The Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 Isn’t PF, But It’s As Small As One

Tips & Techniques

Nikon Z 400mm f-4-5 Lens Product Photo

Alongside the Z30, Nikon also just formally announced the $3250 Z 400mm f/4.5 S, shipping in mid-July. This lens isn’t much of a surprise since it was already on the roadmap – plus it had plenty of hands-on previews from YouTubers last week – but it’s still an exciting sight.

The lens construction diagram looks like this:

Nikon Z 400mm f-4-5 Lens Construction Diagram

It’s interesting that Nikon has added two Super ED glass elements and one SR element, which are both among Nikon’s newer lens innovations. Super ED glass minimizes chromatic aberrations even more than ED glass. SR glass (short-wavelength refractive glass) also is meant for correcting chromatic aberrations, and Nikon says it “allows for more flexible optical designs, which allows for compact, lighter lenses to be designed.”

What’s missing on the lens, in a bit of a surprise, is a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element. A PF element is Nikon’s usual way to get a lightweight and compact supertelephoto. There’s one found on Nikon’s 300mm f/4 PF, 500mm f/5.6 PF, and 800mm f/6.3 PF lenses, all three of which are lighter than similar lenses on the market.

However, the lack of PF elements doesn’t change the fact that the 400mm f/4.5 is a relatively small, light lens. It slides in nicely with the PF lenses already in Nikon’s lineup. Here’s how it compares to those lenses in weight, length, and front filter thread size:

  • 300mm f/4 PF: 755 grams (1.7 lbs), 148mm long (5.8 inches), 77mm filters
  • Z 400mm f/4.5: 1245 grams (2.7 lbs), 235mm long (9.2 inches), 95mm filters
  • 500mm f/5.6 PF: 1460 grams (3.2 lbs), 237mm long (9.3 inches), 95mm filters
  • Z 800mm f/6.3 PF: 2385 grams (5.3), 385mm long (15.2 inches), no front filters (140mm front diameter)

As you can see, the 400mm f/4.5 could moonlight as a PF lens and no one could tell just by looking at the specs.

Something worth noting is the weight of the Nikon Z 1.4x teleconverter: 220 grams. This means that the 400mm f/4.5 is practically identical in weight to the 500mm f/5.6 PF if you use it with the teleconverter, at which point it becomes a 560mm f/6.3. You’d actually have a lighter package overall with the Z 400mm f/4.5 once you consider the FTZ adapter. Further, the Z 400mm f/4.5 is a bit lighter than the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6, which weighs 1435 grams / 3.2 pounds.

What about the price of the 400mm f/4.5? It’s not a cheap lens at $3250, but it’s in line with prior releases from Nikon – actually a bit better than usual. Maybe this graph looks familiar, copied from my earlier article on the 800mm f/6.3’s unusually low price. The well-priced lens #21 is the 800mm f/6.3, which still holds the record as the best price/entrance pupil ratio of any Nikon telephoto prime:

All Nikon Telephoto Prime Lenses Compared Price Entrance Pupil Aperture Focal Length

Meanwhile, the 400mm f/4.5 slides in right here:

Nikon 400mm f4-5 Price Comparison

It’s not as unusually well-priced as the 800mm f/6.3, but it’s still a good value compared to Nikon’s usual trend. Hats off to Nikon for that. Still, prospective buyers should note that the $3250 MSRP is higher than that of the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S and Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S, which retail for $2600 and $2700 respectively. If you’re on the fence between these three lenses, maybe the price will sway your decision.

Beyond the lens’s size and weight, it has a rather pedestrian maximum magnification of 1:6.25 (AKA 0.16x), a 9-blade rounded aperture that should result in beautiful bokeh, and VR with 5.5 stops of stabilization (6 on the Nikon Z9 and any future cameras with Synchro VR support). You can read the full specifications on Nikon’s website.

I’m impressed with the 400mm f/4.5’s near-perfect MTF chart. Nikon certainly knows how to make sharp supertelephoto lenses.

Nikon Z 400mm f-4-5 Lens MTF Chart
How to read an MTF chart

The big question is whether this lens is right for you, or if you’d be better suited with one of the other long lenses available in Nikon’s lineup. There are at least four reasonable alternatives.

  • Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S: It’s slower by 2/3 of a stop, which affects low-light performance (including low-light focusing) and depth of field correspondingly. The two lenses are similar in size and weight, so the question is down to whether you prefer a zoom or a prime.
  • Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S: With a 2x teleconverter, you’ve got a 140-400mm f/5.6 lens. The Z 400mm f/4.5 (or Z 100-400mm) is a better way to reach 400mm to if you’re starting from scratch. But if you already have the 70-200mm f/2.8, should you add the 400mm f/4.5? I tend to say no; add the F-mount 500mm f/5.6 or Z 800mm f/6.3 instead for better differentiation.
  • Nikon F 300mm f/4 PF: It’s not a 400mm lens, although with a 1.4x teleconverter, it can be. (It’s a 420mm f/5.6 at that point.) You’d be stuck with the chain of FTZ adapter + 1.4x teleconverter if you go that route on the Z system. But it’s the least expensive option of the bunch ($2000 not counting the teleconverter) and still has impressive performance.
  • Nikon F 500mm f/5.6 PF: It’s not a 400mm lens, either, but in the other direction. If you’re set on a lightweight supertelephoto for the Z system, this remains an excellent option and costs about the same as the new 400mm f/4.5. The FTZ adapter is less bothersome at these focal lengths, so it simply comes down to focal length vs focal length, and aperture vs aperture. The 400mm f/4.5 is probably more versatile of the two, since it does become a 560mm f/6.3 with the 1.4x teleconverter.

Although these lenses are meant for similar purposes, the Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 doesn’t really step on the toes of the others. That’s because the f/4.5 aperture, which is 2/3 of a stop brighter than f/5.6, is important to some photographers. In low light environments, or in situations where you want maximum subject-background separation, 2/3 of a stop makes a noticeable difference.

If you’re deciding between these various lenses, I’d say the zooms make the most sense if you need maximum flexibility, but the 400mm f/4.5 would be my choice for longer-lens shooters. I’d also pair it with the Nikon Z 1.4x teleconverter to get 560mm f/6.3 capabilities.

That said, if you already have one of the four lenses above, I don’t think you should also buy the 400mm f/4.5. After all, you’re already capable of covering 400mm (or 500mm), so it’s probably not worth spending an additional $3250 just to do so at 2/3 stop wider aperture. Either keep your existing lens, or sell it and replace it with the 400mm f/4.5.

Nikon Z 400mm f-4-5 Lens with Tripod foot on Camera

I expect the Z 400mm f/4.5 to sell well. It will most likely be out of stock for a while upon release, which is the new story with the Nikon Z system. (On a related note, I wonder how much higher the application rate is for NPS membership these days?) If you want to get on the waitlist, you can do so here at B&H.

Nikon’s full press release for the 400mm f/4.5 is below.

Nikon releases the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S, a super-telephoto prime lens for the Nikon Z mount system

June 29, 2022

Compact and lightweight body with superior sharpness and clarity for easy handheld super-telephoto shooting

TOKYO – Nikon Corporation (Nikon) is pleased to announce the release of the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S, a super-telephoto prime lens that is compatible with full-frame/FX-format mirrorless cameras for which the Nikon Z mount system has been adopted.

The NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S is a super-telephoto 400-mm lens that offers both superior sharpness and clarity, in a compact size with light weight. Handheld shooting is easy with the lightest*1 weight in its class, approximately 1,160 g (excluding tripod collar), and a total length of approximately 234.5 mm, providing superior agility and reducing fatigue over extended shooting sessions of wildlife including birds, and sports photography. Use of the Z TELECONVERTER TC-1.4x or the Z TELECONVERTER TC-2.0x extends the focal length of this prime lens to 560 mm or 800 mm, respectively*2, expanding its power of expression with the ability to bring distant subjects even closer, and dynamic rendering. In addition, the lens offers excellent balance by shifting the center of gravity closer to the camera for more stable operation during handheld shooting.

The NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S belongs to the S-Line*3 lens series that pursues the ultimate in optical performance. It is constructed with effective arrangement of one ED glass element, two Super ED glass elements, and one SR lens element. This contributes greatly to the compact size and light weight while delivering superior optical performance in which chromatic aberration is suppressed. The adoption of Nano Crystal Coat also contributes to effectively reducing ghost and flare effects, achieving clearer images and accurate depiction of even the finest details of distant subjects.

With a maximum aperture of f/4.5, the NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S realizes three-dimensional rendering that makes the intended subject stand out. It is also equipped with an optical vibration reduction (VR) mechanism that provides a superior compensation effect equivalent to shooting at a shutter speed 5.5 stops*4 faster, which is the highest among NIKKOR Z lenses*5. In addition, a stepping motor (STM) supports fast and precise AF control for certain capture of erratically moving subjects, including those engaged in sports. The NIKKOR Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S demonstrates superior agility and rendering power over a wide variety of scenes, supporting professional and advanced-amateur photographers.

Nikon will continue to pursue a new dimension in optical performance while meeting users’ needs, contributing to the development of imaging culture, with the hope of expanding possibilities for imaging expression.

  • *1 Among f/4.5 and slower lenses, including those with a focal length of 400 mm, for interchangeable-lens cameras equipped with a full-frame (35mm [135] equivalent) image sensor available as of June 29, 2022. Statement based on Nikon research.
  • *2 AF performance may deteriorate depending on the subject, brightness and focus position regardless of the camera body, causing inaccurate focus, slow focusing speed or flashing of the focus indicator.
  • *3 The S-Line is a grade of NIKKOR Z lenses that demonstrate outstanding optical performance, adhering to a high standard of design principles and quality control.
  • *4 Based on CIPA Standard. This value is achieved when attached to a camera with full-frame/FX-format sensor, with the camera’s VR function set to “NORMAL”.
  • *5 As of June 29, 2022.

Primary features

  • Focal length can be extended to 560 mm with the Z TELECONVERTER TC-1.4x and 800 mm with the Z TELECONVERTER TC-2.0x.
  • Focal length can be extended up to 600 mm-equivalent without a teleconverter by setting the camera’s image area to [DX (24×16)] format.
  • Effective arrangement of lens elements has realized a more compact and lightweight lens.
    Handheld shooting is easy with the lightest weight in its class of approximately 1,160 g (excluding tripod collar) and a total length of approximately 234.5 mm.
  • Chromatic aberration is significantly reduced via the adoption of one ED and two Super ED glass elements. In addition, the adoption of an SR lens element controls short-wavelength light that is difficult to compensate, achieving highly precise chromatic aberration compensation.
  • Nikon’s original Nano Crystal Coat is adopted to effectively reduce ghost and flare effects.
  • Use of the shallow depth of field of this super-telephoto lens with its maximum aperture of f/4.5 produces large bokeh for more three-dimensional rendering.
  • Employs an optical vibration reduction (VR) function with an effect equivalent to a shutter speed 5.5 stops faster, which is the highest among NIKKOR Z lenses.
  • Synchro VR is available when paired with the Z 9, achieving even more powerful camera shake compensation — equivalent to a shutter speed 6.0 stops*1 faster — with in-camera VR combined.
  • The employment of an STM ensures high-speed and accurate AF with quiet operational sounds.
  • Superior dust- and drip-resistant performance*2 and anti-fouling performance with the adoption of fluorine coat.
  • Employs the Memory Recall function*3 that instantly recalls focus positions that have been stored in advance, via pressing a button to which [Recall focus position] has been assigned.
  • A design considering video recording including a focus-breathing compensation function which effectively reduces shifting of the angle of view when focusing, and stable exposure.
  • *1 Based on CIPA Standard. With the camera’s VR function set to “NORMAL”.
  • *2 Thorough dust- and drip-resistance is not guaranteed in all situations or under all conditions.
  • *3 The cameras compatible with this function are the Z 9, Z 7II, Z 6II, and Z 30 only, at the timing of product release. When using the function, the firmware for cameras must be updated to the latest version. For other models, this function will be supported via later firmware updates.

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