Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

Nikon AF VR ED 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 D Lens
& TC-14A

by Uwe Steinmueller

last updated 12/30/2000

Over the last month the Nikon AF VR ED 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 D became clearly my bird and wildlife lens of choice. Here is one of the best photos so far (among many good ones)

"Green Heron" @400~600mm (without TC-14A)

Of course all talk about the VR part of that lens and our own review of this lens showed that it really works. But I believe that this would be a great lens even without VR just because of its great optical quality. On the D1 you now have a quality glass with a focal range from 120-600mm (D1 equivalent).
Unfortunately birds are so small that there is never enough focal length. If I looked for the price and weight(!) of the longer Nikon prime lenses (>= 500mm) I realized that this might be bad for my back and my bank account. To my surprise the lens manual defines approved tele converters for this lens. I have really great experience with the TC-14E converter (in combination with the AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8 it works perfect) and but it only fits with the Nikon AF-S lenses. But the TC-14A was the documented match.

The TC-14A on the other side converts the VR 80-400 high-tech lens into a fully manual one:

  • No VR
  • No AF
  • No matrix metering
  • No shutter priority
  • The lens is f/8 @400mm with the the TC-14A attached

But it gets you full 840mm (D1 equivalent).

It also demands some change in our usual setting as a monopod is not the right thing to use at this focal length. So I experienced the pleasure to use a tripod again. My equipment is shown in the title photo (Bogen 3021 tripod, Novoflex Magic Ball and Linhof Quickfix). I have not seen the Novoflex Magic Ball here in the US (bought mine from Germany) but think it is a very good head.

"American Avocet" @560~840mm (tripod)

The results are very good. The only thing I missed was the matrix metering but otherwise AF was not needed and the VR does not make a lot of sense with moving objects like birds. All the photos were taken with a D1 at ISO 400 and in some cases ISO 800 would work too.

"Godwit" @560~840mm (tripod)


"Cinnamon Teal" @560~840mm (tripod)

For under $2000 you can get with the VR 80-400mm and the TC-14A a great bird and wildlife lens set. We are really pleased and the urge to get the AF-S 500mm f/4 is gone (for now).
Is this focal length now long enough? Yes until we get the TC301 which would extend the lens to 800~1200mm. The 2x converters show softer results than the 1.4x.

"Red-shouldered Hawk" @560~840mm (handheld)

Today we had our traditional (since we are in the US) Christmas day trip to Highway 1 and the San Gregorio General Store. About every two miles we found some hawk sitting on a pole or wire like in this photo. We have seen this fellow now the third time during the last week at the same spot and today he posed long enough for us to get some nice shots.

"Red-tailed Hawk (juvenile)" @560~840mm (handheld)

12/27/2000 Vasona Park
This combinations mutates to my standard bird setup. As all photos are taken with ISO 400 the photos are a bit grainy and some of the noise gets removed with Band Aid.

"Coot" @560~840mm (monopod)

This is our best Coot photo so far. This bird which is just black and white is difficult to photograph. It seems that 840mm are just the right focal length for these kind of pictures (the shot is not a crop!). Also very nice is the fact that the zoom allows the huge range from 168-840mm (D1 equivalent).

"Night Heron" @560~840mm (monopod)

Some readers might know by now how much we love the Night Herons. Today we met about close to 30 on our usual walk through the Vasona Park.

"Pied-billed Grebe" @560~840mm (monopod)

No question the VR 80-400mm with the choice of adding the TC-14A and the TC201 (which we will get soon) is an ideal combination for all digital working bird photographers.

Least Sandpipers (monopod, no crop)

If you know haw small these wonderful Sandpipers are then you also know that you need long, long lenses.
An other favorite are the Grebes and again the 840mm was needed.

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