Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens

      Photo Review 8.8

      In summary

      Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is a relatively fast, ruggedly built and weather resistant super-zoom lens. Our image tests for this lens were sharp and autofocusing was fast and near silent.

      Full review

      Announced on 28 October 2021, the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens is a premium, weather-resistant super-telephoto lens for Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras. Designed to the high standards of the Nikkor S-line and weighing only 1355 grams without the supplied tripod collar, it includes VR (Vibration Reduction) stabilisation to enable hand-held use. It is also compatible with Nikon’s TC-1.4x and TC-2.0x teleconverters, which will allow the focal length to be extended to 560mm and 800mm, respectively.

      Angled view of the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens with the tripod collar in place. (Source: Nikon.)

      The optical design of this lens is complex, with 25 elements in 20 groups. Among them are six ED (Extra-low Dispersion) and two Super ED elements for suppressing chromatic aberrations and colour fringing and maintaining clarity and colour accuracy across the zoom range.

      The optical diagram above shows the positions of the exotic elements in the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens.

      ARNEO and Nano Crystal Coats coatings have been applied to subdue internal reflections and minimise ghosting and flare, while the front element is fluorine coated to repel moisture, grease and dust and make it easy to keep clean. Built-in Vibration Reduction (VR) provides up to 5.5 stops of shake correction, based on the CIPA standard.

      The introduction of ‘Inner Balance Technology’, a first for Nikon lenses, adjusts the centre of gravity of the lens when it is zoomed in and out. As the front lens group moves forwards when zooming from the wide-angle to the telephoto position, part of the rear lens group moves backwards to compensate for the change in weight.

      The zoom ring boasts the shortest rotation angle (80 degrees) in its class, enabling users to zoom in and out without changing the position of their hand. The minimum focusing distance at 100mm is 75 cm, which extends to 98 cm at 400mm, where 0.38x magnification is possible.

      Who’s it For?
      The price tag will put this lens beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest enthusiasts but it shouldn’t deter professional buyers. Designed for use with Nikon’s full frame cameras, it will be best suited to sports and wildlife shooters – including birders, for whom the fast, near silent autofocusing will be an advantage.

      The lens design has factored in use of the lens for video recording. As well as near-silent autofocusing, it features a ‘clickless’ control ring, minimal focus breathing and minimal shifting of the focus position during zooming and the angle of view when adjusting focus.

      Although they cover the same angles of view and have a few other features in common, the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is completely different  from the Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM lens we reviewed recently. The table below compares key specifications of both lenses.

      Canon RF 100-400mm Nikon Z 100-400
      Angles of view 6-24 degrees (diagonal)
      Maximum aperture(s) f/5.6-8 f/4.5-5.6
      Minimum aperture f/45 f/40
      Optical design 12 elements in 9 groups 25 elements in 20 groups
      Exotic elements 1x UD and 1x aspherical elements 2 Super ED, 6 ED elements
      Coatings Super Spectra multi-coating Arneo, Nano and fluorine coatings
      Weather resistance None Dust- and drip-resistant sealing
      Stabilisation built-in, 5.5 stops
      Diaphragm rounded 9 blades
      Focus drive Nano USM Dual stepping motors (internal focusing)
      Minimum focus 1.2 m at 100mm, 88 cm at 200mm, 1.05 m at 400mm 75 cm at 100mm, 98 cm at 400mm
      Maximum magnification 0.41x at 400mm 0.38x at 400mm
      Filter size 67 mm 77 mm
      Lens hood EB-74B optional HB-103 supplied
      Tripod collar No Supplied
      Dimensions (d x l) 79.5 x 164.7 mm 89 x 222 mm
      Weight 635 grams 1355 grams (1435 grams with tripod collar)
      RRP on release (AU$) $1379 $4299

      While the Canon lens is clearly designed for hand-held shooting, the Nikon lens is twice its weight and should normally be tripod mounted (although Nikon classifies it as ‘easy to use handheld’). It’s also worth noting the Canon lens lacks weather-resistant sealing, whereas the Nikon lens is comprehensively sealed against moisture and dust intrusion (see below).

      Finally, the Canon lens is light enough to be used on a cropped-sensor camera, even though Canon doesn’t have an RF mount APS-C camera in its stable – yet. In contrast, the Nikon lens is simply too large and heavy to provide a comfortable balance on its Z50 and Z fc cameras. However, fully-extended, the Nikkor Z 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR DX will provide almost the same reach at a fraction of the price of the 100-400mm lens.

      Build and Ergonomics
      Nikon doesn’t specify the materials used in the construction of the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens, but it feels like it’s ruggedly. There’s probably a fair bit of polycarbonate plastic to keep weight down and, even though it weighs almost 1.5 kg with the tripod foot included, Nikon claims it is the ‘lightest in its class’.

      Build quality is up to the standard you would expect from an ‘S’ class Nikkor lens. It has a solid metal mounting plate and extensive dust- and moisture-resistant sealing, as shown in the illustration below.

      This graphic shows the positions of the dust- and moisture-resistant seals in the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens. (Source: Nikon.)

      This lens extends during zooming, stretching from an overall length of 222 mm at 100mm to approximately 272 mm at 400mm. The front section of the inner barrel is 15 mm deep, with rubber padding around the filter ring to protect the front of the lens against impact shock. A nice touch!

      Roughly 4 mm below the top of the filter ring is the front element of the lens, which is 72 mm in diameter. Below the rubber ring is the bayonet mounting for the supplied HB-103 lens hood, which is 72 mm deep and petal-shaped with deep indentations. The hood has a locking button to keep it in place and fine ridging on its inner surface to suppress internal reflections.

      The zoom ring is located 6 mm behind the front of the outer barrel. It’s 53 mm wide, with most of its surface clad in rubberised ridging. A 6 mm wide unridged band around the trailing edge carries engraved markings for the 100mm, 135mm, 200mm, 300mm and 400mm focal length settings, which line up against a white line on the fixed section of the lens barrel behind the zoom ring.

      The zoom ring turns smoothly through 80 degrees when it is moved between the 100mm and the 400mm positions, which Nikon claims is a small rotation angle for this type of lens. As noted above, the new ‘Inner Balance Technology’ minimises the weight shift caused by zooming and suppresses focus breathing.

      Four L-Fn (lens function) buttons are positioned at 90-degree intervals around the 20mmwide fixed section of the outer barrel that carries the Nikkor S branding mark. These buttons can be programmed to perform a function assigned by the camera.

      The focusing ring is located just behind this section of the barrel. It’s 24 mm wide with a 17 mm wide grip band of ridged rubber close to its leading edge. Since focusing is driven from the camera, this ring turns through 360 degrees when power is not supplied.

      Behind the focusing ring is a 22 mm wide fixed section of the outer barrel that contains another L-Fn button as well as a display button the can be used to save settings or choose the information that will be shown on the lens information panel. This panel is an 18 x 8 mm sized LCD screen inset into the top of the lens barrel which shows pairs of useful information, toggling from the default focus distance/ minimum focus distance index and depth of field through to the focal length and aperture settings. Other options include a choice between metres and feet and brightness adjustments.

      The ‘clickless’ control ring sits at the trailing edge of this section of the barrel. It is 7 mm wide and has a dimpled texture. Because it operates silently, it provides a handy way to adjust aperture or exposure compensation settings, while shooting video.  Functions can be selected via the camera’s menu. A white dot on the section of the barrel behind the control ring provides a reference point when rotating the tripod mount between vertical and horizontal positions.

      The removable tripod foot slots in behind this section, attaching by a 32 mm wide collar. The collar is held in place by a locking button and large screw-in clamp to allow for angular adjustments. It’s easy to remove the foot when you want to hand-hold the lens – and just as easy to re-fit.

      Just in front of the lens mount is a 25 mm wide section of the barrel containing the Auto/Manual focus switch and focus distance limiter. The latter is a slider with two positions: FULL and infinity to 3 metres.

      The lens barrel ends in the Z bayonet mount with a raised white index dot for orientating the lens with the camera body. The chromed metal mounting plate fits firmly to the camera body with a firm rubber gasket to exclude moisture and dust.

      We were unable to measure resolution across the entire zoom range using our Imatest system due to a lack of space in our testing area, although we obtained test results from four focal lengths: 100mm, 135mm, 200mm and 250mm. The best performance was recorded at f/4.5 with the 100mm focal length, as shown in the graph of our test results below, although overall performance was consistently good across the range we were able to measure.

      The graph above shows centre resolution exceeded expectations for JPEG files between wide open and around f/6.3 for the focal lengths we were able to measure. It fell a little below expectations for measurements made half-way out from the central zone, with a slight further decline towards the edges of the frame. NEF.RAW files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw delivered even higher resolution, as expected, particularly in the centre of the frame.

      Lateral chromatic aberration remained well down in the ‘negligible’ zone at all focal length settings and we found no evidence of coloured fringing in test shots. In the graph of our test results above, the red line marks the boundary between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA. Note that these results are from JPEG files; uncorrected raw files showed higher levels of chromatic aberration but still remained mostly within the ‘negligible’ range.

      Disabling all in-camera corrections made vignetting visible in shots taken with the widest apertures at all focal length settings. The same was true for rectilinear distortion, although it remained relatively low, as expected for a telephoto lens, with slight pincushion distortion visible across the zoom range. Both aberrations are effectively addressed by the in-camera lens corrections and just as easy to fix when converting raw files into editable formats.

      Using the Nikon Z9 for all our test shots enabled us to take advantage of the camera’s sophisticated autofocusing system.  As long as the correct AF settings were selected autofocusing was fast and accurate for both stills and movies.

      In most situations, the camera and lens could focus rapidly, although sharpness outside of the centre of the frame could be reduced by slow frame rates when the subject was moving quickly across the frame. With the correct settings we had few missed shots.

      We found no evidence of focus breathing and no apparent change in focus while zooming between different focal length settings. Autofocusing and zooming were virtually silent, completing the key requirements for a lens that will be used for video recordings.

      Once the tripod foot had been removed, the lens was quite easy to use hand-held, although the combination of the lens and Z9 camera could quickly become tiring to hold when shooting movies or long burst sequences. The 6-stop stabilisation in the camera worked effectively with the 5.5-stop OIS in the lens to keep most clips smooth and sharply focused – although we doubt the overall stabilisation effect amounted to 11.5 stops.

      The close-up capabilities of the lens were useful when photographing flowers and other small subjects and at 400mm the lens provided a comfortable working distance for photographing potentially tricky subjects. Bokeh at wide apertures was also smooth and attractive, thanks to the shallow depth of field at longer focal lengths. We found few instances of highlight outlining, although that may be partly because most of our close-ups were taken in cloudy conditions.

      Panning shots were generally successful, thanks to the combination of subject recognition and the ability of the IS system to recognise when the camera was being panned and adapt to the motion automatically. However, successful pans while shooting video required the fastest frame rates.

      Poor weather conditions during the period we had the lens for testing limited our ability to fully test backlighting performance. However, under optimal conditions the lens can produce attractive 18-pointed sunstars when stopped down to f/22 or smaller apertures.


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      Picture angle: 6 degrees 10 minutes to 24 degrees 20 minutes
      Minimum aperture:  f/32-40
      Lens construction: 25 elements in 20 groups (including 6 ED  and 2 Super ED elements), Nano Crystal Coat and ARNEO Coat
      Lens mounts: Nikon Z (full frame)
      Diaphragm Blades: 9 (circular aperture)
      Weather resistance: Dust- and drip-resistant sealing
      Focus drive: Dual stepping motors (internal focusing)
      Stabilisation: Yes, 5.5 stops shake correction
      Minimum focus: 75 cm at 100mm and 98 mm at 400mm
      Maximum magnification: 0.38x
      Filter size: 77 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 98 x 222 mm
      Weight: 1355 grams (1435 grams with tripod collar)
      Standard Accessories: Front and end caps, tripod collar, HB-103 lens hood, CL-C3 lens case

      Distributor: Nikon Australia, 1300 366 499



      Based on JPEG files taken with the Nikon Z9 camera.

      Based on losslessly-compressed NEF.RAW files converted into TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.



      Vignetting at 100mm f/5.

      Vignetting at 135mm f/5.

      Vignetting at 200mm f/5.6.

      Vignetting at 300mm f/6.3.

      Vignetting at 400mm f/8.

      Rectilinear distortion at 100mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 135mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 200mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 300mm.

      Rectilinear distortion at 400mm.

      100mm, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/7.1.

      135mm, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/7.1.

      200mm, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/7.1.

      300mm, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/6.3.

      400mm, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/5.6.

      Close-up at 100mm, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/4.5.

      Close-up at 135mm, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/4.8.

      Close-up at 200mm, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/5.

      Close-up at 300mm, ISO 32, 1/320 second at f/5.3.

      Close-up at 400mm, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/5.6

      Bokeh in close-up at 100mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/4.5.

      Bokeh in close-up at 200mm focal length. ISO 100, 1/240 second at f/5.

      Bokeh in close-up at 400mm, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/5.6.

      Close-up; 400mm focal length, ISO 560, 1/400 second at f/7.1.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/5.6.

      Crop from the above image magnified to 100% to show actual sharpness and an example of bird detection in the animal recognition mode in the Z9’s AF system.

      Four frames from a sequence taken in single-shot mode; 400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/5.6.

      Sunstars at 100mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/50 second at f/32.

      Sunstars at 300mm, ISO 100, 1/40 second at f/40.

      Sunstars at 400mm, ISO 200, 1/40 second at f/40.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/5.6.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/5.6. (High-speed burst mode.)

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/5.6. (High-speed burst mode.)

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/5.6. (High-speed burst mode.)

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/5.6. (High-speed burst mode.)

      100mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/5.

      Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Nikon Z9 camera.



      RRP: AU$4299; US$2699

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 8.8
      • Image quality: 8.9
      • Autofocusing: 8.9
      • Versatility: 8.9