Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR

First published on: Monday, 22 June 2009

This is the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 G IF-ED AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR lens (now superseded by the Nikon 200-400mm VR II):

Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR

The Nikon 200-400 VR is a 2x supertelephoto zoom lens that’s extremely popular among wildlife and sports photographers (not forgetting its use for photographing aviation and kids soccer too) because of its versatility, excellent sharpness and contrast, and great build quality.

Linked here are fantastic sample images, galleries and other examples of photos shot with the Nikon 200-400mm, plus a section on reviews and professional tests, user feedback and opinion, and other miscellaneous information, tips and tricks.

Reviews, Opinions and Tests

Nikon 200-400mm VR vs. 300mm f2.8 II — Here’s an extremely well-written review which concludes that the 200-400mm performs better at the 400mm end than the 300mm f/2.8 plus TC14E in terms of contrast and sharpness. You also get access to full-sized test images and read his recommendation for the Lowepro Lens Trekker 600 backpack as a case to carry the lens.

Here’s a short but interesting forum post by the author of that review expanding on his 200-400 experiences.

Where the 300mm f/2.8 lens will clearly perform better than the 200-400 is control of flare and internal reflection, and also AF speed.

A decent monopod and head is required — Cameranserai makes a recommendation for the Bogen / Manfrotto 695 with 3229 swivel/tilt head, and comments that the lens is made for motor racing. The AF speed and accuracy of the 200-400 far surpasses the Nikkor 80-400mm VR lens.

200-400 is for reach and zoom versatility — G_L_T shows some crops comparing images from Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 VR lens vs the Nikkor 200-400mm. In my opinion, it cannot be denied that you get a slightly sharper image at 300mm with a nicer bokeh from the prime (fixed focal length) 300mm f/4 lens than the comparable shot from the 200-400. G_L_T says that if you’re going to be shooting surfing action, the reach of the 400mm might prove to be the overriding factor when choosing among telephoto lenses. There’s also an interesting photo showing a size comparison of 5 Nikon lenses: 18-200mm VR, 70-200mm VR, 200mm f/2 VR, 300mm f/2.8 VR and the 200-400mm (what a monster lens!). Here’s a post of his thoughts comparing the pros and cons of the 200-400 vs 300mm f/2.8.

Compared with the Nikkor 80-400mm VR lens — G_L_T shows some excellent motorsport photos in this post, as well as remarks that the 80-400 lens is great value for those who don’t wish to look too conspicuous carrying around a large lens like the 200-400. Bokeh is better from the 200-400. You’ll also need to be aware of the $3500 price difference between the two, and what your photographic requirements are.

RaptorUK added that the flexibility of zoom lenses is immensely helpful in motorsports, where you’re not able to know what’s about to happen next and plan your composition accordingly, hence he sold off his 300mm f/2.8 lens, and got the 200-400 to replace his 80-400.

Finalshot shares a few other pointers on why the 200-400 (rather than the 80-400) is sought after — some of the reasons are: heavier weight dampens vibrations, much faster AF in low light — basically, these are factors that ensure that the photographer has a higher chance of nailing that money shot.

Len Shepherd quotes the AF speed of the 200-400 plus Nikon D200 at 0.75 seconds to go from infinity to minimum focus, while the 80-400mm VR on a D70 takes over 2 seconds.

Suitability for wildlife photography — NikosR lists 4 points why the 200-400mm VR lens is more suitable for shooting wildlife than say, the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 or Nikkor 500mm f/4 prime telephoto lenses. Of special interest to me is the fact that one gets a magnification factor of 0.27 with the 200-400mm — that’s more than what you’d get with the 70-200 VR, 300 f/2.8 or 400 f/4, and is another testament to the versatility of this lens. He makes a good point that the max. open aperture of f/2.8 found on telephoto primes tend to be more useful in sports photography (for instance, when shooting fast action in low light, indoor situations — note that f/4 is often insufficient for indoor or night action photography).

Lugging around the Nikon D2H plus 200-400mm VR — RB was serious when he mentioned that he carries this setup almost everywhere he goes, and posts up a series of photos to prove a point. There’s a fun shot or two in there showing him handholding the lens (you get the idea how huge this lens is). The images are not shown to their best quality due to the way PBase automatically resizes images to 800px wide if you don’t specify the “Original” option, so what you need to do is copy the image URL, and replace “.jpg” with “/original.jpg”, like this.

He’s also shared many photos taken with this lens — this series of bird “head shots” / portraits is one of his best (see more of the same at his Fresno Zoo gallery).

Here’s another nice example of how the 200-400 plus 1.4x TC “gets the shot” — a series of shots in Yosemite ranging from a focal length of 18mm with his wife’s D50 plus Nikkor 18-200mm VR, all the way to max zoom with his D2H plus 200-400 plus 1.4x TC.

Compared with the Canon 500mm f/4L IS USM — Nothing scientific here, but Drip01’s crops show the 200-400mm zoom lens to perform admirably next to one of Canon’s best telephoto prime lenses.

Test pictures, 200-400mm vs Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 at 300mm, f/4 — Mark says that the sharpness of the photo from the 200-400 holds up surprisingly well to that from the 300mm f/2.8 prime lens.

Mark has also tested the 200-400 at 400mm vs 300mm f/2.8 + TC 1.4 (effectively making the 300mm a 420mm lens) and notes that the quality from the 200-400mm is better.

Sample Photos

Owl coming straight at you, by raymond j barlow — Just a fantastic Nikon D300 photo of an owl in flight.

Bird photography with Nikon 200-400mm
In this fantastic thread, Eduardoo, who had embarked on numerous bird photography projects, gives his rating on three Nikon zoom / prime telephoto lenses for the purpose. He rates the Nikkor 80-400mm at 2/10, vs the very expensive Nikkor 200-400mm at 8/10, and the even more expensive Nikkor 500mm AF-S super telephoto fixed lens.

Eduardoo shares some photos taken from his trip here and here.

In another forum thread, Rondv shares three of the best photos I’ve seen of small birds, shot with a Nikon D300.

200-400 at an airshow — Lots of nice aircraft photographed with the Nikkor 200-400mm mounted on a Nikon D300. See more at Jarno’s Flickr photo set titled “Royal Netherlands Air Force open days 2009“.

Janet Zinn’s Shorebirds at Jamaica Bay — Janet shares eight sample photos in this series that’s shot with a Nikon D200 plus a 1.4x teleconverter. Bird species include Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Least Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover.

Jim Fenton’s Short Eared Owl Photos — Jim handheld the combination of 200-400, TC 14E II and Nikon D2X (read his FredMiranda post for equipment details) back in 2005 to shoot this series. Be sure you click the “Original” link below the photos to view them at the largest size. This photo is particularly good. Be sure to browse all his galleries and treat yourself to some superb wildlife photography.

Raymond J Barlow’s 200-400mm photos — He shoots primarily with this lens mounted on a Nikon D200 (see his PBase profile) and you can view his wildlife galleries at

My favorites from his PBase galleries are: Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Eastern Screech Owl.

He’s also shared some thoughts about why he moved up to the 200-400 from the Nikkor 80-400mm VR lens, citing better image quality, VR (Elkhornsun, another user, manages 1/30th of a second handheld shots at 400mm) and bokeh on the 200-400.

Here’s an example of using the 200-400mm on a Nikon D300 firing off at 8 fps.

Kalyan Varma — This photographer shoots a lot of wildlife and is based in India. My favorites from his collection are the tiger pictures, here’s one sample. Notes that accompany each photo makes for good reading, and also indicates camera and settings, lens and whether a teleconverter (1.4x in the case of the 200-400mm lens) was used.

Look for amazing wildlife photography in his photoblog.

Miscellaneous by Antonoat — The quality and variety of Nikon D200 photos in this forum post is excellent, with my favorite being Canadian Goose in flight and the bike racing and motorsports pics. You’ll also enjoy another series, this one’s on “raptor portraits” photographed at a hawk conservancy near Andover, Hampshire in the UK.

San Jose Grand Prix — There’s a variety of lenses being used here, and the 200-400 features in 3 of the 5 pics. The shot using the Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D AF Fisheye is most interesting.

For carrying the numerous lenses, G_L_T used ThinkTankPhoto’s products.

Northern Cardinal — Here’s Joe Colson’s attempt, and a good one at that, showing the quality you can expect with a Nikon D2X, 200-400 plus 1.4 TC

Australian Barking Owl — Nobody in their right mind would hope for a sharp picture, handholding a Nikon D2Xs and 200-400 combo, with the lens at 340mm and 1/50th of a second exposure — but don’t tell Damien Lee that.

For those who’d rather use such a combination with proper support, Kevin O’Neil has some advice for appropriate ball heads, monopods and tripods.

Raymond takes the middle path, saying that whether support equipment is used or not depends on the photographer’s personal preferences and the circumstances. In that post are also two examples of bird photos taken at slow shutter speeds of half a second or less.

Airshow Series — Not only do you get to enjoy a superb selection of aviation shots in this series (a Nikon D2X was used), but Glenn Bloore also dispenses solid advice about what lens to take along and his camera settings. View more 200-400 photos in his Pt. Mugu 2007 gallery (focal length found in each photo’s EXIF will give you a hint which lens was used), and his Sacramento Airshow post.

More aviation photography advice (quotable quote: “… there is no better combination than the D2X and the 200-400”) and unbelievably excellent photos (I honestly haven’t seen anything better) of his here, and specific recommendations for AF settings (and more pics!).

Photos of the Nikon Nikkor 200-400 — mounted, and unmounted — I believe Brian Chang has one of the nicest collection of Nikkor 200-400 photos online — a whole gallery, in fact. I especially liked the series where the lens is taken out of the bag — real slowly :-). To see the unboxing photos, start here and keep clicking on the “Next” link.
Taking the Nikon Nikkor 200-400mm out of the bag, a series by Brian Chang

Accessories and add-ons

The filter thread size on the 200-400 VR AF-S is 52mm, which means you’ll want to be looking at purchasing 52mm filters.


Official site at Nikon USA — Has MTF charts, related accessories and lens specifications. Also note that the only Nikon teleconverters that allows AF (autofocus) with this lens are the TC-14E/14E II. Knowing that the use of a TC slightly degrades image quality, RB recommends that one needs to stop the lens down to f/7.1 to get the level of sharpness if a TC was not used.

Curiously, quite a number of photographers have mentioned that the 200-400 works with the TC-17E II too.

Glenn Bloore is another photographer that says autofocus and VR is possible with the 200-400 plus TC-17 — it’s a pity though, that the images are no longer visible.

Wildlife-oriented podcast review of the 200-400mm (credit to this forum post)

Curious to know when the rumors of 200-400 first surfaced? (answer: mid-July 2003) Read this post and follow the links for more information.


Nikon lenses — Main page

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