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Three Cheers for Nikon

Fur Seal inside wave, San Miguel Island, CA

Fur Seal inside wave, San Miguel Island, CA

I’ve been burned before. A decade ago, Nikon came out with its first VR lens – the original 80-400 zoom. Like Nikon wildlife shooters everywhere, I was thrilled since it seemed to offer a great focal-length combination with real hand-held capability. (I had the old manual-focus 200-400 at that point – a beast of a lens, albeit sharp). However, my enthusiasm evaporated when I first tested the lens in the field. On a gray whale expedition in Baja California, I grew increasingly frustrated with the slow autofocus, and the astonishing lack of sharpness. What’s worse, Nikon made the lens incompatible with a 1.4x teleconverter. What were they thinking? I came back from that trip with a lot of soft, useless whale pictures; I couldn’t get rid of that lens fast enough.

Now, jump ahead to this year, and the release of the long-awaited version 2 of this lens : the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S NIKKOR Lens. I was interested, but, to be honest, a little less than optimistic after my horrific experience the first time around. Still, the first reviews were good, and seemed to justify the purchase (especially with a lot of overseas travel scheduled for this year).

Now, three months later, I can’t imagine being without this lens. Not only did Nikon update it completely, they knocked it out of the park! It is everything Version 1 was not: razor sharp, with fast and accurate AF-S autofocus, and a vastly improved VR mechanism. It is also of tougher construction and is compatible with the TC14x. Simply said, this is a great lens, and one that now goes with me everywhere. I used it this past week in the Channel Islands to photograph the marine mammals at Point Bennett on San Miguel Island.

Nikon shooters don’t have look enviously at the Canon 100-400 anymore – this one is a winner.