Nikon NIKKOR 400mm 1:5.6 ED IF Ai-S Lens (f/5.6)

Review of the Nikon NIKKOR 400mm 1:5.6 ED IF Ai-S Lens (f/5.6).

Overall Rating:

This is the internal focus (IF) with ED glass version of the 400mm/5.6 lens. It has a 170° focus throw. Weighing in at just 1.2 kilograms, it is just a tad heavier than its smaller cousin, the very compact Nikkor 300mm/4.5 ED IF Ai-S lens. If using long teleconverters like the 2× magnifying TC-300, make sure to buy a copy with the tripod mount. This item is often missing because the lens is light enough to use handheld. Good results are very difficult to have when using a lens this long without a tripod, especially when combined with an unforgiving, high resolution sensor in a digital camera.

Nikon
sunflower with PN-11, PK-13, PK-12 and (2) PK-11 extension tubes (110mm in total), approx. 0.2× magnification (detail)

The first Nikkor f=400mm/5.6 lens was introduced in 1973 as the Nikkor-P•C Auto 1:5.6 f=400mm. This lens has five elements in three groups and featured the very new ED glass even though it was not marked as having such. It didn't even have a gold ring like most ED lenses do from the days of Ai and Ai-S lenses. Today, ED lenses no longer feature a gold ring (see the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 for an example). In 1975, the same lens was updated to have the new "K" cosmetics. Pre-Ai "K" lenses didn't last for long because Nikon replaced them with Ai lenses only two years after their introduction. The IF version was introduced as an Ai lens in 1978, which was replaced by this Ai-S version in 1982 with production ended in 2002. About 9,000 Ai-S units were produced making the Ai-S version a semi-rare lens.

The quality difference between Ai and Ai-S lenses is often not the same with the Ai lenses being better, however, the quality of the Ai and Ai-S versions of this lens is identical, so do not hesitate to buy the Ai-S version over the Ai one.

These lenses were fairly expensive when new. In 1988, for example, this lens cost $2305, but today can be had for less than a quarter of this in decent condition without any damage to the optics and perhaps a few minor scuffs to the body. It has seven elements in six groups which is adequate for a f/5.6 lens, since a faster lens would need more elements to sharpen the image as it reached out to the periphery.

Nikon
moon, infinity (∞) (detail)

Here is a list of these 400mm f/5.6 lenses over the 29 years of existence (notice that all are ED lenses):

Nikon Nikkor-P•C Auto 1:5.6 f=400mmPre-Ai (ED)1973-1975
Nikon Nikkor*ED 400mm 1:5.6K (Pre-Ai)1975-1977
Nikon Nikkor*ED 400mm 1:5.6AI1977-1983
Nikon Nikkor*ED 400mm 1:5.6AI IF1978-1982
Nikon Nikkor*ED 400mm 1:5.6AI-S IF1982-2002

Its all-metal design makes for a pleasing interaction between the lens and the photographer. It takes 72mm filters which do not rotate as the lens is focused, features a built-in hood and is multicoated as are all Ai-S lenses. This lens even has NIC (Nikon Integrated Coating) to further improve contrast. The compactness cannot be ignored with dimensions of only 85×254mm (3.3×10in.)! The focus does not stop at infinity like most Nikkor lenses of this age do. The length of the all-metal chassis and/or the fact that it had ED glass may be reasons to explain this.

The focus has an adjustable detent that can be set right on infinity (∞) and the lens will stop at infinity or any other focus point it is set to. This is a very fine feature which makes moon shots in the dark very easy, because the detent can be set right on infinity indoors or in another well-lit area and then it is easy to find inifinity when in the dark.

This lens is very hard to focus perfeclty because the throw is so short. It is too easy to focus before or beyond the subject by just a little. It is also very hard to focus this lens when shivering from the cold because of its short focus throw!

Nikon
autumn leaves, 0.11× magnification (detail)

This lens is fully compatible with many Nikon DSLR cameras, such as the FX ones and some DX ones, such as the D2Xs, D7200, D500, etc. Check the camera's manual or specifications for compatibility with Ai/Ai-S lenses.

Nikon
compared to the Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 ED IF Ai-S

The bokeh from this lens is nice, but it does seem to exhibit very slight longitudinal chromatic aberration (a.k.a. LoCA).

Nikon
bokeh, f/5.6
Nikon
bokeh, f/8
Nikon
bokeh, f/11

This lens is good for infrared photography.

Nikon
infrared, f/32

Distortion is well controlled.

Flaring is just fair, and it has ghosting problems, especially for a lens with so few elements.

Nikon
ghosting, f/5.6
Nikon
flaring, f/32

Diffraction has begun by f/11. This lens is sharpest at f/5.6-f/8.

Sharpness is good, but this lens does exhibit a little color fringing which is not totally surprising because many lenses with ED glass exhibit color fringing, some much newer. This lens has slighlty less of this aberration than the Nikkor 300mm/4.5 ED IF Ai-S lens which in turn has less than the Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 Ai lens. Color fringing is easily corrected in post. See the image (detail) for the color fringing evidence.

Nikon
transformer, f=400mm/8 (detail)
Nikon
transformer, f=400mm/8, cropped

The above image is focused to 30 meters / 100 feet. The first images on this page are focused to 2.5 meters, the minimum of the lens. This lens clearly performs best focused on far objects. Frankly, this is desirable behaviour for a telephoto lens, though it would be nice if it performed equally as well at all distances.

Using Teleconverters

Nikon
sunflower with PN-11 extension tube + TC-300 teleconverter, approx. 0.3× magnification (detail)

The following images are focused to approximately 30 meters or 100 feet.

First, the TC-201 teleconverter:

Nikon
with TC-201 at f=800mm/11 (detail)
Nikon
with TC-201 at f=800mm/16 (detail)

Here are 600×400 pixel images cropped from the above images:

Nikon
with TC-201 at f=800mm/11
Nikon
with TC-201 at f=800mm/16

Next, the TC-300 teleconverter:

Nikon
with TC-300 at f=800mm/11 (detail)
Nikon
with TC-300 at f=800mm/16 (detail)

Here are 600×400 pixel images cropped from the above images:

Nikon
with TC-300 at f=800mm/11, cropped
Nikon
with TC-300 at f=800mm/16, cropped

Next, the TC-14A teleconverter:

Nikon
with TC-14A at f=560mm/8 (detail)
Nikon
with TC-14A at f=560mm/11 (detail)

Here are 600×400 pixel images cropped from the above images:

Nikon
with TC-14A at f=560mm/8, cropped
Nikon
with TC-14A at f=560mm/11, cropped

Next, the TC-14 teleconverter:

Nikon
with TC-14 at f=560mm/8 (detail)
Nikon
with TC-14 at f=560mm/11 (detail)

Here are 600×400 pixel images cropped from the above images:

Nikon
with TC-14 at f=560mm/8, cropped
Nikon
with TC-14 at f=560mm/11, cropped

Finally, the TC-300 and TC-14 teleconverters together for f=1120mm:

Nikon
with TC-300 and TC-14, f=1120mm/16 (detail)
Nikon
with TC-300 and TC-14, f=1120mm/22 (detail)

Here is 600×400 pixel image cropped from the above image:

Nikon
with TC-300 and TC-14, f=1120mm/16, cropped (note: possible shutter-shock induced blur)
Nikon
with TC-300 and TC-14, f=1120mm/22, cropped (note: lots of diffraction and possible shutter-shock induced blur)

These teleconverters together really magnify the color fringing, but sharpness remains high. Or maybe not, it is easy to forget that the above image is a 600×400 pixel crop of a 36 megapixel image.

Conclusion from above: the TC-300 and TC-14 teleconverters perform the best. This should come as no surprise since they are designed for 300mm and longer lenses. The TC-300 + TC-14 combination performs better than expected. Here are all the cropped results from each teleconverter compared:

Nikon
with TC-14A at f=560mm/8, cropped
Nikon
with TC-14A at f=560mm/11, cropped
Nikon
with TC-14 at f=560mm/8, cropped
Nikon
with TC-14 at f=560mm/11, cropped
Nikon
with TC-201 at f=800mm/11, cropped
Nikon
with TC-201 at f=800mm/16, cropped
Nikon
with TC-300 at f=800mm/11, cropped
Nikon
with TC-300 at f=800mm/16, cropped
Nikon
with TC-300 and TC-14, f=1120mm/16, cropped
Nikon
with TC-300 and TC-14, f=1120mm/22, cropped

Here are some moon shots at infinity (∞) in FX mode:

Nikon
moon with TC-14 teleconverter, f=560mm (detail)
Nikon
moon with TC-300 teleconverter, f=800mm (detail)

While not perfectly sharp, acceptable images can be had with teleconverters at infinity.

Compared to the Nikkor 300mm f/4.5 Ai-S
Nikon
400mm f/5.6 ED IF Ai-S, transformer, f=400mm/8 (detail)
Nikon
crop of above
Nikon
300mm f/4.5 ED IF Ai-S + TC-14 teleconverter, transformer, f=420mm/8 (detail)
Nikon
crop of above

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Nikon
Nikon lens construction legend

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