Up Close with Nikon’s AFS NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G IF ED VR II


When I first laid eyes on the large black ballistic sling case containing the new Nikkor AF-S 200-400/4G ED IF VR II, that little voice in the back of my head started jabbing at me: "You really gonna lug that thing around all day… in this heat… are you nuts?"

Well, I did lug it around—repeatedly I might add—and I captured some really fine pictures with it, and found it wasn't all that bad to hike around with. (And yes… I really did go hiking with it!)

Despite its size (4.9 x 14.4", plus another 5" for the carbon-fiber lens hood) and weight (7.4 lb) Nikon's new 200-400 zoom proved to be quite "tote-able." Equally surprising was that it proved to be quite hand-holdable, which I must attribute in part to the lens's four-stop advantage VR-II image stabilization system. Even when used at the long end of the zoom range with a Nikon D300s, which, with a 1.5x magnification factor reduces the viewing angle down to a normally shaky 4-degree angle of view, I was able to repeatedly nail sharp images without using a tripod. And for times that call for a tripod, the lens features a rotating tripod collar that also doubles as a grip of sorts when shooting handheld.

(Note: When shooting on a tripod, a gimbaled tripod head is strongly recommended. Some day you'll thank me for this one.)

 A particularly tasty feature of the lens is its close-focusing abilities, which are well illustrated in the photos of the orchids and the bit of crabgrass poking its way through a paved running track.  Equally noteworthy are the "bokeh" qualities of the lens, which are rather awesome in the wider-aperture close-ups, as well as the heat-warped background of the street scene looking northward on 8th Avenue.

(Question of the day: If a seed is buried under 2" of rubberized asphalt, how does it know when to bloom? Better yet, how in the world does a tiny seed manage to poke its way through 2" of asphalt, let alone survive after being buried under all that hot goop?)

As for performance levels, the internal-focusing Nikkor AF-S 200-400/4G ED IF VR II was designed with sports photographers and photojournalists in mind. Silent Wave Motors (SWM) enable extremely quick and nimble response times, and on the few occasions when the lens did lose sight of the subject it quickly snapped back and continued working. When shooting distant subjects, there’s a focus governing switch that limits you to a range of 19.7’ (6 m) as well as four focus-lock buttons located around the outer circumference of the forward section of the lens barrel.

A new feature that should greatly appeal to sports shooters in particular is the Memory button that allows you to prefocus on a set point and instantly return to the same focus point at any time by simply pressing the Memory button, which is conveniently located at the base of the lens.

As an example of how this handy feature works, when photographing a ball game with a player on first base, a photographer can prefocus on second base, lock the focus into the memory, then focus on whomever is up at bat, follow them (using Focus Track) to first base, press the Memory button again, and snag a sharp photo of the first player sliding into second base. When shooting fast action this feature can prove to be priceless.

On the optical front the new zoom features four Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements and a combination of Nikon Super Integrated Coatings (SIC) and Nano Crystal Coatings, which do an "as-advertised" job of dampening  errant lens flare and ghosting, especially when shooting backlit subjects. Externally, the weather-resistant components of the lens barrel are manufactured out of die-cast magnesium alloy with a shock-absorbing polycarbonate front lens flange, and each lens ships with a complimentary, coffee can-sized, carbon-fiber slip-on hood.

The VR-II image-reduction system used in the new zoom allows for a four-stop advantage when hand holding the lens under low-light conditions, though it proved to be equally valuable even under brighter light conditions when used at the longer focal lengths with the smaller-sensored (APS-C) Nikon D300s. The AF-S Nikkor AF-S 200-400/4G ED IF VR II  also features three VR shooting modes: handheld, tripod mounted and panning. A fourth VR mode enables you to shoot sharper imagery from a moving vehicle.

An additional focus mode—A/M—has been added as a fourth focus mode choice in the new lens. Unlike M/A mode, which instantly disengages the AF motors when you start tweaking the lens's manual focus ring, A/M mode can distinguish between intentional manual focus shifts and accidental bumps of the focus ring.

We'd be amiss if we didn't let you know the original version of this lens, the Nikon AF-S VR Nikkor 200-400/4G ED, is still very much available for about $1100 less than the newer VR-II version. The original model, which has a solid reputation of its own among current users, features VR image stabilization (three-stop advantage versus four stops with VR-II), does not feature Nano Crystal Coatings, and features only three focus modes: AF, M/A and M. The newer version features four modes: AF, M/A, A/M, and M.

Have any comments or questions? Please use the Comments section below.


Hi Al,

can you confirm that this lens is IF?  Neither the B&H page for the lens nor the nikon.com page gives it an IF designation in its title.  (B&H lists it as "AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II" not  "Nikkor AF-S 200-400/4G ED IF VR II," ) The nikon page does have an icon on the lens' page which leads me to believe that it is IF, but there's no discussion of the feature.   I'd like to hear confirmation from someone who has used the lens.

I have the VRI version, which I love, but it's hard on my tender (injured) back.  Add to that tripod/head weight (I do develop shakiness after handholding it for a while), and my health (combined with severity of any hiking) becomes a limiting factor for using it. (I scale down to the 80-400 (definitely not IF) if necessary, but it's slower both in focussing and in light-gathering.)


 glad someone caught the misuse of "fauna"...saved me the trouble.


Can this lens be used with the F6?

I went to Africa recently and shot wildlife both with the 200-400 f4 VR & my 600mm f4 , the 200-400 at most ranges did just as well as the 600.  I was shooting from a vehicle but still got sharp pictures at most ranges, I was wondering if the upgrade to the 200-400 VR2 would really be worth the cost.


Re: a monopod support you can wear on body - I have a Gitzo monopod holster (purchased from B&H)  that has a triangular shaped gizmo that is meant to hold the foot of a monopod so it can be used as an on body brace.  In my case, my monopod foot is too big to fit but it might accomodate yours.

"However:  What pisses me off is that it caters to damn amateurs who already have "F'ed Up" the market bad enough for pros who have spent most of their lives working hard and getting proficient at this work..  All for what, a stroke of the ego or pennies on the dollar for photo usage!!  Gimme a break idiots!"

I am sorry but the "Gentlemen" who wrote the above ,really needs to be hit on by everyone that is offended by his stupid and unneccessary comment until he has the common courtesy to retract it.  His work must be of such poor quality of work that he himself is ranked as a mere  'amateur' or he would not have the issue he has with the rest of the working world. 

I guess he wants the GOVERNMENT to regulate the photo industry so everything will just fine. But then this is when the problems start to creap in to the picture.  He can have his salary set by them.  Oh, and then he will have to have that all important GOVERNMENT issued work id stating he is a 'Professional Photographer' and what tests will determine his status and what GOVERNMENT panel or committee will set those standards.  These people that do not want or fear competition do not think things through all the way.

I will guarentee you that there are more 200-400 f4.0s of all type in the hands of amatuers than 'Pro', because the amatuears that just have to have that newest shinest best lens , camera that comes out and are willing to spend that money when a Pro really has to justify it to the business.

And besides the digital age means you better be good at what you do, because Photoshop, Lightroom, Apeture etc can help make my photos look GREAT from the equipment that Nikon ,Canon and the others are producing.  And the internet makes marketing a breeze.  Above all he also forgets that when he started somewhere back when  that some 'OLDer Photographer' probably felt the heat from his work.

I am considering this to use on a Canon Camcorder (XLH1s) with an adapter for Nikon lenses. The Canon camcorder will not integrate with the electronics of the lens. If there is no aperature ring, how would one set the aperature? Thanks

Mine arrives tomorrow. I will be taking it on a three week test drive. I was thinking of a 400 2.8 prime, but felt this lens would give me way more bang for the buck. The AFS speed is what sold me. I have two of the 80-400 VR's, and they work well, and will continue to be used, but I have to admit, I love my AFS lenses a whole lot. We'll see how this bad boy behaves!

I was very very dissatisfied with the version I 200-400.  I am a wildlife photographer and it was a lousy lens for birds and wildlife.  Anything fartyher than 30 meters away got soft quick and teh fartehr away it was the softer it got.  My 70-200 lens with a 2x teleconverter on it took better pictures!


Some have questioned hand holding this lens.  I shoot the VR 1 ( often with 1.4X) with a Nikon D300.  I spent a week in the Everglades shooting handheld birds in flight.  The images are just as sharp as with my Gitzo and Gimbel head.  I'll admit that a day in the field tires you.  BTW I am 69, still working a desk job and stay out of the gym.  It's just practice and technique.  Also admit that shooting something like the Blue birds in the back yard is tough, hand held or not.  They are quick!

You may know photography but you are no botanist. Those "orchids" are actually iris - and crabgrass... is unstopable. They should have scraped and treated the site and put down a membrane before they poured.

I own the VRI version and the lens is amazing, I do sports and its worth its weight in gold to me. Not sure I could hike for long distances thou.

Thanks for the tip on the gimbaled head, a fraction late as I just purchased the new manfrotto 327RC2 Head.


$7000 dollars is crazy.  I might consider paying that much for a proven prime?

Wow--I thought Canon L's were overpriced?

 Sorry - when the lens costs more than my car, I quit looking at either one.


Get a better car ! .......... or look at the 80-400mm. You have to work harder with the 80-400mm, but still a very capable lens at a considerably lower price. 


I have logged probably 60,000 images on my original 200-400mm - a brilliant lens - the results say it all. I accept all the picky, picky minor technical issues some may have. There is no better directly comparable lens on the market today and I would probably get my money back if I were to sell it. A very happy user.

.......... and to 'Gimme a break idiots !' - you're obviously not a pro ...........



Sorry...your aunt will need sleeping pills.  The FIRST shot...the blue/purple one, is a Japanese Iris.  The second one, in the yellow/amber tones, is a Day Lily.  Can we all get rid of the botany now and concentrate on whether we can get a second mortgage so we can buy this lens?

The flowers shown on the top right of the first group of 4 photos are blue flag iris; the second flower shot (next to the train) is a daylily.

Would like to have seen this lens' ability to capture a moving bird in flight against a blue sky.  That is a true challenge with a slow focusing lens.

Heloooo!!...somebody can tell me please the price of this lens...senkiu!

I have needed more glass than the kit lens on my D80.  I also have body lust for a D90.  This lens works with both sensor sizes?

This lens sounds awesome  and the memory feature should definitely come in handy . . . . however, the runner on first base will be sliding into second base before the batter gets to first.  So this feature  won't work in the example you gave!

Just so you can sleep at night, the flower is a LILY!

Thanks for the review, Mr. Weitz. Were you able to do any comparisons of the new 200-400mm versus the older one on the image quality taken at longer distances? Apparently, this was a known issue on the older version.

I have the original version of the lens and I love it.  Most say this version is terrible at longer distances, but if it is out that far, I switch to my 600mm.  Problem solved.  Just got back from Yellowstone with all kinds of images with the 200-400 and they are --- for the most part --- all keepers especially those at 100 yards or less. 

While this lens might be a viable upgrade, for $7000 it is going to keep a lot of customers at bay.  Especially with the economy!  May upgrade, but I'll wait a while to see the results of the lens at all distances.

Keep 'em coming!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hate to be picky,but the flowers at the top are not orchids; Iris perhaps.

Would love to see a comparison between the 200-400 and the 400mm.

Thanks for nice review. Did you have a chance to compare the 200mm of this lens to the 200mm of the 70~200? IQ wise.

Bonus question: Do you think the 200mm prime still has room giving that we have the 70~200 & this 200~400?


Sorry - when the lens costs more than my car, I quit looking at either one.


 Beautiful lens, but as a "damn amateur" photographer I can only dream of owning one.  Love to eventually rent one for a weekend photo shoot though.

Nice Lens...


However:  What pisses me off is that it caters to damn amateurs who already have "F'ed Up" the market bad enough for pros who have spent most of their lives working hard and getting proficient at this work..  All for what, a stroke of the ego or pennies on the dollar for photo usage!!  Gimme a break idiots!

I have the first one and love it. I hand hold this lens all the time and it works great. It works great at the zoo, sports and macros. It is so nice to be able to get withen 6 ft. for hummingbirds etc. . I wish it didn't cost so much but I guess if you want pro glass you have to pay for it.

Photo of train has some clumsy photoshop work done (brightened foreground with visible 'seam' that appears as a halo above the train and trees).  Detracts from my ability to assess the lens.

I think this is a great lens. I would like to use it more during trekkings (I like bird photography) but  I have walked with it on hand and, after a couple of hours, I start to get tired and the shaking increases.

Do you know any device I can use in order to support it with a monopod on myself. I am thinking in a vest (or something similar) with a pocket to insert the leg (short not the extended full leg obviously). I have done trials with a typical tool holder in my belt but I think must exist something better.

I have used it with TC1.4II and TC1.7II and works excellent.

I appreciate your help. Thanks

" Very nice subjective commentary about the lens, but where is the scientific lens  test - IE center and edge resolution measurements at different f stops, analysis of flare, barrel and pincushion distortion, etc?"

Anyone who sits around and bemoans the fact that pincushion distortion isn't validated isn't shooting that often and no doubt lives in a glass house. 





Nah. I'll stick with my Zuiko's. Thanks for the review anyway. 


You did not talk about sharpness quality when photographing a subject that is more than 30 meters away. The old version is great when subjects are closer but it not so good when the suject is far away. This is a known issue with the old version. I was curious to know how the new version performed in that department.



Very nice subjective commentary about the lens, but where is the scientific lens  test - IE center and edge resolution measurements at different f stops, analysis of flare, barrel and pincushion distortion, etc?

 Call me crazy but I don't see this being 'easy' to use without a tripod.  

I think you meant to say "remiss" instead of "amiss."