Lens review

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S

23 May 2024
Maciej Lata³³o

3. Build quality and image stabilization

As we've written in the introduction, there was just one lens with the same parameters as these of the Nikkor and it was produced by Minolta. That's why our chart also features some faster models, produced by Nikon and Canon.

It's worth noticing that, by reducing the aperture by just 1/3 EV, you can decrease dimensions and weight in a significant manner. The Nikkor 4.5/400 features one element more than the faster Canon and yet is almost one kilogram lighter. Its weight is also impressive if you compare it to the older Minolta. At the same time it's clear that the much more complex optical construction allowed to save on the length – the Nikkor is over 4 cm shorter than the Minolta. It's quite understandable up to some point, after all with more elements it is easier to put the main plane forward before the lens.

In the photo below the Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S is positioned between the kit Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4 S and the Voigtlander Apo-Lanthar 2/50.

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Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

The tested lens starts with a metal mount that surrounds contacts and a rear element, about 30 mm in diameter, that doesn't move. The element is hidden over 3 cm deep inside the barrel and the area around it is well blackened and matted, without any visible electronic parts. From this side everything seems to be beyond reproach.

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

An immobile, black ring, about 4 cm wide, with a white dot, making an alignment with a camera easier, is the first part of the proper lens barrel. The ring also features an inscription with the parameters of the lens, the producer's logo, the L-Fn function button that can be alloted many different functions, an AF/MF switch, allowing you to choose the focusing mechanism mode, another switch this time to choose the range of the focusing mechanism (FULL, and from 6 meters to infinity), the range of the focusing mechanism (∞–2.5m/8.21ft) and information that the lens was produced in China. On the other side, opposite to the focus mechanism switches, there is also a MEMORY SET button that can save the last actual focusing distance.

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

Then you see a place for attaching a metal tripod collar in a form of a movable ring that allows you to choose the best position. The lens can be attached to a tripod in two different ways. One entails using the dedicated L-shaped adapter; after removing it you see a thread positioned on a tab that is a part of the ring, mentioned above. It is a very comfortable solution because after dismantling the adapter the lens becomes lighter and handier too.

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

Further on you see another immobile part of the barrel and behind it you find a manual focus ring. The ring is 36 mm wide, completely covered by rubber ribs. It is a focus-by-wire construction so it comes without any distance or/and depth-of-field scale. It moves quite smoothly, and its focus throw amounts to an angle of at least 180 deg. That value might increase distinctly if you turn the ring slower; anyway it allows you very precise settings.

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

After another immobile part of the barrel you see a ribbed control ring as wide as 10 mm that can be used for clickless aperture control or exposure compensation. It moves smoothly and is properly damped.

Further on, there is an immobile part of the barrel with another function ring, L-Fn2, and three other plain buttons that lock the autofocus mechanism in place. Next to them you see an inscription 'Nikkor S'.

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

The next part is an immobile fragment of the barrel with rubber ribbing and an inscription with the name and parameters of the lens.

The front element is relatively flat and immobile, 87 mm in diameter. It is surrounded by a non-rotating filter thread, 95 mm in diameter, and a hood mount for a hood that is added to the accessory kit.

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

When it comes to the optical construction you deal here with as many as 19 elements positioned in 13 groups. Producers weren't skimpy with special elements too – inside you get one element made of low dispersion ED glass, two Super ED, and one SR short wave lens which main task is correction of blue light. It's worth noticing how the designers reduced the weight of the lens. The front optical system features just two elements: a thin bi-convex-shaped lens and a thicker one, low-dispersion ED glass focus element. Only their dimension has to be similar to the dimension of the exit pupil. A set of five other elements, among them Super ED and SR lenses, is responsible for focusing the light beam and taking the main plane outside the lens. It allows to reduce effectively the length of the instrument because the dimensions and weights of the optical elements can be a lot smaller than in the front element system. Inside, you can also find a round aperture with nine blades that can be closed down to a value of f/32 at the maximum.

The producers also boast of sealing that is supposed to protect the instrument against harsh weather conditions – all movable elements are secured by rubber seals preventing dust, dirt and humidity to invade the interior. A Nikon hydrophobic fluorine coating protects the outer optical element of the lens and is supposed to make it easier to clean.

Buyers get in the box: both caps, a soft pouch and a hood. I admit at this price-point you would expect also a solid, hard case being delivered with the lens. The soft pouch, included in the box, doesn't protect it practically at all as it is really more like a piece of cloth.

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

Optical stabilization

In the press release of the producer you can find information that optical stabilization of this lens might be as efficient as 5.5 EV.

In order to check that claim we took several dozen photos with exposure times ranging from 1/500 to 1/4 of a second and the stabilization switched on and off. For every set of photos we determined a percentage of out-of-focus shots; then we presented it in a form of a graph of exposure time which was expressed in EV (with 0 EV being an equivalent of 1/400 of a second).

Nikon Nikkor Z 400 mm f/4.5 VR S - Build quality and image stabilization

The maximum distance between both curves reaches 4.6-4.7 EV and such is, in our opinion, the real efficiency of the stabilization unit. As you see the result is short of these declared 5.5 EV but you have to remember that all results exceeding 4 EV we consider to be very good anyway; these approach 5 EV so are simply excellent. We don't doubt that the Nikkor deserves to be praised in this category anyway.