smoking pot is illegal in NR forum

          • Eric Calabros

            But “when there’s smoke there’s fire”

        • You must be talking about the 300 f/4 PF, there is no 400mm f/4 in Nikon’s lineup.

  • Jebagi Erol Paker DxOMark tests,the previous version (without FL) seems better optically, while the new one is lighter and more expensive. Its your decision: better optics v.s. lighter and more expensive

  • JJ168

    Interesting result. All report seems to say that the new lens has improved on everything or can’t tell the difference. Either the test copy is below the average of the E lens or most reviewers think they are better due to the side effect of spending lot of money for the upgrade. Hmm…

    • ITN

      Well, no. E.g. Brad Hill’s extensive commentary on his blog (8 Feb 2015) basically puts the two as equal in optical performance “I have been able to find NO significant difference in the optical quality or output between the 400mm f2.8E VR and the 400mm f2.8G VR lenses” but the handling of the new lens is much easier. In fact I’ve not found any user report from an experienced photographer which claims the new version is optically better.

  • Sports

    “I am unrivalled precision”.
    Those DXOMark sharpness scores rely heavily on the camera body, so when DXOMark starts testing Canon lenses on the new 50 MP bodies, many Canon lens scores will probably jump higher.
    Nikon lens scores, too, will benefit, if a new high-MP Nikon body becomes available.
    That’s how DXOMark works, apparently ….

    • ITN

      With DXOMark, you can select a lower MP body for Nikon as well to compare the lenses on more equal footing, if you want to just compare the lenses. But in real world a lot of photographers use D810/D800(E) bodies on the Nikon side so it is fair to report the advantage they will get.

  • Padaung

    Nice typo in the DxOMark conclusion ‘…mostly associated with its archival Canon’.

    But I like the idea that Nikon once upon a time designed this lens for Canon, which it now has sitting in a vault somewhere 😉

    Come to think of it, this wouldn’t be the first time a Nikon lens has fitted on a Canon:

  • T.I.M

    The new 400mm f/2.8E FL is less sharp ?
    I sure will keep my 400mm f/2.8 AF-I with its 4 ED elements !
    By the way the AF-i autofocus (only for the 400mm) is faster than the AF-s version.

    • T.I.M

      D800 AF-I 400mm f/2.8 ISO 200 1/2000s at f/5.6

    • Nikon

      Hi Tim. As an owner both the Nikon 400mm f2.8 AFi and the Nikon 400mm f2.8G AFS and have to disagree about the AF speed. The AFi is definitely quick but the AFS has a slight advantage. Using each with D4s is incredibly fast and with the D800 nice too but not as spectacular…especially with BIF shots where the AFS really shines. Both lenses are incredibly sharp and I cannot tell the difference between the 2…and I’m very picky about sharpness.

      Nice shot btw…

  • Nimloth

    Precision is nice, but what about the accuracy? 😉

    • T.I.M

      accuracy ? what the hell does that mean ?
      This is NR forum, you need to use simple and intelligible words like: Fluorite, ED, VR, Nano crystals, aspherical, or else people will get lost.

      • reductron

        I think he’s referring to the accurancy of the lens when you shoot rabidly in Contiguous-High mode.

  • Ric

    DXO hates Canon. There I said it. 🙂

    • T.I.M

      I have a Canon B&W laser printer and is works well, I never had to change the ink !

  • If they wanted to save weight, why not just make a 400 f/4 PF, or even a 400/500 5.6 PF? It seems we’ve updated the topmost lens lineup more than enough by now, it’s time to see a few more improvements to the slightly older, un-updated telephoto primes. Don’t even get me started on the 135 f/2 or the 200 f/4 Micro… :-

    • T.I.M

      F/2.8 vs F/4 is like comparing a V8 against a 4 cylinders engine.
      The 1 step aperture often make a huge difference especially when using telephoto lenses.
      Maybe the D900 with its clean 800 ISO will make f/4 lenses more usable for pros.

      • Fair enough. Then wanting to save weight on an f/2.8 supertele is like wanting a lightweight Hummer.

  • true

    I hate to break it to you, but you can’t really compare a D810 + lens to a 5d3 + lens. D750 maybe, but D810? no

    • Omesh Singh

      They can and they did. The question is should they… For people who actually own or seriously are considering buying these high resolution cameras it provides valuable info on (usually) maximum aperture performance. How relevant is that? Well that depends entirely on what and how you’re shooting.

  • Aku Kankaanpää

    I have experience of both 400/2.8 versions. I own the 2007 version and my friend has the new one. I use the old version all the time and its my main wildlife shooting lens I´m very happy of it.

    Numbers and tests are their own thing and practical image quality in the field is different thing. I think my current 400mm lens is very sharp at 400mm and 560mm with 1.4x III, good sharpness also with TC-17EII (in most conditions) but little disappointing with 2.0x III especially at longer distances.

    New 400mm is noticeably better with 2x and even with 1.4x it doesnt have to be stopped down at all while the older one needs stopping down 1/3 steps to 4.5 to get ultra sharp pictures. FL version has very very fast AF and maybe slightly more contrast than previous version. AF and VR are slightly better in new version, but AF loses its speed with 2x teleconverter just like before. Thats why there is fixed 600mm and 800mm lenses, they are lot of sharper when the distance gets longer.

    New one has one disadvantage (just my opinion): Its carrying strap is attached to the lens like that of 500/4 so if you walk with the lens its more difficult to carry on shoulder, the old attachment was better but thats just my opinion. At 3.8kg the new one isnt so “light” but of course easier to shoot handheld than the 4.6kg older version.

    I cant personally justify the price difference, in Finland you have to pay about 6500-7000 euros to update to the FL version. The pictures won´t be dramatically different, one needs to look very carefully to see any difference. But there is slight difference and in my opinion the FL version is better optically. Based on what I´ve seen I think Nasim Mansurovs test of that lens describes it the most realistic way.

    My own gallery is at

    Most of the bird and mammal pics are taken with 400/2.8G VR.

  • true

    Since both are very good, upgrading is hard to justify unless one happens to find a buyer that can pay good money for current lens.

    I think at the end of the day, 2x TC on a lens is generally a bad idea. I think there’s alot of difference in image quality / AF speed between different generation of Nikon TCs and Kenko/Tamron TCs. I think for extra reach looking for a zoom lens (be it 150-600 or some newer version 200-500 / 300-600 or whatever) might be much better for situations than need extra reach, than having to use a 2x TC? There’s also the point that the tele primes will only keep showing better results as bodies with more resolving power are released each year. I’d like to think that most of the better long tele primes are being held back by bodies.

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