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The New Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S Offers World-Class Reach Within the Reach of Your Budget

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Nikon has been busy on the super telephoto lens front as of late. The latest addition, the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S, presents an option for photographers who need the extra reach without straining your budget.

On the B&H website, they describe the ​​NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens, released earlier this year, as the “Pinnacle Prime Lens For Sports, Action, and Wildlife.” It’s got everything from a bright f/2.8 aperture to a built-in 1.4x teleconverter that can be activated by the simple flip of a switch. With the battleship-worthy build you would expect from a high-end professional super telephoto lens of this caliber, special anti-glare coatings, and virtually silent autofocus, it’s no surprise that the lens is an object of desire. Even for someone like me who isn’t called upon to shoot at 400mm very often for my professional work, such a piece of technological artistry isn’t something I would scoff at under the Christmas tree. Of course, if it did find its way under the Christmas tree, I would know that it must have been put there by a particularly well-heeled benefactor, as the lens currently retails for $13,996.95.  

Believe it or not, that price is not inappropriate for what the lens is, when compared with the competition. In fact, it’s a fair price. Nonetheless, it’s not something I can personally justify based on my individual use case. Yet, the 400mm mark is still incredibly useful and a go-to lens for many a photographer. So, what are shooters like ourselves to do? Well, Nikon has come up with an appealing new solution.

Enter the new NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S. It is a handhold-able super telephoto lens that covers full frame sensors using the Z mount. Unlike its more expensive brother, this lens does not come with the built-in teleconverter, but is compatible with the optional 1.4x and 2x teleconverters Nikon already has on the market. Like the majority of Z lenses released so far, Nikon has put an emphasis on focus breathing suppression for more effective use when shooting video. It has a lightning fast STM focusing system. And Nikon’s original Nano Crystal Coat has been added to reduce ghosting and lens flare.

As someone with a bad back and just enough stubbornness to lug oversized lenses up the sides of mountains against doctor’s orders, the small size of the lens is what’s most appealing to me. At only 1,160 grams, it’s lighter than some 24-70mm lenses that I’ve used as my daily drivers. And while f/4.5 isn’t f/2.8, it should nonetheless be more than adequate for the majority of shooting situations many photographers are likely to find themselves in. But, more interesting to me is that Nikon has intentionally designed the lens so that the bulk of the lens’ weight is at its base nearest to the mount. One of my pet peeves is a camera lens that is exceedingly front heavy. This always leaves me feeling like I’m tilting forward and straining my wrist all day. By placing the majority of the lens’ weight closest to the camera body and thus, your hands, it gives you a more stable platform from which to hold the lens for a full day of shooting.

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The other bit of info that you might find relevant is that the lens, which will be released mid-July, will retail for a MSRP of only $3,249.95. I realize that’s more than the cost of a Big Mac. But that’s a heck of a lot less expensive than many comparable lenses in the class. Sure, you give up some features from the $13K f/2.8 version of 400mm, but you can still put in some serious work with this lighter and less expensive model while saving a bit more money to pay for that plane ticket to visit the nature reserve that inspired you to purchase the lens in the first place. All in all, it’s looking like a great option for a shooter who needs a high-quality super telephoto to capture action and wildlife at a lower weight and a lower cost than many of the other options.

I haven’t had my hands on the 400mm yet. So, I can’t give you a full review yet. But early buzz on the interwebs seems to be falling into the positive column. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the lens myself to see if this could be the perfect fit for action photography. What do you think?

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