Nikon 200-400 f4 testing

Started Jun 17, 2013 | Discussions thread
RBFresno Forum Pro • Posts: 12,576
Re: Nikon 200-400 f4 testing

AlexandreH wrote:

Hey guys, I finally pulled the trigger on a Nikon 200-400mm f4. I was debating with the 300mm f2.8 but I needed zoom flexibility so I opted in the end for the 200-400 f4.

This was purchased to upgrade my 300 f4 especially for more reach as I mainly shoot in the 300-400mm range for boat racing. There was no boat racing this weekend but I went out to shoot a variety of fixed objects to evaluate the performance of the lens yet. Testing was done with Manfrotto monopod which I usually use for race shooting. No scientific by no means but collected a bunch of information. No AF fine tuning yet.

I tried the lens and my D4 camera as is. AF is quick and precise and hunting is minimal as long as you set it to "6m to infinity"

I did a few test on its own and also against my 300F4afs which is very sharp.

long distance (500 meters-1000 meters)

long distance 300mm @f4 the 200-400 crushes the 300f4 in contrast and sharpness. Amazing difference.

long distance 200-400 at 400 f4 is just a hint better than 300+1.4x at f5.6.

long distance 200-400 at 400 f5.6 is much better than 300+1.4x at f5.6.

long distance 300+1.7x at 6.7 is better than 200-400+1.4x at 400 f6.3 - f8 .

So I'm quite happy with my 200-400 copy performed at really long range as long as you crank at f5.6. Below that is too soft at 400mm. So ideally need to stay prime zoom (no TC) at very long distances and bump to f5.6 for best results. If you MUST shoot at f4 then backup the ring to 360mm or lower and resolution will increase by a lot. 380mm and 400mm are pretty much the same at f4 but 360mm is much much better. If you MUST use 400mm then crank to at least f5.6. f4, f4.5 and f5 are too soft.

I was surprised by how much better the 200-400 (at 300mm f4) is better than my 300mm f4 prime.

Approx 100 meters test:

medium distance 300mm @f4 vs the 200-400 at 300mm at f4 the 200-400 is better

medium distance 200-400 at 400 f4 is just a bit better than 300+1.4x at f5.6

medium distance 200-400 at 400 f5.6 is much better than to 300+1.4x at f5.6

medium distance 200-400+1.4x at 400 f5.6 is much better than 300+1.7x at f6.7

medium distance 200-400 at 400+1.4x f5.6 is much better than 300+1.7x at f6.7

Glad to see here that it does accept the 1.4x quite well at that distance. The details loss is not too bad. Resulsts are very good at f7.1 and f8.

As expected, the 1.4 and 1.7 are better on the 300mm f4 compared to the 200-400. The 200-400 works well only with the 1.4x within the 100 meters range even wide open but improves nicely at f7.1 and f8.

I tried the 1.7x with the 200-400 and the results were catastrophic no matter the range and the aperture I dont think I will keep it. I dont plan neither to buy the TC20EIII altough apparently better than tc17 with the 200-400. 550mm with the 1.4x is sufficient for my current needs.


The 300mm f4 works really well with 1.4x at wide open. Works decently with 1.7x. The 200-400 without TC smokes the 300mm f4 prime.

Additional testing on the 200-400 (not compared to 300f4):

short distance (10m): 400mm is sharp even at f4

medium distance (50m): 400mm is a bit soft at f4 and f4.5. f5 is excellent and f5.6 is tack sharp

long distance (100m-300m): 400mm is a bit soft at f4 and f4.5. f5 is excellent and f5.6 is tack sharp

Longer than that you need a minimum of f5.6 at 400mm. If you use a 1.4x you either crank to f7.1 or f8 or you backup the zoom to 350-360mm

(equals 490-500mm) then you can shoot at f5.6 which is actually sharper than 400mm (equals 550mm) even at f8.

With the 200-400 with no TC at medium range approx 100meters (330ft)

300mm tack sharp at f4

330mm tack sharp at f4

350mm f4 excellent --- 50% crop is tack sharp

380mm f4 very good --- 50% crop is tack sharp

400mm f4 a tad soft but still good. Tack sharp at 5.6

Within 100 meters:

200-400 with 1.4x is very good if you set it to 350mm x 1.4 = 500mm at f5.6 (wide open)

200-400 with 1.4x is pretty good if you set it to 400m x 1.4 = 550mm at f8

200-400 with 1.4x is pretty good if you set it to 400m x 1.4 = 550mm at f7.1

200-400 with 1.4x is decent if you set it to 400m x 1.4 = 550mm at f5.6 or 6.3

So all in all it's an excellent lense as long as you accept and work with the compromises of the zoom design. Stellar performance wide open up to about 360mm. Try to avoid TCs and either increase the f stop to 5.6 and above or if you need f4 then backup the zoom a bit to 350-360mm. Will bring you excellent results. If you must use the 1.4x then set the f stop to 7.1 or 8 for better results and try to stay within the 100 meters range. For longer range and faster speed of f5.6 then back the zoom to 350-360mm and should achieve good results. Looking forward to try the lens at races, medium distance wildlife, football, baseball.

hope this will help folks decide if this lens would suit their needs or not. Cheers !


Your testing results are consistent with my empirical impressions during 6 years of using the 200-400 VR. Your post will be worthwhile  for those considering getting the big zoom, or for existing owners who have not figured out its relative strengths and weaknesses.



 RBFresno's gear list:RBFresno's gear list
Nikon D2H Nikon D4 Nikon AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED VR +14 more
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