Editor's opinion: Nikon's new AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 G ED VR
The new AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 G ED VR, announced today, will come as very welcome news for a lot of Nikon DSLR owners. The original 80-400mm was released more than a decade ago, and frequently comes near the top of Nikon-users wish lists for lenses they'd like to see updated.
The new version of this venerable optic offers some significant specification improvements compared to its predecessor - an all-new optical design, for a start. The 20 element, 12-group design features four ED (extra low-dispersion) elements, one 'super ED' element and Nikon's Nano-crystal coating, designed to improve flare-resistance. It also features a built-in SWM ultrasonic-type focus motor, and a revamped VR system capable of a claimed four stops of vibration reduction.
The original 80-400mm was Nikon's first lens to feature Vibration Reduction. It did not offer a built-in AF motor, instead using the older screw-drive AF-D technology, which relies on the camera's built-in AF motor. Specifically, this means that owners of entry-level Nikon DSLRs like the D3000 and D5000-series that lack in-body AF motors can only use AF-D lenses in manual focus mode.
Even when paired with cameras that have built-in AF motors, the original 80-400mm is known for relatively slow AF, and was prone to hunting at the long end of its focal length span. Twelve years after its release, the first-generation VR system in the original 80-400mm looks decidedly long in the tooth as well, compared to the systems in newer Nikkor lenses.
The tripod collar originally supplied with the first version of the 80-400mm was notoriously unstable - something that we hope has been addressed with this new release. Regardless of image stabilization, a stable mount is essential when shooting at the long end of a zoom at marginal shutter speeds.
All in all, the new 80-400mm looks like it should be a very nice lens. Optically, its predecessor gave decent, but not outstanding performance, and if Nikon has been able to make real improvements in that area, then this – plus the additional of a built-in AF-S motor and 4-stop vibration reduction – should make it popular with enthusiast photographers using Nikon's DX and FX-format DSLRs.