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Thrifted Lens Review - Nikon 80-400mm 4.5-5.6D

Potato quality self-portrait from my webcam
Nikon 80-400mm 4.5-5.6 D on a Panasonic GH5 with Viltrox Speedbooster.

I got a message from a lady at my church that her father had passed away and that they were trying to find a home for some of his old camera equipment. He was in the military, taught military history at a university, and loved taking photos of aircraft. I thanked her for her thinking of me and said I would drop by, she loaded up my falling apart Ford Focus with 3 boxes of camera gear.

I'm still sorting through it all, but I'm thankful for her kindness and I hope that I'm honoring her father's memory by breathing some life into this photography gear.

Reaching into a sagging cardboard box, I pulled out a padded lens case which held this venerable monster. 80-400mm, 4.5-5.6. It's an older D lens so it still has the aperture ring on the bottom, so it will work great on my Panasonic GH5. The focus ring is a little stiff, but after some gentle cleaning it was ready to take for a spin. It also came with a tripod bracket for the lens, which is sturdy enough to be used as a weapon if need be.

I texted a friend who said it makes my camera look like a blaster from Star Wars, I agree! The lens is bigger than the camera body and has significant weight. Aluminum exterior with a plastic barrel holding the lens elements inside. It doesn't appear to be weather sealed and I have no interest in messing with the electronic features of the lens. The electronics in Nikon lenses tend to not play nice with non-Nikon cameras, so I've snapped it into my speedbooster and took a quick test shot of The Captain.

Aperture turns nicely, everything focuses. We're ready to go. I set the ISO between 400-1600 for my test shots today.

Off to the park to see the lady with the birds...

About 20 feet away I cycled from 80mm to 400mm wide open. I found the focus to be pleasingly soft, but without a tripod or monopod it was difficult to dial in at maximum focal length with a stiff focus ring.

looking for wildlife that hasn't gone in for the winter...

Not many animals about, but I was pleasantly surprised to capture these. Once I got used to the focus ring it was much easier to shoot unsupported. Excellent subject separation, but the soft focus is tricky. I had several photos that looked great in the viewfinder that turned out too soft to use.

Finding interesting details in woods almost asleep...

I wasn't expecting much on my hike, but I found that the soft focus combined with the excellent subject separation lead to some beautiful little details that popped out of the forest. The soft bokeh and gentle flares make for some lovely stock photos that will certainly be used in future projects.

If the soft focus bothers you, f8 seems to be the sweet spot for sharpness. Hit the comparison between wide open and f8 on these photos below.

In conclusion

This is a great lens for nature photography. It's also the type of vanity lens that screams "I'm a real photographer!" because no one else would lug this giant hunk of metal and plastic out to take pictures of ducks. I have sharper telephoto lenses, but the gentle focus is very pleasing my to eye. For someone that enjoys shooting manual, even with focus peaking it can become a challenge to get a clear shot with how stiff the focus ring is. A monopod or tripod is a must with this monster. It's great for stationary or slower moving animals, scenery, trees, etc. Moving objects are a big challenge, the lens just isn't fast enough to get the high shutter speeds you need. The focus ring is also really stiff for tracking moving objects and I've read from other reviews that the autofocus is very slow. The learning curve isn't steep and I honestly enjoyed the hour or two I spent on the trails with it.

If you enjoyed this photo essay or found it helpful, please share it. If you have any old lenses sitting in the attic to donate, send me a message - happy to pay shipping for a lens donation.


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I help people to tell their stories through engaging content such as presentation decks, photos, videos, and music.  Give me a shout if I can help you tell your story.  


Hi, I'm Brent.  I'm a musician, photographer, video maker, and designer in Edmond, OK.

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