Nikon Z 28-400mm F4-8 VR hands-on

The Nikkor Z 28-400mm F4-8 VR is the latest addition to Nikon's range of lenses for the Z mount. It's a superzoom lens designed for full-frame cameras that extends from the wide-angle well into the telephoto range.
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Nikon describes it as offering the highest zoom ratio in its class (the likes of Tamron's 18-400mm F3.5-6.3 means there are broader ranges available for APS-C), but we're struggling to think of a full-frame lens that's ever covered such a wide range. Let us know in the comments if you can think of one.
Wide and long

It's designed for travel and general all-round use, and becomes fairly small in its retracted state. It's still 142mm (5.6") long, even at its shortest, but that approximately doubles when you zoom the lens to its full extent. This is, of course, the price you pay for 400mm of reach on a large sensor.
In return, you gain a focal length that's usable for activities including many types of sports. The F8 maximum aperture at the long end of the zoom is likely to limit you to action occurring in fairly bright light, but means that you can make use of a modern AF system to capture family or friends competing, without having to commit to buying or renting something like the Nikkor Z 400mm F4.5 VR S, which can let in up to 3.2x as much light, but also costs over two-and-a-half times more.
The other benefit is that it can then be zoomed to give a wide-angle perspective or anything in between, without having to change lenses.
External controls

To keep things manageable there's a lock switch just behind the zoom ring. This helps to avoid the lens creeping out to full extension when it's hung over your shoulder or packed in a travel bag.
Behind this, there's a control ring that can be customized to control settings such as aperture, ISO or a number of other functions of your choice, or just used as a manual focus ring. It's a smoothly-rotating ring, so doesn't give any feedback if used to set settings that are set in steps. Video shooters looking to make predictable manual focus pulls are likely to appreciate that it can be set to give a linear focus response, rather than the default behavior in which the amount of focus movement is related to the speed you turn the ring.
That's about your lot in terms of external controls.
Drip and dust resistance

The lens has been designed to be "drip and dust-resistant," according to Nikon. This entails seals at all the joins within the lens, so it shouldn't immediately fill with water if it starts raining and you have to retract the zoom.
But, as is so often the case, Nikon makes no promises about the effectiveness of this design, stating: "dust and drip-resistance is not guaranteed in all situations or under all conditions." In other words, it's been designed to be used in the real world but you'll need to be somewhat sensible and careful with it.
Filters and VR

The relatively slow maximum aperture, starting at F4 and rapidly dropping down towards F8, has allowed Nikon to keep the lens down to a sensible diameter. 77mm filters aren't the cheapest, but they're typically less expensive than 82mm, which tends to be the next step up from here. Likewise, it'll be much easier to afford a filter for this lens than the 95mm filters taken by the 400mm F4.5 VR S.
Of course that slower aperture is also likely to reduce the need for filters, since you probably won't want to reduce the amount of light you're getting too much further.
The 28-400mm F4-8 has Nikon's 'Vibration Reduction' (VR) image stabilization system. This is rated as delivering up to 5.0EV of correction, which will be especially valuable to avoid hand-shake at longer focal lengths.
Nikon's more recent models (Z9, Z8 and Zf) can use their in-body stabilization in addition to the lens's stabilization, boosting the correction figure to 5.5EV. Older bodies can use the lens to correct pitch and yaw, then correct translational movements and roll using in-body IS.
VR should make it possible to hand-hold shots at the slower shutter speeds that the F8 maximum aperture can bring but, of course, only in terms of correcting for hand-shake: you'll still need fast shutter speeds for moving subjects.

The Nikkor Z 28-400mm F4-8 VR offers a lot of flexibility in a package weighing 725g (∼26oz). The temptation of this flexibility might be for this to become a lens that stays on the camera body, but you'll miss out on a lot of your camera's potential if you take that approach, due to the relatively slow maximum aperture.
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In principle it could also be used by APS-C shooters, giving 600mm equivalent reach. However the short end of the zoom will now stop at 42mm equivalent, meaning it will lack any wide-angle capability. That and the correspondingly slower equivalent aperture figures mean you have to be certain that you need 600mm equiv. for this to make sense.
With an MSRP of $1,299, the 28-400mm isn't cheap. But our early impressions from the samples we've been able to shoot with a pre-production sample suggest that it delivers pretty decent performance as well as tremendous flexibility.
Click here to see our pre-production Nikon Z 28-400mm F4-8 VR gallery

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