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The Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S is Here. This is Why I’m Excited.


Nikon’s previously-teased super-telephoto prime is no longer shrouded in mystery. The Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S, announced today, is the mirrorless line’s first super-telephoto with a built-in teleconverter. The telephoto lens boasts several new features, including a new autofocus motor, Fn ring, and lens coating. All of this comes wrapped in a weather-sealed magnesium alloy lens that’s still two pounds lighter than its DSLR cousin.

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But, even for photographers who can’t afford the steep $14,000 price point, it brings in a few exciting features that will hopefully spread to other future Z mount lenses. As a former longtime Nikon photographer, I’m eager to not only see the 400mm in person, but see Nikon bring these new features to other future optics. Here’s why Nikon photographers should be geeked about today’s launch.

A super-telephoto prime

The Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 is the company’s first super-telephoto prime for its young full-frame mirrorless series. Prior to today’s launch wildlife and sports photographers that wanted a super long reach had to adapt an F-mount lens. Only the Nikon Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR has a similar reach, but as a brand new lens it’s is hard to find and currently out of stock.

Nikon’s Z lenses are the best thing about the entire series. The S line lenses tend to be very sharp with rich colors — you don’t get that same level of sharpness by adapting an F mount lens. I’ve tested several S-line lenses with such a great mix of sharpness and color that I was tempted to purchase a Z body just to use that lens. 

I’m hoping the new Nikon Z 400mm, which is also part of the same S line, will deliver that same blend of sharpness and rich color. The images shot from the lens that Nikon has shared so far tend to have those more golden colors, while the subjects look sharp and the backgrounds beautifully blurred. It’s difficult to determine image quality from a selection of company-provided images, but, still, it’s enough to spark my interest.

The contrast looks great as well, which could be part of Nikon’s new Meso Amorphous Coat. The company says the new coating is the best anti-reflection coating in Nikon history. Ideally, anti-reflection coatings should boast contrast and limit aberrations while still allowing photographers to create flare when they want it. Hopefully, this new coating will do just that. I wouldn’t be surprised to see future Z lenses, especially within the S line, adopt it as well. 

The following images were provided by Nikon:

A new autofocus motor

If the reason to buy the Z system is the lenses, the reason to not buy the Z system is the autofocus. It’s decent, but it’s not quite as good as Canon and Sony’s. (We’ve yet to get our hands on the Z 9 to see how the latest stacks up, so that could change). 

This new lens has an entirely new autofocus motor. It’s called the Silky Swift Voice Coil Motor. Yes, those first two words sound like a bad stage name, or perhaps a bad Taylor Swift tribute band. But, Nikon says the SSVCW is faster and more accurate. The company says that it’s designed to move a lot of lens elements quickly. It’s also paired with a new guide for smoother movement. There’s talk here of this motor being quiet as well.

It’s hard to separate the marketing-speak without actually testing out the lens, but I’m hopeful that Nikon is taking yet another step in the right direction here. The company has made a lot of great strides forward since the first Z bodies and I would love to see even more here. Telephoto lenses are especially difficult to focus — perhaps SSVCW is just what the company needs. (Though clearly, they also need someone who’s a bit better at naming these things.)

This new lens has an entirely new autofocus motor. It’s called the Silky Swift Voice Coil Motor. Yes, those first two words sound like a bad stage name, or perhaps a bad Taylor Swift tribute band.

Built-in teleconverter

This lens is the first Z mount that has a built-in teleconverter. This should help bring the image quality of a prime with a tiny bit of the versatility of a zoom lens. Using the teleconverter, which is just a switch on the side of the lens, brings the maximum aperture to f4 but creates an effective focal length of 560mm. The lens’s stabilization, which is up to 5.5 stops, will help here.

While there’s a teleconverter built-in, Nikon says the lens will also accept the 1.4x and 2x teleconverter. This will again reduce the aperture but create a 787mm and 1120mm perspective. That’s going to be difficult to work with because of the reduced aperture. I would expect a tripod to essentially be a requirement at 1120mm, even with the stabilization.

Lighter, weather-sealed design

Some of Nikon’s Z lenses are actually heavier than their F-mount lenses. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. The lens weighs about 6.5 pounds. That’s not light, but it’s two pounds lighter than the similar F-mount lens. Surprisingly, the lens has a magnesium alloy body, so it’s not lightweight because it has a cheap plastic barrel.

As part of the S series, it’s got a few design features that I’ve really liked in other lenses, like the weather-sealing. But, it doesn’t have the top LCD screen that displays the focal distance scale or aperture settings. Instead, Nikon has added a new FN ring. Nikon says that the Fn ring can recall a focus position with a Memory Recall function. It sounds intriguing. But, the number of rings on the lens looks pretty daunting — it’s probably going to take some practice to not reach for the wrong thing.

The Nikon Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S lens is expected to ship in late February 2022, listing for a cool $13,999.95. That’s a bit more expensive than the $11,196 the F-mount currently sells for. I don’t expect to afford such a lens anytime soon, but I’m excited to see what a new autofocus motor, a new Fn ring, and a new anti-glare coating can do for the Z system.


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