Today Nikon officially unveiled its first super telephoto prime for the Z mount system, the Nikon Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S. Although we’ve known about this lens through a development announcement back in October of 2021, there was no detailed information provided, including its specifications and price. Now that the beast is out, many of our suspicious have been confirmed – this is the best super telephoto prime we have seen for any mirrorless system.
That’s obviously a bold claim to make, but if you read on, you will realize why this lens is a true benchmark that will be hard for any camera manufacturer to try to match. First of all, this lens has a built-in 1.4x teleconverter. Nikon has already done this with some of its lenses we’ve seen before for the F-mount (see our detailed review of Nikon 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR), but this is the first of its kind for the Z-mount. This already means higher optical performance, simply due to the shorter flange distance and all the optical advantages of the Z-mount we’ve discussed before. Just take a look at the MTF chart provided by Nikon for this lens with and without the 1.4x teleconverter:
To say that this MTF chart is impressive would be an understatement. While manufacturer-provided MTF charts only give us a glimpse of theoretical lens performance, we found that our lab tests often closely correlate to Nikon’s MTF charts, so we can make some conclusions based on what we see here. Basically, to have a flat line like we see on the left chart for both 10 and 30 lines/mm means that this lens is exceptionally sharp center to extreme edges, has very high level of contrast and a very smooth bokeh when the teleconverter is disengaged. Now take a look at the right chart – that’s with the 1.4x teleconverter engaged, making this lens a 560mm f/4 lens. Sharpness remains the same, with very little drop off in meridional lines in extreme corners, while contrast levels drop just a bit – something expected to see with a teleconverter engaged. To be able to reach such impressive results with a teleconverter, we know that it is only possible when each TC is optimized for a given lens. Nikon has done this before with lenses like the 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR (which shipped with a 1.2x TC that cannot be bought separately), so this explains why the performance remains consistent even with a teleconverter. To be able to achieve such extreme sharpness, Nikon used a combination of high-performance optical elements including Extra-low Dispersion (ED), Super ED, Fluorite and Short-wavelength Refractive. Per Nikon, the combination of these elements in such an advanced optical formula completely eliminates color fringing, coma and chromatic aberration. This all means that the 400mm f/2.8 S lens is a two-in-one setup – you can use it as a 400mm f/2.8, or as a 560mm f/4, bypassing the need for another 500mm or 600mm super telephoto.
In the past, photographers wanted something like the 500mm f/4 because of weight savings when compared to a large and heavy 400mm f/2.8. But with this new Z-mount lens, there is no longer a need to switch to another lens to be able to hand-hold – the new Z 400mm f/2.8 S is under 3 kilos (2.95 kg to be exact), and that’s with the built-in TC! Compare that to its predecessor, the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR that weighs a whopping 3.8 kg, or the 500mm f/4E FL ED VR that weighs 3,09 kg, or to the 600mm f/4E FL ED VR that weighs 3,81 kg – that’s a huge difference for any Nikon shooter. Or even better, compare it to the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM, which has previously been considered the lightest among 400mm f/2.8 primes at just 2.84 kg, or the mirrorless Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS at 2.89 kg, neither of which have a built-in teleconverter (adding a 1.4x TC would bring both over 3 kg). This shows why the Z 400mm f/2.8 S is such an impressive engineering marvel.
As expected, Nikon put everything it has in its arsenal on this lens, which includes newer technologies we have never seen before. For example, the 400mm f/2.8 S is the first lens to have the new “Silky Swift Voice Coil Motor (VCM)” autofocus motor that utilizes magnets instead of gears to move the lens focus groups. While “Silky Swift” sounds quite cheesy to me, Nikon is promising much faster initial AF speed acquisition, higher accuracy and very silent operation compared to silent-wave motors we have seen in the past. The magnets are pretty powerful indeed – so much so, that it might interfere with pacemaker devices, per Nikon’s warnings.
Another new innovation is the “Meso Amorphous Coat” in combination with ARNEO coat that is supposed to deliver better ghosting/glare performance compared to previous-generation coating technologies. When it comes to vibration reduction, this lens is equipped with VR that can compensate up to 5.5 stops when used in combination with a Nikon camera with in-body image stabilization (such as the Z9).
As expected, the lens is fully weather-sealed. It comes with a large carbon-fiber hood and a bunch of buttons and switches that are customizable through the camera menu.
Obviously all this comes at a pretty hefty price tag – the lens is going to retail for $13,999.95 when it is released. While that’s $2K more than what the 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR was sold for when it first came out, once you factor in the price of a teleconverter, inflation and other factors, that’s not a bad price to pay for such a premium offering – it is not meant to be a hobbyist lens. Combined with the Z9, this is going to be one of the most desired setups for sports and wildlife photography for many years to come…
Official Press Release
Here is the official press release from Nikon:
THE NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S: A new pinnacle of performance for sports, action and wildlife shooters
Nikon’s Latest S-Line Super-Telephoto Lens Goes the Distance with Breathtaking Image Quality and a Built-in 1.4x Teleconverter
MELVILLE, NY (January 18, 2022) –Today, Nikon announced the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S, a high performance super-telephoto prime lens for the Nikon Z system. This fast S-Line lens arrives just in time to complement the unstoppable potential of the Nikon Z 9, and opens creative possibilities for professionals photographing sports and wildlife where there is no room for compromise on extreme reach and incredible sharpness.
“Nikon’s engineers continue to bring new and exciting advancements to image creators and working professionals. Immediately following the extraordinary response to the Z 9, the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens features the latest technologies resulting from our expertise in optical engineering,” said Jay Vannatter, Executive Vice President, Nikon Inc. “The customers for this lens often find themselves in situations where there is no second chance to get a shot; this lens takes full advantage of new technologies made possible by the Z mount and gives professional shooters an edge to capture the decisive moment with remarkable image quality, under any kind of light.”
The NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S has unprecedented rendering capabilities, combined with a myriad of new optical technologies that enhance the image quality and performance. This lens features a constant f/2.8 aperture that provides stellar low-light capabilities as well as beautiful bokeh and subject isolation from the background. For extended reach, this is the first NIKKOR Z lens to utilize a built in 1.4x teleconverter to instantly increase the focal length to 560mm. This feature allows photographers to seamlessly adjust as an athlete moves downfield, or to capture environmental and close-up shots of nature without changing lenses or positions.
The NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S is the lightest lens of its type, engineered with superb balance, intuitive controls and weather sealing suitable for professional use. This lens is also the first to employ Nikon’s newly developed optical technologies such as a Silky Swift Voice Coil Motor (SSVCM), enabling high-speed, high accuracy AF with near-silent operation. This new S-Line lens also features Nikon’s new Meso Amorphous Coat, which offers the highest anti-reflection capabilities in NIKKOR history.
Primary features of the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S:
- A built-in 1.4x teleconverter enables a seamless and rapid switch from a 400mm to a 560mm focal length, using a switch conveniently located close to the camera operator’s right hand. The increase in focal length can be made without changing posture to avoid disturbing wildlife, while minimizing the intrusion of dust often associated with conventional teleconverter assembly. For even more reach, the lens also accepts Z TELECONVERTERS TC-1.4x and TC-2x for a maximum reach of 784mm and 1120mm, respectively.
- The lightest lens of its type with a built in teleconverter, weighing in at approximately 6.5lbs (2950 g), which is nearly two pounds lighter (approx. 20% less) than the NIKKOR AF-S 400mm f/2.8FL ED VR. The use of Fluorite elements also contribute to its reduced weight.
- The newly developed Meso Amorphous Coat offers the best anti-reflection performance in NIKKOR lens history. Regardless of the directions of incident light, this advanced new coating offers an anti-reflection effect that’s superior to that of Nano Crystal Coat, greatly suppressing ghosting and flaring caused by incident light from various directions.
- The new SSVCM enables fast, highly accurate, quiet AF control, and is optimized to move large elements with the utmost precision. The SSVCM works in conjunction with a new guide mechanism that enables the elements to move smoothly, further increasing accuracy.
- The lens construction consists of 25 elements in 19 groups; two ED glass elements, a super-ED glass element, two lightweight fluorite lens elements and an SR lens element are incorporated in the optical formula, helping to compensate for aberrations effectively, including chromatic aberration.
- Built-in Vibration Reduction (VR) provides up to 5.5 stops of compensation, even when the built-in teleconverter is in use. Synchro VR is available when paired with the Nikon Z 9.
- Designed with a rugged magnesium alloy body and robust weather sealing on various portions including movable parts of the lens barrel and a rubber gasket around the lens mount, ensuring superior dust- and drip-resistant performance. Additionally, a fluorine coat with antifouling performance is applied to the surface of the front element, repelling water droplets and dust.
- Offers multiple customizable function buttons, including a control ring and a new Fn Ring that can recall a focus position quickly with the Memory Recall function.
Pricing and Availability
The NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens will be available in late February 2022 for a suggested retail price (SRP) $13,999.95*. For more information about the latest Nikon products, including other NIKKOR Z lenses and the entire collection of Z series cameras, please visit nikonusa.com.