Last weekend I took delivery of the Nikon AF-S 400mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR from MPB.
Most wildlife photographers will at some point subcome to the urge to try one of the Nikon “exotics” – the 400mm f/2.8 – 500mm f/4 – 600mm f/4 and 800mm f/5.6.

I deliberated for a while which of these big lenses I should try and finally decided that the 400/f2.8 would be more fexible.
I added the AF-S TC-14E III teleconverter and the AF-S TC-20E III teleconverter to extend the lens to 560mm f/4 and 800mm f/5.6.

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 18.23.57

The 500 f/4 with the AF-S TC-14E III would extend to 700mmf/5.6.
The 600/f/4 with the AF-S TC-14E III would extend to 840mm f/5.6.
The AF-S TC-20E III would make these lenses f/8.0 and that is too slow for my general work.

 

Delivery Day

The big box arrived.
The lens comes in a flight case and everything about this lens is big and solid. And heavy. It weighs in at 4620g and is 159.5mm x 368mm + lens hood.

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 18.21.52

One thing you notice immideatly is how front heavy the lens is. Most of the big glass is up front and it makes it feel extra heavy.
Nikon later replaced this design with the Nikon 400mm f2.8 AF-S E FL ED VR which weighs in at 3800g, but more importantly has the weight distribution furher back towards the camera. If you intend to walk around with this lens the new version is clearly preferable, but also much more expensive.

The lens hood is made of carbon fiber and comes in two parts.

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 18.22.52

Before going out to shoot with the lens I decided to perform an AF fine tune with my D500.
I went through the steps using the built-in software option of the D500.
Once complete the AF offset was stored in memory.
I repeated the process with both the teleconverters and saved those setting too.
There was a negative offset of around -10 to -13 advised by the software.
This means the lens and camera was back-focusing and the software adjusted it closer to the camera.

 

First Shoot

I took the AF-S 400mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR and my AF-S 200-500/f.5.6 to Richmond Park and set up by Pens Pond for some bird photography.

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It was overcast and poor light and that was perfect to try the faster f/2.8.
I shot around 250 images with all the lens and TC combinations and went home to assess the results.

 

What the f…

As the images came up on the screen I stared in disbelief at the collection of poorly focused images. The vast majority where severly front focused.
Clearly the AF fine tune I had performed was completely off.
This could be down to my process so I will not blame Nikon for this.

Here is a stationary subject taken from around 8m away. It is completely OOF.
There were so many shots just off focus.

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 17.50.34.png

Here is a an image that was acceptably in focus from the same distance so at least I knew the lens isn’t malfunctioning completely. The inconcistency is strange.

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 17.53.20.png

I did get some keepers on the first day, but there was an alarmingly high number of duds.
Having become used to the consistenly high keeper rate of the AF-S 200-500 f/5.6 this was very disapointing.

Here are some more decent shots (heavily cropped):

550mm f/4.0

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 18.00.50.png

400mm f/2.8

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 18.01.59.png

550mm f/4.0

Screenshot 2019-02-13 at 17.57.04.png

I decided to repeat the AF fine tune process.
I mounted the lens as firmly as I could to the tripod and secured the camera both on the lens and and the camera itself to reduce any vibrations.
The results where largely the same as before.

So I decided to leave it as is and head back to the park for trial no.2

…to be continued…

 

 

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