Lens review

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 180-400 mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR

23 May 2018
Arkadiusz Olech

4. Image resolution

The resolution test of the Nikkor AF-S 180–400 mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR was based on RAW files from the Nikon D3x. In that case the decency level is situated near 30-32 lpmm and high quality, fixed focal lenses can reach a level of 47-49 lpmm. The record belongs to the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 which, by f/4.0, slightly exceeded 50 lpmm.

Let’s check how the tested lens compares – its results in the frame centre at 180, 300, 400 and 550 mm (TC) focal lengths presents a graph below.

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 180-400 mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR - Image resolution

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When it comes to the 180-400 mm range the results of the tested lens are simply sensational for a zoom instrument. Already near the maximum relative aperture you deal with MTFs of 45 lpmm which even slightly increase when you pass to f/5.6. The performance is very even, with particular focal lengths differing minimally from each other.

If you decide to use the teleconverter, though, the situation is quite different and MTFs - distinctly lower. Resolution decrease is noticeably sharper than in the case of other contemporary, expensive, high quality telephoto lenses cooperating with a teleconverter. I admit the performance fell short of our expectations; we thought that such an optically complex teleconverter, designed to cooperate with just one model of lens, would perform much better than traditional, external devices which, after all, are supposed to fit many professional telephoto lenses of a given system.

As a result, even if the performance at 550 mm cannot exactly be called weak, as the results allow you to enjoy fully useful, good images, it is not something we expected from such an expensive lens.

Now let’s check the situation on the edge of the APS-C sensor.

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 180-400 mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR - Image resolution

Once again the 180-400 mm range is splendid. At the maximum relative aperture MTFs are able to exceed a high level of 40 lpmm and on stopping down the aperture they even get to 45 lpmm. Our reservations concern the 550 mm focal length. Here the MTFs can be even by 10 lpmm lower than at the shorter end of the focal range. Still the images remain completely useful even at the maximum relative aperture.

Let’s check how the situation changes after progressing to full frame.

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 180-400 mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR - Image resolution

Here the discrepancies between particular focal lengths are the greatest. Once again the 180 mm focal length fares sensationally well, with results exceeding 43 lpmm. The 300-400 mm range lags behind a bit but still the lens performs very well, with maximum MTFs brushing against 40 lpmm and good quality images even at the maximum relative aperture. The 550 mm focal length lags behind the most, with MTFs just barely exceeding the decency level.

To sum up, if you talk about 180-400 mm range the Nikkor should be called a very efficient, sensationally designed optical instrument without any weak points. The producers looked after the shortest focal length and, accordingly, it performs brilliantly well from the centre to the very edge of full frame. It was a very good idea; at that place a solid performance is needed more often than at longer focal lengths. Still the cooperation with the built-in teleconverter is a disappointment. The results remain good or at least fully useful but they lag far behind the results you get in the 180-400 mm range; it is not a performance you would expect from such an expensive, professional lens.

At the end of this chapter traditionally we present crops taken from photos of our resolution testing chart which were saved in JPEG format along with RAW files used for the analysis above.

Nikon D3x, JPEG, 180 mm, f/5.6
Nikon Nikkor AF-S 180-400 mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR - Image resolution
Nikon D3x, JPEG, 550 mm (TC), f/5.6
Nikon Nikkor AF-S 180-400 mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR - Image resolution