Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens

      Photo Review 8.8


      In summary

      While the Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens won’t suit generalist photographers, it will definitely meet the needs of its target market: professional sports photographers. And the high price of this lens should not be a disincentive given the competent performance of this lens.

      Full review

      Announced in mid-January 2022, the Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S adds a high performance super-telephoto prime lens to the Nikon Z system. It’s the first Nikkor Z lens to come with a built in 1.4x teleconverter, which extends the effective focal length to 560mm. Two stops faster than the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens we reviewed in January, this lens is claimed as the lightest lens of its type, even though it weighs almost three kilograms.

      Angled view of the Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens on the Z9 camera, as used for this review. (Source: Nikon.)Note: the lens is shown without the supplied lens hood.

      The optical design of the 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S is complex, comprising 25 elements in 19 groups, with seven elements in four groups making up the built-in teleconverter.  Among them are two ED glass elements, a super-ED glass element, two lightweight fluorite lens elements and an SR (Short-Wavelength Refractive) lens element to minimise chromatic aberration and allow for a compact, lighter design.

      This illustration shows the positions of the exotic glass elements in the lens design when the built-in teleconverter is in use. (Source: Nikon.)

      Nikon’s new Meso Amorphous Coat, which  is said to perform better than Nano Crystal Coat and claims ‘the highest anti-reflection capabilities in the Nikkor history’.  The lens is supplied with front and rear caps, a large cylindrical lens hood (HK-42), a LN-3 carrying strap and CL-L3 lens case.

      Most of the initial production run went into the Nikon Professional Services stock for meeting demands at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but the lens is now available in specialist photography stores across Australia. We received the lens in early March, along with the Nikon Z9 camera, which was used for our tests.

      Who’s it For?

      The Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S is a highly specialised lens, designed and priced for professional users, specifically those who shoot sports in both indoor venues and outdoor locations. It is too expensive, too large and too specialised to be a worthwhile investment for the average photo enthusiast.

      The size, weight and balance of this lens make it an ideal partner for the Z9. We tried it out on the smaller Z7 II but found the smaller camera was too light to provide a comfortable working balance.

      Nikon’s claims it is possible to use this lens hand-held were verified in the course of our tests, in which we took most test shots hand-held. However, the size and weight of the Z9 camera plus this lens made it very tiring so we suspect most users to attach a monopod or tripod mainly to provide some relief, especially when shooting video. (On the basis of our tests, we think additional stabilisation will be largely irrelevant for stills shooting due to the excellent built-in IS in the camera and lens.)
      The bulk and weight of the camera and lens make it difficult to use for shooting wildlife (particularly birds) as the combo isn’t particularly manoeuvrable. It’s also too heavy to justify carrying the kit for long distances. Shooting from a hide – or a vehicle – would largely address this issue.

      Potential buyers may already have used the AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR F-mount lens, which was released in mid-2014 for Nikon’s DSLR cameras but the new lens is a completely different beast. For starters, it’s almost a kilogram lighter, even with its built-in teleconverter. Significantly, it also offers superior stabilisation and can focus closer than the DSLR lens, as shown in the comparison table below.

      Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
      Minimum aperture f/32 f/22
      Lens construction 25 elements in 19 groups 16 elements in 12 groups
      Exotic glass 2 ED, 2 fluorite, 1 super-ED, 1 SR elements 2 Fluorite elements, 2 ED glass elements
      Coatings Meso Amorphous Coat  and ARNEO Coat, fluorine-coated front element Nano Crystal Coat, Super Integrated Coating
      Weather resistance Dust and drip resistant Dust- and moisture sealed
      AF drive VCM (voice coil motor) Silent Wave Motor
      Stabilisation VR (Vibration Reduction), 5.5 stops; increases to approx. 6 stops if used on Z9 VR (Vibration Reduction), 4 stops
      Minimum focus 2.5 metres 2.6 metres
      Filter size 46 mm 40.5mm
      Teleconverter compatibility Built-in 1.4x teleconverter Accepts Nikon AF-S teleconverter
      Dimensions 156 mm x 380 mm 159.5 x 358 mm
      Weight 2950 grams 3800 grams
      Announced January 2022 May 2014
      Current street price (AU$) $21,850 to $22,999 $15,000 to $16,000

      While the built-in 1.4x teleconverter is an attractive feature of this lens, it comes with a couple of warnings that may cause concern among some readers. The following quotes are taken from the product’s user manual:

      • WARNING: Do not use this product if you have a pacemaker or other medical device. The magnet or magnets in this product could cause medical devices to malfunction.
      • Keep the lens and speaker away from credit cards and other such magnetic devices. The data stores on the device could be corrupted.

      In summary: This lens is for professional sports photographers who work in pre-determined positions in stadiums and indoor arenas and want to shoot great close-ups of players in action. Birders, wildlife photographers and those who require greater versatility and manoeuvrability will be better served by the excellent Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens.

      Build and Ergonomics
      Despite its significantly lighter weight, the Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S is built like a tank. The supplied lens hood adds a further 233 grams to the 2950-gram weight of the lens with the tripod foot fitted. The tripod foot can’t be removed, which tends to hamper mobile hand-held use. (It would also reduce the overall weight a little if the tripod collar and foot were removable.)

      Nikon claims this lens has been designed so it can be carried and operated with ease – which is contestable.  However, its centre of gravity is located at the tripod collar to optimise weight distribution and stability – and this is true when the lens is used with the Z9 camera, although not so much with smaller camera bodies.

      On the plus side, this lens boasts extensive weather-resistant sealing on all the movable parts of the lens barrel plus a rubber gasket around the lens mount, as shown in the diagram below. The front surface of the 133 mm diameter front element is fluorine coated to repel dust and water droplets and make the lens easy to keep clean.


      This diagram shows the locations of the dust- and drip-resistant sealing in the Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens. (Source: Nikon.)

      Most of the important new features are located at the camera end of the lens barrel, where they should be easy to access while the lens is in use. The filter holder sits just in front of the lens mount and has a lift-up tab that lets you pull out the chamber for the 46 mm filters although, since Nikon states this lens is designed for use without filters, it’s unlikely to be frequently used and no provisions are made for adjusting polarisers and graduates.

      Just in front of the filter holder the barrel steps outwards to make space for the built-in 1.4x teleconverter. This section of the barrel is roughly 60mm wide and there’s a bulge in the lens barrel just in front of the teleconverter switch to accommodate the switch  mechanism and Memory Set button.

      The teleconverter is accessed by unlocking a marked locking switch just in front of the lens mount. This makes it easy to swing the control lever down from the marked 1x position to the 1.4x position while the lens is in use. (It’s worth noting that increasing the effective focal length to 560mm will decrease the maximum aperture to f/4.)

      The Memory Set button is used to save the current focus position. An icon will be displayed in the camera’s displays when it has been set. On the opposite side of the barrel you’ll find the Focus Mode (A/M) switch and the Focus Limiter, which has two positions, FULL and infinity to 6m, plus a programmable Lens Function (L-Fn) button.

      The tripod collar sits in front of this section of the barrel. It’s approximately 40 mm wide but not removable (unfortunately) although it can be rotated between horizontal and vertical positions when the locking screw is loosened. There are three indices positioned around the lens barrel at 90-degree intervals to make it easier to align the lens properly.

      The base of the tripod foot has two sockets, one with a 1/4-inch and the other a 3/8-inch for different tripod plates. Interestingly, there’s no Arca Swiss fitting, which is surprising for a professional lens.

      Beneath the head of the tripod collar’s locking screw sits a Kensington lock for attaching an anti-theft cable. Strap eyelets are located on either side of this section of the barrel for attaching a carrying/security strap.

      The manual focusing ring is located just in front of the leading edge of the tripod collar. It’s approximately 35 mm wide with most of its surface covered in a thinly-ridged rubber-like grip band.  Since focus is adjusted from the camera, it turns through 360 degrees when power is switched off.

      Nikon has replaced the regular stepping motors with a new ‘Silky Swift Voice Coil Motor’ (SSVCM) actuator that combines a voice coil motor (VCM) with a new Nikon-developed guide mechanism for eliminating vibrations between the lens chamber and the guide bar contact points. The system is ‘optimised to move large elements with the utmost precision’, according to Nikon’s press release.

      Although the press release doesn’t mention it, we suspect the magnets in this drive are the main reason for the warning to users with pacemakers. The new design aims to provide more stable autofocusing with higher-speed, higher-accuracy and near-silent operation.

      Manual focus override is possible in AF mode by simply turning the dedicated focus ring, which is just in front of the tripod collar. (This can be disabled via the camera, if the user desires.) As usual in recent Nikkor lenses and cameras released after October 2020, the focus direction can be reversed, if required.

      The 17 mm wide section of the barrel in front of the focus ring contains no controls, simply separating the focus ring from the programmable control ring, which can be set to adjust a function like aperture of exposure compensation. The control ring operates like the control rings on other Z-mount lenses but, since there’s already a dedicated focusing ring, there’s no need to allocate focusing to it.

      Another band, roughly 20 mm wide simply carries the prominent Nikkor S branding. In front of it is the Fn ring, which is used for instant recall of a stored focus position, set with the Memory Recall button.

      With the Z9 camera, pressing the Memory Recall button locks in the focus. With other supported cameras (Z7II, Z7, Z6II, Z6, Z5, Z50 and Zfc) the camera will refocus if the shutter-release button is half-pressed after memory recall. Autofocusing can be resumed by selecting AF-ON only or AF activation in the camera’s memory.

      Additional customisation options are accessed via the 25 mm wide band in front of the Fn ring, which carries four programmable L-Fn2 buttons positioned at 90-degree intervals, which can be set to access custom controls.

      The front section of the lens is roughly 105 mm long with a 70 mm wide band of rubber-like ridging around its trailing edge to provide a secure grip. This section of the lens barrel flares gently outwards to a diameter of just under 150 mm. Impact protection in the form of a firm rubber ring that is roughly 4 mm thick and about 6 mm deep surround the front of the lens.

      The supplied cylindrical lens hood is approximately 150 mm long and made from rigid industrial-grade plastic with a black, flocked lining to suppress internal reflections and a rubberised front edge to protect against impact damage. It attaches with a large screw clamp and can be reversed over the lens for transport or storage.

      The supplied lens cap is made from a soft, leather-like material with a velvet-like lining. It has a notch to accommodate the lens hood knob and attaches via a Velcro clad strap.

      We were unable to perform out normal Imatest tests because of a lack of space in our testing set-up. Fortunately, subjective assessments suggest this lens produces very sharp images with good contrast and colour saturation – with and without the teleconverter engaged.

      As mentioned above, almost all of our test shots were taken with the lens hand-held, using the Nikon Z9 camera. This was partly as a matter of convenience since many of the places we used for the shots were unsuitable for setting up a tripod and partly to allow greater mobility when shooting.

      One thing we learned during the testing was that the combined weight of the Z9 camera and 400mm f/2.8 lens – around 4.5 kilograms by our estimation – was very tiring to hold up when framing shots and shooting and required frequent ‘rest’ periods. Interestingly, the combined stabilisation of camera and lens and superior autofocusing meant very few shots were missed because of camera shake – even in low light levels.

      With all the in-camera corrections disabled we found the lens exhibited slight vignetting with both the 400mm and 560mm focal lengths. However, rectilinear distortion was effectively negligible and we found no signs of field curvature, coma or chromatic aberrations, as you’d expect from a professional Nikkor lens.

      Backlit subjects were also competently handled and it was almost impossible to force the lens to flare. Bokeh was mostly very attractive, although there was a tendency to outline bright highlights in out-of-focus backgrounds. Videographers may find focus breathing an issue with this lens, although it won’t affect stills shooters.


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      Picture angle: 6 degrees 10 minutes in FX format, 4degrees 30 minutes with built-in teleconverter
      Minimum aperture:  f/32
      Lens construction: 25 elements in 19 groups;, (including 2 ED, 2 fluorite, 1 super-ED, 1 SR plus elements with Meso Amorphous Coat and ARNEO Coat and a fluorine-coated front element)
      Lens mounts: Nikon Z-mount
      Diaphragm Blades: 9 (rounded aperture)
      Weather resistance: Dust and drip resistant
      Focus drive: Silky Swift Voice Coil Motor (SSVCM)
      Stabilisation: Yes, lens shift using voice coil motors (VCMs); up to 5.5 stops of shake correction, including when the built-in teleconverter is in use
      Minimum focus: 2.5 metres
      Maximum magnification: 0.17
      Filter size: Accepts 46 mm slip in filters
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 156 mm x 380 mm
      Weight: 2950 grams
      Standard Accessories: LC-K105 Lens Cap (front cap), LF-N1 Lens Cap (rear cap), HK-42 Lens Hood, LN-3 Strap, CL-L3 Lens Case
      Distributor: Nikon Australia, 1300 366 499



      Vignetting at f/2.8, 400mm focal length.

      Vignetting at f/4, 560mm focal length.

      Rectilinear distortion at 400mm focal length.

      Rectilinear distortion at 560mm focal length.

      Sunstars at 400mm f/22.

      Sunstars at 560mm f/22.

      Top image photograph of the moon using spot metering; 560mm focal length, ISO 320; 1/320 second at f/4. Bottom image, enlarged crop of the main subject in the frame.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.6.

      560mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/6.3.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/8.

      560mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/8.

      Bokeh in backlit close-up; 400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/2.8.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1600 second at f/5.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/4.5.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/4.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1600 second at f/5.

      560mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1600 second at f/5.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/4.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/4.5.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1600 second at f/5.

      560mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/2000 second at f/5.6.

      560mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1600 second at f/5.

      560mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/4.

      560mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/4.

      400mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/2.8.

      560mm focal length, ISO 3200, 1/5 second at f/4. (Stabilisation test.)

      237: 400mm focal length, ISO 6400, 1/3 second at f/2.8. (Stabilisation test.)



      RRP: AU$22,999; US$13,999.95

      • Build: 9.2
      • Handling: 8.8
      • Image quality: 9.2
      • Autofocusing: 9.2
      • Versatility: 8.3