With a focal length coverage of 80-400mm, combined with any internal camera cropping, this is a extremely useful lens for the bird photographer. The Vibration reduction is clearly it's major feature and allows the photographer far greater ability to take handheld shots at shutter-speeds that would usually result in considerable blur from camera shake (although VR will do nothing to stop movement blur from the subject)
Freedom from a tripod is a major asset, and ideal for the roving photographer. This lens weighs in at 1.2kg without it's tripod collar ( a poor plastic tripod collar which should be removed immediately and consigned to a life in the box that the lens came in). This weight is easily manageable, even more so if you use an Optech camera neck strap (as shown in the photos). The Optiech strap is made from neoprene and has plenty of 'give' and really does manage to make the camera + lens feel far lighter than it is.... a vital addition in my opinion.
There are 3 VR settings on the lens, one setting makes sure the VR is operating (and visibly so in the viewfinder) when you half-press the shutter button to get a focus lock, the other setting makes sure that VR only comes into play when the actual photo is taken... and obviously there's an off setting, so you can switch off VR completely, which is recommended for tripod use.
The VR does come in and out of operation with a 'clunk' but it does work beautifully when engaged. Some have said there's a delay whilst VR stabilises the images from when you pre-focus the camera, but it's all but instantaneous to me.
This lens has some amazing optics, it can provide razor sharp images (camera's anti-aliasing filter permitting), very rarely will you ever detect any colour fringing on highlights and the colour fidelity of the resulting images is close to perfection.
The Nikon 80-400mm VR lens receives mixed reviews from bird photographers today, notably because VR (Nikon's Vibration Reduction system, effectively I.S. on the Canon lenses) has been incorporated in to a number of newer lenses that use the faster internal focusing motors in the lens. The 80-400mm uses the 'screw-drive' system where a screw in the camera powers the focus of the lens, a method which is rather out-dated in today's world of AF-S, HSM and USM.
The way I look at it, the vast majority of bird photos taken with this lens are of static birds, therefore AF speed isn't number one priority. This lens can cope with birds in flight, but don't ask it to do miracles... track the bird as it flies in a predictable line and the focus will keep up.
Incidentally, 'D' type lenses do focus quicker on pro-bodied Nikons (D2x Dh, D2Hs), better than with more consumer orientated models such as the D100, D70 and the new D50.
Faster focusing alternatives to this lens generally require a teleconverter to get a similar 'reach'. The Nikon AF-S 70-200mm VR lens is number one contender, as it's price isn't too far away from that of the 80-400mm. The 70-200mm is a f2.8 rated lens, so adding a 2x teleconverter will take you to f5.6 and allow AF on your camera.
Extra Reach with a teleconverter?
Those thinking of adding a 1.4x teleconverter to the 80-400mm VR lens should do so with the knowledge that results will often be poor. The only teleconverter that will fully work on this lens is the Kenko Pro300 1.4x allowing VR to work and some AF. AF will hunt with this combination if light is poor and there is little contrast between subject and the background. This is definitely a combination to be used in dire circumstances. See the Teleconverter page HERE
Lens System: Telephoto zoom lens
Diameter: 9.1 cm
Length: 17.1 cm
Weight: 1.3 kg
Diaphragm Blades: 9
Features: Internal focusing system, ED glass, VR (Vibration Reduction), AF stop
Filter Size: 77 mm
Focal Length: 80 mm - 400 mm
Focus Adjustment: Automatic, manual
Lens Aperture: F/4.5-5.6
Lens Coating: Nikon Super Integrated Coating
Lens Construction: 11 group(s) / 17 element(s)
Max View Angle: 30.2 degree(s)
Min Focus Range: 2.3 m
Mounting Type: Nikon F
Optical Zoom: 5 x
Zoom Adjustment: Manual
Winter Wren taken with Nikon 80-400mm VR
Black Phoebe taken with Nikon 80-400mm VR
Dunnock taken with 80-400mm + Kenko Pro 300 1.4x teleconverter
Great Spotted Woodpecker taken with Nikon 80-400mm VR