Review: Nikkor 400mm 1:5.6 ED-IF Ai

I don’t do a lot photography that requires a long tele-lens. My 70-200mm usually covers it and so I’ve never considered investing a lot of money in something longer. However, I stumbled across this older lens at a cheap price and thought that it might be interesting. I’ve been playing around with it for a while and here are my thoughts on this lens.

Nikon 400mm 5.6 ED-IF Ai

Nikon 400mm 5.6 ED-IF Ai

Before you read further I only want to note that my lens was quite beat up and not exactly in good condition when I bought it. This may affect some of my views on this lens. However the glass on my lens is flawless, so it should not affect the image quality. It’s usually sold for around $600 on eBay. I paid about $120 for mine so let that tell you something about its condition.

Build & handling

The build quality on this lens is very good! It’s metal and glass all the way like most older manual Nikons and it comes with a screw on cap, a built-in retractable lens hood and a tripod mount that can rotate. It also has a little focus stopping feature. If you’re lucky you’ll even get the original leather case.

This lens is very light considering the focal length. It’s almost a little too light for shooting hand-held, because it’s very prone to shake. I would recommend using it with a good and steady tripod on slower shutter speeds, but I’ve used it mostly hand-held and with a high shutter speed and a good and steady pose it’s still possible to shoot hand-held.

However there are a couple of things that annoy me about the design. First the screw-in cap. It’s a hassle to screw the cap on and off every time. At least now that we’re used to the snap-on caps. Second it’s the hood. It’s nice to have a built-in hood as older second-hand lenses almost never comes with the original hood. However it slides back if you tilt the lens up. This is probably a result of a beat up lens, but still. Third it’s the focus stopping feature which hardly work on mine and is mainly just annoying.

Apart from that this is a fine little lens. It has a good focus pulling distance and while the focus on mine is not as smooth as I’d like, after many years of wear and tear there are still no mechanical problems.

Performance

As I don’t do a lot of work on long lenses I don’t really have anything to compare it to. Earlier I’ve tried a Nikon 500mm 1:8 reflex lens. This did not impress me. On my D800 it was never properly sharp. F/8 also made it a very slow lens, however it was compact and otherwise nice.

Unlike that 500mm this lens is sharp. I’ve seen a lot sharper, however it’s not bad. It’s certainly usable. I’ve used this lens mainly at 5.6 and it’s no problem. It gets a little sharper stepped down, but on the D800 diffraction starts kicking in at f/8. At f/5.6 this lens performs nicely. It’s sharp enough and renders nice colors and contrast.

At f/5.6 this is not a very fast lens, but not particularly slow either. At least not if you’re shooting on a full frame camera and can boost the ISO a bit. For general use I never had trouble with this lens being too slow. It also quite easy to focus. For me focus hit almost every time when focusing both by eye and with the help of the in-camera focus confirmation. Being a manual focus it’s a bit harder to focus on moving subjects, but not impossible.

Conclusion

This lens does not give you the same image quality as a newer or faster lens. I would not recommend or talk about this lens as a pro lens. However, for someone like me who don’t do a lot of long tele shots and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a big hunk of a lens this one is a very good alternative. It gives you a bit more than say a 70-300mm or a 70-200mm and the quality is not bad at all! It’s also light weight which makes it a very portable lens.

Below is a selection of images taken with this lens. The images may have been edited and/or cropped.

Further reading

– Bjørn Rørslett has a short review

– More info on this lens at MIR.com

Review: Carl Zeiss Distagon T* F2/35 ZF

I got an offer to buy a Carl Zeiss Distagon T* F2/35 ZF lens and so I took it for a test spin for a couple of days just to decide whether to buy it or not. As always, this is not going to be any scientific lab test. You’ll find plenty of such elsewhere on the Internet. This is simply my thoughts on this lens.Carl Zeiss Distagon *T 2/35mm ZF

Build & handling

It’s a Zeiss and like all Zeiss lenses this lens is like a tank! The all metal casing and hood is admirable. All the mechanical parts operates really smooth, and you really get the feeling that this is a high quality lens, and let’s face it; it is!

While the build quality is very solid, it does come at a price. All the metal makes this a heavy lens. Weighing in at over 530g this is no lightweight. It’s also quite big. Especially considering it’s a manual focus lens at just F 2.0. Compared to Nikon 35mm F/2.0 AF D the Zeiss is over twice the weight and size.

Like any Zeiss this lens offers a very smooth focus ring. It focuses from 0,3 meters and it handles very nicely. There’s almost no focus breathing, meaning the angle of view does not change when focusing. The lack of focus breathings is a very important feature for videographers. Making this lens a good candidate for those shooting video on their DSLRs.

If I were to say anything negative about the focus on this lens it is that I would prefer a longer focus pull and that I found the focus somewhat temperamental. It was quite hard to focus on my D800. I tried just focusing visually and by using the camera’s focus confirmation, but it always seemed slightly off. This could just be my lens (it was a second-hand lens), it could be my camera or it could be me. All I know is I missed focus on this lens way more than on any other manual focus lens I use.

Performance

Well, just like the build quality the image quality of this lens is very good. It produces fully usable images even at f/2, but performance increase greatly if stopped down. If you hit focus this lens is sharp as a knife, comparable to Nikon 28mm 1:2.8 AiS, one of the sharpest lenses I own. In addition it renders beautiful colors and gives you a very nice bookeh.

There is very little to complain about when talking about the performance of this lens. It does have a bit of vignetting wide open, but improves when stopped down. At f/4 or 5.6 this it’s a great performer. Distortion is very low in general even at f/2, and I consider neither the distortion nor vignetting of this lens a problem in general photography or landscape, and I would not hesitate to use this lens wide open at f/2.

Since it’s usable at f/2 it’s able to shoot in low light conditions, but it also handles difficult conditions with lots of light well. While I did notice some purple fringing in very difficult highlights, I would not say this lens suffers a lot from CA in general. In real life conditions CA will not cause a lot of problems unless you’re pixel peeping. As for flare, I did a couple of shots with this lens with the sun in the frame and the results was extremely little flare! It was a worst kind scenario and it surprised me it didn’t produce more flares and reflexes. Of course it was not without flare, but what flare it produced was a couple of good-looking nice and round rings.

Conclusion

This Zeiss is a great lens, and many regards it as one of the greatest. In the field it produces images of very high quality; it’s solid, very sharp, renders nice colors and there is little to complain about when it comes to image quality and build.

This lens is a safe bet, so am I buying it? Well, actually no. Despite I really love the focal length and lack a proper 35mm prime I’m not going with this particular Zeiss. One of the main reasons is the size and weight. It’s big and heavy to haul around. Second it’s the focus. I never got the feel for this one and missed focus on way to many shots. Whether it’s the lens (it is second-hand after all), my camera or me I don’t know, but apparently we just don’t go well together. Third it’s the price. Okay, so it’s mainly about the budget. Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to buy a lens I’m not 100% sure about at the moment, and I do already have an excellent wide-angle lens that focuses perfectly. However, should I come across another one I would definitely consider it!

Below is a selection of images taken with this lens. The images may have been edited and/or cropped.

Further reading

PhotoZone.de has a good review of this lens

LensTip.com has a good summary

Photography Life also has an in-depth review of this lens