Nikon 180-400mm First Test And Sharpness Comparison

So, here’s the story.

Nikon announced their new 180-400 and I’ve been more than a little curious about it. However, I’m not 100% sold on it just yet.

So, I decided to rent one and give it a whirl for a few days and share what I’ve discovered with you! In the video below, I’ll tell you what I think about the lens overall, performance, and sharpness. In fact, there are a number of sharpness comparisons including:

Nikon 180-400 Vs Nikon 200-500
Nikon 180-400 Vs Nikon 80-400
Nikon 180-400 Vs Nikon 300 PF
Nikon 180-400 Vs Nikon 600 F4 E

So, a pretty good lineup 🙂

Check out the video below for the full scoop and then check out the images below if you want to give the sharpness test photos a closer inspection. I have included both center and corner crops. PLEASE watch the video first though because there’s more to the sharpness tests than just what you see below.

Also, keep in mind that this is NOT a full field report. If I do decide to get the lens later this year, I’ll do the full review after I get to use it for more than just a few days. 


I was only able to use the lens in the field for a few hours, but I did want to include a couple of images from it. Based on my preliminary usage, I think this can be one heck of a nice lens for wildlife photographers. 




Below are the images from the video for closer inspection. Note that they look terrible down there because they have been resized by the website, so don’t judge based on what you see below without looking at the full size image.

Instead, make sure you click them to open in a new tab and then click again to enlarge them to full size.

200mm tests

300mm tests


400mm tests


500mm + tests

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This entry was posted in Nikon Gear, Reviews.

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50 Comments on "Nikon 180-400mm First Test And Sharpness Comparison"

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Nick Delany
Steve…..after careful review, I dived in and replaced my AF tuned 200-500MM for the new AF-S 180-400MM. You early review was really good and some of the comments were equally informative. I found the new lenses was a significant upgrade as it delivered twice as many in focus pictures at higher speeds. The immediate benefits were faster focus, AF works better with 3D, GRP and D153 modules, more color rendition, speed and ease of use. I recently discovered your website and I have enjoyed and benefited from it to the extent that a donation or purchase of your book is… Read more »
Ralph F Smith

I have the d500. With the 180-400 will the d550 be equivalent to a cropped d850? Isn’t sensor density about the same for the 2 cameras?

Kenneth Feeser

Hi Steve, Did your evaluation include the firmware upgrade to your camera bodies with the 153-point AF system for acquisition and tracking? It is suppose to allow the sensors in the outer areas of the frame to act as cross-type sensors to “drastically improving acquisition speed when a subject enters the frame.” Reference the Nikon website under the overview section for this lens. Firmware update was suppose to be available March 2018. Really appreciate your reviews!

Donald Loyd
Thanks for the review, I did purchase the lens to replace a 200-500. The versatility factor is important however there is one other feature I have found to be a life saver. I order to zoom the 200-400 it takes quite a few rotations, with the 180-400 it requires only a third of a rotation. I am back to Tanzania in September and looking forward to working with it. On another note your video on balancing a gimbal was very helpful, thank you. I am working on how to attach the gimbal to the 1 1/2 in pipe on the… Read more »

Hello Steve,
I am a bit confused, I have an 80-400 and is looking to upgrade (wildlife, lots of Jeep safaris hand held). What would you suggest, the new 180-400 or 500f4E?
Or should I wait, is Nikon working on any new super telephoto lenses?
Also from a longer term perspective, is Nikon a viable company for us to invest once in a lifetime time type of purchase?
Appreciate your advice.

The big pro lenses carry a big price for a reason. Build quality, focus speed and accuracy and build quality. The IQ is a given. For me flexibility is an added benefit. Unfortunately the bigger the range the more the compromises. The 80-400 is such a lens. I have a very good copy and has it’s place. At the price of the 180-400, it is out of my budget, unfortunately, in Africa, primes are restrictive as you mostly shoot from a vechile. In the dust and harch conditions my 200-500 only made 1 trip in the dusty Etosha. So, long… Read more »

Hi Richard,
I own the lens, been using on the D850, In real life I am blown away how sharp this lens is, not to mention the versatility.
I have owned and used the 200-500 & 500f4, if you can afford it the 180-400 is a given.
When I bought the 180-400 it was a last major present to myself, kept thinking I was mad, but now Ive used it out in the field I cant stop smiling.

good luck,

Richard Guijt
Hi Steve, Nice review of this highly anticipated lens. It is high on my wishlist as well. I’m making up my mind now if it would be wise to sell my 200-500 and 500 f/4 to fund for the 180-400 f/4. I think the 180-400 will replace those two lenses to great succes, with even better results than the 200-500. Although I will lose a bit in IQ compared to the 500 prime. Though the main reason / use for the 180-400 would be travel (nature) and safari’s. This year I will be making a trip to Uganda for safari’s… Read more »
Hey,Steve. Although 80-400is very cheap, it has too small an aperture and sharpness is not good enough. on top of that I found the matrix metering on D5 is quite different from other nikon cameras.Because it depends on drive modes. On my d610,I use matrix metering under AF-S S, AF-C S, AF-C d9,AF-C d21,AF-C d39 to shoot a contrasty scene, if I move the focus point on the bright part of the scene,the picture will be very dark, if I put the focus point on the shadow area, the picture will be very bright.I think although matrix metering takes the… Read more »
Vincent Van der Beken
Vincent Van der Beken

Steve, thank you once again for this video and for sure a more detailed one will be coming our way when the time is right.
Any estimate on when the new e-book will hit the digital shelf?

Bruce McFadden

Thankyou very much for the public service to the photo community.

Showing crops in the corner was much appreciated and made this article vary worthwhile for me. I encourage you to continue to include corner crops in your lens articles.

I have always heard the 80-400 was soft at 400 but your copy holds up pretty well here. Made me wonder if I should be considering it.

Thanks! Bruce McFadden


Hi Steve, best hands-on review that I’ve seen so far. It seems like versatility will be the main advantage of the 180-400 f/4 over the other zooms and primes, with price the main disadvantage.

Rex Michael Gigout

Thanks for taking the time to test this lens, and share your results.


Great review as always Steve! Keep good work

sigmon whitener

Steve, Enjoyed the review – thanks for the video. Please tell me where yu were photographing the sand hill cranes. Thanks

Woody Green
It’s really amazing how close the 200-500 is to this top of the line model. It hasn’t always been the case that an “affordable” lens could even approach a high end lens in sharpness or overall quality. We’ve got it a lot better as photographers now than we dis 20-30 years ago, when “affordable” all to often meant “not so good.” I think it would be fun to print a 16×20 of the same scene, same camera, same settings taken with the 200-500 and 180-400. At normal viewing distances, I wonder how much difference we would notice. Anyway, thanks for… Read more »
Juan Aguado

Great Review Steve!!

Brian Bernard

Hi Steve. I really enjoyed watching this “field review” of the Nikon 180-400mm lens. While it is out of my price range by one digit, I did find it of great interest to watch.

However, I have to ask, what happened on the boardwalk when the two herons landed close to your tripod? Looks like an interesting story behind it.

John A. Koerner II
Another instructive review, Steve. One of the major differences I noticed (that you briefly mentioned in passing, but that I feel deserve much more emphasis) was how much more color + micro-contrast fidelity there is on the 180-400 images versus every other zoom depicted. The difference in overall vividness was pronounced, imo. And, even though the 300 PF was roughly-equivalent in sharpness, again the color-saturation/micro-contrast in the 180-400 was head and shoulders better than the 300 PF. (Also, if you also look at the lettering in the corners, the 300 PF may have been “as sharp” as the 180-400, but… Read more »
I had the 200-400mm lens and sold it and bought the 500mm f/4 lens. I see the same choice with the new lens despite its having the integrated teleconverter. The 180-400mm provides at best a 560mm f/5.6 image magnification as compared to 700mm f/5.6 with the 500mm with the TC-14 teleconverter. The 200-400mm costs $2,100 more and weighs a full pound more than the 500mm f/4E lens. I will be sticking with my 600mm f/4E lens accompanied by either the 80-400mm or 200-500mm lens on my second camera. The 600mm lacks the zoom capability but provides 840mm at f/5.6 and… Read more »

I use the 80 – 400mm lens and really like it. Sharpness is great although I must admit that I never looked at the sharpness at the edges mainly because to me this part of a photo usually isn’t a concern if one uses the rule of thirds. While the 180 – 400mm may be slightly better I could never justify the price difference. Also most viewers of photos (at least my photos) would never be able to detect the slight differences in picture quality to justify spending that kind of money for a lens.


How about the 200-400mm f/4 (at about half the cost)?


As always, nice review Steve. If I only had the money…But I still like that you keep finding the 300pf to be a great alternative. That lens has become my favorite because I can take it places (like on mtn bike rides) that I just cannot take the really big glass like this.


Great review, Steve. Am I missing something or is this lens 10X more expensive than the 200-500?

I suppose it’s worth every dollar if you’re a professional wildlife photographer or independently wealthy (still working on that). Otherwise, I’ll just continue to dream for now . . .


Indeed and almost 1.5 times the weight…luckily it is somewhat sharper in the edges than the 200-500mm (shoot it on D500 = crop, so not sure if you would even notice and some backgroundblur is never bad LOL)
So I guess two things realy better:
1. Focus speed (I do agree with Steve that with small birds nearby the 200-500 sometimes fails)
2. Weathersealed (but I can get a few of them for the same money)

John A. Koerner II

Yes, but take a really good luck at the individual images. The overall effect. The colors and micro-contrast of the 180-400 *pop* … its images are vivid … whereas the colors/contrast of the 200-500 are dull and flat by comparison.


My wallet would be flat in comparrison…
I cannot see an enormous increase but yes it is better. I am on the other hand much more blown away that the 200-500 is so good in comparrison.
But maybe I want to see that… I am so proud of my little baby 😉


sweet review Steve, only used mine a couple of times but well pleased!