The Requested 80-400 AF-S vs. 70-200 VR II and 2X Comparison

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Well, for the first time I've totally caved to popular demand and done a test I had little interest in doing. But after I did a Quick-Take post on the new Nikon 80-400 AF-S VR lens I received about two-dozen emails and comments asking if the 70-200 f/2.8 AF-S VR II lens with a Nikon 2X III teleconverter was as good as, or better than, the new 800-400 AF-S VR.

My first impulse was to do Standard Internet Response #1 -- give an absolute answer, such as 'obviously not', despite having no facts to back that answer up. Then I considered Standard Internet Response #3 -- give a useless, but factual, answer like, 'well, if you have a 70-200 and teleconverter already, that's certainly adequate'. (I never use Standard Internet Response #2 - the 'if you're a good enough photographer it doesn't matter which you use' response, nor S.I.R. #4 -- 'Google is your friend'.)

But, since it really is a reasonable question and a lot of people seemed interested, we set up to Imatest the 70-200 f/2.8 VR II / 2X III combination. Please be aware that our longest testing distance is 40 feet, which isn't ideal for testing 400mm lenses, but it's the longest we have. (I'm pretty comfortable it's a longer testing distance than anyone else has, too, except maybe DxO and they aren't really sharing information about their testing set up). Results may be quite different at 300 feet. I'm not sure which way they'd be different. The 70-200 seems sharper at this distance than it does at infinity, at least that's what most people say. On the other hand, teleconverters are generally tuned for long distance shooting. So I just don't know. (BTW - "I don't know" is not a listed S. I. R.)

Imatest Results

We used an identical setup to the tests we ran last week on the 80-400 AF-S and 80-400 AF lenses to test the 70-200 f/2.8 with 2X combination. The MTF50 results are shown in the table below. The bottom line, from a resolution standpoint, the new 80-400 is clearly better. The previous 80-400 is better than the 70-200 with 2X right in the center, but outside the center the 70-200 with TC is very close.

Center MTF50 Avg MTF50 Avg. Corner MTF50
Nikon 80-400 AF-S820675480
Nikon 80-400 AF725575410
Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 with 2X600560440

What does it mean? Mostly it means if you're shooting at 40 feet distance the 70-200 VR II and 2x teleconverter will get you a nice usable image, but not as good as you would get with the 80-400 VR II.

The old 80-400 AF lens is better in the center than the 70-200 VR II combination, although that's just right at the center. Less than 1/3 of the distance away from the center, the two are even.

I can't say the results would be the same if the shooting distance was near infinity, and I'm not sure how they'd change. The 70-200 alone is reputed to be a bit less sharp at infinity, though. On the other hand, the teleconverter might well have less of an effect at the longer shooting distance.


Roger Cicala


March, 2013

40 Responses to “The Requested 80-400 AF-S vs. 70-200 VR II and 2X Comparison”

Charlie said:

I've recently switched from DX to FX format with the acquisition of the D750. As a nature and wildlife photographer I am out shooting birds -- at a distance -- most of the time. I am thinking about adding a TC 1.4III to my 70-200mm f/4 lens, but for now, I will continue to use the Tamron 150-600mm which is a great lens, but getting too heavy for me to hand hold. Looking at selling it and getting on the list to buy the new 300mm f?4 with the TC. Any thoughts???

Charlie said:

I realize that most comments were made before the Tamron 150-600mm lens was available, I recently converted from the D7100 to the D750 and, of course, had to invest in new lenses. As a nature and wildlife photographer, I primarily use the 16-35mm and the 70-200mm. I'm thinking about adding a TC 1.4III as the new 300mm f4 is a bit pricey. In the meantime, I highly recommend the Tamron 150-600mm for distant birds if you can handle the weight.

William said:

From a 70-200 and TC owner.
I own the 70-200 VRII and the 1.7 II converter. I use it strictly on a D7100 - the images are sharp regardless of lighting. Focus is fast as long as camera is set on "C" continuous focus. Otherwise there is a bit of hunting if you are birding.
I have no doubt the new 80-400 is a great lens, perhaps arguably even optically better. I am just giving you my take on what I use.
Construction wise, there is not comparison, but do all users need the Humvee build of the 70-200?
I bought mine instead of the old 80-400 for all the known reasons of slowness and resale value. Good lenses are not cheap.
I walk around with my 24-70 all day and rarely have need for telephoto. The converter DOES NOT FIT ON the 24-70.
Next rebate time I will look again at the 80-400. There should be some quality postings from owners by then. Either lens weigh a ton and so the only issue is optical need.
One thing is certain. My 70-200 is worth way more today than the rebated $1700 I paid when I bought it new. Not so for the 80-400.
Good shooting all!

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Steve,

I would if I could but the Sigma weight strains our setup pretty badly - not just the weight but that on the mounts we have to use it's really front heavy.

Steve said:

You had mentioned that at this price point the sigma 120-300mm OS would be a consideration. Would you run a test on the two? I can loan you a sigma Tc 1.4. I would supply shipping & shipping labels both ways. It would be really interesting.
PS all your lens testing is really appreciated.

Patrick said:

Hi Roger,

I didn't realize these numbers are D3X numbers but not D800 or D800E numbers. A score of 820 in the central on the D800 would be a bit low, but on the D3X it might be reasonable.

Would you care to guess how does 820 on D3X translate to a score on the D800/E ? That would be a very useful metric on a buy/not-buy decision.

Many Thanks!


LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Glad, just email Roger at lensrentals.com

shorebreeze said:

OK, as an owner of both series I and series II 70-200 zooms and a 70-300 VR I ought to be as sick as a parrot right now, but I jest. From everything I've seen MTF-wise, and from using these lenses, I'm not surprised by these results. It seems as though Nikon made serious progress on the new lens; and besides, the extra depth of field you get by using native focal length instead of a teleconverter makes things much easier on the autofocus. The series I 70-200 is extremely sharp at infinity but lacks covering power (i.e. soft corners); the series II has the covering power but is optimized for closer focus; hopefully the 80-400 delivers both corner to corner and FX covering power.

Priced at $2,000, the new lens would be a very good general purpose zoom; probably the go-to telephoto zoom lens for most serious photographers who, with the current state of digital sensor technology, probably don't need f2.8 as much as before. At $2,700 it's a bit awkward; and combining one of the 70-200 lenses with a TC, or else going with a good third-party solution like Sigma's 50-500 seems much more attractive.

Glad said:

Does your website have a contact page? I'm having a tough time locating it but, I'd like to send you an email. I've got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it grow over time.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

That's correct Martin, D3x.

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