While many photographers dream of f/2.8 400mm lenses, the Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is a much more practical proposition for most. It also focuses very quickly in poor light and captures an excellent level of detail, making it a great choice for wildlife and sport photography.
Excellent image quality
Dedicated control ring & L-Fn buttons
Compatible with Z Teleconverters TC-2x and TC-1.4x
Variable maximum aperture
Expensive at launch
What is the Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S?
As an S-line lens, the Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is part of the professional-quality lens series for the company’s Z-series mirrorless cameras.
Its 100-400mm focal length range makes it an attractive option for sport and wildlife photographers while the modest aperture range helps to keep the size, weight and cost down. There’s also Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilisation system to enable blur-free images to be captured at 5.5EV longer exposure times than normal.
Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S price and availability
The Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S has a price tag of £2,699 / €3,099 / $2,695.95 and went on sale in January 2022.
Product type: Wide to telephoto zoom lens
Announced: 28th October 2021
Mount: Nikon Z
Format: Full-frame (FX)
Focal length: 100-400mm
Maximum aperture: f/4.5-5.6
Minimum aperture: f/32-40
Construction: 25 elements in 20 groups with 6 ED (Extra-low Dispersion) and 2 super-ED elements
Coatings: Nanon Crystal, ARNEO and fluorine-coated front lens element
Focusing system: Internal
Minimum focus distance: At 100mm: 0.75 m / 2.46 ft, 135mm: 0.78 m / 2.56 ft, 200mm: 0.8 m / 2.63 ft, 300mm: 0.87 m / 2.86 ft, 400mm: 0.98 m / 3.22 ft
Weight: With tripod collar: 1435g / 3 lb 2.7 oz, without tripod collar: 1355g / 2 lb 15.8 oz
Diameter x length (extension from lens mount): 98 x 222mm / 3.9 in. x 8.8 inches
The Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is Nikon’s first super-telephoto zoom lens for its Z-series full-frame cameras such as the Nikon Z7 II. It’s also compatible with Nikon’s 1.4x and 2x teleconverters which means that it’s focal length range can go up to 140-560mm or 200-800mm respectively. And as I mentioned earlier, it features a 5.5EV image stabilisation system.
It also has Nikon ED (Extra-low Dispersion glass) and Super ED glass to reduce chromatic aberrations, plus anti-reflection ARNEO and Nano Crystal coatings to minimise ghosting and flare.
In addition, the the barrel is weather-sealed and front element is fluorine-coated to help it shed water droplets and make it easier to clean.
Impressively, the Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S has a minimum focus distance of 0.75m at the 100mm end and 0.98m at the 400mm end, so less than 1m throughout the focal length range.
Build and handling
At 222mm / 8.8 inches long and 98mm / 3.9 inches in diameter, the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S isn’t a great deal bigger than the excellent Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. And at 1435g / 3 lb 2.7 oz with the tripod collar, its actually 5g or 0.1oz lighter, and 135g (4.8oz) lighter than the AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR – Nikon’s comparable lens for DSLRs.
It’s still quite a weight to carry, but it proves manageable when mounted on a camera and carried with a strap across your body or in a decent backpack such as the Wandrd Prvke 31.
If you’re shooting for a long period of time you’re likely to appreciate a monopod such as the 3 Legged Thing Trent 2.0 to take some of the weight off your arms. And if you’re shooting subjects above ground level, you’ll need to add a tripod head to the mix. Nevertheless, I was able to get to keep the lens steady when out for the best part of a day with it without my biceps complaining too much.
As well as the weather-sealing that will be appreciated by hardy wildlife and sport photographers, Nikon has given the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S a dedicated control ring, two sets of lens function (L-Fn) buttons and a small screen to display the focus distance, depth of field, aperture, ISO or the precise focal length. Pressing the display button next to the screen toggles through the options.
Helpfully, the function buttons on the lens barrel are positioned to ensure that one of each pair is within easy reach whether the camera is in landscape or portrait orientation. With two sets of L-Fn buttons you can access or activate two features quickly. I set the L-Fn button nearest the camera (between the control ring and manual focus ring) to activate Subject Tracking while I set Ln-Fn 2 to AF-On.
There’s also a focus limiter switch than can be set to allow the lens to focus across the full-range or from 3m to infinity. That’s useful if you’re shooting through vegetation or a moving crowd as it stops the camera/lens from being distracted by nearby objects.
In addition, there’s an A/M switch on the lens barrel so you can switch quickly between autofocus and manual focusing. However, if option a12 ‘Manual focus ring in AF mode’ in the camera’s menu is set to ‘On’, the manual focus ring can be used to adjust the focus even though the autofocus system is engaged.
One of the most interesting features of the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S’s build is that it has a couple of elements that move in opposite directions to compensate for each other’s weight when the zoom ring is rotated. This helps to maintain the lenses weight distribution and balance so that it stays level on a tripod head or gimbal whatever the focal length in use.
All three of the rings on the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S rotate smoothly with each requiring about the same level of effort to move. It take about a quarter turn of the zoom ring to move from the 100mm end to the 400mm point, which means you can zoom very quickly in our out to get the desired framing.
Initially, I found myself reaching for the focus ring instead of the control ring, but with a bit of experience, I moved further towards the camera to adjust exposure compensation using the control ring. After while I found I could support the lens at the zoom ring and reach back with my little finger to shift the control ring.
So far I’ve, used the Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S in pretty gloomy conditions but it’s usually focused very quickly. In very overcast mid-winter UK conditions it has occasionally missed a low contrast subject when paired with the Nikon Z7 II, but overall it performs very well, even keeping up with birds in flight in poor light.
As the focusing is internal, the front element doesn’t rotate during focusing and the barrel stays the same length. The system is also very quiet and is unlikely to be picked up in any video recording. In addition, focus breathing is controlled well.
Nikon’s Z mount lenses have impressed to date, demonstrating the benefit of the large diameter (55mm) mount. The Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, is a superb optic and while the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S doesn’t have such a large (nor constant) aperture, the new lens should complements it well, giving extra reach without a dramatic increase in size.
While it’s nice to have the zoom range, most people who buy the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S want it for the 400mm end, or at least the extra 200m over 200mm. Of course, this can be also achieved by using the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 with the Z Teleconverters TC-2x and you get a constant aperture, albeit in f/5.6 rather than f/4.5.
As I mentioned earlier, the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is also compatible with Nikon’s Z-series teleconverters but with the Z TC-2x you’re shooting with an aperture of f/11 at the 400mm (800mm) end which means you have to bump up the sensitivity to get subject-freezing shutter speeds. Nikon’s camera and lens stabilisation is good but it can’t freeze the movement of a bird in flight, a deer turning its head or a footballer heading towards the goal, so for many of the subjects that the lens is going to be used for, you have to use a fast shutter speed and the wider aperture settings.
Thankfully, the Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S performs well, capturing an excellent level of detail throughout it’s focal length range even when wide open.
Despite the in-camera correction profiles, there’s a suggestion of vignetting when the widest apertures are used, but it’s not objectionable by any means. Flare and chromatic aberration are also controlled well and out of focus areas look good, with natural softness.
Sample images from the Nikon Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S
The Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S makes an excellent addition to Nikon’s range of Z-mount lenses, filling a gap that wildlife photographers will be pleased to see plugged. Nikon’s new mount and mirrorless technology also mean that it’s more sophisticated than the old AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VRfor DSLRs. Naturally, it’s also considerably lighter than the recently announced Nikon Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S, and a fraction of the cost.
The customisable control ring and lens function buttons mean that Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S users can adjust key features quickly while the camera and lens autofocus systems work together to get subjects sharp even if they’re moving fast.
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