The 400mm Conundrum

One of the constant questions I get is “what should I choose for telephoto work on the Z System?” In particular, 400mm tends to be the specific focal length that many mention with this question. 

Well, here’s why I get those questions (green is best case, red is worst case):

bythom 0303

No, you’re not imagining things, there was originally another green cell in this chart; but without having to go into elaboration about that (a topic for another day), I decided to just remove it. 

Nikon hasn’t made it easy: as you can see, every choice has a clear benefit, but every choice has a different clear detriment. While Nikon engineering gets hammered with “why” questions all the time, here’s one place where they were giving you clearly different options that seem to be carefully considered. 

In case you’re wondering, I put the chart in order from optically worst (left) to optically best (right) order. That said, the three rightmost entries have only small differences in terms of center sharpness, as I’ve noted before. The optical benefits that accrue as you move to the right of the table tend to be in something other than central sharpness. 

My obvious response to all the reader questions is simple: what do you value most? Money? Then buy the 100-400mm (green price cell). Flexibility and optics? Buy the 400mm f/2.8 (at far right of table). Travel weight? You should consider the 400mm f/4.5 (green weight cell). Don’t use 400mm much and just want that as a flexibility? Then the 70-200mm with the teleconverter starts to come into play. 

This is the ultimate trade-off test, basically. I’ve always written that lens design is balancing a set of tradeoffs. Well, deciding on which lens to purchase is also about balancing a set of tradeoffs. I can’t make that decision for you, only point to the things you need to consider.

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